Tap, look, feel rewarded. Tap, look, feel rewarded again. All of this happens within a few seconds. We all know what it refers to: the physiological rewards of “screen time.” The corporate leaders of tomorrow have entered adulthood with this technology and research indicates that anything less is physiologically unrewarding. As far back as 2012, one study found that “internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.”
What do screen time expectations mean for employee learning and development? The short answer is that employee development needs to adapt. The idea that society is going to change is a pipe dream.
Only a handful of companies are effectively adapting to the changing needs of the modern learner. This is troubling mainly because the rate of leadership retirement is accelerating faster than organizations can adjust, creating an ever-widening chasm between the skills they need and the ones they have. The only way to close this gap is through effective employee development.
In October 2018, a Bloomberg article suggested companies that invest more in development reap greater business rewards and less turnover. Companies that have embraced real-time, hands-on and applied learning are well ahead of the curve.
How can companies effectively develop employees in the era of screen time? Here are five tips.
Tip 1: Focus on tangible, practical and immediately useable skills.
Today’s learners want skills they can immediately touch, play with and apply to their jobs. Creating development delivery methods that focus on being able to mentally touch and play with a company’s content is critical. Today’s managers are accustomed to being touched at an emotional level. This is what provides the physiological reward. The same thing needs to happen within development content. Participants need to be able to see the “what, why and how” of development. Finally, participants need to clearly know that the skill is advantageous and useful. Much of this can be done using business simulations and serious games. Historically, these have been complex and expensive tools, but this has changed drastically in the last five years thanks to technology. Companies large and small are using these tools with success.
Tip 2: Focus on human interaction.
One of the effects of screen time is less interpersonal communication. Don’t let technology become the teacher. Technology should act as a catalyst for effective content delivery. One of the most important modes is face-to-face interaction. This is especially important for innovation and teamwork skill development. The trick is to create an environment where participants can practice and are rewarded for effective interpersonal interactions. Just because technology is being utilized doesn’t mean interpersonal time is reduced. Using technology to increase human interaction is the goal.
Tip 3: Focus on digital time and analog time.
Digital time shouldn’t rob analog time. Many people view tech time and face time as mutually exclusive, but this isn’t the case. Screen time can be effectively used as a tool to encourage analog time, such as time spent with others working, talking, sharing, comparing and learning. When planning your development, take special care to balance screen time and analog time. To accomplish this, all screen time should be group-based. Replace mobile learning with small-group learning that uses technology as a team. By this method, time on the screen encourages time in discussion.
Tip 4: Focus on the business.
Ensure that development is beneficial to the business. Of course, this goes without saying, but sometimes there’s a little scope creep which tends to drift more toward theory than business applicability. All employee development activities should demonstrate an impact on business outcomes. This is especially true during the actual exercises — for example, how leadership impacts revenue growth or how effective strategic alignment impacts profitability. As with the first tip, business simulations are a great tool to help facilitate this, but they’re by no means necessary nor do they need to be complicated. Simple pen-and-paper, team-based exercises can accomplish this. Exercises should be simple to implement and simple to understand.
Tip 5: Focus on rich discussions.
Reserve a large portion of time for group or team-based discussion. The trick to doing this effectively is to have a set of predefined facilitation questions that are designed to both challenge the participants and create a light amount of controversy. Discussing the development content is where the real learning application happens. Additionally, pre-exposing the participants to the questions can help prevent the awkward five seconds of silence that often occur during question introduction within facilitation. For a day of training, reserve at least one hour for discussion.
Screen time is here to stay. Developing tomorrow’s leaders is more critical than ever. Embracing the new era of screen time isn’t hard, but it does take a little creative thinking, sharp business skills and an action/applied learning focus. This will help create employee development that’s engaging, strategic and valuable for the entire organization.