How to design and implement digital leadership development programmes

How to design and implement digital leadership development programmes

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA
01. Nov 2020 | 7 min read

How to design and implement digital leadership development programmes


The 3U model is a simple, helpful framework for working with any digital product or service. There are 3 perspectives for each of the Us in the model that can be particularly helpful for HR, especially Learning and Development departments, providing guidance for the design and implementation of digital competence programmes. The article includes a practical tool for evaluating the strength of the design and implementation of your digital leadership development programmes

Digital products and services should be:

  • understood to be Useful by all customers and end-users, meeting a real need, providing clear benefits, giving a good cost/benefit pay-off, all based on solid content.
  • experienced as Usable, easily understood, navigated and applied, with no barriers, hiccups or complications.
  • Used in practice by a large % of the target group so that the value is provided to the people that have use for it.

The pandemic accelerates the digitalisation of learning and development in organisations. HR departments need a framework like the 3U to help in choosing the right products and services amongst the many suppliers trying to sell their solutions. The framework is equally useful in designing and implementing in-house solutions.

The model is relevant for all digital products and the content of each U can therefore vary dependent on the product area. For digital learning and development, the model below can be useful:


There are 3 Usefulness factors:

  1. There needs to be a strong business case, where the organisation has a compelling need that the product in question clearly addresses, at a cost far below the expected benefits. These benefits need to be a combination of hard economic and softer, qualitative benefits.
  2. In addition, all users need to see what’s in it for them. The organisation wants employees to embrace the solution. Each user needs to see the ‘business case’ for them, how the solution makes their life easier or better.
  3. Lastly, the content has to be solid. For learning and development practitioners this means evidence based, as far as possible. Much of what we do is based on well-intentioned beliefs. Many of these beliefs draw from what we have read and learned, and are evidence based-ish but some are not. Evidence-checking content ensures that it is solid.

Usefulness is the starting point. The tendency, HR-professionals included, to follow fashion and the latest ‘must do’ thing can weaken our grip on usefulness. Each organisation should do a structured, independent check of the Usefulness of any solution for them.

But Useful products fail if they aren’t Usable, designed from the user’s perspective. There are 3 Usable factors:

  1. Digital products need to be intuitive and effortless in use. This makes it easy for the user to become familiar with, and competent in, using the solution on first contact. Effortlessness makes us feel that what we are doing is right: the solution is good, and we master it.
  2. Effortlessness rests on logical structure. The logical layers, steps and links between them need to be crystal clear. The user must know where they are, and be able to navigate easily, at all times.
  3. Limited content is easier to use than lots of content. The key principle is to present only that which is essential. The quote ‘I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one’ is well known. Reducing content down to the essential is hard work but necessary.  

The value potential of a very Useful and eminently Usable solution is only realised if people Use it. An organisation needs to put its weight behind the solutions it chooses if they are to be Used. They can do this in at least 3 ways:

  1. Communication and training, introducing the solution in a structured way, gets things going. It creates awareness and motivation. The training part should, given high Usability, be minimal.
  2. The next step is follow-up. The user’s colleagues and line manager should ask for and talk about output of the solution. Measurement of the outcome is also a form of follow-up, but the key is that output of the solution is actively asked for.
  3. Lastly, making the solution compulsory is the clearest expression of the organisation’s belief in its usefulness. If a solution scores 10 out 10 on Usefulness and Usability, it is logical for an organisation to make Use compulsory. This strengthens and reinforces the communication and follow-up.


We have written a number of articles on the digitalisation of leadership development. Any of these make you curious?

Competitive trends in the leadership development industry: see the big picture

Digital tools on offer for leadership development: you need to know how to navigate the tools out there!

How to combine digital leadership development activities in effective programmes: with so much on offer, how do you create a sensible structure?

How to digitalise the personal development part of leadership development: master this challenge in the new digital environment

How to digitalise experiential learningHow to digitalise experiential learning: knowing is doing, but how can that be trained digitally?

How to meet participant needs in leadership development programme: it all starts with needs!

Like many similar frameworks, the 3U’s are best expressed in a formula:

Useful x Usable x Used = Value!

The challenge is to maximise all 3. Why not evaluate a digital programme you have been involved with recently, and see what value it can be expected to provide? If you want, you can print out the questionnaire rather than work out your answer in your head.



100 Days has applied the 3U model in developing a solution to help managers succeed in 100 days. Check out our e-book to find out why supporting success early in a role is the most effective approach to leadership development possible!

Free ebook about how leadership success is created in a new role

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Richard Taylor C. Psychol., MBA

Organisational psychologist with an MBA. Broad top management experience spanning many industries, functions and countries, including 10 years with corporate responsibility for HR. Extensive experience as consultant in private, public and voluntary sectors. A number of board positions in the education and culture sectors. Started career as counsellor for drug and alcohol abusers.

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