How to Thrive in a Complex Business Environment

Posted on April 28, 2017

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How to Thrive in a Complex Business Environment
By Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, VP of CGMA External Relations, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Originally published by American City Business Journals

With the global business environment shifting daily, it’s critical for organizations to be prepared for change. Companies need to make sure their teams have the right skills to ensure the organization can thrive in this increasingly complex ecosystem.

In my last article, I discussed how to identify the must-have skills and competencies you need in your employees, and subsequently where the gaps are on your current team. While every company and role will have unique requirements, areas of particular importance to consider include critical and strategic thinking; collaboration and business partnering across the enterprise; understanding the industry and the external business environment; having the ability to lead and manage change; and having the influence to motivate and inspire teams.

Once you’ve identified the areas of need on your team, the next step is to cultivate those skills that are lacking.

Developing a set of skills or competencies across a team requires a structured approach. Thus, implementing a learning program that simulates real business world context and provides “learning by doing,” along with rigorous assessments of these skills, is key.

Developing a learning program

Most organizations approach learning by presenting employees with a library of materials and expecting them to figure out what they need on their own. This method produces sub-optimal results. Without a framework to refer to, employees pick and choose from a labyrinth of options, making learning loose and difficult to measure.

It’s important to provide a systematic, structured and methodical program with syllabus content that is based on a competency framework and clearly defined learning objectives and outcomes. The program should take into consideration the company goals for the business and employees, the skills and competency gaps in reaching those goals, and the resources needed to address those gaps.

There are many resources that could be included, and depending on employee needs, the program could encompass external courses, webinars and events as well as internal workshops and scenario challenges. It’s important that the program be flexible and available on-demand so employees can learn at their own pace and participate from anywhere, at any time. A group of employees taking the journey together as a cohort is also an effective way to for team members to learn about its application from each other.

The main thing to keep in mind, however, is the program should enable employees to perform differently in the workplace. It cannot just be about “book learning:” it must be about tangible learning. The program should teach employees how to apply the concepts they’ve learned in the business world, in their day-to-day roles.

Measuring skills gained

Every program also needs a milestone — a graduation date, if you will. Testing to see how much the employees learned and whether the program worked is critical.

When thinking about testing, remember that simply obtaining new skills is not enough. Employees must be able to practically apply their newly-learned insights in the context of the business. That means that the final test or exam should measure whether they can integrate and apply their new skills in the way they think and operate.

For example, the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) program, which focuses on building new strengths required for finance professionals, tests participants on their ability to apply their newly learned skills in real-life business scenarios through a strategic case study exam. The exam is graded by practitioners who evaluate participants’ recommendations on the business scenario and communications to the pseudo-board or CEO.

Asking employees to work through practical case studies and show how they would approach certain situations can provide insights on how their thinking has changed, if they’ve developed the necessary competencies, and if there are any remaining skills gaps to be addressed.

There is no doubt that employees today need a more diversified skill set and a broader understanding of the market and the business. However, it’s critical for organizations to provide clear direction and manage their learning initiatives to ensure they gain those skills. Businesses need to provide guidance on what employees need in order to be successful, assess the skills gaps they have, and then provide the necessary training to reduce those gaps.

Ultimately, the companies that implement structured and measurable talent development programs, and where business leaders are invested in employee learning will develop stronger teams and reap significantly better business results. These are the companies that will survive and thrive in this ever-changing business environment.

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