Leadership Development Powered By AI:  BetterUp Connect

It was bound to happen: Leadership Development powered by AI. Here’s the latest…

As we’ve discovered in our Irresistible Leadership research, mid-level managers are struggling. Not only have managers had to deal with remote work, the pandemic, and many job changes and layoffs, they are burned out themselves. New research by Microsoft found that 53% of managers are “burned out,” an even higher number than employees in general (43%).

Why are they burned out? As the Microsoft research points out, it’s a combination of high workload, stress, and limited resources. And surprisingly enough, employees want more. 81% of workers want their managers to help them better prioritize workload, and 76% want development and career support. How can we help our overwhelmed managers thrive?

Well BetterUp, a company that pioneered digital-enabled live coaching, just introduced something exciting. It’s called BetterUp Connect, and it’s what you might call “precision development for managers.” (Powered by #AI of course.)

Here’s the problem. Based on findings from our upcoming Irresistible Leadership research, fewer than 15% of organizations have an end-to-end leadership development program that reaches all managers. While some organizations spend thousands of dollars per employee on leadership development, the average is under $500. And this is not for lack of interest: it’s just very difficult to build a scalable, personalized program for every manager in the company.

This is the problem BetterUp is trying to solve. Over the last several years, through the acquisition of several technology companies, BetterUp built an AI-powered digital platform that can assess a manager’s needs (enabling the manager to define the challenges they face), design a custom solution (using BetterUp content, coaching, and tools), integrate a company’s proprietary training, and deliver personalized support in the flow of work.

I’m sure many of you have taken management training courses. They’re interesting at first, but often become boring or tedious unless you have a hands-on instructor or coach. BetterUp knows this, so Connect is designed to give you nudges, small videos or learning materials, and connect you to a coach (or group coaching session) as needed. And since this is platform based, the solution can scale to thousands of managers.

And the scalability story goes deeper. Not only does BetterUp Connect let you add your own content, it can connect to your ERP system to trigger new training and development based on a manager’s career journey. Suppose you’ve just been promoted? The Connect product will be notified by Workday or another HCM and immediately welcome you and help you start your development. Other cycles that trigger Connect include a team realignment, a performance review cycle, or even layoffs. You, as an organization, can customize these events and configure Connect to address these issues.

BetterUp Connect Challenges

As with all the BetterUp products, the user experience is impressive. Not only is the system simple and easy to use, it gives managers a lot of “eye candy” to encourage them to learn, it nudges them with tips and reminders, and makes it very easy to find a coach. And the pre-defined “challenges” (which can be customized) cover the existential challenges managers face.

Sample challenges include: balancing work and life, building confidence, developing team cohesion, coaching and developing others, coping with layoffs, giving feedback, driving clarity and alignment, managing stress, managing up and across, delivering performance review, prioritizing your time, and of course “being a first line manager.”

Each of these challenges has been included in a new BetterUp “great-manager” model which is easy to understand. So as managers learn and develop they can explore the model and expand their capabilities. And since much of BetterUp is about wellbeing and empowerment, the experiences are developmental, approachable, and supportive.

BetterUp Leadership Development Framework

The innovation I found most interesting is the learning model. Instead of just “delivering content” based on topics (ie. diversity, feedback, etc), BetterUp created five learning levels, delivered prescriptively to the manager:

  • Coping: giving managers relief, inspiration, and energy
  • Learning: micro-learnings and workshops
  • Reflecting: assessments, reflection activities, and coaching
  • Doing: coaching circles, challenges, and quests
  • Being: accountability, progress reports, and rewards.
BetterUp Connect Content Experience

Of course there are many other solutions on the market. Franklin Covey (Jhana was designed for this audience), Torch (also prescriptive development with coaching), LinkedIn Learning (wide range of video courses), DDI (built around DDI’s management model) and others. And there are more prescriptive management tools coming – platforms like Sana, Docebo, Novoed, and Cornerstone are all becoming AI-centric, making this type of solution more possible than ever before. So stay tuned for lots of announcements in this space.

What’s unique about BetterUp Connect is its ability to personalize at scale. The AI-powered platform provides self-assessment, a wide variety of learning formats, coaching, and HCM integration all at a very reasonable cost. Maybe finally we’ll see companies start to offer end-to-end management support to their hard-working, overworked middle managers, who really form the backbone of a company.

Given the challenges managers face today, this kind of solution has arrived at the perfect time.

Additional Information

How Online Coaching Is Disrupting Leadership Development

Why Leadership Development Feels Broken: And How We’re Trying To Fix It

Coaching At Scale: New Certificate Program From The Josh Bersin Academy