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Democratizing Leadership Development
Opening the leadership silo to greater opportunities.
By Adina Sapp
Traditional leadership development has been structured in a regulated and limited way that targets top performers. The dangers to that approach include siloed leaders and stagnant organizations resulting from performance-based restrictions and merit-based training.

Traditional programs have historically been very prescriptive. As opposed to fostering individual ownership, the traditional model encourages people to believe someone else is responsible for their development.

In a recent interview with Darren Shimkus, president of Udemy for Business, CLO explored the importance of creating democratized learning programs aimed at developing and empowering high-potential and emerging future leaders.

The Case for Change
“Our world is changing dramatically,” Shimkus notes. “With the rapid pace of change and technological innovation, 71% of organizations don’t feel their leaders can lead their organization into the future.1

Additionally, in a time when organizations are fiercely competing for talent, younger employees are demanding development from their workplace. A 2016 study found that 63% of millennials feel their leadership skills aren’t being developed, and as a result, 71% would leave their job within two years to fix the deficiency.2

“We’re in the midst of a leadership skills gap and it’s becoming increasingly evident we must begin to democratize leadership development across levels and roles,” Shimkus says.

Training also must be offered on a more timely basis. The average age when managers first receive leadership training is 42 — 10 years after most begin supervising people.3 “It’s time to support both future and current leaders,” Shimkus says.

Pillar 1: Building the Learning Culture
“When Udemy began prioritizing its own leadership democratization a few years ago, we rolled out our program with four key pillars, the first of which is to build the culture,” Shimkus says. “We knew we had to build the culture to ensure lasting change and impact.”

Udemy did this by actively fostering a culture of learning to serve as a foundation for career and leadership development. It worked closely with the executive team to ensure every employee knew the value and acceptance of learning at work. With programs like “DEAL Hour” (Drop Everything and Learn), Udemy made learning a priority, not an afterthought.

Pillar 2: Creating a Network Effect
Udemy’s next priority was to work across every team, creating a network effect of development. Long gone are the days where HR and L&D could film and facilitate every training needed for the entire company.

“At Udemy, we’re focused on scaling development by making every employee a teacher to their peers or direct reports,” Shimkus says. “No matter the level, we believe all employees have something to teach one another.”

Udemy leverages its own platform, Udemy for Business, internally for online learning course consumption. With its “Smart Recommendations,” the Udemy for Business platform can help employees connect with meaningful learning experiences that drive continuous learning, deepen subject matter expertise and expand employee knowledge and development.

Pillar 3: Opening the Gates
“Once we created the culture and evangelized leadership development across the company, we worked to open the gates and make it clear that this was for everyone,” Shimkus continues. “There is no manager supervision required for trainings, and every development opportunity we offer is open to any individual at the company, regardless of tenure or level.”

Financial strain is a top reason many organizations typically haven’t extended development opportunities more widely. Since off-site leadership programs or bootcamps can be costly or time consuming, organizations are increasingly turning to platforms like Udemy for Business to save on travel costs while deriving the same value from quality leadership content taught by real-world experts.4

In a recent report, Udemy customers shared that they were able to develop three times more employees than before, thanks to the cost-effective licensing of Udemy for Business.5 With access to online courses and experts, Udemy for Business customers can open the gates and offer training traditionally reserved for high-level executives to their entire workforce.

Pillar 4: Making It Social
Lastly, Udemy socialized development. It rolled out a program called “coffice hours” where employees could receive casual mentorship over a cup of coffee from anyone in the organization. It also leveraged internal messaging systems to socialize leadership trainings.

For many employees, learning at work often occurs through informal learning driven by interactions and conversations with coworkers. In fact, research has found that 75% of the informal learning that occurs in the workplace is due to this type of social learning.6

Udemy utilizes a Slack integration for employees to easily share course information with colleagues. “Our Slack and Udemy for Business integration allows employees in any role, and at any level, to share valuable content across the broader organization and truly democratize development to peers, managers and executives,” Shimkus says.

To successfully navigate the future, it’s essential to open the gates of leadership development by expanding training programs and revising the criteria used to identify potential leaders. Organizations need to take all employees out of the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat of their development. With a sense of ownership, not only will they feel more responsible for the outcome, they will also develop more quickly.

Udemy for Business curates content from online content creators on Udemy.com, the world’s largest learning marketplace. To learn more about its leadership development programs, visit business.udemy.com/request-demo.

1 State of Leadership Development 2015: Time to Act is Now. Brandon Hall Group.
2 HR & Millennials: Insights Into Your New Human Capital. Human Resources Professionals Association.
3 Leadership Development: Are You Starting Too Late? Zenger Folkman.

4 A culture of learning drives innovation at Malwarebytes. Udemy for Business.
5 How Udemy for Business Delivers 869% ROI. Udemy for Business.
6 Smart Companies Support Informal Learning. The eLearning Guild.
Udemy for Business
Udemy for Business is a curated learning platform that offers organizations subscription access to a collection of 3,000 business-relevant courses on the most in-demand skills. With flexible plans and pricing, Udemy for Business offers options for companies of any size, from large enterprises to individual teams. Udemy for Business is powered by Udemy.com, the world’s largest online learning marketplace, with the freshest and most diverse content taught by real-world experts. For more information, visit business.udemy.com.