Leaders in Learning: Why Reskilling/Upskilling Must Begin at the Top?
By Arijit Banerjee
Like every workplace revolution in the past, recent advancements in science and technology including big data, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation is heavily impacting all spheres of the workplace. A 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report predicts that 54% of workers across 12 industries will need to be reskilled and upskilled by 2022 to stay relevant.1 With manufacturing and service sectors alike evolving to embrace new technology, 40% of India’s tech workforce needs to upskill in the next five years to stay relevant.2
As the pace of change accelerates across sectors, the only way for organizations to stay on the growth curve is to invest in re-skilling/up-skilling their workforce alongside investing in new technology. Interestingly, 54% of the companies surveyed in the WEF report indicated that they would prioritize re-skilling and up-skilling initiatives for employees in high-value and key roles. This begs the question: Why should companies focus first on re-skilling or up-skilling their leaders?
5 reasons why re-skilling needs to start at the top
#1. Future-proof the organization:
The skills and experience that get managers and business leaders to the top are often not enough for them to continue performing well in their roles. Market trends and technology are constantly evolving. New skills help combine their strong leadership acumen and experience with relevant knowledge, empowering them to innovate across products, people and processes. For instance, ensuring leadership literacy and comfort with new technology and relevant upskilling enables them to understand and analyze data insights accurately and extrapolate them to market conditions, revenue trends and sales patterns to steer the organization in the right direction. Reskilling in new technology such as AI, big data, cloud, talent analytics etc., at the leadership level helps management anticipate trends and set appropriate long-term goals for the business.
#2. Enable effective team management:
Insights from a recent survey show that employee-manager relationship is the key driver in workplace satisfaction for employees.3 As businesses constantly change and evolve, adapting to new ways of working is inevitable and often met with resistance from workers. Many leaders are in a unique position of supervising workers older than themselves, who are typically skeptical of their capabilities and resistant to change. A contrasting scenario is one where the millennial workforce has radically different expectations from their leaders, with 79% of them wanting their managers to be more of a mentor and less of a ‘boss’.4 Training leaders in people management, employee recognition and enablement, and soft skills helps them emotionally connect with their team for optimal productivity. Leaders who walk the talk and pave the way in embracing new technology and ideas will carry their teams well along with them, making the transition easier for themselves and the business.
#3. Foster an internal culture of coaching:
61% of higher education leaders in India believe the education system is unable to respond fast enough to changes in the business eco-system and this only further accentuates the importance of on-the-job coaching and mentoring at the workplace.5 Re-skilling and up-skilling of key roles enables effective on-the-job mentoring and coaching across teams. This complements training and development programs for employees, and boosts employee morale and satisfaction. Learning initiatives that start at the top also help foster an environment of connected learning at the workplace and can increase employee skills preparedness by 28% to 39%.6
#4. Advance critical thinking:
Critical thinking is essential to business success given the competitive landscape, geo political instability and rapid technological changes. Training leaders in developing critical thinking skills enables them to analyze and understand the impact of their decisions across the business, align the team with business goals, and build individual accountability. Critical thinking improves analysis, problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence, response time and other leadership characteristics, empowering leaders to deal with everyday business scenarios and effectively navigate the business through periods of transition.7
#5. Improve communication:
Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, gives all its employees access to recordings of every meeting at work.8 This encourages transparency, acts as a learning tool to gain new insights on management thinking, and encourages more communication.
In a rapidly changing work environment, effective communication skills enable managers to perform better in both internal and customer facing roles, adding immense value to an organization. Relevant skill training helps leaders communicate enterprise awareness down the ladder and across teams in the pursuit of a shared vision. Communication also aids collaboration between functions and fosters a ‘bottom-up’ culture of promoting idea and thought sharing by the team, making employees feel valued.
As organizations work towards re- and up-skilling their executive workforce, they need to ensure emphasis on both the technical know-how and the soft skills required for effective leadership.
3 important aspects of leadership training
Companies need to specifically focus on three elements while investing in re-skilling or up-skilling their leaders and top talent:
Management and leadership skills: Training in the following areas can enable leaders to effectively nurture productivity amongst their units and teams in line with the organization’s vision:
Best practices of team management
Communication, listening and soft skills
Conscious appreciation of workplace diversity
Organization’s values, mission and policies, best practices, operating procedures and standardized policies
Big wins and best use-case scenarios
Technical skills: As firms invest in technological advancements more than ever before, it is increasingly important to ensure that their leadership and managerial employees are embracing new technology and setting the right benchmarks for adoption of new best practices. Employees in pivotal roles must be upskilled adequately for organizations to fully realize the benefits of investment made in technology.
Skills necessary to facilitate employee career development: The new generation of employees expects their organizations to invest in their career development and provide relevant opportunities for growth. An astounding 93% of employees reported in a LinkedIn survey they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers and 56% said they would take a manager-suggested course.9 Leaders and managers must therefore be trained to nurture their teams and incorporate knowledge-sharing, open discussions, success-stories into their interactions. They must also learn to acknowledge employee efforts consciously in order to foster team spirit and boost employee morale.
How companies are up-skilling and re-skilling their managers: Real world examples
Forward thinking companies around the globe are realizing the importance of re- and up-skilling their workforce at senior levels and are investing in their learning and growth. Here’s how.
GE India: GE India provides leadership development programs tailored to nurture and build the next generation of managers. The organization offers both entry-level leadership programs for the aspiring junior employee as well as experienced leadership programs for managers who want to accelerate their career growth and learn new skills and techniques.
SAS: A leader in business analytics software and services, SAS offers emerging leadership programs for professional development and training, a dedicated career mentoring program and a career resource center to promote leadership upskilling. It also encourages all its middle and senior level employees to sign-up for training programs.
EY: Their innovation program, currently being piloted in Netherlands and Belgium, identifies young leaders with potential and places them to work with growing companies. This helps develop both their leadership skills and approach while assisting emerging start-ups. It encourages young leaders to move out of their comfort zone and into a new environment, where they collaborate with other EY colleagues, foster new client relationships, and motivate teams to grow and develop their leadership skills.
AT&T: AT&T University offers an executive program at their Dallas headquarters that focuses on leadership and management development. The company has also partnered with Georgia Tech to create an online Master of Science program in computer science and has partnered with a private e-learning company to provide multiple self-paced technical credential courses called Nanodegrees. These are available across a range of technologies such as data analytics, tech entrepreneurship, web and mobile development, etc.
Strategic learning and development produces great leaders and outstanding results
A strong leadership is critical to driving the business forward. But the reality is 84% of organizations are expecting a shortfall in leaders over the next five years.10 While leaders and managers are faced with immense challenges in today’s complex and constantly changing digital work-scape, they are also exposed to more opportunities than ever before.11 The time is ripe for organizations to invest in up-skilling their top line executives to prepare and empower them for the next decade of growth.
1) The Future of Jobs Report 2018, World Economic Forum, 2018, accessed January 2019, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf
2) Upto 40% IT Staff Need Re-skilling, The Times of India, 2017, accessed January 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/up-to-40-it-staff-need-re-skilling-nasscom/articleshow/58743022.cms
3) National Study, Ultimate Software, 2017, accessed January 2019, https://www.ultimatesoftware.com/PR/Press-Release/New-National-Study-Conducted-by-Ultimate-Software-Reveals-Need-for-Greater-Focus-on-Manager-Employee-Relationships
4) What Millennials Want in the Workplace, Forbes, 2014, accessed January 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2014/01/13/what-millennials-want-in-the-workplace-and-why-you-should-start-giving-it-to-them/#798d25ee4c40
5) Why Upskilling is the Need of the Hour for the Indian Employee, Reachivy, 2018, accessed January 2019, https://www.reachivy.com/blog/why-upskilling-is-the-need-of-the-hour-for-the-indian-employee
6) Motivate Employees to Reskill for the Digital Age, Gartner, 2018, accessed January 2019,
7) Improving Critical Thinking Skills Makes You a Better Leader, Medium.com, 2018, accessed January 2019, https://medium.com/swlh/improving-your-critical-thinking-skills-will-make-you-a-better-leader-9bca761e4b60
8) Six Companies That Teach Us What it Takes to Communicate Exceptionally Well, Inc.com, accessed January 2019, https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/6-companies-that-teach-us-what-it-takes-to-communicate-exceptionally-well.html
9) 2018 Workforce Learning Report, LinkedIn, accessed January 2019,
10) 13 Shocking Leadership Development Statistics, Infopro Learning, 2018, accessed January 2019, https://www.infoprolearning.com/blog/13-shocking-leadership-development-statistics-infopro-learning/
11) Profiting from Learning, Business Training Experts, accessed January 2019, http://businesstrainingexperts.com/knowledge-center/training-roi/profiting-from-learning/