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.

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.”



Trend 4: Badge of honor roll

The trend toward contract training is a strategy in response to the heightened interest in turning traditional degrees into badges, micro credentials, and stand-alone courses to achieve certain skill sets versus full graduate degrees.

Kaupla has noticed that more business organizations view the UW’s credentials, which are noncredit professional development certificates and badges, as valuable or in some cases more valuable than some of its degrees and for-credit credentials. Think of it as a collection of credentials that are equal or more powerful because employers now see upskilling every couple of years as more valuable.

“I would say this is both for hiring and for promotion purposes,” Kaupla says. “It ties to the rapid change that we’re seeing in businesses and the need to rapidly upskill and reskill talent. It’s pointing to some of the talent shortages that we see in the business environment.”

As for the time commitment for a certificate or badge, on average it’s days versus weeks. For some of certificates, it could be anywhere from a five-day commitment, depending on the topical area, to 15 or 20 days if an employee wants to stack multiple credentials to obtain a certification. At the long end, it’s going to be months versus years, depending on the kind of credential being pursued, but the flexibility to craft exactly what an individual employee needs for career enhancement or change is what will make this trend last for a long time.

“We’ve talked a lot about people moving across companies every three to five years,” Kaupla notes. “That will continue to shift into people changing careers every three to five years based on how much is changing in businesses.”

Trend 5: Retiring boomers, flagging innovation

Lauren Lameyer, instructor Dr. Lynea Lavoy (in peach-colored jacket), Leah Newberry, and Sarah Seeney discuss how emotional intelligence can play a role in handling difficult people and situations as part of Madison College’s “Service Champions” sessions.

As baby boomers continue to retire, a great deal of institutional knowledge and problem-solving ability is walking out the door. Companies that historically have been innovation leaders now are struggling with innovation, and in an age where disruptive business models bring down longstanding businesses, that’s a recipe for disaster. “They are worried that as this group of people leaves the organization, people who have all of this historical knowledge, that having people who can just think about problems differently is a need,” Kaupla explains, “and so they are asking to engage with us and to try to infuse innovative thinking. So, it’s not necessarily a training they would go through, but more about can we help them through a five-day innovation sprint or bring in some students to do innovation-design projects? Their hope is that infuses the organization with that thinking and gets people engaged in innovation.”

Trend 6: More online please

To accommodate the schedules of busy professional people, more professional development programming is being offered online. Entire programs are offered online, as are online modules where parts of courses are offered in a blended fashion. Many are presented as part of a hybrid that combines classroom, online, and perhaps some coaching service.

“We’ve seen huge increases in enrollment in programs that have specifically gone online like our Master of Science in nursing program, and now all of our business degrees can be achieved 100 percent online if a student chooses to,” Alsteen notes. “We know that our current students and many students in the Madison area do still love some of that face-to-face contact. They like building that community, and so in many of our programs we try to still offer some courses blended or face-to-face, as well.”

While some are concerned about a lack of rigor with solely online courses, that hasn’t stopped e-learning momentum. Some business operators note their employees use free services such as Google or YouTube for development purposes. “So, the key here is, and what we view as a differentiator, is true rigor and quality of that experience,” Kaupla says. “We want to make sure that it’s rooted in research so that the credential you receive at the end of that online experience is as credible and valuable as a credential that you would receive in a face-to-face or physical classroom environment. That’s what we’re really focused on, so it’s less about quantity and more about quality in what we’re providing. Our advisory board has been very, very clear that this [online development] is an area that we need to rapidly develop and respond to.”

Trend 7: Intensifying customization

Professional development is an industry trending toward deeper partnerships that provide for more personalized and customized programming. Professional development programming is offered in several formats and settings, but in an age of customized training that is tailored to the needs of specific client businesses, schools offer more customized training on the job site rather than in the classroom. Faculty at local institutions of higher learning will bring their expertise to you because not only is it more economical to have large groups of employees receive training on their own work site, it’s a faster way to have the knowledge ingrained throughout the organization.

This trend could lead to a related trend involving tuition reimbursement. “One thing that I believe strongly in speaking with human resource professionals is that we should rethink how tuition reimbursement is exercised in the workplace,” Alsteen says. “So, for example, instead of approving and granting funds for an employee to return for a master’s degree at any college of their choice and in an approved curriculum, what if you could work with one specific college to know that curriculum in depth? And even have some input into some of the courses and some of the exercises so that you know that when you send your employees to that program, the comprehensive skills that they will come out with may even be fine-tuned to be in touch specifically with your organization.”

Kaupla believes customization is becoming an expectation of individuals and businesses. Individuals are asking about customized certificate programs, where they can pick pieces of a UW program and custom design one buffet-style based on their needs.

At the business level, companies are asking for unique development opportunities, so the university is combining disciplines such as engineering and business, or business and health care. At the moment, it’s working with a biotech firm to combine medical-technical skills with some core business and soft skills. “That customization is certainly continuing to increase, and we’re seeing our partner businesses evolving that way,” Kaupla says.

Daniels, whose institution has relocating its continuing education and corporate training unit to new space at its West Campus, agrees: “Customization is key [to professional development]. This is something we’ve been doing for years. We’re just now consolidating much of what we do.”

Trend 8: Skilled entrepreneurship

What about would-be executives who go into business for themselves? Is entrepreneurship a skill? Yes, in a multitasking sort of way, so why not offer instruction in the form of workshops, seminars, or full programs? In a community trying to energize its startup base, it’s self-defeating to ignore their prospects for long-term survival.

“We focused in on entrepreneurship really about four years ago,” notes Daniels, “and it was a direction that I believe was important for us to move into, especially in this area, not only because of the numerous startups that we have, but also because small businesses are the key to our economy.”

Trend 9: Upping those skills

Another intensifying trend, one that doesn’t necessarily involve management- track employees, is the need to reskill or upskill. According to Kaupla, this trend is only intensifying with automation and artificial intelligence and the need to hold onto as many employees, even those who must be retrained, as possible. This is particularly true in large businesses, where hundreds of employees are being forced out of their current job due to automation.

“What’s happening in today’s world, especially in the business community, is the half-life of skills is falling,” he explains. “So, what you learn today can be out of date. It used to be you can get a degree and that would last for a good portion of your career. Now, we’re finding that within years, some of what you’ve learned in your formal education is out of date, so people need that reskilling.”



UW office engages business

How does the University of Wisconsin–Madison know what businesses want? It’s simple — the Office of Business Engagement fields about 500 corporate inquiries in any given year.

University of Wisconsin–Madison professional development programs, which are held at the Fluno Center, are influenced by feedback from the business community.

The office is the front door to the university, and companies approach it because they are interested in accessing the future workforce talent represented by UW students. They approach the university so often that OBE, which represents different campus capabilities, has established an intake process. “Typically, it starts with phone conversations with the goal of getting them to come to campus for a day where we host them and a variety of our campus partners,” explains Amy Achter, managing director for the OBE.

That will determine which of the campus training and development groups to pull into the conversation, which is where Jon Kaupla comes in. Kaupla, executive director of the UW–Madison School of Business Center for Professional and Executive Development, says the Center has its own advisory board of local executives to guide its decisions on curriculum. “They are our pulse and our voice into the business community to help us understand what’s happening, not only from a topical perspective of some of the needs, but just in the general business and talent landscape within their organizations,” says Kaupla.

Having the power of the Wisconsin School of Business behind it also helps in understanding trends impacting business and developing a professional development curriculum. “Employers seek partners who understand the context and culture of their organization and business,” Kaupla notes. “They appreciate the research and the academic backing we have at the university.”

Picking employers’ brains

Over the past year, Jenna Alsteen has had job interviews with several major local employers. Well, not technically job interviews, but interviews that can lead to the interviewees filling jobs — the executive jobs of the future.

Alsteen, who serves as executive director of graduate enrollment management and institutional partnerships for Edgewood College, notes the interviews pertained to a new structure for the college’s professional and continuing education programs. It’s a structure that’s still a work in progress.

The purpose of these talks was to learn more about the skills area employers are looking for, or want to train their employees for, including management skills. “The conversations we’ve had in the Madison area have been really well received,” she notes, “and everyone seems to be pleasantly surprised that we are approaching them with these customized options.”

The flip side of that is that Edgewood College is not recruiting students to enter a one-size-fits-all degree plan, Alsteen notes. As an institution that is guided by the Dominican tradition, the 92-year-old liberal arts college has always emphasized lifetime learning, and adult students completing their degrees are a constant feature of campus activity.

In putting together professional development programming, local colleges and universities often have advisory board with local business people whose input removes a lot of the guesswork. While forming Edgewood’s new structure, Alsteen notes the initial conversations were centered on employer’s needs, which led to internal discussions with faculty around the kind of expertise the college can offer them.

However, the time for talk is not yet over, and given the dynamics of change in the business world, it may never be. “The second round of conversations is now happening,” she says, “and I’m circling back to these organizations to see if we can fulfill their needs.”

West Campus has new occupant

With great justification, a lot of attention has been paid to Madison College’s new Goodman South Campus facility, which formally opens this fall, but another facility upgrade could mean even more for professional development. As of mid May, the technical college’s West Campus, 8017 Excelsior Drive, is the new home for continuing education, professional development, and corporate training.

In a video announcing the changes, Brian Woodhouse, associate vice president of strategic partnerships and innovation for Madison College, acknowledges the institution never before had a home in terms of a consolidated space for continuing education, professional development, or corporate training.

That’s no longer the case and having a new home on the west side will enable the college to expand its offerings to a growing continuing education audience, which in-cludes the local business community. That expansion began with the summer catalog and will likely continue as the leadership transition of local businesses continues.

The West Campus, which opened in January 2017, already provided access for students enrolling in programs for business, liberal arts transfer, and pre-health. Now professional development is consolidated within the facility, which already had two computer labs, a biology lab, and a kitchen lab to go along with student computer and support areas for credit and non-credit classes.

“We’re going to be able to better serve our district audience,” Woodhouse notes. “We’ll have a great space to bring in our corporate clients, of which we serve over 100 every year. We’ll have expanded continuing education offerings. We’ll be able to offer things throughout the day.”

Meanwhile, there will be a formal dedication for the Goodman South Campus on Saturday, Sept. 28.

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