Every day it seems talent development professionals are told they need to learn about a new technology, from artificial intelligence (AI) to augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) to machine learning. But truthfully, talent development professionals rarely purchase “raw” technologies to address organizational needs. Talent development professionals aren’t going to be buying VR, they are going to buy an application that teaches interviewing or coaching skills that happens to be delivered in VR; they aren’t buying gamification, they are buying a gamified application that helps improve the sales team's recall of product features.
In the next few years, talent development professionals will be asked to implement solutions based on these technologies, make decisions on what technology mix to purchase, and apply knowledge of their organization’s needs to find and implement solutions to address those needs. Successful organizations leverage technology to improve both employee and organizational performance—they don’t simply purchase the latest technology because it’s the latest technology.
Too many times, articles about talent development trends focus on the technology coming down the road instead of the applications of that technology. The real changes come to an organization when solutions are improved, amplified, or scaled because of technology—but the focus is on the solution, not the technology.
In that spirit, let’s examine three broad trends that are a result of the convergence of various technologies combined with real and pressing business needs that are going to impact the field of talent development within the next few years.
1. Business Behavior AppsThese types of applications are basically a Fitbit for business skills. Rather than measure the number of steps you’ve taken, apps like this measure the number of “ums” or “ahs” you uttered during a sales presentation or the number of action items your team created at your last working session. These are applications based on AI, the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and Internet access, and increasingly sophisticated voice recognition software.
One example of this type of app is called Presentr. It’s designed to help a professional with sales and business presentations. It measures the number of filler words you speak (such as um or ah), and your volume and even the pace of your presentation. The app then provides visual feedback based on your performance; you receive a dashboard not unlike data displayed from Fitbit interactions. Once you measure your performance, you can work on improving. The app has games that allow you to practice hitting a target pace, games focused on speaking at the correct volume, and even an option to compare your latest presentation with your past performance. You can even put in your own filler words or phrases you’re working to eliminate, such as “OK,” “alright,” or “Are you with me?”
These apps aren’t limited to just presentation improvement. This classification of app is popping up for all types of business scenarios and skills, from running meetings to managing projects to coaching. The apps allow for real-time assessment of on-the-job activities with real-time feedback on how you actually performed in a specific situation. Many of these apps, like Presentr, even have group dashboards so you can monitor an entire leadership cohort or sales team. In the next few years, talent development professionals will see a number of these types of applications become available to help individuals and the organization improve.
2. Social SimulatorsPracticing key skills is one of the ways in which VR is going to make an impact. VR can provide a safe environment in which learners can practice and receive feedback on specific skills. A social simulator is a program in which social skills such as interviewing, providing feedback, and coaching are practiced in a safe environment with targeted feedback. It’s a “flight simulator” designed to teach human-to-human interactions. The combination of virtual reality; artificial intelligence; small, high-quality sensors; and improved 3D graphics make these social simulators excellent tools for helping business professionals hone skills.
One area in which this technology has begun to be leveraged is interviewing skills. A person can be hooked up to small sensors, put on a VR headset, and immediately be transported to an office where a waiting interview candidate is sitting. During the interview, sensors can track things like galvanic skin response to measure the nervousness of the interviewer, and can tell if the person conducting the interview crosses their arms or slouches their shoulders after the interviewee utters a certain phrase. The system can even track eye movement to see if the interviewer is looking away (a possible sign of boredom).
The virtual scenario can then be changed to one of customer service or greeting a foreign trading partner or potential client, or for interactions related to diversity and inclusion. A person can even be put under severe stress to teach them how to react in difficult situations, such as being cross-examined in court or stopping a suspicious individual in a warehouse or airport.
Look for a wave of social simulation software where business professionals can be fully immersed in a situation and reactions can be measured to provide improvement opportunities for the learner. These are basically digitized assessment centers that provide real-time information on performance and an opportunity for intense skills practice.
3. Reflective Coaching ToolsThese types of tools take advantage of the concept that experts ask themselves different questions than do novices. The idea is to encourage a novice to think like an expert in a given situation.
The concept is based on an idea created by educational researcher and writer Roger Shank. He presented his “sounding board” idea in his Engines for Education hyperbook where he describes an automated process that walks the learner through a brainstorming session. The goal is for learners to create their own conclusions through a process of answering short, targeted questions. With current chat bot technology, AI, and adaptive learning, the technology can now be an app on an employee’s smartphone. The apps are based in various knowledge domains, such as diagnosis if you are a doctor or a field technician, or selling skills if you're a salesperson. Regardless of the domain area, the interface guides a person through a series of questions helping with the problem-solving process.
Shank describes the concept as follows: Questions revolve around focusing the user's attention on parts of the problem they may have been taking for granted, such as “What is my competitor doing in this area?” or “How are different industries dealing with this issue?” Or questions designed to break through perceived constraints and eliminate barriers from consideration long enough for the user to realize what they really want—questions such as, “If financial limitations were not an issue, what approach would you take to solving this problem?”
The process even calls for questions that might seem irrelevant, such as "What recreational activities are you good at?" or “Who is your favorite artist?” The idea of asking these types of questions is to switch context and bring in other ideas that might provide an innovative insight into solving the problem. Context-switching questions encourage a person to forget about the problem at hand for a moment and bring in a new subject or idea. It could be a question such as “How would your favorite artist, Jackson Pollock, approach this problem?” Once the new idea is introduced, the system or chat bot asks how the two issues relate. Thinking about how Pollock might solve a similar problem just might spark the creative idea the questioner needs.
The Bottom LineTalent development advances aren’t going to come from a single technology like AR or AI; instead, advances are going to be realized when business needs and technology are appropriately matched. The trends to watch are not technology trends, but rather convergence trends. Look to see where technologies are converging with business needs; those intersection points will be the birth of new applications and solutions that are worth watching from the talent development perspective.
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