Guest blogger: Sue Parr, Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School looks at the business challenges behind the buzzwords.
This content first appeared on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.
Many managers are recognising that they have to adapt to new ways of working to meet the expectations of their employers and their employees. New behaviours and ways of working are being driven by changes all around them, but what changes can be supported through developing capability and skillsets?
Complexity: Today’s managers contend with the complexity created by the many different perspectives of a multi- cultural, cross- functional, often geographically dispersed workforce spanning as many as three generations. In fact, there are more generations in our workforce than at any other time as those previously of retirement age extend their working lives.
For example, in areas of manufacturing companies who are increasingly aware of the benefits of sharing best practice and collaborating to drive innovation, in surprising ways, but ultimately to the benefit of all. Commercial sensitivity is being nuanced and boundaries pushed.
Creativity and innovation: We’re not talking about being good with colour here! We are talking about turning problems around, not going for same old safe solutions because ‘this is the way we’ve always done it ’. Organisations need their people thinking more broadly. For managers who had stages 1, 2 and 3 of their career in a technically specific function, creative practice techniques can start to get them thinking more holistically about their whole organisation, the needs of their current market and exploring opportunities in new markets. Although these tools and techniques can be learnt, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have bought in to a self-image of not ‘being’ creative.
Change: The themes of leadership and change have always been high on the management agenda but the focus of these has changed. As organisations recognise increasingly that what is needed to stay competitive is to be more responsive, agile and comfortable with increasing ambiguity, they are investing in their middle managers. As a result there has been a democratisation of management and responsibility. Where once the focus of executive education was on the most senior of senior teams, today’s companies recognise the need for developing leadership excellence at every level.
Connection not Control: The traditional workplace had a top down structure, hierarchies where orders were given and carried out. As more organisations use project teams spread across locations, remotely connected, the skills of influencing become much more important. Managers need to learn how to influence people to achieve outcomes where they don’t have direct authority or control.
Career Development: As the economy gets back on track the scales are tipping and businesses need to make the effort to retain good people. L&D has a proven track record as a powerful retention tool. Generation Y workers are much more likely to move onto new jobs quickly. Restless for new experiences, employees need to see a development pathway within their organisation or they will be tempted to move on. A structured, embedded talent management programme can help employees visualise their personal growth plan.
But on top of this, the managers on-the-ground, are expected to satisfy this quest for knowledge, development and progression. Coaching is a skill that can meet many of these needs, but how much should, or can, individual managers be ‘expected’ to fulfil this role?
(l&d) Centricity: Increasingly HR departments are embedding elements of leadership in learning and development right from the start of employees’ careers. Advanced organisations are incorporating leadership development and L&D at the centre of their organisational strategy. The leaders of these organisations act as ambassadors for this approach, realising that when L&D becomes a part of the DNA of a company it is much more successful.
We worked with a large UK-based retailer who wanted to change the whole way people accessed L&D and highlighting at every career stage, why it’s important. This cultural shift led to a company-wide holistic approach that supported the company’s strategy and goals.
(bite size) Content There is a definite shift towards a blended learning approach to executive development. Rather than taking people out of their workplace for long periods of time, face-to-face delivery is being supported by shorter chunks of online learning and interaction.
In the past executive education frequently included an online facility – a library of content. However this approach often wasn’t successful. People simply didn’t use the library. Now online is used to prepare for, and follow-on from, face-to-face learning.It’s all about making people more responsible for their own development, learning at their own pace and accessing information when they need it.
The virtual academy, or online campus, gives people the opportunity to access the content they need. This can be particularly helpful for senior managers who are often expected to have achieved “sage status” or business “omniscience”. The virtual academy provides a safe environment for them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
Overall, managers are expected to have a much broader repertoire of skills, often earlier in their careers: effective management will require highly developed communication and interpersonal skills, capability building though coaching and mentoring, problem solving through creativity, networking through social media savvy. The pace of change is heady and the combination of developing hard and soft skills at all levels to enable individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive requires a commitment to professional development for a career-lifetime; both from the employee and the employer.