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ATD Blog

Improving Human Performance With New Technology for the Way We Work

Friday, December 17, 2021

The 10th ATD Japan Summit examined the challenges of and made recommendations for successful hybrid work.

Hybrid work is a new experience for all of us. In the early months of 2020, we moved to a remote work modality, a way of working that would not have been possible without the many forms of technology we enjoy today. Remote work necessitated many new skills—for employees, managers, and leaders—such as communicating and providing feedback virtually. But as we’re transitioning to a hybrid work environment, new challenges are arising. Leaders and managers, for example, need to level the playing field for employees working on-site with those working remotely.

ATD Japan Summit, where UMU was a diamond sponsor and which was held remotely on December 6–10, explored many of these challenges with its conference theme of Reinventing Talent Development for the Hybrid Workforce. The summit, the tenth such meeting, brought together business leaders and talent development professionals to share ideas about creating a world that works better.

Conference speakers emphasized the visible and vital role of the talent development profession; the need for connection through soft skills like empathy, trust, and open communication; and the opportunity for technology to improve human performance.

The Power of the Talent Development Profession

Introducing the session “Talent Development and Technology: Preparing Organizations for Digital Transformation,” Masashi Urayama, president of IP innovations and advocate for the ATD international member network, highlighted a few Japanese learning and talent statistics. Urayama discussed that the mindset of Japanese employees is one where they expect their companies to take care of their career development, that companies still use legacy IT systems and technology such as learning management system usage lags, and that businesses that operated remotely prior to the COVID-19 pandemic struggled in comparison to other nations. Using this as the framework, Urayama invited ATD president and CEO Tony Bingham and UMU founder and CEO Dongshuo Li to share trends in the profession, including as they relate to technology.

The strategic importance of the talent development profession has grown since the onset of the pandemic, according to LinkedIn reporting. Year over year, March 2020 to 2021, 63 percent of respondents indicated that TD has a seat at the table, which is up from 24 percent in 2020, cited Bingham. He also noted the rise in the acceptance of virtual training and communication as well as the struggle to maximize engagement of participants in the virtual learning environment. Acknowledging the difficulties we’ve faced during the past 20 months working, communicating, and collaborating, Bingham noted the greater challenges we would have faced without technology.

Li echoed Bingham’s points, mentioning that we can work so much better and that the future is brighter when we fully leverage the capabilities of smartphones, tablets, and other resources. Globally, we are much more open to technology and, rather than replacing talent, technology—especially AI—can strengthen human capacity and skills.


The Power of Technology to Improve Human Performance

Learners have become less interested in being “students,” said educational technology expert Elliott Masie during his session, and are more interested in performing better. Learners are exhausted from the past two years, suffering from Zoom fatigue and tired of 60-minute training sessions. Thus, training formats have changed. The role of video, for example, is pivotal: employees watch information that is a “targeted, personalized piece of expertise,” and video helps us in the moment and is growing in popularity, noted Masie during his keynote, Learning Trends, Challenges, and Empathy in a Changing World.

Curation will rise in importance to allow learners to wade through the amount of content that exists. They’ll be able to do this with AI, and personalization will play a critical role, continued Masie. Further, we’ll see increased comfort with technology, including such means as QR codes and phones to access learning content and performance support.

During the session Digital Intelligence, AI Performance: Fundamental Changes in the Patterns and Value of Digital Transformation, Li provided insights about how thought leadership, which is about learning science, and technology leadership, which is based in AI, are needed for digital transformation.

He also spoke about the organizational need to move from training to learning to practicing to assessing to improve human performance. During training, TD professionals can use AI-enabled content production. Learning involves AI-personalized recommendations while practicing entails AI feedback on performance. Finally, assessing is based on the active processing principle, where humans who can manage their own learning strategies while actively processing knowledge are more likely to enter a state of deep learning.


Power Skills

Communication, psychological safety, and empathy aren’t soft skills; rather, they are power skills growing in importance in the new world of work filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. During his session, Developing Leaders for a Hybrid Workforce, Bruce Watt, senior vice present of Europe, Australia, and India sales for DDI, highlighted opportunities to improve the much-needed power leadership skills of empathy, coaching, and delegation. He noted that DDI’s research found that only 4 percent of Japanese leaders are effective at leading virtual teams, which is much lower than other nations.

The pitfalls for managers in a hybrid environment include managing the need to be inclusive, unclear policies and expectations, the possibility of unfairness, cliques in the office versus those working from home, and a focus on busyness over results. To achieve success, leadership should work to build trust and inclusion, communicate well and often, drive an emphasis on accountability, create a strong team culture, and avoid burnout with empathy, advised Watt.

In Creating and Sustaining a Coaching Culture Through Virtual Disruption, Angela Stopper, chief learning officer and director of people and organization development at the University of California, Berkeley, recommended that managers strive to serve as coaches. They can do so by establishing trust, appropriately challenging individuals, and empowering their direct reports. To create trust, managers should listen to employees, model continuous learning, and communicate openly. Empowerment is about giving ownership and genuine recognition, providing learning opportunities, and involving others in decisions, she added.

The Powerful New World of Work

As we continue to transition to hybrid work, organizations will need to experiment and provide managers, leaders, and employees with opportunities to learn new skills and competencies. This will require a willingness to take risk, make mistakes, and try again and being compassionate with ourselves and others. This can lead to a future of improved human performance that the digital transformation promises.

“At UMU, we firmly believe that learning should drive performance,” noted Li. “In other words, we believe in a result-oriented approach to learning, and that belief tells us that the key to the successful digital transformation of learning resides in utilizing science and technology to effectively foster growth in talents.”

About the Author

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

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