Why is continual training important for CEOs?

Learning is a process that every organisation will need to prioritise as they look to realise the benefits that come from retaining orgnaisational knowledge.

CEOs will often have years of experience and personal development under their belt before they assume a role at the C-Suite level. However, ongoing training is an equally important part of CEO development, especially if they want their skills to remain sharp enough to meet the challenges that come with a high-pressure environment.

So what are the skills that company leaders are interested in developing in the future?

Strategic thinking the top concern for CEOs

Among the core skills that leaders within an organisation are looking to develop, strategic thinking has emerged as the leading consideration.

That is the finding from the most recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) CEO survey, which took the pulse of organisational leaders around the world. When asked which skills they would need to develop in the future to remain competitive, a third (32 per cent) stated strategic thinking would be the most important responsibility.

Among the other skill sets that ranked highly in the study were a focus on talent management and acquisition (20 per cent) and adaptability (19 per cent). Skills that also ranked in the study included personal qualities like integrity (15 per cent) and leadership ability (14 per cent).

Underlying these specifics is a serious focus on soft skills – those social abilities that will underpin an individual’s performance at a senior level and are essential for leading an organisation. The ability to think long-term, be agile in decision making and have a broad vision for an organisation were all pointed to as essential soft skills for a CEO.

PwC went on to highlight six core competencies that the organisation felt CEOs would need to develop further in the future. These six were:

  • Focus on the core abilities that an organisation possesses and ensure this specialisation remains at the forefront of company strategy.
  • Re-evaluate the business you’re in and reposition as necessary to maximise the business’s core abilities.
    Anticipate policy and regulatory issues and then work to address them before they impact on an organisation’s performance.
  • Build diverse yet aligned partnerships with other companies that share your goals.
  • Incorporate digital technology and have a plan to guide future investments in IT capabilities.
  • Develop a strong mix of talent at every level of an organisation.

By matching these organisational shifts with improvements in a CEO’s own skill set, PwC suggested that leaders would be well-placed to guide an organisation through future challenges.

While there are clearly a number of skills that those within the C-Suite will need to develop in the future, it is equally important for organisations to undertake continual training in order to reinforce the skill sets that already exist within the company.

Ongoing training brings organisation-wide benefits

Just as businesses require ongoing training to realise the benefits of these changes, companies will also need to ensure they have the right processes in place to keep their staff educated at every level.

This issue was cited in a recent study from the University of Illinois in the US. In a study of organisational learning within supply chains, the research revealed that, over time, learned processes drain away from a business.

The result is that any increases in productivity to come from improved training efforts will gradually fade as staff turn over and workers move into new roles. This lost knowledge will leave an organisation without many of the benefits they originally saw around their performance.

According to one of the study’s authors, Professor Anupam Agrawal, the growing importance of organisational learning in preserving a competitive advantage.

“The development and depreciation of knowledge within organisations are processes that occur concurrently in all firms, in just about all industries,” said Mr Agrawal.

“When you teach someone something, or if this person is learning on the job, the arrow does not continually point up… It’s going to come down, so you have to correct course every so often, because as you are learning, you also are slowly forgetting.”

What does this research mean for senior leaders?

For CEOs, this research paints a clear picture of the importance of ongoing learning within an organisation. If staff aren’t communicating knowledge effectively to one another, the accumulated skills of a company will slowly fade. In a knowledge economy, preserving core skill sets within a business is only going to grow in importance.

Along with effective training, senior executives will also need to be sure they have effective succession management policies in place to hand knowledge on to workers who are remaining within an organisation.

Finally, the gradual loss of knowledge underscores the importance of senior executives undertaking their own training programmes in order to drive greater performance. Maintaining organisational knowledge within the C-Suite will be an essential process for companies to undertake as they look to maintain a competitive advantage.

As Professor Agrawal noted; “You work to arrest the problem, and you do what is the right thing to do at the time, but it doesn’t solve the problem in the long-run.”

“You have to continually improve but then also realise that there’s a slight erosion of your knowledge going on as well. The assumption that quality improvements are retained indefinitely is not correct.”

By addressing skill gaps as they emerge, and also focussing on developing new skill sets, such as those identified in PwC’s research, both organisations and CEOs will be well-placed to stay ahead of emerging trends. With competition between firms only likely to increase in coming months, being able to hone these skill sets will be essential for leaders to navigate changing market conditions.