Meeting the rise of workplace AI by building capability

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You’re in a Zoom meeting, churning through an endless list of meeting objectives. But you’re not taking a single note. In fact, no one is. No one needs to because the meeting is being recorded, transcribed, curated and made searchable. How? With your artificial intelligence (AI) plugin, of course. This isn’t the future. This is happening right now.

It’s just one more step towards workplace automation that frees up your employees from time-consuming, basic cognitive tasks. Not to mention a swathe of AI tech that is reducing the need for physical labour across industries. Adapting to this change is key to the continued success of your organisation. So are your employees ready? Or more pertinently, are they ‘capable’? That’s right, it’s time to focus on building capability.

A report by McKinsey found that as more roles are given over to AI, the need for social and emotional skills in employees will rise 26% by 2030. Consequently, employee training is increasingly about developing broader capabilities rather than simple ‘use it or lose it’ skills. This is what underlies the recent rise of what Learning Analyst Josh Bersin calls Capability Academies.

Capability Academies — what are they about?

How can you prepare for the increasing importance of these soft skills? How can you impart those more nuanced and subtle capabilities? We are talking about leadership, problem-solving, influencing others and communicating effectively.

These skills are, more often than not, specifically adapted to your corporate culture and company ethos. E-learning certainly isn’t going to develop these capabilities effectively — it’s asynchronous, one-way, passive. Exactly the opposite of what is needed for building capability and soft skills. Nor is a giant library of seemingly unlimited content that overwhelms more than it engages.

Employees need a place to go, physically or digitally, where they can build ‘capability’. Capability refers to the ability to ‘behave in specific ways’. That is, to adjust our actioned response to stimuli. Just knowing how to lead is not enough, we need to practice, reflect and re-apply in order to change.

This place, the Capability Academy allows employees to share experiences, learn and grow. It enables your employees to learn the functional and technical requirements of their role, but to do so in a way that stretches their leadership, negotiation and communication capabilities.

This is not just a change of wording, it is a change of meaning. Capability refers to the tangible outcome of learning, how we actually act. As Minzberg said ‘Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it’.

Global businesses leading the way

Organisations looking to maintain or gain an edge have already invested in honing their very own Capability Academies.

Telecommunications conglomerate, Comcast has an Academy of Customer Service. Here, employees not only learn about the service technology Comcast uses but also their customer service best practices and behaviours.

Global financial services company, Visa has a FinTech Capability Academy, where employees learn about the latest innovations in fintech, as well as Visa’s proprietary approaches.

Multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis has multiple Academies focusing on personal effectiveness, leadership, digital literacy and cultivating curiosity.

While big organisations are certainly leading the way in building capability, Capability Academies are not out of reach for SMEs. You can create your own digital academy where your employees can learn, share and grow their capabilities. And you can do it without investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How digital can facilitate capability building

What distinguishes a Capability Academy from a learning environment is its focus on the interactive. For too long the default use of digital is asynchronous content delivery, initially via e-learning and more recently through video. These have a place in the awareness-raising phase of building capability. But they fail to deliver when people need to ‘play’ with the skills they wish to develop.

New technologies, such as VR, can take people to places where they can practice capabilities but with soft skills this technology has yet to deliver. Airbnb is a great example of how a digital platform facilitates physical experiences. L&D can learn a lot from their approach. Facilitating experiences that provoke reflection, feedback and growth is one powerful and cost-effective way to provide the opportunity to ‘play’ with skills.

Creating your digital Capability Academy 

Digital Capability Academies can overcome an age-old challenge that asynchronous content delivery has always struggled to overcome — engagement. The context for learning is so underrated; participants need to understand how what they are learning is relevant to them. Without context, learning content can become abstract and irrelevant.

Digitally facilitated learning can bring context from 2 key sources:

Their knowledge and expertise mean they can guide the development journey that best suits the learner. They can bring their own experiences into the design of your training programme. They can highlight the intersections between soft skills and functional skills and centre tasks around developing both of these skill-sets.

Our mobile learning platform On.Board makes this easy with an intuitive interface for creating training programmes. Designed with anyone, regardless of digital authoring skills, in mind. It makes it easy for even tech-hesitant teams to create customisable learning journeys.

Your leaders and coaches, therefore, have an integral part to play at the inception of your training programme. However, their continued involvement is also vital. Why not use a digital forum to facilitate feedback for learners? This functionality is built into On.Board through its Performance Hub. Feedback goes above and beyond textbook responses by tuning into the experiential nature of workplace learning. Some call it ‘do, reflect, adjust, re-do’.

Peer-to-peer learning is as important as gaining the insights of your managers and coaches. Learners facing the same challenges and learning tasks need to come together. Social exchanges amplify learning and the speed to capability.

On.Board seamlessly facilitates this through its social feature. Learners engaged in the same task can share their results, experiences and feedback in a structured, task-centred environment.

This context, created by bringing together literal human resources and digital technology, ensures specificity of learning. In this framework, skills and knowledge are always made relevant to your employees’ daily workplace challenges.

Take home message

Building capability in your employees effectively requires context. You can ensure context by:

On that last point, engaging content, it’s about more than just keeping your employees interested during their training. It’s about ensuring positive transfer of learning i.e. ensuring learning in one context (your digital training programme) enhances performance in another context (the real world, your organisation).

This is a tricky process to master and has been heavily researched, notably by American psychologists Detterman and Sternberg. More on what they discovered and how it can enhance your employees’ performance in our next blog.


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