• Alex Ball, Director |
4 min read

In today’s unpredictable, fast-moving and challenging business environment, the demands on leaders are greater than ever. That’s why learning and development programmes that truly support executives and help them sharpen their leadership skills have become mission-critical.

This was something we focused on at a recent KPMG-hosted event for Learning Leaders, led by our partners iVentiv. Bringing together participants from a wide range of private sector corporates, it was an opportunity to really drill down into the issues and think about the qualities that make today’s executive development programmes successful.

Fish Bowl Session
Hollow Square

The power of the human element

Working together face to face, in the same room and in intensive breakout sessions, brought home a powerful truth in itself: while technology has revolutionised workplace learning and brought new possibilities in how it is delivered, there is no substitute for the human, collaborative element. This applies in particular to Executive Development. There is a special value in bringing leaders from an organisation together to work through real-world challenges and how they apply to their business. There is a chemistry and a ‘magic’ that can be unlocked as people work together, solve problems and form deeper working relationships with each other.

This human-centric aspect of development reflects the human-centricity that executives now need when leading their teams. The world has become a more complex place in recent years and to get the best out of teams and make them more than the sum of their parts requires a sophisticated mix of empathy, understanding, motivation and inclusivity. You can no longer lead by dishing out tasks or just setting targets – real leadership comes from inspiring people on a personal level to achieve, challenge themselves and grow.

The most effective learning programmes for leaders help them develop in themselves the qualities they are seeking to nurture in their teams. It’s about being human-centred to allow a culture of curiosity that will enable a growth mindset. This helps team members deal more confidently with uncertainty, develop resilience, and embrace the agility and flexibility you need to adapt to a changing environment.

D&I is key

Some aspects have become fundamental to success. The diversity and inclusion agenda, for example, is widely recognised as a key path to unlocking better performance by creating a richer environment where people can be themselves. Good leadership today is, by definition, inclusive leadership. Ensuring that you are creating the dynamics where diverse talent can flourish is foundational. True social equity is only achieved with personalisation of learning. We all travel on our own different journeys and therefore we should all be given the opportunity, time and space we need as individuals to develop to the next stage.

This is also about generational diversity. Today’s new generations are ‘different’. They’re looking for social purpose, commitment to ESG and sustainability, meritocracy cultures where they can progress quickly, and flexibility in how and when they work. It’s also probably true to say that they are less loyal to their employers – more likely to simply move on if they’re unhappy with the workplace. This raises the stakes in terms of retaining and motivating teams.

Harnessing Gen AI

Needless to say, another huge transformative and disruptive force at play was discussed in the forum. Most businesses are on a journey of digitisation, and embedding AI and generative AI into systems and operations has become the hot ticket. These change how people work and interact. Collaborating through platforms such as Teams, for example, rather than through discrete email exchanges, creates new conventions, habits and etiquettes.

AI also has huge potential for learning programmes in themselves. Through generative AI, new learning content can be created quickly and economically – the human task becoming to check and validate it in the final stages to ensure it aligns properly with learning objectives and with the organisation’s ambitions, tone of voice and culture.

But generative AI can also be applied in other powerful ways. It can be harnessed to analyse usage patterns of the organisation’s performance platforms and systems and help solve business problems. For example, to show where employees are struggling or which features or functionality are not being used, allowing organisations to anticipate the need for learning or support and place content directly in the flow of work. We’re finding that leading organisations are using AI analytics as an early warning system to pre-empt issues and remediate them before they become a bigger problem.

Learning by design

However, it’s the human element that, in my view, really makes the difference and helps executives find that personal growth, as leaders and as people. This means that the experience design of an Executive Development programme is critically important to achieve a change in mindsets, inspire new behaviours and create new habits and rituals.

The event confirmed to me that bringing a diverse set of leaders together in an impactful venue and focusing them on solving real life problems that have impact on their own work, is still the best executive development model.

In an age of excessive work demands and high cognitive loads, leaders need that space and time to build connection and work together, in person, on things that really matter to them. Learning can then be reinforced by accessible, digestible insights from follow-up assets such as podcasts and short videos.

There was a genuine excitement in the room about the challenges and opportunities ahead – now is the time for learning to step up to the plate and prove its value as a strategic tool to the C Suite.