Podcasts are changing the way we learn. Can they also change the way we work?

Today, 73 million Americans listen to podcasts, an episodic series of digital audio files made available to download through the internet and listen to on their smartphone, and more recently, smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home, on a daily basis. That’s nearly one in four Americans who are taking control of life’s soundtrack and turning their quiet or mundane moments into opportunities for self-empowerment, professional development, and exponential learning.

Those who listen, listen a lot, too! The average podcast listener listens to seven different shows per week, and weekly podcast listeners spend on average six hours and 37 minutes listening to episodes in their library.

Today’s technology allows us to pick and choose what we listen to and when, enabling us to use our time more effectively and stimulate our minds while performing mundane tasks — like learning about the latest developments in AI during our commute to work — instead on reading articles online. More importantly, the choices for what we can listen to have exploded. There are over 700,000 podcasts in active production right now, and it’s estimated that podcast listening will grow to over 132 million people in the U.S. alone by 2022.

Podcasts offer intelligent, creative, and nuanced content that make them unique among digital media. They are a great way to expand your knowledge on any subject imaginable and stretch your learning goals. The interaction between host and guests allow you, the listener, to see issues from both sides, so you can develop your own point of view on an issue, reflect on what you’ve heard, and then listen to the entire podcast episode again, or just a part of it, if you choose.

Personally, I’ve found the podcasts that are the most valuable and inspiring to me are not trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, they take a very specific topic and they dig deep. For me, its organizational development, leadership, and emerging technologies that are now, or in the future, making our workplaces and work itself better. Technology and business are the fourth and 12th most popular podcast genres respectively, with 58.9 million and 52 million “households” downloading episodes on those topics regularly.

In no particular order, I would like to share with you five podcasts from four creators that I have found to be invaluable. In preparation for this article, I had a chance to connect with all four of these podcasters and I’d like to share some of what we discussed. (Disclaimer: I’ve been a guest on a few of these podcasts, but I was a fan even before I was a guest.)

1. The Recruiting Future Podcast — Matt Alder

When you ask CEOs and business leaders or executives what is the single biggest topic on their mind, the answer is invariably TALENT. How do you find, engage, develop, and then retain talent to make your business a success, now and in the future?

Recruiting Future asks, and then seeks to answer, the fascinating and crucial question: How will recruiting change in the next 10 years? With a milestone of 200 episodes, host Matt Alder keeps his audience informed and entertained.

When I asked Matt what advice he would give to organizational leaders, his response was to “be curious — continuously challenge your beliefs and the collective beliefs of [our] profession.”

As you probably already know, human resources as a profession is turning a corner. We are collectively rising up and telling the corporate world that HR is bigger than administration and policy writing — our job is not about paperwork, it’s about cultivating and continuously improving work culture, as we focus on the emerging technology and digital transformation that supports the “work” our employees do (and want to do), and prepare our organizations to move into the digital era.

I also asked Matt what advice he would give organizational leaders looking to gain and develop a growth mindset, especially around providing value in the era of digital transformation and automation? He explained, “it is vital to keep informed with the latest trends and stay as open-minded as possible about where things are going, at the same time as employing enough critical thinking to cut through the hype, spin, and bright, shiny objects.”

Wait, are you saying that a pingpong table and a kegerator are NOT solutions to a company’s problems?!

2. The HR L&D Podcast and The Payroll Podcast — Nick Day

Nick Day has two podcasts that I highly recommend.

HR L&D, like Recruiting Future, focuses on what the future will look like for the field of learning and development.

And The Payroll Podcast — who would have thought that someone could take this seemingly mundane topic and make it sexy? We all know payroll is essential, assuming, of course, the people you work with like to get compensated for their work. However, while most know payroll is essential, the function is often regarded as boring and tedious. Wrong! In this podcast, Nick Day doesn’t just make payroll interesting, he makes it fascinating!

I asked him his perspective on the future of human resources: “To make progressive change, we need to take progressive actions, and we can’t achieve this by sitting still.” This was a topic he and I discussed at length when I was a guest on his show.

Nick regularly interviews amazing guests and his passion for learning pops right out of your earbuds. It’s fast, engaging, and thought provoking.

His advice for organizational leaders looking to improve their mindsets: “Embrace change. It is going to happen anyway. Technological and legislative advancements are going to happen whether we want them to or not. To reject, challenge, or prevent them from your mindset will really only limit your ability to succeed. To stay still in a world that is moving so fast is to go backward. If HR professionals embrace new innovations, then that’s when we can really see positive change take place.



3. Humans 2.0 | Mind Upgrade — Mark Metry

This is not a human resources podcast per se, but it is an amazing resource for someone excited about progressive human resources. It’s a podcast about human adaptability, resiliency, mindset, and desire. It regularly provides a better understanding of the world and how people are evolving, which is crucial to organizational leaders as our workplaces continue to evolve.

We are tasked with the new goal of trying to take back the yoke of technology and use it not to harness us but to help make life more human. Humans 2.0 explores human growth and the human development mindset. Needless to say, if we don’t understand what people want in their lives, we cannot serve them in a human resources and leadership capacity.

I asked Mark to tell me what he thought about the future of the workforce and he talked about the importance of creating a brand. “In 10 years, when the internet has commoditized everything, you will need a brand as a tool to do anything.”

He was clear that he DID NOT mean that everyone needs to be Oprah Winfrey. Simply, that we needed to find ways to make ourselves stand out in an ever-cluttered and busy world. However you choose to build your brand, Mark said it has to be built upon a topic that you are passionate about — something you enjoy working on, and working in, every day.

4. Digital HR Leaders — David Green

It was pure chance that I met David Green, a leader and major influencer in the HR and people analytics fields, at the Unleash U.S. conference in Las Vegas this May. On Digital HR Leaders, the first podcast of its kind, guests are leaders on the cutting edge of digital transformation and data-driven human resources. It just launched in mid-May 2019.

Episodes focus on insights into how the “people function” is evolving and provide guidance to professionals who are seeking to drive change in their organizations. All interviews are recorded face to face, and David travels the globe to provide his audience with the highest level of content, storytelling, and actionable takeaways.

When I asked David his motivation for starting the podcast, he shared that “people want to discuss different ways of moving toward digital transformation” and that everyone has “multiple ways of learning on how we can achieve a shift.” He wanted to offer a deep dive into successes global leaders have had in varied industry verticals, including organizations such as Vodafone, Spotify, and HSBC.

Parting thoughts

The beauty of the podcast as a medium is how personal it feels and how personal you can make your listening experience. Listeners can subscribe to their favorite podcasts, listen online or offline, and “speed up” their listening experience to two or even three times faster.

My favorite site is Spotify, and I put together a library of podcasts to consume during my commute to meetings. Spotify tells me what episodes I’ve listened to, how much of an episode I listened to, and if any new episodes have been uploaded, and I can switch between my favorite series or episodes with just a swipe and touch on my smartphone.

Interestingly enough, considering that consuming podcasts is exponential for learning and development, only about 11 percent of listeners actually listen to podcasts at work. At a time when we as organizational leaders are concerned with how we will reskill and upskill our workforce for the future, it is worth considering how the use of podcasts can benefit our organizational needs, our workforce and talent initiatives, and how we engage workers.

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