Today, organizations are working to develop capabilities among leaders to advance business priorities. For many the focus is centered on business transformation and leading through the ever-increasing complexity.

According to a 2014 Innosight survey, 85 percent of large companies expect they will need to transform their business over the next five years; however, only 35 percent of executives are confident their organizations have the know-how to do so.

Are your employees ready to lead change?

When it comes to leading through a rapidly changing business environment, it isn’t enough to build strong capability only among more senior leaders. Organizations need to expand the reach to build leadership and management capability among employees at all levels.

John Kotter wrote, “Leadership is not about attributes; it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy.” (Harvard Business Review Blog, January 2013)

Organizations are finding that even employees starting out in their careers need to be equipped to think strategically, to make good decisions, and to inspire and influence those working on their teams and around them.

Yet these capabilities are seldom developed broadly across organizations. While high-potential employees may be invited to participate in leadership training, the rest of your workforce represents untapped leadership potential. This is a significant lost opportunity. Managers and individual contributors—on the front lines with employees, customers, and competitors—have the collective power to make a real difference.

Accelerating development and expanding reach

Organizations need to build management capabilities across regions, business units, and functions—and at every level. But the challenge comes in delivering high quality and consistent development, scaling it, and delivering it fast enough. Companies are flatter, the pipeline is accelerated, and most large organizations have a distributed workforce with people around the globe. An in-person classroom learning environment is not the best fit for these challenges.

Using online learning to build critical leadership skills allows organizations a cost-effective and flexible option and can level the playing field. Often organizations will be reaching large portions of their workforce with management development for the first time.

Context and relevance is paramount

Whatever program an organization delivers, it’s important that its content be within the context of that organization. Brand, culture, and organizational goals should all be designed into the program. The best “off the shelf” programs can be customized by offering the flexibility to showcase the company brand, include company-specific content, and align content with strategic-focus areas for the organization.

Today’s employees have grown up with access to rich online experiences that have set a high bar for the level of engagement they expect from online leadership-development content. So it’s important to offer variety for learners, especially when spanning a large and diverse population. You can address this through content types, like videos in varied genres, short and longer-form text content, practice exercises and quizzes, and thoughtfully chosen graphics, usable tools, and articles from expert sources. Giving employees access to the kinds of learning they prefer, when and where they need it, will expand usage and keep them coming back.

Designing a program with impact

Many factors contribute to the success of an online leadership-development program. The content should be fresh, focused, and emotionally appealing. The design of the program should accommodate participants’ busy schedules, and learning should be integrated tightly with the real-world challenges that employees face in the workplace. Plus, the program should build in space for learners to plan how they will apply what they’ve learned and offer structured opportunities for reflection.

Recent research from faculty at HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School revealed that learning by doing can be more effective when coupled with learning by reflection. They found that adding even very brief periods of reflection to learning produced a significant increase (over 20 percent) in performance compared to a control group that had training only.

Optimal on-demand learning allows busy users to fit short bursts of development and reflection activities into their busy schedules when and where they find the time.

Creating a learning and leading culture

Once an organization rolls out an on-demand learning initiative focused broadly on leadership development, organizations begin to see a common language and way of thinking about leadership and management emerge. Employees begin to integrate new practices, frameworks, and tools into their own everyday work and with their team. Ideally, the progression between learning to be a leader and becoming a leader should be so seamless that development is continuously integrated into every facet of the workplace experience. On-demand learning can help organizations achieve this, and help ready their talent to lead through the changes and challenges ahead.