Erica Dhawan is the CEO of Cotential, a global consultancy that accelerates the connectedness of employees, teams, customers and other stakeholders to solve pressing challenges. Her new book Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence, co-authored by Saj-nicole Joni, is out now. Learn more at

Learning and development in the business world has to change. According to a new study by Saba and, "less than a quarter of businesses worldwide are using advanced technology for insights into their people and effectiveness of their talent programs," and just 23 percent are using big data. The same study, entitled Global Workforce Leadership Survey, also found that employees are looking for personalized direction at every stage of their career: "They expect content, contacts and courses offered at work in the same style they consume personalized content at home through Amazon and Netflix."

Put simply, training and development shouldn't be confined to a few fancy conferences each year; instead, it should be built into the fabric of day-to-day work life.

This shift in training and development is critical for any company that wants to retain top talent. "The bottom line is that companies need to rethink their talent management and employee engagement strategies," said Dan Schawbel, Founder of "Personalized employee career development programs, accessible tools and tracking systems and a focus on redefining and re-engaging leadership -- at all levels -- will help deliver on the innovation and growth that businesses require."

We know that developing your employees is crucial for business growth; it's time for companies falling short to use the resources we already have and focus on this area. So what does this look like and how can companies take advantage of these new trends? As an advisor on talent to Fortune 500 companies, here are my top 5 best practices.


One of the most interesting developments in recent years is the gamification of learning, research and development, and you can apply this to your company. Take Foldit for example, an online gaming platform that allows people to solve puzzles that contribute to anti-viral drug research. Last year, Foldit gamers solved puzzles dealing with the Ebola virus, and top solutions are being used in research today. What if you took that idea and applied it to your internal training programs by creating games in specific learning areas? You would enable your employees to solve problems in a fun and engaging way, and the solutions could turn into research that other employees could build upon.

Online Real-Time Learning Communities

Another way to engage employees is to accelerate their ability to share knowledge. Think of this like an internal Quora forum where employees can post questions and find informal subject matter experts inside their company. The problem is usually not that there isn't enough wisdom within a company, but that the systems aren't in place for employees to effectively share or access that knowledge when it's needed. Building an online Q&A community will allow employees to be continuously engaged in helping each other through real-time problems, demonstrating their own skills and building a living library of content for the company.

Blogging Networks

A blogging network takes an online learning community to the next level. It gives your employees a place to share in-depth content about their work and aggregate industry-related news to share with other employees. It gives your people the chance to keep up with each other's work and allows them an opportunity to share ongoing projects. With real-time news and ongoing blogging, it also gives employees a forum to become internal thought leaders, regardless of rank or status.

Client and Customer Learning Communities

Companies are always asking how to get customers more involved with their products and build brand loyalty. Sponsoring an open learning network can provide customer engagement while developing employees at the same time. Employees can educate each other and customers on their industry topic. Think of this just like TEDx talks, where content is created and shared by users -- in this case, your employees. By providing this great content to customers, you'll become the industry hub of knowledge for anyone in your field.

Your employees can create podcasts, write articles or give mini video lectures on a particular topic, empowering them to be proud of their knowledge and inspired to learn more. Ratings can be used to optimize content just like Yelp, which is also a great way to learn what your customers are most interested in.

Speed Networking

We've all heard of speed networking outside of your company, but what about applying it internally? Especially when company branches are spread out internationally, there is often a huge missed opportunity to connect these employees globally to share knowledge. A new video networking platform called Spindows could accelerates communication across geographies, enabling employees to discover new colleagues and new sources of ideas.

For any business, redefining learning and development will bring you happier, more productive employees. By taking advantage of real-time networks, new learning and development programs will create enabling structures for your employees to teach and learn from each other. It can even open doors to engage better with customers, clients and other stakeholders. This will foster an empowered workforce and collaborative culture, all while reducing the cost of expensive top-down learning programs.

Published on: May 29, 2015
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of