Assume your best people are your best leaders at your own peril

As 2015 kicks off, executives and HR practitioners are planning how to achieve this year’s revenue growth. While many are putting sales and marketing initiatives in place, fewer are focusing on leadership development and training.

The start of every year sees companies preparing for – and implementing – their strategic initiatives for the next 12 months. People get back to work in January all fired up to hit the ground running. They are optimistic and enthusiastic, and while decision-makers are focusing on their goals for the year ahead, they are also considering how they are going to be able to attain them with the skills and budgets they have.

Many employers and managers are increasingly realising that they simply cannot find the skills they need as a result of the skills shortage in South Africa and have to invest heavily in corporate training. Deloitte released a research study in May 2014 that demonstrates a surprising gap between what’s being said and what’s being done by business executives – a problem that derives mostly from the lack of focus in leadership development.

“Leadership remains the No. 1 talent issue facing organizations around the world, with 85% of companies in [the] survey rating it as ‘urgent’ or ‘important’. But only 14% of companies say they do an excellent job developing global leaders” according to the Leadership Development Factbook 2014—Benchmarks and Trends in U.S. Leadership Development. Leadership development represents the largest readiness gap.

PWC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey echoes this sentiment: “More than anything, the CEOs we talked to this year stressed the ‘soft’ skills of leadership”.

Can we still afford to assume that our best people are automatically capable of leading our company? Today’s workforce is more specialised than ever. Your most talented people in sales, manufacturing, engineering, and design are not in management – they are doing their jobs. Preparing them as the kind of managers you need takes the right kind of approach to learning. The world of corporate training has been revolutionised, in part by technology, and in part because the human side of business has become a growing factor in the success of leadership in businesses in every sector of the market.

However, many companies have a hard time getting employees to attend corporate training. Workers are often reluctant because it means taking time away from the office and with corporate training budgets currently in recovery mode after the toll the recession took, many companies are looking to see the ROI before buying in to training.

New trends in skills development are helping to mitigate these challenges, offering more cost-effective solutions that allow for fast, effective, on-the-job training. If you are worried about the time needed to train your workforce to be ready to meet your strategic goals in 2015, solutions such as game-based training offer greater flexibility and returns than traditional approaches.

Good game-based learning applications can draw learners into virtual environments that look and feel familiar and relevant. Within an effective game-based learning environment learners work toward a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way. They make mistakes in a risk-free setting, and through experimentation, actively learn and practice the right way to do things.

Aim for training where executives and managers have an opportunity to witness the full impact of their business decisions on finances, customers, employees and company culture, but without the risk of making those decisions in the real world. Let your people practice being leaders before you allow them to lead your organisation.