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Zayd Badwan

Vice President, Enterprise, Uplimit

The Tech Industry Needs Better Leadership Training

May 3rd, 2023
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At Uplimit, we’re on a mission to help learners and their companies prepare for the future with high-quality, practice-based learning that scales, using a combination of the best instructors in the world and smart deployment of AI, which helps us reach more learners than other collaborative learning methods. Now, we’re expanding beyond technical training and are thrilled to announce the launch of our new tech leadership development course track, designed to develop stronger leaders in tech, whether they’re in a technical or non-technical function.

Leadership development for tech, taught by experts and practitioners

We’re partnering with an absolute dream team of instructors to launch this suite of leadership courses, including Carole Robin, who taught Stanford Business School’s legendary “Touchy Feely” Interpersonal Dynamics course for nearly two decades, multidisciplinary HR leader and former global head of learning at Meta Stuart Crabb, human resources and diversity consultant and former Snapchat director of human resources Sara Sperling, senior development manager at Shopify Jesse McGinnis, engineering manager at Eventbrite Melissa Roman, NYU school of professional studies instructor and content strategist Meg Nanson, and Future of Work podcast host, Betterwork Labs founder, and Salesforce and Deloitte alum Al Dea, amongst many others. We’re excited to work with these instructors to bring their knowledge and expertise to more learners than ever before, and––most importantly––draw on their own experience to help those learners understand how to put their new skills into practice.

>>Want to learn more about bringing Uplimit to your organization? Get in touch here and we'll reach out shortly!

Why leadership training isn’t as effective for tech leaders as it could be

We created this leadership track to fill a gap we saw in leadership development for the tech industry, something we hear about all the time in conversations with companies searching for better learning solutions. Leaders and managers in tech––whether they’re in a technical or non-technical function themselves––face special challenges due to the rapid pace of change in their industry. Helping teams thrive requires strong communication, an ability to foster creativity and innovation, and a deep understanding of how to promote psychological safety amongst teams and colleagues. Yet across functions, leadership training for tech leaders just isn’t as effective as it could be.

There are three common issues keeping training from being impactful:

  • Leadership development is often not scalable or accessible to all leaders and managers within the organization.
  • Frequently, leadership development doesn’t drive real behavioral change because it doesn’t feature instructors with industry experience, or pedagogy that helps learners put their new skills into practice.
  • Finally, leadership training is too often delivered in a modality that doesn’t work for busy learners with fast-paced jobs, leading to low learner engagement and completion rates.

Tech leadership training: three best practices

All these factors compound to create an urgent need for a new, more effective model of leadership training, tailored to the particular needs of leaders within the tech industry. To that end, we’re outlining three key best practices for leadership development in tech––the three key principles we used to design these courses.

Leadership development for tech best practice #1: leadership training should be widely accessible.

Leadership is more distributed than ever, and leaders and managers at all levels need to be able to make decisions, guide their teams through uncertainty, and foresee new challenges and opportunities ahead. In today’s world of work, it’s not just the C-suite leading the charge as companies drive to an aligned result. Any training that’s going to be impactful needs to scale across the organization to a wide swath of leaders, managers, and potentially even individual contributors.

At Uplimit, one of the main tools we use to ensure learning is scalable is our AI teaching assistant. The assistant nudges students who haven’t completed projects, offers hints when learners are stuck on a particular section, and provides initial answers to learner questions, then opens them up to the community.

This removes many of the operational and logistical burdens from instructors’ plates, so they can reach more students and focus on the learner interactions with the highest impact––and allows organizations to roll out learning to more employees than ever before, while still saving money over higher-cost solutions.

Leadership development for tech best practice #2: leadership training should feature practitioner-experts and foster real behavioral change.

Best-in-class subject matter experts are integral to providing the theoretical foundation and the “why” behind learned concepts. But to make leadership development relevant, it’s important to include instructors who can speak to the day-to-day realities leaders and managers face in their roles and have firsthand experience translating theory into action. This is why we’re really excited about the team we’ve partnered with to launch this suite of leadership courses.

Carole Robin is the co-founder and head of programs of Leaders in Tech, and previously taught a generation of tech leaders how to deepen their relationships and strengthen their teams through Stanford Business School’s Interpersonal Dynamics (“Touchy Feely”) course. We’re thrilled to partner with an instructor who has made developing stronger tech leaders their mission in life as we launch these courses. We’re also excited to have courses headed up by current and former leaders from both technical and nontechnical fields, from companies like Shopify, Meta, Salesforce, Instagram, and more.

Yet even with practitioner-instructors, traditional leadership development workshops don’t typically offer opportunities for practice. This means that even if learners get advice from the best and most experienced instructors in the world, it can be difficult for them to apply the learned concepts once they leave the digital “classroom” and return to the rhythm of their day-to-day work. For real, lasting behavioral change, you can’t just have great instructors––practice must be baked into the model.

This is one of the aspects of the Uplimit platform we’re most excited to see in action in these new leadership courses. Having experienced great success with putting projects at the center of our learning for technical skills, we’re looking forward to debuting a similar model for our leadership courses.

What does this look like? We ensure that courses follow Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, offering opportunities for different types of application and reflection, all related to the types of situations learners might encounter on the job. This active practice is then reinforced and deepened through conversations and small group interactions within the cohort.

Leadership development for tech best practice #3: leadership training should be delivered in a modality that works for busy learners and their organizations.

A central truth of learning and development: even the best-conceived, most-well-designed learning experience won’t matter if learners don’t actually complete it. This is why it’s essential that companies also make sure to invest in learning that is delivered in a way that works with learners’ schedules––and in a user-friendly modality that will make learners want to complete it.

Looking at the dismal completion rates of fully asynchronous learning, it’s clear that a solution with no synchronous elements just doesn’t engage learners. Yet (as anyone who’s tried to schedule a meeting across time zones knows) large tech companies with geographically distributed teams need flexible solutions. How to thread this needle?

At Uplimit, we’ve seen success with instructor-led, cohort-based, time-bound courses that include both live sessions and asynchronous project and discussion elements, with everything recorded so that learners can participate on their own time if needed, too. This offers the flexibility learners and their organizations need, while also providing that spark of motivation that encourages great completion rates––typically above 80%, compared to single-digit averages for all-asynchronous alternatives.

>>Check out the full leadership course list!


Leadership development for the tech industry: a deeper dive

Why does the tech industry need leadership development that keeps its unique challenges in mind? For those looking for more information about the gap in current offerings and why the need is so urgent, here’s a deeper dive.

We’ve long heard demand––from both learning leaders and learners themselves––for leadership training that helps teams excel in this fast-paced industry. In particular, learners and their organizations are looking for leadership development focused on practical insights that they can put to work on the job right away.

This matters more than ever. We’re in a time of unprecedented change in the tech industry, and it’s left even experienced leaders and managers feeling like they’re on uncertain ground. Strong leadership––at all levels of the organization––will help companies navigate skillfully through both the high points and the bumps in the road. When considering how to develop smart, empathetic leaders with the foresight, savvy, and people skills to help their teams thrive, there are a few things learning leaders and those tasked with technical capability building should keep in mind.

The challenges of leadership development in tech

Whether we’re talking about technical leaders or leaders and managers in non-technical functions, leadership in the tech industry is a little different from leadership in other industries. One key factor is the rapid pace of technological change: the tech industry demands leaders who must adapt quickly to new tools, methods, and trends. A comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity is a key job requirement. From leaders at the highest levels, to first-time managers, to individual contributors heading up initiatives and influencing their colleagues, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help cultivate a culture of creativity and learning.

The tech industry also demands specialized skills and knowledge, and leaders and managers across both technical and non-technical functions need an understanding of the concepts, tools, and processes that their teams are responsible for. Whether or not they are in a technical function themselves, communicating effectively with technical teams is a core skill for a leader in the tech industry, as is grasping the technical implications of business decisions.

For leaders and managers who are in technical functions, there are additional reasons why traditional leadership development just doesn’t cut it. The courses and workshops focused on technical leadership specifically are few and far between, and most are housed within academic institutions removed from the everyday realities of the job. Technical fields move very quickly, and leaders managing these teams have an especially acute need to hone their skills in absorbing new information and being ready to pivot. A growth mindset is essential, as is the ability to manage team members with deep knowledge in technical areas that the leader may or may not be a subject matter in themselves.

Why leadership development is critical for tech now

Developing great leaders and managers across functions provides an enormous opportunity for tech companies looking to stay competitive in an uncertain landscape.

Only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and a staggeringly low 13% are engaged worldwide. Managers account for 70% of the variation in employee engagement, making leadership development a key lever to pull in increasing these numbers. For those who do, the rewards are clear: companies in the top quartile of employee engagement have about 90% better earnings per share than their competitive set.

When looking at these engagement numbers, it’s also important to keep in mind that right now, employees are yearning for connection. As we move from the early pandemic years into an era where we’re all adjusting to new rhythms of work and new forms of collaboration, employees are feeling disconnected and alone. People managers have a unique role to play in helping combat this drift toward disconnection and isolation. For distributed teams to thrive, any leadership development must put skills like empathy, fostering remote collaboration, and building psychological safety front and center.

The business and learner impact of great leadership development

Since we launched Uplimit, we’ve been laser-focused on helping learners gain the skills of the future. Now, we’re thrilled to be expanding our offerings into a whole new area of forward-looking skills that further this mission, focused on helping learners in tech develop the capabilities that will help them lead the teams and organizations carrying out this work and determining the future of our industry (and well beyond).

Organizations that take the time to invest in something truly impactful and tailor-made for their industry will reap the rewards––as will their learners, their teams, and their bottom line.

Want to learn more about our leadership development for tech? Reach out here and we'll get back to you within a day!

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