Imagine a company where annual performance reviews and forced rankings don’t exist. Where labor is obsolete. Where training isn’t an event, but integrated seamlessly into everyday life. Where work is a vague concept of the past.

Yet, in this mystical company, employees function at peak performance, productivity is off the charts, innovation and corporate profits are at an all-time high, and employees are happy.

That mystical company is no myth. It exists today. In fact, about six percent of Fortune 500 companies have reimagined and redefined work and, in the process, have enjoyed increased profits and higher employee morale. How did they do it? By embracing and implementing disruptive technologies in employee performance and training.

Here are the five disruptive technologies that are the “secret sauce” for these companies’ successes.

1. Apps

Think of these as fitness trackers for your professional life. Immediate feedback is crucial for performance improvement, and companies like GE, SAP, Netflix, Adobe, and Accenture have ditched the annual performance review for apps that eschew annual ratings in favor of ongoing feedback and observation. Let’s face it: In our fast-paced world, anything that is evaluated annually isn’t effective.

The key to a performance improvement app that works is that it must fit seamlessly into employees’ daily routines; it can’t just be one more thing for people to do. That means an app must be structured in a way that works for the user even when it is not the focus of his or her attention. How? Real-time project updates, push notifications on upcoming key initiatives, updates from colleagues, and gamified components that keep employees motivated daily. Learning and development is moving from “event-based” to “product-based” in the form of robust apps. Look for learning apps to eventually replace “destination sites” such as the LMS.

2. Augmented reality

Pokémon Go! can be credited with bringing augmented reality (AR) into the mainstream. AR apps—where technology superimposes a computer-generated image onto a user’s view of the real world—are being used as a replacement for safety, onboarding, and maintenance training. These real-life, real-time, on-the-job experiences are powerful development tools that don’t take time away from work. Many employees learn best by doing rather than observing, and AR puts real-time step-by-step actions into the user’s hands at the time of need. Imagine a transport company employee packing a truck, using an AR app that visually shows how to place objects into the truck based on size, weight, delivery point, and fragility. It’s like a Tetris game where the best arrangement is shown to you! Another application: a repair technician who, through AR glasses, is walked step-by-step through the repair process by having the instructions superimposed onto the object he or she is fixing.

3. User-generated content

Pinterest, blogs, wikis, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, webinars, Skype, podcasts, and other tools are making their way from something we do in our time off to a critical component of our training and development in the workplace. Dedicated personal learning sites where colleagues can upload and share knowledge have sprung up in many Fortune 500 companies over the past few years—increasing not only engagement in the learning process, but also retention of content. The emotional “pull” of learning from colleagues is seemingly irresistible.

4. Curation and aggregation

The dilemma for most learning and development organizations is that they have so much content, but employees can’t find it. Even with a robust search feature, an LMS is limited in the returns it can provide. Add to that an employee desire for external content, and you can see why this trend is taking off. Curation engines that allow users to create a personalized learning path and automatically pull content from myriad sources that fit with that path are gaining ground. Think of it as a personal development Facebook-like stream, where you have links to blogs, YouTube videos, articles, experts, and notifications about upcoming conferences related to your learning path all displayed on your mobile device. Companies like GE, Salesforce, Dell, and HP are already using these curation and aggregation platforms.

5. Personalization

We can choose, control, and mold online experiences in our everyday lives, and learners expect those same abilities at work. It starts with personalized learning paths tailored to individual strengths and interests, rather than job- or function-related learning paths. Every learner has a different learning style, communication style, preferred delivery device, and unique design preferences, and L&D departments are finally starting to accommodate those differences. Many companies are expanding the personalization concept beyond training to personalized work-life balance—instead of having blanket time-off policies for all individuals. 

You may be wondering why gamification isn’t on this list. Rest assured, gamification is as strong as ever in learning and development; it’s not listed here because it has somewhat matured and is no longer considered “disruptive.” 

These five disruptive trends are redefining work, performance, and personal development. The future of work is now, and L&D departments are at the forefront of the innovation.

Editor's Note

Vicki Kunkel will present a pre-conference certificate workshop, "Game Development Road Map for Non-Programmers", at FocusOn Learning in San Diego, California, on Sunday, June 19, 2017.