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The post boom groom

In the executive suite, the torch has passed, and grooming the next generation of business leaders can ensure the torch doesn’t pass out.

(page 1 of 3)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Members of the baby boom generation started joining us in 1946 as the nation transitioned from defeating fascism to making kids — two tasks the Greatest Generation handled very well, thank you. Since the boomers who retire at 65 began to call it quits in 2011, that means we’re in year eight of an 18-year transition of leadership in the executive suite.

This transition to Gen Y, millennials, and perhaps even to Gen Z if the trend of “going young” really intensifies is something organizations need to handle with care. When it comes to grooming the next generation of leaders, there are several trends underway and emerging, and if they are examined in the right way, they represent an opportunity for businesses to raise their attraction and retention game.

Local institutions of higher learning have viewed it as an opportunity to improve their facilities and programming. To glean professional development trends that are worthy of your attention, we talked to local educators who are in a position to know, based on feedback from their respective advisory boards, which are packed with local business leaders who advise them.

Our expert panel includes Jenna Alsteen, executive director of graduate enrollment management and institutional partnerships for Edgewood College; Dr. Jack E. Daniels III, president of Madison College; Jon Kaupla, executive director of the University of Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional and Executive Development; and Amy Achter, managing director of the UW–Madison Office of Business Engagement.

Some of the trends they note are relatively new, some represent new spins on established trends, and others are entirely local. Taken together, they offer valuable guidance to area employers looking to find future executive leaders, especially from within.

Trend 1: Sustainable leadership

Obviously, leadership skills are in high demand, but when Alsteen surveyed local business leaders about leadership, she was somewhat surprised to hear the word sustainability come up again and again. While it’s exciting for her to learn that Madison-area employers are environmentally conscious, their approach to sustainability is across the board.

“Just as much as they are looking to train their employees in some of the skill sets they want to have in their toolbox,” Alsteen says, “it seems as though they approach professional development more holistically as far as how their employees can invest in the organization and in the community as a whole, and to make sure that they are sustainable into the future.”

That not only resulted in the development of programs and partnerships related to environmental sustainability, but graduate programs in social innovation and sustainability leadership. Edgewood College has formed a partnership with the Madison Permaculture Guild, which is environmentally focused on water, soil, food, and the wilderness, and a partnership with the Yahara Watershed Academy, a training and leadership initiative.

As Alsteen explains, sustainability in leadership is perfectly aligned with the need to train the next generation of leaders because they are devoutly committed to environmental stewardship, and they are reluctant to work for, or consume the products and services of, any employer that lacks the same commitment. “So yes, there is obviously an environmental focus, but I do think it’s focused, as well, on the culture of the younger workforce coming up,” Alsteen acknowledges. “When you’re talking about sustainability, it’s about how they cultivate their employees. How do they nurture an environment that employees want to remain in? So, are they sustainable in terms of how to make the workplace environment shift as their needs and wants shift, as well?”

Trend 2: Global business teams

Madison is fortunate to have organizations with an international presence, and so employee development for international management or assignment also is something local employers have pursued. Building global teams using virtual tools and cultural intelligence is fast becoming a coveted executive skill set, one that concentrates on collaborating across cultures, especially for somebody who may be traveling abroad for their job. “Those are the two things emerging in conversations — that sensitivity to cultural intelligence and wanting to know how to work well with others globally,” Alsteen says, “and then also maintain that knowledge and that understanding within the workplace.”

Another point about the executive youth movement is that social media helps news travel fast, and if the news about your organization’s environmental stewardship is negative, the instantaneous social media shaming will be negative, as well. If the up-and-coming generations weren’t keenly interested in environmental issues, institutions might not consider such professional-development programming, but Alsteen says the marriage of environmental awareness and social media is prompting a new avenue for leadership training throughout the world.

“We’ve seen a lot of political awareness around environmental sustainability, but if you think back 10 or 20 years, social media wasn’t what it is today, and so it’s that global presence and that global understanding,” she notes. “In that regard, talking more about the hard skills, it’s cultural competency and having competency in critical thinking. So, to know what young people today are reading, what young people today are seeing, and understanding how to analyze data and how to contextualize that news and how it relates to what’s happening in the workplace, is an important skill.”

Daniels also spoke to the cultural aspects of leadership, including equity and inclusion in new and emerging corporate cultures. “In many instances, it may be training that is around retained employees,” he notes. “It may very well be training around equity and how these companies become much more focused on equity issues, as it affects not just the companies but the environment in which they work. How to lead in the new environment? How to lead where it’s more collaborative than not? Some of these companies are going through changes from the culture they had 25 or 30 years ago to this new culture.”

Trend 3: Digital-ready leaders

Scott Converse, director of project management and process improvement programs for the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Business, leads a class in the Fluno Center.

At this moment in time, it’s vitally important to develop new leadership programs specifically geared to creating more digital-ready managers. That means leadership that is well versed in the newest digital technologies to the point where if something new is on the horizon, they immerse themselves in it right away instead of waiting for it to catch on.

People within organizations are connecting differently, especially if they are working remotely from home or from another remote location. “It goes back to what I was talking about in addressing the workplace that’s becoming more global,” Alsteen says. “Not even remote but more global as far as your teams not being in your same city or your same state, and so that speaks to why we are exploring online courses and not only facilitating our courses online, but the tools that we use online that we hope our students can incorporate in the workplace.”

One of those cyber skills sets pertains to effectively incorporate data analytics into decision-making, which is a skill modern executives cannot afford to be without. “Because business executives now are faced with an abundance of data, how do they incorporate that, as a leader, into their decision-making?” Kaupla asks. “I would say that’s rapidly emerging and changing.

“Then, there’s creative and critical and strategic thinking, which have always been very important, but now in this digital age where there is so much technology and so much automation, leaders are called upon to be more innovative and think outside of the box in how to leverage the data,” Kaupla adds. “They are also called to think in new ways that are beyond machine learning [artificial intelligence] and beyond automation.”

Achter noted an emerging trend that’s really part of the talent conversation the Office of Business Engagement is having with its business partners. Since they can’t possibly hire all of the data analytics people they might need, their answer to the talent shortage is to hire a couple of people with the necessary expertise and look internally for others to train up.

“So, what we find is that they say, ‘Maybe we can bring in one or two data science, PhD-level people, and then we look at our current organization and see who we might be able to train up. Who has maybe the subject matter expertise that can then get some of this additional training?’ So, it’s a very interesting conversation for us because it’s very much linked to what they can do from a talent perspective with their current employees.”


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