The ongoing impact of the pandemic is forcing business leaders to look for innovative ways to respond and adapt to rapidly changing environments to sustain their organisations. In the face of so much uncertainty, the need to invest in upskilling staff, encouraging new ways of thinking and equipping people with the tools that will keep them and their companies agile, engaged – and adapting – is critical. Not only will a motivated and skilled workforce be key in boosting performance now and post-pandemic, it can cost an average of six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace them, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Now more than ever, it is essential for organisations to have an ambitious learning and development strategy in place, which is linked directly to the strategy of their business and what they want to achieve in the future.
One of the advantages of a well-designed training programme is that it can help translate the natural energy and ideas of an organisation’s people into solutions that work on the ground. Some South African companies are leading the way in this regard. The Sanlam Group, South Africa’s largest financial services group and the largest insurance firm in Africa, for example, credits its learning strategy with several key developments that have helped to keep the company at the leading edge over the past few years, and almost certainly gave it an edge during the pandemic.
Over the past four years, the company has invested in sending its senior managers on a customised leadership development learning journey — a innovative three-way collaboration between Sanlam, the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) and the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking (d-School) — that combines leadership development with design thinking (a methodology using more creative and flexible approaches to solution finding). Feedback from the Leadership Development Initiative suggests that it has had a transformative impact as leaders learn to collaborate across traditional boundaries and lead solution finding processes with greater levels of courage and creative confidence.
Dr Nadine Mayers, course convenor of the Sanlam Advanced Leadership Certificate in Design Thinking at the UCT GSB explains that organisations across the world have great ideas and amazing solutions, but many are unable to land these as successful innovations in their organisations. “Landing multi-stakeholder innovations in a complex, uncertain world, requires a committed process of unlearning former pathways to success and embracing new ways of thinking and doing,” she says.
Customised programmes, as their name suggests, are executive education programmes that are custom designed to help organisations meet their own particular challenges. They can be aligned with a company’s business strategy and goals, as well as for the specific competency gaps within the organisation, to ensure relevance and clear outcomes and can be a great way to make sure that scarce resources are spent smartly. Organisations are able to choose exactly what they need so programmes can be adapted from existing short courses for continuing professional development or designed from the ground up.
Rayner Canning, Business Development Director at the UCT GSB, says the school, through its experienced team of Learning Design Partners, works closely with corporates to co-create effective training interventions, helping them to think through the problems they face and design the best solution. “Through our extensive local and international networks, we seek to ensure the best faculty and most relevant SME’s (subject matter experts) are available to our clients. In designing and developing programmes that work, we’re able to leverage current thinking and practice from across the ecosystem of the UCT GSB — notably from our world-class faculty, as well as from associated centres of excellence such as the d-School and the Centre for Coaching. This depth of expertise, along with the UCT GSB’s agility and client-centric attitude is going to become ever more important as we transition into a post-COVID-19 world.”
One of the key attractions of executive education programmes is the networking opportunities they provide. The advantages of meeting people from different organisations are obvious, but the benefits of getting to know colleagues better should not be overlooked. This is particularly relevant for multinational companies with staff operating in different geographies – while they may work for the same organisation, the cultures and market pressures in each geography varies significantly. Customised (in-company) programmes allow not only for networking, but provide opportunities for greater understanding of cultures, people and market conditions that are present across such organisations. Authenticity, collaboration and trust are going to be essential for success in the future, so strengthening an internal network among colleagues, and across roles and divisions can improve employee engagement and impact an organisation’s bottom line.
Customised programme solutions by their very nature target specific learning outcomes that can be measured through increased workplace application of the new skills (both hard and soft) acquired. These targeted training solutions also allow corporates to better manage the work environment, which is often hostile to new ways of working and problem solving. They are thus able to prepare the work environment for the influx of new skills and behaviours by creating safe spaces for experimentation and application of what has been learnt.
“At the UCT GSB, we spend a lot of time working closely with clients before, during and after programmes to understand what’s working and what’s perhaps not working as well,” Canning explains. “This gives us insight very quickly into how to pivot, adapt and update materials and learning methodologies as clients’ business needs shift and as the programmes unfold.”
The UCT GSB was ranked 56 in the world and number one in South Africa for its Customised Executive Education programmes in the 2020 Financial Times Ranking – widely regarded as a leading benchmark of quality and relevance for business schools worldwide. It also became the first business school in Africa to win a Gold Excellence In Practice Award from the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) for a case study on its long-standing partnership with Standard Bank to deliver a Masterclass in Strategic Client Management Programme (MSCMP) for its corporate and investment banking (CIB) managers across Africa.