Futureproofing Your Organisation: Developing Well-Rounded Leaders

 A recent MBA World blog posting by Juliette Alban-Metcalfe makes a strong point about developing a learning culture in organisations, ‘we can’t afford to maintain the silos we’ve built up and ignored for years.’ In this simple statement, she challenges us as L+D professionals to address a very important issue, developing well-rounded leaders.

Specifically, let’s look at mid-career professionals. For years, we have helped people develop expertise around specific jobs, or helped them to do their current job better. What was often neglected was the need to expand the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our future leaders and executives. What we’ve created is a talent base that is very skilled in a narrow area of expertise, but not well prepared for upper management. For example, if you started in accounting you might end up as a director or VP of finance, but would you know anything about operations or marketing?

Estimates are that by 2030, baby boomers will be completely out of the workforce. This presents a call to action and an opportunity, because the generation with the most breadth and depth of work experience will be leaving the workforce. We, as L+D departments and professionals, need to quickly rectify the silos of specialists we’ve created by broadening the role-specific training of the past in order to address the workforce needs of the future. Our challenge is to develop a new generation of company leaders capable of making well-rounded and well-informed decisions based on their experiences in a multitude of business areas.

So what types of things should we be helping employees to learn, and how? Some of the ‘basic’ and important leadership skills include:

Many employees don’t know the strategy and the vision of their organisation. They are so focused on their individual job, or their business unit goals, that they miss the big-picture, and the plan for getting there. The 2016 Wells Fargo scandal is a perfect example of mid-level leadership focusing on business unit goals (sales), and not the overall success of the business.

Competitor Knowledge
This is something we’ve seen particularly lacking in sales professionals. They know how to sell their own products or services, but get caught short in being able to ‘sell’ them as the best choice in comparison to their competitors. For example, what is the difference between Uber and Lyft? In an ideal world, all employees would understand their company mission, vision, strategy, and competitive advantage. What makes your company unique and ultimately the better choice?

How the Company Makes Money
Surprisingly few individuals understand their company’s business model, and how it makes (or spends) money. For example, selling copiers or printers is really a loss leader, but the company makes their money on toner and ink. Understanding how the company makes money helps individuals to make better decisions regarding expenditures, negotiations, investments, and more.

Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is a concept that every individual, at every level of an organisation, should not only understand, but embrace. There is always a better way to do something and each individual should be responsible for ensuring that their job is done in the most logical, efficient, ethical manner. Continuous improvement is a structured process that helps a company make incremental improvements over time, and achieve ‘breakthrough’ improvements quickly.

Stakeholder Management
A stakeholder is someone with a positon on a topic. Everyone and every project has stakeholders. Sometimes the stakeholders are the company’s customers or shareholders, sometimes they are the boss, and sometimes they can be the peer sitting in the next cubicle. Knowing who the stakeholders are helps employees to ‘see the big picture’ and make better decisions.

These are just a few skills needed in today’s fast-paced workplace. The next question is, ‘how do we help employees acquire this kind of knowledge and skill?’

Knowing about something and being able to do something are two ends of a spectrum. It’s not enough to know your company’s competitive advantage or what continuous improvement is all about. Learning opportunities need to be structured to ensure real-world, on the job experiences.

One idea which is rarely used is job rotations. Anyone who aspires to lead in an organisation should work in at least three different areas of the business. Most importantly, they should work in an area related to the customer. Unfortunately, most companies reserve their rotational programmes for people who are already identified as ‘high potential.’ A better approach would be to create an immersion programme for all employees, so that everyone has a more well-rounded view of the organisation. This not only will help in making employees more educated about the business and their role in it, but it will also help with retention. Most people who leave an organisation do so because they feel there is no growth or advancement for them in their current role. But what if they were able to identify their own future role? Participating in a rotational programme gives employees exposure to areas of the business they might never be a part of and could inspire them to contribute to the organisation in many ways.

The focus on job-specific training is a thing of the past. Organisations must focus on developing well-rounded individuals who can take the organisation into the future. The future success of our companies depends on the actions we take today to develop our future workforce.

Nanette Miner, Ed.D., is the founder and managing consultant for The Training Doctor, LLC, a learning design firm. www.trainingdr.com

Keith Plemmons, Ph.D., is a project management consultant and education professional. An Associate Professor at The Citadel in Charleston, SC, his areas of interest include managing IoT projects, enterprise digital transformation, and preparing the digital workforce. 

Juliette Alban-Metcalfe’s blog ‘The Challenges of Creating a Genuine Learning Culture in Organisations’ can be seen here.