The business environment and the needs of today’s organizations have been changing rapidly in the past few decades. We all know we need to keep up, as individuals and as organizations. The question is what exactly do employees – leaders and professionals – need to learn?
Business literature offers lots of opinions and lists of most valuable skills for managers, tech industry workers, or any industry professional looking to be successful in the 21st-century business environment.
The lists of possible employee development topics can be overwhelming; so it’s best for organizations to start with their specific needs.
Define the Scope of Change
Most organizations need to keep their employees’ skills up-to-date regardless of whether or not they are experiencing any sort of transformation.
However, if your organization is going through or had recently gone through a restructuring or another change initiative, this could serve as an additional catalyst to developing new skills for your employees.
A catalyst is always helpful since people resist change and greet it with skepticism. You need to manage that resistance as well as the necessary mind shift, which can be done in training classes or in more intensive training experiences, such as boot camps.
In some cases, the change that’s needed is minor, and a series of lunch-and-learn sessions or another type of short and targeted working sessions will suffice. In other cases, the change is monumental and you need to work with large numbers of people over a long period of time.
Once the scope is clear, you need to assess the impact of the change, but it’s also important to keep in mind the stage of maturity the organization is in and how the change you are involved in can help the organization and its people move to the next level of maturity. Diagnostic tools, such as a matrix maturity assessment, will help you determine where your organization stands and what areas, including your employees’ skill levels, need improvement the most.
Train Leaders as Well as Professionals
Another important aspect of your training plan should be to train your change agents first. Change agents are people with the power to influence others. They can be senior leaders, team leaders, or professionals emerging as leaders and most importantly, your organizational development professionals.
You’ll need trained OD professionals to guide and support the change so they are out front, guiding and mentoring the change, as opposed to playing catch up.
When it comes to training in an organizational environment, it’s usually best to start at the top and work your way down. Leaders need help in making the shifts, just as professionals do. Leaders also need to be able to model and drive the changes in order for them to be effective and sustainable.
Focus on Training Topics Most Important to Your Organization
We have compiled a list of 14 skills modern organizations need the most in their leaders and professionals. Each of these topics is helpful, and the good news is that organizational development professionals or training directors can pick and choose from this menu of choices depending on what skills are most needed and are currently lacking.
- Collaborative skills and tools
Effective collaboration is a must in modern organizations. Highly-specialized knowledge workers, or simply people from different departments, whose areas of expertise and perspectives may be very different, need to learn to work together well in order to be effective in an interconnected environment. Examples of such skills include collaborative decision-making, collaborative problem-solving, and collaborative work breakdown. Tools that make effective collaboration possible include a skills assessment, setting up accountability for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole, and creating an accountability portfolio.
Collaborative work requires a different type of leadership. Instead of making all the decisions unilaterally and then assigning tasks, a leader needs to facilitate effective collaboration and productive work among everyone involved.
Another important set of skills for today’s leaders is their ability to coach, or in other words, to guide the team to the best outcome possible. Leadership based on facilitation and coaching requires an ability to listen to many different voices, assess abilities, moderate conflicts, and help the team keep its focus.
- Leading without authority
A related skill that leaders of all levels can’t live without these days is being able to lead people who don’t report to them. Working with stakeholders across the organization and outside of it requires an understanding of a leader’s sphere of influence and its use in guiding the team, however cross-functional and diverse it might be, to the outcome.
- Building high-performing teams
As work is increasingly done in teams, leaders need to learn how to assemble and develop teams that are effective. There’s more to this than the team-building exercises we are all familiar with. Teams perform when shared accountability trumps that of an individual, when a leader can guide the team to consensus, and when collaboration is a practice and not just a word.
- Influencing and negotiating
Both leaders and professionals need to learn how to influence others and negotiate on a daily basis. Top-down, directive leadership in organizations of the past discouraged initiative and critical thinking, while modern, collaborative organizations need employees who can lay out the facts, make a case for why, and convince others to join in.
- Managing stakeholder relationships
This is another important skill for both leaders and professionals. When people used to work in isolation, there seemed to be no need to manage relationships with people or groups they might impact in some way. Those days are over and employees come in contact with customers, suppliers, colleagues from other departments, or the public in more ways than one. Each of these relationships has a degree of importance and ability to influence the outcome at any given time, and employees need to approach each relationship with that understanding.
This is a broader skill set than the one above. Most of us in the workplace interface with others, and as we collaborate and share accountability, we need to build trust, mitigate and resolve conflict, and form true partnerships.
- Collaborating with internal customers
In cross-functional collaborative work, organizations begin seeing that their various units are basically one another’s customers. Building skills that help employees partner and work with their internal customers helps with one of the most important cultural shifts within the organization – focusing on the process that creates your organization’s products and services.
- Managing a process throughout its lifecycle
Today’s employees need to see how their work contributes to the entire process that produces the final outcome. Leaders need to know how to manage this process from beginning to end.
- Running an effective meeting
For a meeting to be effective, or in other words, to propel the work forward and produce an outcome, it needs to follow a consistent process. That, along with facilitation, and conflict-resolution skills and techniques, is an important skill employees need to have in order to ensure that meetings are not for sitting around the table and talking.
- Defining business solutions
Another important skill is being able to define the solutions the team is going to implement. Following a process, open and clear communication, and collaboration are important components here.
- Portfolio management
As organizations begin to organize their initiatives into a portfolio and think about it strategically, their leaders and professionals need to learn how to manage that portfolio. For example, there needs to be a process for evaluating and including new projects in a portfolio, assessing the performance of existing projects, and a way to involve employees in the strategy that shapes the portfolio for the future.
- Managing change
Change is hard for most people. It is also inevitable and the pace of it seems to be accelerating as organizations constantly adapt to the business environment. Employees must learn how to manage change productively.
Want to Learn More?
We offer customized training for leaders and professionals of all levels.
Our training programs for leaders help bring their skills up-to-date and help them make the necessary shifts.
Our programs for OD and Training professionals will make sure that you have capable change agents who can rally others behind them and bring the toughest organizational transitions to reality.
Our training programs on collaborative methods help leaders and professionals work well together in teams and within the organization as a whole.