Talent Development in the Exponential Age

Tone Thomas
Director of Executive  Education Programmes

Businesses today operate in the midst of radical change.

Operational efficiency is no longer seen as a differentiator but the expected norm. Acronyms such as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) have been coined to describe this environment where businesses and business models are getting disrupted faster and more frequently due to new technologies and innovative ways of thinking. Probably the phrase “exponential age” best defines this atmosphere where everything is changing more and more rapidly – be it uncertainty, technological advances, complexity and even the potential for growth.

Organisations must keep a keen eye on their environment considering the impact and opportunities that new technologies present. The Centre for Executive and Professional Education (CEPE) works alongside organisations to provide them with the skills and insights to make smart decisions in the exponential era. From our experience partnering with organisations, the transformation journey is usually a three-step process:

Step 1: Strategic recognition

Organisations and leaders today face unique problems, without straightforward solutions. Horst Rittel coined the term “wicked problems” for these contemporary issues, observing that there is no existing playbook to resolve them. Organisations cannot rely on their experiences from the past to advise them on the path forward.

The first step in the journey is for organisations to appreciate that it’s not business as usual and novel ways of thinking are needed to remain relevant.

At CEPE we help organisations to review their existing competency and leadership frameworks and redesign them for the exponential age.

Step 2: Leader development

Once the need for change is recognised, we need to ask if the existing leaders in an organisation have the strategic skills to navigate the changing business environment. It is important for businesses, as part of their strategy, to create a plan for leaders to instill new skillsets.

External mentoring and executive coaching are just two ways in which this can be achieved. The initiatives that we run for partner organisations, such as B Braun Medical in the UK or the Farsons Group in Malta, offer experiential learning built around existing organisational challenges. They encourage strategic reflection of the current and future operating business context and teach techniques such as design thinking and scenario planning to identify potential areas for growth. As well as opportunities, leaders also craft strategic short and long term plans with mechanisms for embedding the new change initiatives across their organisation.

Step 3: Cultural realignment

The next stage in the journey involves realigning the organisational culture to one that encourages and rewards agility and intrapreneurship. This is not easy, and in many cases, would be met with strong resistance. It can only be achieved through structured change management initiatives actively driven by the leadership team.

Our goal at CEPE is to help teams become agile and responsive. Through a recent partnership with the Abu Dhabi Government we were able to help design and deliver a large scale change initiative. Driven from the top, over 600 executives began their journey to transform behaviours and embrace the importance of managerial agility. Similarly with Virgin Media and Liberty Global, we co-created a programme to equip its managers with the right skills to face the exponential age.

At CEPE we are experts in guiding organisations through the three steps of transformation. Our programmes offer flexible learning solutions drawing on the expertise of academics from over 15 influential interdisciplinary research centres within Leeds University Business School, each dedicated to aspects of the business world. As Wessel and Christensen aptly noted: “It’s not enough to know that a threat is coming. You need to know whether it’s coming right for you”.

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