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July 24, 2023

Future-proofing your leadership: Start upskilling leaders and managers

Learning and development initiatives often focus on non-management employees. But successful organizations need to start upskilling leaders and managers, too.

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When we talk about upskilling and reskilling employees, focus often falls on developing entry-level or non-management workers ­­­­­­­­­– as it should. But we need to widen our learning and development scope to include leaders and managers, too.

Our world is changing fast, and we need leaders to keep up with the skills that matter right now and prepare skillsets for the future. People leaders set the tone for their teams in embracing new technologies and new ways of thinking. If they lag in these areas, innovation will suffer, which can make an organization less competitive.

Train for future technological innovation

The world is abuzz with discussions about how artificial intelligence will change the future of work, especially now that tools like ChatGPT offer conversation-based problem-solving. As these and other technologies develop and influence more of our work tasks, it’s important for leaders in your organization to be ready to embrace new opportunities. Training employees for future technological innovations starts with learning how to use cutting edge tech to solve today’s challenges – like burnout.

“Managers have seen their stress levels rise exponentially since COVID but very little has been done to help them relieve the stress. Learning how AI can improve their decision-making may actually reduce manager stress levels yielding a happier life and reducing undesired turnover and burnout,” says Steve Vanwieren, Ceridian’s Senior Director of Data Science and Governance.

A manager who can spitball ideas with ChatGPT or craft more thoughtful emails with AI text editors is much better equipped for the technological changes of tomorrow.

Focus on high-priority leadership skills

As you build upskilling programs targeted to manager-level positions, start with the high-priority skills that you need. Maybe your employees have expressed a disconnect with their supervisors related to interpersonal communication or DEI. You can focus your initiatives on things like cultural intelligence training and group sessions to cultivate empathetic listening skills that will help leaders develop better relationships with direct reports.

Or maybe internal leaders experience roadblocks and pass issues up the ladder rather than applying creative thinking, causing decision-making inefficiencies. In this case, create upskilling opportunities centered around dynamic problem-solving workshops and group trainings where leaders can work through common workplace scenarios together and find new solutions.

Upskill to support succession

Succession planning is a vital part of business risk mitigation. Unfilled leadership roles that remain open for long periods can create significant financial consequences. A 2022 benchmarking report from SHRM found that the average cost-per-hire is $4,683 and the average executive cost-per-hire is $28,329. Succession planning can help mitigate those costs by preparing new leaders to step into job vacancies and reduce those hiring costs.

For succession planning to work effectively, you need to upskill leaders so they’re ready for the next step. By always training a successor, you’ll simultaneously satisfy managers’ desire for professional development and your organization’s need for stability.

As you start upskilling leaders and managers, align trainings and learning targets with the demands of roles above their current rank. For example, a software development manager might be trained on tasks that their supervisor performs on a daily basis. This would include learning about setting long-term business goals and how to motivate multiple teams to achieve those goals. By training a successor for team leaders and acting directors, you can improve your organizational agility amid unexpected turnover, ensure continuity of team culture, and reduce unnecessary hiring costs.

Continue upskilling as part of your employee retention strategy

Upskilling leaders and managers should be core to your employee retention strategy for two reasons. First, it improves the employee experience for lower-level staff who want to be led by competent, empathetic, and skilled leaders. Second, it improves the manager experience by offering professional development opportunities that make work easier and more efficient.

Furthermore, by having upskilling and reskilling built into your ongoing retention strategy, you’ll begin growing leadership skills in new hires and new managers who might lack team lead experience. Having this baked-in approach enables you to stay on top of skills gaps and avoid throwing less experienced managers to the wolves.

“Managers are one of the most important groups that benefit from organized upskilling. Many first-time managers are often not explicitly taught to be people leaders and are expected to learn on the job. By understanding a skills gap like this and addressing it through upskilling we help setup new managers for success,” says Shaun Ricci, Ceridian’s General Manager of Talent Intelligence Development.

Build a better learning and development program

In the modernizing world of work, you can strategically refine your learning and development (L&D) programming for managers. Upskill your leaders with technology-assisted skills development tools that use AI and machine learning to suggest specific learning opportunities for specific roles. While there will always be a need for leadership learning courses on team building and managing employee performance, why not further personalize your L&D strategy on a case-by-case basis?

It’s critical to understand the skills you have within your organization today, so you know where gaps exist, especially among current and future leaders. This knowledge can help you craft tailored development plans to build skills that will drive your organization forward today and help you plan for the skills of tomorrow.

As you continue upskilling and fixing skills gaps, you’ll find yourself with a well-trained and equipped group of productive leaders.

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