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Is Reskilling Relevant for C-Suites?

by Gracelyn Ho, BBA 1987 & Joel Chia, BSocSc 2022

Is Reskilling Relevant for CSuite?

Reskilling, and upskilling for that matter, were hot topics before the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is now more than ever a greater urgency to deal with not only the challenges brought on by new technologies and disruptions in the marketplace, but also unprecedented changes as a result of COVID-19. However, most will associate the need for reskilling and upskilling with middle to lower hierarchies of employees with skills that are more directly impacted and thus made redundant. Less attention is focused on C suites and senior level management to keep themselves up to speed ‘with their skills’  as it is thought to be a given and should be self-directed, with their experience and seniority. Due to this perception, ‘reskilling and upskilling’ should be reframed in relevant context to resonate with senior leaderships and drives home the urgent need for them to keep up to speed in order to lead and future proof their organizations.  

In previous generations of leaders, it was often enough for C-suites to chart their own course for the organizations and filter it down the hierarchies for employees to follow. Those days are over. In current times, especially with the pandemic, C-suites must recognize that their roles in the organisations and society have changed significantly and gone beyond just creating financial values for shareholders. They must face wider and varied groups of internal and external stakeholders that include regulators, activist investors and consumers, millennial employees, business partners, and the media, all with divergent demands. The C suites of today also have a responsibility towards the community and society at large and must deal with new technologies like AI, blockchains and embed topics like Environment, Social and Governance into their decision making process. Therefore, the need to build their arsenal of content knowledge and experience in these ‘new’ areas’ and adapt their approach accordingly. Technical competencies upon which many C suites and senior management have been promoted for are no longer sufficient to see them through. The new skill sets they need are both left and right brained. New senior leadership need to be agile and modular, at both the strategic and execution levels. They need to possess the ability to be in the boiler room one moment and up at the boardroom the next. Their leadership styles adopted must be able to future proof themselves and the organizations they lead. It requires an overall mindset change to identify the gaps and close them. These are the ‘reskilling and upskilling’ needs of senior management and C suites and it is more urgent than ever before.

The Reskilling Equation  

However, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review noted from their survey that while the pace of digital transformation at most large companies have accelerated, the demands placed on C-suites and senior leadership were not the same as that placed on other levels in the organization, resulting in a disconnect in the reskilling equation. 

In a study of global business leaders by MIT Sloan Management Review, many business leaders are still held back by a deficiency in digital savviness, as well as outdated mindsets. Although the reasons are many, some of the main factors cited include generational differences and pace of technological advancement. Within the last 50 years, each successive generation grows up in a vastly different environment with different values and perceptions. Every advancement in technology also drastically alters the business environment. If senior management fails to keep with all these changes in an agile manner, the impact on their organizations and their relevance can be permanent.

What Should C-Suites Do Then?

The way forward for C-suites and senior leadership is to future proof their own mindset and skills to lead the organisations. Once they start changing the way they view their roles in the organisations and within the community,  what they must do will naturally follow.

Walk the Talk. Even at the C-level, senior executives still have a lot to learn. They have to set the tone for the organisations on reskilling and upskilling. They could enroll in short, senior executive courses at leading universities and professional bodies that tackle issues at their level as well as network with peers at C-levels. They need to lead by example and ensure this lifelong learning attitude is thoroughly embedded into the organization’s culture.

For starters, get used to the idea of Change. ‘Change is a constant’ is a cliché buts it is becoming a key functional unit in many large organizations, resulting in fields like ‘Change Management’. To totally embrace it at all levels and not be fearful of it takes courage and an organisational culture that supports it. The tone from the top is very important. Everyone, from the Boardroom down to the boiler room, needs to embrace it.

Pace of Change. Recognize the need that senior leadership also needs to transform itself at the same pace and magnitude, as the organization that it is trying to change and lead. The engine and the carriages need to be aligned to run smoothly.

They do not have all the answers. Gone are the days where leaders at the top know it all. C-suites and senior leadership need to possess the humility to acknowledge that they do not have all the answers, especially in current volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (“VUCA”) times. They need constructive advice, 360 feedback. Thus, they also need to build a culture and environment for it.

Recognize the Echo Chamber Effect. C-suites and senior leadership often do not get candid feedback from the hierarchies in an organization. Thus, there is a need to build a framework for 360-degree feedback for all levels, especially at the senior levels. Senior leadership must be comfortable in their own skin to be critiqued and be willing to change to suit.

Coaching Mindset. Be a coach and be ready to be coached. A top-down leadership style that broaches no arguments is out of date. A coaching and mentoring leadership approach will ensure C-suites get the most of the feedback from the ground to improve, calibrate and recalibrate. Such a leadership approach, coupled with transparent feedback channel, will bring about powerful outcomes.

Ultimately, for the organisations to be able to tackle the challenges head on, leadership and the people they lead need to be aligned in reskilling and upskilling. C-suite executives need to show they are willing to do what it takes to equip themselves will the people they lead follow their lead confidently.

References:
Reskilling the C-Suite: Leading into the Future (lhh.com)

The Digital Talent Gap Extends into the C-Suite too (Forbes)

Is Your C-Suite Equipped to Lead a Digital Transformation?

  






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