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ATD Blog

Create a Learning Culture . . . Virtually

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Today’s leaders need to be able to guide their teams in a remote environment. This will continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in response to employee requests, access to technology, and the research indicating productivity gains of virtual work. Guiding employees in this way, however, requires new skills. How do you provide feedback to employees via video conferencing? How do you ensure your team works well together even when they’re disparately located? And are you confident that everyone—including you—can use the technology efficiently and effectively? As Lindsay Fletcher and Gerhard Redelinghuys point out in “Grow Leaders With a Virtual Development Program,” “That’s where a carefully crafted virtual leadership program, built to match your company’s typical working environment, can help.”

Where to Start

Crafting and understanding the working environment begins with asking yourself several questions about your organization and the individuals therein.

For example:

  • Which countries are learners based in?
  • Are learners deskbound or mobile?
  • Do learners control their own time or will they need to schedule training?
  • What is the target population of your learners? First-time leaders? Aspiring leaders? Senior leaders? A combination?

Next, you’ll want to research the skills and knowledge gaps that exist in your organization. But you need to go beyond that. Remember, some employees don’t exhibit the desired behaviors due to a lack of motivation, process, or resources rather than a lack of skills. To gain an understanding of the gaps, use interviews, focus groups, and surveys.


  • What does the organization do well that leaders should replicate?
  • What would you change about managers’ actions and behaviors and why?
  • What are the essential skills each leader in the company should have to excel?


What Content to Develop and Curate

Fletcher and Redelinghuys recommend using the return on expectations model when acquiring and designing content. “The ROE model is superior to the traditional ROI model, which places emphasis on financial or numerical measurements of return because it involves close collaboration with stakeholders to set expectations around the value your program should bring in a broader context,” they write.

It’s important to think about:

  • What are the program’s main goals? Is succession planning most critical to your company? Are you aiming to reduce attrition?
  • How should leaders think and behave after they go through a training or development program?
  • What indications will there be in business results if your program is a success?

The authors recommend putting content into categories and subcategories based on themes. In the program they developed, they organized the material into these themes: leading myself, leading others, and leading for results.


Making the Program a Reality

Among the challenges of leadership development programs in today’s business climate are that leaders don’t have extensive time to spend away from their everyday work and that in-person training wasn’t an option during the pandemic. Thus, if it fits your organization, you may want to curate and develop much of your content to be accessed virtually. This doesn’t, however, mean endless time sitting in front of an e-learning course.

Coaching and mentoring can be accomplished virtually, and they remain highly interactive. Virtual classrooms can include discussion and breakout rooms. And self-directed learning can entail not only microlearning via short videos but also reading and listening to podcasts. Don’t overlook reflection and journaling as important elements in your leadership program. Participants can ponder their leadership journey through entries and what the learning has meant to them within the organizational structure.

Also, keep in mind and plan what it will take for learners to finish the leadership program. You might track learning in the learning management system and award points for individual e-learning modules, mentoring sessions, or a personal project.

Communicating, Marketing, and Evaluating

As you plan, develop, and carry out your program, you should include how you will reach your intended learners and get them excited about the program. After participants complete the required programming, don’t forget to celebrate, whether in person or virtually. Also, note whether your program has garnered the business metrics you hoped for.

“With a program designed with proper thought, you’ll be able to offer your leaders an innovative experience that encourages them to take ownership of their own development and supports a culture of lifelong learning across the organization,” Fletcher and Redelinghuys conclude.

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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