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Training In The 21st Century: How To Teach Strategic Thinking For Tomorrow’s Leaders

We’re pleased to be able to syndicate pieces from Consultants Collective member consultants, advisors and coaches who have shared their expertise with leading business publications. Today, we feature Consultants Collective member consultant Bill Hall, whose article originally appeared in Forbes.

The baby boomer generation is retiring at a more rapid pace every day. Members of the next demographic cohorts, Gen X and more so Gen Y, are stepping up to take their places in companies worldwide. However, as these generations enter leadership, enterprises are repeatedly failing to bridge business acumen and strategic thinking skill gaps.

These emerging leaders are a technologically advanced group. Many have advanced degrees and high skills and come with vast amounts of industry-specific knowledge. Corporations can benefit enormously from this age group; however, these new leaders are not as teachable through traditional training methods. Rather, they benefit most from hands-on, applicable and customized training tailored to their outlook and skillsets.

What will tomorrow’s workforce need from today’s corporate employee development?

Now that we’ve established that the next generation of leaders are filling up leadership roles, it’s high time you considered giving them what they, and the corporation, need to excel in the working environment. Training grounded in strategic thinking for the 21st-century workforce will need to be refurbished in order to suit the needs of trainees. You can achieve success by using the following techniques:

1. Hands-On Employee Development

In this era of unprecedented technological advancement, today’s learners need highly applicable training adapted to the competitive digital world. This helps them complete their professional tasks by use of advanced computer systems, which might reduce their actual contact with the work (unlike their more hands-on predecessors) and render them mere facilitators in their duties. Because of this, strategic thinking training should be entirely revamped. A new approach is necessary, in which trainees get to execute relevant tasks during the training.

Market-wide orientation will certainly come up during the training. Here, trainees can be tasked with the development of strategic ideas that could make products and services sell better and that meet market demands, thus satisfying both suppliers and clients. Hands-on training, when incorporated into strategic thinking grounded training, seizes and retains the attention of those who are easily distracted.

2. Simulations

Once only used by the largest and most successful global companies, business simulations go a long way toward instilling vital skills into the 21st-century workforce. (A number of companies, my own included, provide business simulations.) They are specially designed models in which trainees get to take up roles, make key decisions for the whole corporation and watch how effective strategic-thinking-based decisions impact the firm in both the short- and long-term.

Simulations are like gambling in a demo platform in order to learn before betting real money. Businesses are prone to risks, and a small mishap from just one employee can cripple the most profitable ventures. Simulations give trainees firsthand exposure to risks. In the process, they learn how to avoid risky actions in the early stages and how to mitigate errors once they occur.

That said, there are three considerations to think about if you’re using business simulations:

  • Keep it simple and focused. Many people fall victim to the “shiny object syndrome” and suddenly find themselves with a business simulation that is over-complicated, out of scope and financially unsustainable. Make sure you keep your simulation solution simple and stay focused.
  • Simulation does not mean computerized. Some of the best simulation solutions are made of simple paper and pen. Computer-based simulations can get expensive fast and can actually distract from learning. Sometimes a paper-based simulation is the best fit.
  • Stay in control. Business simulations can get complicated. You should always feel like you know what is going on and that you are in control. Some of the biggest simulation messes I’ve had to clean up were caused by consultants running the program. Remember, you are in charge, and don’t let a lack of understanding strip you of your control.

3. Tech-Laced Training

Twentieth-century training techniques have been rendered obsolete by the current technological advancements. The days when trainers would use lecture methods are long gone. Today’s emerging leaders get excited by tech and artificial intelligence, and using these in strategic thinking training will make the process effective and exciting. The sooner trainees acquaint themselves with the technology adopted by their employers, the better. Effectively thought out strategic-thinking-based training can facilitate the “technological migration” through a tech-based training.

4. Highly Applicable Skills

Today’s workforce needs skills that are highly applicable to their current and future responsibilities. Many companies make the mistake of training for today’s needed skills only. The best strategy is to give tomorrow’s leaders exposure to strategic thinking skills that are applicable today and even more important and applicable tomorrow. Famous hockey player Wayne Gretsky was known for saying, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” The same is true for teaching strategic thinking: Create training that is usable today but is highly applicable for tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen that members of the current highly trained workforce often complain of being plagued by the “green” workforce. Older employees sometimes find the emerging leaders difficult to work with, owing to their short attention spans and overreliance on the technology.

Strategic thinking-based business-acumen training can help bridge this divide. It uses technology, simulations and applicable, hands-on training to retrain and equip the 21st-century workforce. It provides the skills and knowledge tomorrow’s leaders need to facilitate proper management of corporations, boost employee productivity, increase product and service delivery, and boost customer and supplier satisfaction. The result will be greater integration of tomorrow’s leaders into the workforce, leading to higher sales and greater profits.

Bill Hall

Bill Hall is a member consultant for Consultants Collective. He began his career at Apple, where he worked as an engineer and product manager. He collaborated directly with Steve Jobs on various projects, and was a five-time Apple MVP and a Golden Apple award winner. Bill brings to strategic development a potent mix of technology, business acumen, and organizational skills. He has worked on corporate turnarounds at companies such as Apple, Nortel, and AOL, as well as at startups such as Skype. He’s the author of Shift: Using Business Simulations and Serious Games, which was an Amazon No. 1 bestselling book in the training and development sphere, and his articles have been featured in Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Business Insider and Chief Learning Officer, Chief Executive.

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