Leadership structures have long evolved from a simple ‘command and execute’ form where a strict top-bottom approach of decision making was enough to remain productive as businesses. While this sufficed in a world less prone to disruptions, today business leaders face a different challenge. Many are faced with a new business world; one that is marred with digitalization, automation, and in recent times a pandemic induced shift in nature of work. For these, business leaders require the right skills to anticipate threats and lead their teams towards newer avenues of growth.
The rise of hybrid work and a business need to remain productive in face of ongoing business disruption has put the onus on CEOs and business leaders to maintain strong performance while ensuring they manage uncertainty and keep employees safe and engaged.
The new business world
Companies are operating in a business environment that is in constant flux. In a study done by Korn Ferry called CEOs for the Future, over 85 percent of CEOs highlighted how today between business and society is ever more porous. Unlike the business world of decades back where leaders could operate in isolation, today CEOs, C-suite leaders, and other senior executives must now respond to multiple stakeholders simultaneously. This poses multiple challenges to leaders who today handle a more complex, ambiguous, and challenging business world.
While the stage for business disruption was long set by technological advancements like AI, automation, big data analytics, the pandemic was a burning matchstick on a pile of fireworks. Overnight, the business had to shift to remote work. This meant adopting real-time digital systems to ensure work happened and productivity levels didn’t wane. For leaders, this new business world meant newer challenges to face and overcome.
In our conversation with Ashwajit Singh, Managing Director, IPE Global, reflecting upon the changes in the leadership style of the company over the past year as a result of the pandemic, he said, "The pandemic has, by all means, changed the nature of leadership and management in the company to a significant extent. The new virtual mode, led by constant internal communication has made every employee a self-driven, self-motivated leader and has made the management cognizant of the various limitations that come with the hybrid work model. This has made the leadership pursue greater temporal flexibility in terms of work delivery and lay greater emphasis on the physical and mental well-being of all employees which has become paramount in the conditions of the pandemic. The focus of directors and managers in skill-building and tech-education has increased significantly. Overall the leadership style has become even more employee-focused. Besides these changes, our priorities as a development consultancy have also been refigured to think outwards, focusing on the new socio-economic order ushered in by the pandemic."
While the past few years, discussions skilling business leaders have been around building their digital capabilities, the last 18 months have highlighted another key pitfall in existing leadership structures; their ability to manage and engage employees. A Gallup report back in 2019, the year before remote work became a mainstay in the business world, reported of their surveyed candidates across the globe over 85 percent said to be disengaged with their work. This number had only gotten aggravated post the pandemic where managers and leaders were physically disconnected from their employees.
This points to a larger gap in today’s leadership which needs to be analysed further before we talk of ways to solve the problem
Traits and competencies
A multitude of traits and competencies go into making CEOs and business leaders impactful in the new world of work. Behavioural traits like curiosity, risk-taking, adaptability, and tolerance to ambiguity when combined with competencies like the ability to innovate, strategic vision, can engage and inspire make for a good business leader today.
The challenge however is that many of these traits and competencies are scarce among top executives. It is unlikely to find leaders with the right combination. Often, they have to be built.
Businesses need to develop leadership talent within the org who can translate the organization’s vision into action from a strategic point of view. To be impactful in leading their companies in the new world of business, leaders today require the right mixture of skills and traits. And learning technology helps them bridge that gap
"I saw the current phase as an opportunity to introspect the various decisions we as leaders were acquainted with and make suitable structural and functional adjustments to ensure continued and qualitative output while plugging the potentially disadvantageous crevices. Certainly, the transition to a fully remote set up, and then a hybrid arrangement, has been challenging. But significant investments in continued technical learning, workshops, constant communication by whichever means possible, and suitable performance boosters have helped better adjust to the changing technological and physical paradigm," advises Singh
Leveraging digital technology
‘Today learning programs are designed to allow leaders to behave and respond to business changes in better, more impactful ways,' explains Shweta Kumar, the Chief Learning Architect at Disprz. This highlights a key component of investing in digital learning tech to build the right leadership skills; they help address the critical gap in business leaders today.
A tailored learning platform can enable leaders to continuously learn the right skills to make them successful. From being agile decision-makers to understanding the nuances of engaging employees successfully, leaders have shown to be greatly benefited by a robust learning platform. In addition, a digital-first approach to learning helps make learning simplified and accessible to business leaders who might not have the time to go for traditional learning pathways.
Personalization is another great advantage that digital learning tech brings to the table. Not all business leaders need the same training to become better at leading teams. Some require more soft skills like empathy and creativity, two key skills in a hybrid work environment, while others might require to learn skills on the other end of the spectrum. CEOs and business leaders have different time commitments and are often required to squeeze in learning new skills in a tight schedule. The ability of digital learning tech to allow for bite-sized, personalised and accessible learning programs designed chiefly to address key pitfalls in leadership structures makes it a good bet to build leaders for a new world of business.
Reflecting upon IPE Global's way of leveraging technology in addressing leadership skilling, Singh shared, "At IPE Global, multiple opportunities around technical learning have made it possible to enhance work outcomes and quality and helped the organisation keep with the tide of time. A single integrated online management system has helped keep a track of employee performance based on specific indicators, cater to the wider organisational goals, while also offering employees a platform to table their worries, concerns and requests. Regular monitoring, webinars and mental health workshops have helped establish trust and mutual faith-strengthening the employee-management relationship. We have also been able to overcome the economic setbacks by revamping all our processes from scratch in the virtual setup. Further, employee training programmes have helped upgrade our workforce and helped achieve outcomes in a more expeditious manner. The various investments in providing our staff with telemedicine as well as other consultation facilities have helped us keep in touch with the needs of our employees at every step and at all levels, providing them with the benefits of right care and incentives, the benefits of being a part of an organisation always ready to examine, evolve and enhance its competitive capabilities, even during times of crisis."
In a recent PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey over, 93 percent of CEOs who had introduced digital upskilling programs said these programs increased productivity. The same report, however, notes that many remain to vary of adopting a learning platform. A robust learning platform can not only help companies’ future-proof their employee skill needs but also ensure business leaders remain equipped to lead their companies effectively.