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4 Ways Top Companies Use Experiential Learning to Mitigate Talent Risk

We keep saying it because the research shows it: talent risk is business risk. Through an extensive study into talent risk, i4cp research also found only two practices that help manage talent risk and have a positive correlation with market performance.

One was workforce planning—the other, effective utilization of learning and development practices.

In a recent research collaboration with the Association for Talent Development (ATD), we discovered how high-performance organizations (those excelling over time in revenue growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction) are using the power of experiential learning to develop and retain skilled leadership talent—and effectively mitigate talent risk.

What is experiential learning?

Experiential refers to learning that involves some sort of action. What could appeal more to a take-charge, hands-on, future-leader-in-training? Action learning pits individuals or groups against real-world business problems, challenging them to devise solutions. On-the-job learning occurs during the normal execution of a person’s duties—job rotations, coaching, and leaders-as-teachers assignments are examples. Simulations, too, offer experiential learning in both live and virtual environments.

Overall, about three out of four organizations use experiential learning in their leadership development programs. But i4cp quickly found that high-performance companies look beyond what others are doing, instead taking specific actions to ramp up their development and optimize results for participating leaders and for the enterprise.

Here are four of their most effective and differentiating practices:

1. Extend experiential learning to frontline leaders

Though many companies think of experiential learning as a tool to develop top executives, high-performers recognize an important fact: they need to drill down beyond senior-leadership levels to challenge frontline leaders with experiential learning, too.

Market-leading organizations are 4x more likely than their lower-performing counterparts to view experiential learning as an effective development approach for frontline leaders. In fact, high-performers don’t just dive deeper, they also make it a point to offer frontline leaders access to a wider range of experiential learning opportunities.

2. Formalize experiential learning

Traditional classroom learning and e-learning aren’t going away, and most companies continue to concentrate the efforts of their instructional designers in those areas. High-performers aren’t forsaking those established learning methods, but they are ensuring that their instructional designers also focus on creating strong experiential learning assets.

Too often, organizations rely on learning experiences to unfold informally and spontaneously. Learning leaders in top companies know better, and more than half of high-performance organizations invest resources and design expertise in purposefully crafting formal on-the-job learning experiences.

3. Apply the power of technology

Top companies are more than 2x as likely to harness the power of technologies to help drive experiential learning success. Content repositories (think SharePoint) and familiar collaborative tools—such as WebEx, join.me, and GoToMeeting—are widely used by about half of organizations overall. Certainly, high-performers use them, too. But they also opt for more sophisticated technologies that enable serious games, collaborative networking, simulations, and other capabilities that support experiential learning.

4. Immerse leaders through live, virtual, or blended simulations

Speaking of simulations, the research found them remarkably underutilized. Fewer than one in five organizations use live simulations, and even fewer (12%) use virtual simulations to engage and develop leaders at any level.

In contrast, nearly a third of high-performance companies create live simulations to immerse their leaders in learning that mirrors real-world situations. About 25% of top firms use virtual simulations, some in combination with live learning elements. That live/virtual blend is strongly correlated to better market performance and overall learning effectiveness, making it a potentially powerful choice.

Don’t risk losing the leadership talent your organization needs to achieve long-term success.

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.