The trouble is many of those same companies have yet to directly measure if it’s working outside of indirect metrics such as improved engagement and participation.
Employees at Signature Healthcare, a long-term health care services company, rarely have the time or means to sit in a classroom for soft-skill development. With the company’s nurses working in three shifts, 24 hours a day, using exclusively brick-and-mortar development can become costly and difficult to coordinate, said Mary McNevin, the company’s chief learning officer.
McNevin said developing employees through custom video, audio and online modules in interactive training and development sessions allowed employees to access more targeted exercises. She also said employees shoot videos that spur constructive discussion, developing an employee’s ability to remain calm under pressure while leading a care team, which is important for hospital workers.
The company’s nurses, for example, view vignettes for different types of patient care through 10-minute-long videos, McNevin said. After the scenarios play out, the nurses are asked how they would handle the situation, highlighting the best and worst practices.
“We use a hybrid approach where you can do a demo with technology and then practice them in the classroom,” McNevin said. “With technology, you can slow down or speed up the class accordingly, and you can make sure it’s communicated the same way every time. If you have learners where English is a second language, with technology, they can take content at their own pace.”
Still, while the company’s employees may use technology more frequently, the leadership skills addressed are reinforced, discussed and polished throughout the year in a face-to-face environment, McNevin said. The company’s CEO, Joe Steier, will even conduct in-person leadership development sessions with the company’s executive team and employees in the field.
Likewise, mobile technology has enabled talent consultancy Bluewater Learning Inc.’s employees to improve communication and team-building skills through social collaboration, said Keith Meyerson, the company’s vice president of talent management and organizational strategies.
Bluewater employees have access to an online forum that is available across mobile platforms, which serves as an instant support tool for employees collaborating on a project or who need immediate feedback, and it provides communication skills training through real-time performance support.
“In the past, we would have to schedule instructors,” Meyerson said. “Now, with social tools, people can go online and find people who are experts. An employee can post an open question in a public forum with an expert or with peers. Instead of taking a course, you can find a coach, mentor or expert and have a mentoring conversation where you can talk about challenges or bounce ideas off of them.”
Meyerson said technology also can provide an immediate reference for challenging situations where an employee’s leadership ability is paramount. For instance, when a manager is interviewing potential hires, he or she can access information through a mobile application about questions to ask and how to interpret body language or other important social cues a candidate might exhibit in an interview.
Some companies may even feed targeted videos and research to business leaders’ mobile devices to stimulate soft skill development, said John Ambrose, senior vice president of corporate development and emerging business at HR technology company Skillsoft.
However, although many learning and development professionals are quick to assert they use technology-based learning programs to develop soft skills, measures of effectiveness remain mostly anecdotal, with few formal measurement tools available.
One way to measure impact is to track an employee’s consumption of e-learning programs, Ambrose said. Learning leaders also could use interviews or employee surveys to determine how much technology has helped in the development of soft skills. Though limited, Ambrose said the findings can help an employer determine if an employee is developing new ways of thinking about a particular leadership situation.
“Technology can play a huge role in building soft skills,” Ambrose said. “And, in fact, I’d say that there are far too many companies that are endeavoring to drive soft skills development through traditional classroom-based scheduled learning. Really, they are frankly wasting money and wasting time and resources by not at least considering a blended approach to using technology, in combination perhaps with more traditional types of live interaction.”