Power tools for leadership development

How three small learning and development tools are making a big impact

Time is at a premium for today’s business leaders. While a traditional leadership course that takes the manager out of the office for the best part of a week was once the de facto choice for developing leaders, it isn’t necessarily the most practical or even effective option any more. Moreover, traditional classroom training is not the first choice for the new generation of managers who have grown up with 24/7 learning portals and just-in-time learning.

As debate continues around the return on investment (ROI) and effectiveness of leadership development once individuals are back in role, technology is allowing organisations to embed leadership and management training in day-to-day work and, in doing so, make it far more relevant.

Dil Sidhu, chief external officer and managing director of executive education at the University of Manchester’s Alliance Manchester Business School, points to the often-cited stat that 80% of learning can be forgotten within 24 hours of leaving an event. “Making learning stick with senior executives can often be a challenge,” he says, adding that HR and L&D professionals also need to be aware of shortening attention spans. “The average in the UK is around 10 seconds. Educators need new and interesting approaches to help embed learning.”

Options open to organisations range from just-in-time third party apps that allow managers to brush up on particular areas at the ‘point of need’, to free massive open online courses (MOOCs), as well as full-blown paid-for online learning programmes designed to fit into a busy manager’s timetable.

Here are three examples of where technology has helped to embed leadership development.

Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi

The technology: iLeader, a leadership process and mobile app developed by Oxford Strategic Consulting, which aims to improve the performance of frontline leaders by providing specific ‘point of need’ learning, guidance and team feedback.

The application: The Abu Dhabi arm of the Cleveland Clinic is going through the process of ‘Emiratisation’; the United Arab Emirates government initiative to create sustainable employment opportunities for its citizens.

As the world’s first digital hospital it also strives to digitise as many processes as possible so it’s logical that it would explore more cutting edge methods of training leaders.

Gavin Walford-Wright, senior director of talent acquisition and international mobility at the Clinic, was aware that with a digitally-minded Gen Y cohort traditional approaches might not be the most engaging. The Clinic was involved in the beta stage development of iLeader, where it was marketed to caregivers as “a coach in your pocket”.

“For first-time managers having a step-by-step guide on their phones gives them a structure,” he explains. “It also gives feedback from the team on a daily basis so they know how engaged people are. If the team aren’t engaged they can turn a negative into a positive, and if they are engaged they can reflect on what they’ve done well.”

The result: The Cleveland Clinic reports that engagement and retention levels of its caregivers have improved since using the app. “In some areas we’ve seen attrition drop to zero where we are using iLeader,” says Walford-Wright, who adds that the clinic will shortly undertake a Gallup employment survey and benchmark the results. “iLeader is a fantastic tool and in 2017 we will launch it across the entire organisation of 3,500 people.”

Nestlé/London Business School

The technology: Skill Pill, a range of micro-learning applications and tools developed by the company of the same name. It includes custom as well as library content.

The application: London Business School (LBS) worked on Nestlé’s three-year “flagship” leadership programme and used Skill Pill in a variety of ways, including creating avatars of Nestlé group CEO Paul Bulcke and LBS professor Rob Goffee to add a sense of realism and fun.

Accessing learning on digital devices helped to create a sense of unity across a dispersed set of participants from the two programme delivery sites of Guangzhou, China and Vevey, Switzerland.

According to Dil Sidhu, who was director of corporate programmes at LBS at the time and responsible for delivery of the programme, Skill Pill helped to embed it by creating a ‘bridge’ between learning events and learning applications. “It allowed participants to refresh their learning,” he says. Content can be customised to align with the issues facing the organisation and is also trackable in terms of how often each participant accesses the Skill Pill clips from any web-enabled device via a dashboard.

The result: This provided evidence that the learning was being reviewed. In addition, the specific topic Skill Pill clips acted as a gauge for which topic areas were not being reviewed and could take lower priority. Sidhu concludes that a key motivator for using Skill Pill was evidence that a diligent use of micro-learning can double the level of content retention and also achieve a 10% to 20% improvement in desired behaviour.


The technology: Leadership Cloud, developed by performance consultancy 10Eighty, uses Jive and aims to drive collaboration and learning throughout an organisation. It can be accessed on mobile and desktop devices.

The application: The Leadership Cloud forms part of a package of development tools and content that also includes self-service options such as video, podcasts, assessment tools, master classes, an external speaker series, experiential learning, and mentoring.

Marc Whitmore, head of organisational effectiveness, Paul Corke, leadership development manager, David Harrison, head of employee engagement and culture, and Sioned Williams, head of learning, work closely together and wanted to make leaders take control of their own learning as they believe it leads to an effective transfer of knowledge and skills and to positive change in leadership behaviours.

The Leadership Cloud is used before, during and after leadership events to provide the right level of information as well as prepare leaders for, or entice them to, an event. It also provides and facilitates materials and discussion during and after events.

“Insightful leadership articles and resources are shared for leaders to tap into along with interesting discussion built around our business strategy and desired leadership behaviours,” says Whitmore.

The CEO also posts a weekly blog on it, with “thought-provoking” pieces on culture and the importance of values, as well as leadership challenges and anecdotes.

The result: “We have seen over a consistent period of years that those who participate in the programmes have higher performance, engagement scores, Great Place to Work scores, lower absence and attrition, and are more engaged on the Cloud compared to those that have not participated in our programmes,” says Whitmore.

“In addition, our high potential leadership programmes have accelerated the development of senior leaders, where some leaders have progressed to be members of our current executive team.”