The latest trends in capability development

The world of work has undergone massive change, and so of course capability development needs to keep pace. We’re often asked what trends we’re seeing in capability development, helping clients to optimise their capability strategies with better ways to engage people and deliver their business goals.

As minds turn to how to have an ever-stronger impact in the year ahead, here are 3 trends that can be applied to your organisation’s capability planning:

  1. SCALE: From mass to agile

  2. FOCUS: From functional to organisational

  3. E-LEARNING: From silver bullet to golden ratio

1. SCALE: from mass to agile

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Possibly the most overused term of the decade, agility has moved from being an approach to programming, to being a mantra for businesses. Agility, synonymous with speed and efficiency, is vital when the pace of change is rapid. However, capability programmes face a tension between scale, quality and efficiency and organisations are seeking agile approaches to get the balance right.

Optimise the organisation design before you develop your programme. We increasingly work with clients on their organisation design and operating model – the who does what. It's a critical driver of capability, but more than that, it enables a smarter segmentation of capability needs so that programmes can be more relevant and targeted. As a leader of a large B2B company with whom we worked in this way said, there’s no point developing people or skills that won’t be required.

Less focus on ‘mass foundational skills’ and more on spiking performance around the big business priorities. Historically, many companies have created multi-topic ‘essentials’ programmes, designed to raise the floor of capability levels across the team. Increasingly, companies are focusing on a few areas, tied into the big priorities, and going further to build capability to a more sophisticated level. They embrace approaches like live-action-learning and guided discovery where learning is immediately applied to real issues.

At the same time, if companies don’t have a widespread understanding of the basics, we find they need to establish core principles and processes, before progressing to a focused approach. There remains massive power in coherent, consistent, practices. In some markets we’re even doing ‘pre-foundation’ programmes where the foundation programmes usually developed with more sophisticated markets in mind, aren't practical enough for less experienced team members.

2. FOCUS: from functional to organisational

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While companies still want to spike the performance of specific functions in specific areas, we are also finding a shift to organisational capability development. In line with the greater pressure for fluid, cross-functional ways of working, companies are initiating joined-up capability initiatives which lift customer-centred capabilities across functional divides.  This is more than ‘marketing for sales and HR teams’ – this is about ensuring the processes, ways of working, behaviours and skills connect constructively to enable customer-centred growth. Pharmaceutical companies are arguably ahead of the curve here – in addition to specific sales or marketing capability programmes, we’ve delivered cross-functionally aligned capability development with payer, market access, R&D brand and sales teams. 

3. E-learning – from silver bullet to golden ratio

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In the recent past, clients replaced face-to-face learning with e-learning wherever possible to reduce people’s learning time and also travel costs. They saw it as a silver bullet. As a consequence e-tutorials and virtual classrooms were often designed to imitate face-to-face learning. And were limited in their ability to do this well.

At the same time, virtual working has been a massive change for companies. People are so familiar with it that they don’t notice the interface as much (Lync, Skype, WebEx etc), predisposing them to more virtual learning – with MOOCs and virtual coaching rising in popularity.

Learning professionals have got better at using technology. We've also got better at understanding its role – alongside face-to-face –in learner journeys – or indeed learning ecosystems - which draw on multiple techniques over time to support learners for an extended experience, promoting greater embedding of change.

E-tutorials, online guides, articles and films are, for example a powerful enabler of the ‘guide on side’ flipped classroom approach.  Virtual reality allows ‘safe’ experimentation and collective learning. Gamification allows scenario-based, self-paced, and competitively measured learning of what can be complex topics.  Online communities enable social learning, ideas-sharing, and collective problem-solving. Face-to-face remains invaluable for challenge, feedback, collective motivation and energy-fuelling, and getting people to believe in the change required.

The key is to find your ‘golden ratio’ in your specific capability strategy. That’s the blend that yields the most beautiful results.


Brand Learning: Lifting capabilities to drive customer-centred growth
We work with companies across the world to lift the performance of their teams to drive growth by delivering better value for their customers.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Learning.

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