March 2017 Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Is it true you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Or does the Harvard Business Review have it right in its recent article, "The Best Leaders are Constant Learners"?
It is harder to change as you advance in your profession, but as Jack Welch famously said, you need to “change before you have to.”
Today’s pace of change is faster. Think about it - Moore's law states that computer power doubles every two years, which means many senior executives received their education before there were computers in every classroom and home. It is easy to experience information overload, and the research is clear that more stress and greater distractions lead to poorer performance.
Successful leaders add skills to their business tool kits to be nimble in a more connected, global economy and to recruit and manage a more diverse workforce. Further, leaders who model lifelong learning by cultivating a culture where professional and executive development is expected and rewarded find their investments add to the bottom line.
The challenge is measuring the return on investment (ROI) in people-development strategies. These investments must be tied to organizational outcomes by supporting the mission and shoring up pain points that slow down progress. Development of a strong human resource function - even in small and mid-size companies, governmental agencies and non-profit organizations - is critical to ensuring that employees have opportunities to develop and change.
Employee engagement matters when it comes to maximizing profit margins and minimizing errors. Engagement can be maximized through hiring the right people, supporting their development in a positive work environment and spotting and developing talent as part of a succession plan.
Through the Swain Center at UNCW, we find that the soft skills of managing work through others are the hard skills to master. At other times - through our programs like Data Analytics or Finance Training - it is math that is hard when we find that employees don’t know how to use available data available to make strategic decisions about topics like deployment of resources or customer satisfaction. Sometimes it is the case that those in the C-suite need a better understanding of how executive and professional development will improve organizational performance.
Another way to measure the ROI is to assess whether training reflects the latest business knowledge, rather than out-of-date knowledge. For example, there are far better and less-expensive personality measures than the Myers Brigg Type Indicator to predict behavior at work, yet companies often want to use it because that is what someone heard about or experienced. However, the MBTI has been shown to predict little to no work behaviors.
The benefit of relying on a partner like the Swain Center in the Cameron School of Business is that professional development -conducted by faculty members and instructors - reflects cutting edge thinking about leadership, management and process improvement, as well as accounting and financial practices. The Swain Center specializes in providing professional and executive development to organizations.