How leadership training is retooling for the brave new world of work

20 Nov 2018

How leadership training is retooling for the brave new world of work

David Craik asks, just how well are institutions of higher learning preparing the next generation of business leaders?

Old rules and old methodologies no longer apply. There is a radical sea change underway.

Higher education programmes must be updated with creative, digitally-inspired ways of learning that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Business schools and universities that don’t recognise this fact and adapt to it will be left behind.

Ready for change?

“The conversation between universities, governments and employers about whether we are producing graduates who are ready for the world of work is not new,” says Alex Acland, Partner and Head of Odgers Berndtson’s Education Practice based in London. “But the Fourth Industrial Revolution is sharpening the focus. Is the next generation ready for the way work is changing?”

How are universities and business schools responding around the globe? Are they adapting staple degrees, such as the MBA, with new tools and techniques to prepare the next wave of talent for a very different world?

“It is about changing the delivery method to be more interactive, online and virtual,” believes Martin Butler, head of the MBA Programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) in South Africa. “We have simulations and collaboration across modules, programmes and even institutions. We have augmented reality environments and are working on virtual spaces for students to work in virtual teams.”

Responding to the new world of work also means building dynamic capabilities and hitting the cornerstone of MBA education – relevance.

Butler adds, “It is about developing the ability to adapt quickly and being comfortable with fragmented markets, as well as the systems and processes serving them,” he adds. “Unless MBA programmes adapt to the new world of work in content, structure and delivery, we will struggle in the future.”

Butler believes USB is fulfilling student demand for change. “Students want to be equipped with tools and techniques to define clear and appropriate actions within a dynamic environment.”

A global mindset

Tiff Macklem, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada, agrees. “There is no question that the global pace of change is accelerating. The world is becoming more interconnected and multi-polar,” he says.

“MBA programmes with their enduring fundamentals of management such as evidence-based analysis are critical in cutting through the noise and identifying the underlying forces of change to create more value for society. But students also need to develop more diverse skills such as innovation, creativity, behaviour, communications and persuasion.”

Rotman has introduced specialised programmes such as a Masters in Financial Risk Management and Management Analytics, based around extracting the best value from Big Data. It is also collaborating with more companies and increasing the amount of work experience their MBA students get in the ‘real world’.

“These changes give our students more opportunities to go deeper into areas of business that really interest them,” Macklem explains. “Business schools have to bring new elements into their MBA programmes, like students working with tech entrepreneurs on AI and working on issues like gender equality.”

Rotman also has a Finance Lab with a simulated trading floor and a self-development lab where students learn how their leadership skills can become more effective.

“We generally encourage a global mindset because money, health and climate do not recognise borders,” Macklem says.

“Leaders need to better understand different ways of doing business, what local customers desire and how to build global footprints.”

Macklem sees a growing demand for such skills from both students and employers. “Students today are digital natives and enjoy experiential learning,” he says. “Employers expect students to be rigorously trained, have strong analytical skills and be comfortable dealing with large amounts of data. But they are also looking for communication and creativity.”

Managing multiple relations

Tim Kastelle, MBA Director at University of Queensland Business School, is hearing the same thing from employers in Australia. “The MBA’s focus on basic effective management skills is still crucial and indeed can help students feel more certain in a changing world,” he states. “But you have to pay more attention to the big shifts in society. Students need to learn about how machine learning and Bitcoin fit into business models, but also acquire interpersonal skills and learn how to manage people in the new world.”

“It means giving our students more problem-based and experiential learning through working on real projects at real businesses.”

Interpersonal skills and communication skills are key in a negotiation and that’s why Tim Cullen, Programme Director, Oxford Programme on Negotiation at the Saïd Business School, has incorporated changes there too. “Part of my responsibility is [to ensure] that we stay topical, particularly regarding negotiating in a globalised world,” he explains. “We have introduced topics like cross-cultural negotiations and how to better manage relations with the news media, particularly on social media, during negotiations.”

The school is also beginning to use new technology to demonstrate negotiating over email and even using WhatsApp. Plus, Cullen adds, “I’ve had initial discussions on the potential for negotiation simulation using AI.” Elsewhere at Saïd, students can enrol in modules such as Blockchain Strategy and Fintech.

Reacting to change

INSEAD, a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, is also responding to digital disruption. “We have a focus on digital challenges and opportunities, and even how the world will look in 2050,” says Urs Peyer, INSEAD’s Dean of Degree Programs. “From a methodology perspective, [we’re asking,] how can leaders best react to these changes?”

He believes leadership courses and the MBA need to better reflect the societal purpose and impact of business. “The next generation is questioning the status quo,” he says.

“The public is unhappy with business, and if we want it to avoid the fate of the French monarchy we need to include societal impact in our decision making.”

Alex Acland of Odgers believes the new generation “is savvier and more vocal about what they want. They back themselves more than previous generations and are less prepared to accept old norms.”

“With the world of work changing quickly with the introduction of new technologies, AI and machine learning, we need to update what we mean by ‘21st-century skills’ so that we develop leaders fit for the new age. We also need to ensure that social and ethical implications are hard-wired into the discussion. We must view leadership in a much broader sense than we’ve ever seen it before.”

This article is from the latest ‘Talent and Potential’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson magazine, OBSERVE.

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