The challenge of leadership in our rapidly changing and complex context has been aptly described as “building a skyscraper on a moving conveyor belt”.
The external context in which organizations operate is in constant and rapid flux. Technological changes are impacting on all spheres of business. The customer has also changed and become a lot more knowledgeable and demanding. We are finding that product shelf life is very small and also that it’s impossible to compete on product differentiation in today’s world. The customer has a lot more choices available and as a result has become a lot more demanding. The effects of the global economic crisis are also still with us and have also contributed to a more financial constrained consumer. In order to survive and thrive in such a turbulent environment, organizations must have the capacity to learn that is equal to or greater that the rate of change in their relevant context (Reg Revan). If the internal variety of an organisation is not able to match or exceed the variety on the outside, the Organisation will not be able to survive.
The big question then for us is whether our human and talent development processes are adapting this changing world and its complex demands on leaders. I have a few observations in this respect. My experience is that the current efforts to manage costs have seen more and more organizations cutting back on their spend on talent development. Even more serious is the realization that many of the training and development processes are managed at lower levels of the organisation by people who do not understand the complex nature of top leadership functions. When organizations are in financially constrained times, they should be more intentional in spending time and resources for learning especially at the high levels of the firm. We should be doing the exact opposite of what is currently happening. We should be increasing our spend in strategic learning and development. Training has the purpose of reducing complexity to enable a lower system to cope. Learning on the other hand is about increasing the internal capacity to match or exceed external capacity.