• Plans in progress

    Developing staff within an organisation is a crucial way to ensure a company stays agile and ahead of its competitors.

    Plans in progress

    Companies do not need more good leaders, they need a completely different kind of leader – one who is agile and digital-ready, says Trevor Page, director of leadership development business at Deloitte Consulting, referring to findings in the firm’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report.

    ‘This new type of leader must understand how to build and lead teams, keep people connected and engaged, and drive a culture of innovation, learning and continuous improvement,’ says Page. ‘They must also be able to lead a workforce that includes contractors, the contingent workforce and crowd talent.’

    In light of this, a different learning and development approach is required to equip middle and senior managers, as well as executives, for their role in this disrupted world, he adds.

    Gregory Kowalik, executive: human resources consulting at LabourNet, believes that in this upper tier of employees, one of the critical skills-training interventions is conceptual and interpersonal skills building, instead of a focus on technical aptitude. ‘When you start managing people and leading teams, it becomes about your conceptual skills and bigger-picture thinking rather than technical abilities,’ he says.

    Elmarie Pretorius, managing owner of the Mindspa Institute, agrees. ‘The technical skills are in place. It’s generally the people skills that need work. These are the skills that you aren’t necessarily born with – dealing with people does not come naturally to everybody. So everything around how to communicate with people, how to deal with emotions and conflict, how to have difficult conversations… Those are the skills needed at higher levels.’

    In a world that is constantly changing and where organisations are being blindsided by disruption from unexpected sources, the ability to navigate these turbulent times through agile thinking skills will significantly contribute to an organisation’s ability to survive, says Page. And leaders need to steer organisations and staff through these times.

    Kowalik echoes this sentiment. ‘One of the biggest issues today is that we live in uncertainty, particularly in South Africa. What we are seeing is that, with the downgrades from various ratings agencies, there is a lot of change. This change is affecting organisations in a huge way in terms of productivity and changing market conditions, where companies really need to look at how they’re going to be competitive in this current economy. As a leader or manager, you must ensure your skillsets are up to date or you might find yourself a step behind.’

    However, says Page, the training methods of 10 or even five years ago are inadequate as far as providing leaders with these new skills. ‘We believe that how leaders think will determine how they behave and that’s where the work needs to happen,’ he says. ‘With the short lifespan of learned skills, we believe the only way for leaders to remain relevant and impactful on the business is through adopting agile thinking patterns.’

    Is this something easier said than done? ‘At senior level, a workshop strategy approach and team alignment works best – getting the executive team to talk together and spend time thinking and planning around strategic business improvements,’ says Pretorius. Training has to be practical, she adds. ‘I find that this level of seniority, people lack thinking time. If you take them out of their work environment for a day or two, they have a chance to sit back and rationalise their busi— ness. Because if they’re not thinking, who is?’

    Page argues that ‘leaders just don’t have the luxury of spending extended periods of time in a classroom. You’ll also find that the more senior the leaders are, the less impactful traditional training methods are. That does not mean that learning can’t happen but the learning approach needs to be adapted’.

    He adds that coaching through real work challenges is a very important component and effective learning method for this level. Moreover, learning should be a continuous journey.

    Kowalik believes that a blended learning approach works well. ‘I think there is space for academic institutions [such as] people doing leadership development courses or MBAs. But, if you look at how the learning institutions structure those types of programmes, there’s a lot of collaboration. Those syndicates contain people from different backgrounds and with varied skillsets. I think that sort of cross-silo learning is critical,’ he says.

    Pretorius agrees. ‘Putting people together with others helps enormously. They then realise that it’s not just them but most people that share the same problems. It helps to follow this with individual coaching sessions. This becomes a trusted relationship where the necessary conversations can take place.’

    Technology has changed the landscape of the training and development space. Consider, for instance, the prevalence and increasing popularity of e-learning platforms.

    Kowalik argues that this easy access to learning material means learning can be done anywhere and need not be face-to-face. ‘People are taking control of their own destinies and careers,’ he says, adding that technology also allows for global collaboration, he says. ‘Consider platforms such as LinkedIn, where you can connect with someone internationally. Information is so much more easily accessible. It’s so much easier to learn.’ The problem is taking that knowledge and converting it into a skill, he adds, which is where mentoring comes in. ‘Coaching and mentoring [are] critical for learning,’ he says.

    Kowalik notes, however, that you need a culture and environment in the workspace that allows for coaching and mentoring to take place. ‘Staff must feel comfortable enough to go to a superior and ask for assistance. If an organisation creates a learning culture, coaching and mentoring will fit, otherwise people won’t be open and forthcoming about their developmental needs, as they will be seen as admitting that they don’t know what they are doing,’ he says.

    Page agrees, saying that coaching in particular is fundamental to an ‘effective learning intervention’ and that a coaching culture should be entrenched throughout the organisation. ‘Our approach to learning focuses on how successful leaders think,’ he says. ‘Without the appropriate support and guidance on these expert thinking patterns, which we call schema, the desired change will not be inculcated. This coaching culture is fundamental to nurturing and developing talent throughout the organisation.’

    As far as talent management and development is concerned, there seems to be agreement that this should not only be led by those at the top, but that it requires a certain culture within the organisation too.

    ‘Based on my experience across different industries, if your top management and leadership team does not buy into talent management principles, it’s never going to work in that organisation,’ says Kowalik.

    ‘If top management does not buy into talent management, all appointments will be reactive, and any training and development will be reactive to a certain mistake made or an incident that happened. There must be a strong focus from executive level to put people first. People will then put your clients first.’

    Page concurs. ‘Top leadership should live and demonstrate the value of talent development and drive this emphasis throughout the organisation. Senior managers who demonstrate their commitment to talent development through the initiatives they attend or participate in will have an easier role getting subordinates to emulate behaviour.

    ‘The old adage “do as I say not as I do” just won’t cut it.’

    The skills people are taught in a business can help them cope with their relationships at home, says Pretorius – and this is critical. Leaders bear great responsibility, she adds.

    ‘As a leader, you need to understand the privilege you have because you can influence people. You also need to understand the responsibility because you can hurt people. It’s a wonderful opportunity but a huge responsibility.’

    For Pretorius, the theme of ‘begin with the end in mind’ rings particularly true. ‘That is what you have to do with people,’ she says. ‘You need to have a clear vision for your department or your business… A clear idea of where you’re going and then take people there with passion. If you can get people to the point where they don’t want to disappoint you, you have real power. They will follow you anywhere because they believe in you.’

    By Toni Muir
    Images: Gallo/Getty Images