May 2018
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TD Magazine

Deskless Leadership Development

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

While organizations in every industry need employees with strong leadership skills, many struggle to develop them in employees who don't have regular computer access during working hours. In fact, only 25 percent of deskless workers say their employers have training programs in place to develop their leadership skills, according to a recent CGS survey of more than 500 deskless employees.

"In a lot of cases, companies don't view deskless employees as leadership material because the jobs these employees fill often have a very high turnover rate," says Doug Stephen, senior vice president of learning and country manager for CGS Canada. "The attitude is that people won't stick around long enough to use any leadership skills that a company helps them develop."


However, Stephen suggests that these ideas are misguided. He notes that companies often find that employees with "deep real-world experience" make the best leaders and play an important role in driving the business forward. "Think about Ray Kroc, the man behind McDonald's," he says. "When he was a young kid, he worked in his dad's grocery store and learned all about the importance of serving customers quickly, which fueled a lot of the ideas that made him successful later."

So, if companies do have a lot to gain from providing leadership training to deskless employees, what's the best approach?

According to the CGS survey, 37 percent of deskless workers say that in-person training is the most beneficial delivery method for learning, making it more popular than simulations (23 percent), group exercises (21 percent), video (11 percent), or games (4 percent).

When asked why deskless employees may prefer in-person training to other delivery methods, Stephen notes that these employees may enjoy the interaction it provides. "It reminds me of something my mother-in-law once said—that there are so many people but no one is around," he says. "A lot of deskless employees might work near their co-workers and supervisors but not spend much quality time with them, so communicating with an instructor and getting real-time feedback can be really valuable."

About the Author

Alex Moore is a research analyst for the Association for Talent Development. Alex returned to ATD in 2019 after spending a year living and working in Chile. Prior to moving abroad, Alex was a writer/editor for ATD working on TD magazine, a research coordinator at ATD, and a customer care advocate at ATD. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a B.A. in English.

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