Driving Individual and Organizational Success
Posted by Charles Scherbaum, Ph.D. on Fri, Jul 10, 2020 @ 10:49 AM

We live in a world that is increasingly focused on personalization and customization of our individual experiences. For example, in e-commerce, everyone from Amazon to Netflix to Spotify is delivering experiences that are personalized to the interests and behavior of the individual using the service. Marketing has long used personalized approaches to create target advertising based on customers’ past shopping behavior. The initialization process for any consumer electronics involves personalizing the look and operation to the user’s preference. At this point, it is a basic expectation that products and services can be personalized to the needs, interests, and behaviors of the individual.


Despite the prevalence of personalization in most business and consumer domains, there are surprisingly few examples of this in human capital. With the exceptions of cafeteria-style benefits or adaptive pre-employment testing, most human capital programs take a “one size fits all” approach to designing and delivering solutions. This is unfortunate as many human capital programs, solutions, and initiatives are natural for personalization. Learning and development is the most obvious example of where personalization can increase the program’s effectiveness and decrease the cost.

Most learning and development programs start with the assumption that all employees have roughly the same developmental needs. With this assumption, it makes sense to deliver the same content in the same order for everyone participating in the program. Yet, we know that not all employees are starting from the same place in terms of their knowledge, skills, and competencies. For any given learning and development program, the content, level, and sequence is right for some employees, but it is too advanced or too basic for most other employees.

Managerial development is a classic example of this issue. Employees moving into management positions often have a wide variety of different developmental needs. For example, some need help providing feedback, some need help resolving conflict, and others need help giving effective recognition. Regardless of the differences in developmental needs, the training they receive is essentially the same. Therefore, many new managers struggle because the limited development they receive is not in line with what they need to be successful. Personalizing the learning content, the level of the content, and the content’s sequence provides an opportunity to shorten training for many employees and make it more effective by targeting the areas where the employee has developmental needs.   

What does it take to personalize learning and development?

To create a personalized learning and development program, you will need to implement an assessment that can diagnose the individual’s developmental needs. If you have used services like Netflix or Spotify, many of the recommendations they make when you join are not entirely on target. The more you watch or listen; they can identify your preferences and interests and then recommend content that is more on target. The same is true for learning and development. The more you know about the employee; the better one can identify the employee’s specific developmental needs. The assessment can be specifically developed based on the available or intended learning content, or it could come from existing data such as competency assessment or 360-reviews. The key is that the assessment must provide insight into the developmental needs of the employee.

One will also need a variety of learning and development content that can meet those developmental needs. This will require a shift from a small number of longer and more generic learning and development programs and content to a larger number of shorter and more specific learning and development programs and content. The current focus on micro learning is a good fit for personalized learning and development programs. Micro learning generally contains content that is narrow and specific in focus and often behavioral in orientation. Learning and development professionals can create a library of micro learning modules and then pair the modules to the insights produced by the assessment to create a personalized curriculum for each employee.  

Does personalizing learning and development work?

In our research and work with clients designing and implementing personalized learning and development programs, including our CXS Develop solution, we have found that these types of programs can have a large and quick impact on the employee career experience and organizational performance.

For example, a financial services client implemented a personalized learning and development program for managerial recognition skills. We found that managers in their retail banking side who completed the training had larger year-over-year increases in customer loyalty, and sales for their branches compared managers who did not complete the program. The employees working for managers completing the program reported higher levels of engagement and more positive career experiences. These benefits were often seen as soon as the month following completion of the personalized learning and development program.

Creating a personalized and custom learning and development program provides your employees with an opportunity to grow their skills. At the same time, the organization benefits from a targeted approach to positively impacting the right behaviors.


Charles A. Scherbaum, Ph.D., is a recognized expert in analytics, talent management, assessment, performance management and employee and customer research. He is an author of articles, chapters, and a book on these topics. He has worked with and overseen substantial research and analytics initiatives at Fortune 500 companies over the past 12 years. He is the winner of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s M. Scott Myers Award and the Innovations in Assessment Award from the International Personnel Assessment Council.

Charles is a professor of psychology at Baruch College, City University of New York. He received a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from Ohio University, and the Chief Analytics Officer at our sister company, Rideau.

Topics: Employee Learning

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