Executive L&D crucial to business success

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Resource constraints, short-term focus and limited C-level buy-in could be holding executive L&D back

Executive learning and development is one of the most important factors in the long-term success of a company, according to the University of St Gallen’s Executive Education Report.

The research found that 57% of executives view executive L&D as the highest priority for their companies, but that resource constraints and short-term focus hold investment back. Limited resources were cited as a challenge for 77%, short-term business goals by 67%, the changing expectations of a newly incoming management generation by 65%, and the absence of an overarching learning architecture by 62%.

The report also revealed that 60% disagreed that their organisation was unlocking the full potential of executive L&D, and 54% were not satisfied with the state of executive L&D in their workplace.

The most important factor in ensuring the success of executive learning and development was found to be C-level commitment, with only an 8% chance of an organisation with low C-level sponsorship being a front-runner on executive L&D, but a 67% chance where there was a high degree of C-suite commitment.

A separate survey by the Financial Times IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance has found, however, that only one in four (26%) senior professionals in the UK report that corporate learning is one of their top three business priorities in 2016.

Rita Trehan, former CHRO at Honeywell and AES Corporation, and business strategist, commented that issues arise due to many at C-level feeling threatened by developing those sitting just under them. “Most CEOs are brought in from the outside… You have to think: how much are you going to be developing your successors unless you’re ready to retire or you see it as a way of ensuring the future success of a company you have a longer-term relationship with?” she told HR magazine.

This lack of C-level buy-in creates an opportunity for HR, Trehan said. She suggested that HR could help create strong executive L&D opportunities (that would also overcome budgetary challenges) by seeing CSR initiatives as opportunities for executive development.

“Wouldn’t it be really interesting if companies looked at social responsibility and said 'who are the non-profit organisations that really fit our brand and how could we allocate resource to them where we are getting leaders to work on projects or mentor?” she said. “What a great way to build leadership skills: doing something with social responsibility money that is valuable to executive L&D… HR needs to show the business case for that.”

The St Gallen’s report also found that only 17% of organisations have a dedicated chief learning officer (CLO), with many that do only performing an operational function.

Dean of the university’s executive management school Winfried Ruigrok said: “It is astonishing that despite the importance of executive commitment to delivering executive education, the role of the chief learning officer is nascent or non-existent within many companies. As respondents project to the future, despite seeing the importance of L&D to their company’s long-term success, they do not think they will have any additional resources to work with.”

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