The learning never stops – even for senior leaders

A number of recent local surveys have found that New Zealand’s talent mismatch is growing and that finding skilled employees is of real concern to New Zealand leaders. And it seems that in today’s climate everyone is constantly having to upskill themselves, no matter how senior you might be.


Continuous learning has probably never been more important as change continues to dominate leaders’ business lives. Technological developments like AI and big data, along with growing technological risk, mean that however senior a leader might be, there is always more to learn. 

Take boards of directors as an example. They too are on a constant learning cycle because as the business world evolves holding a governance role means directors need to ensure they fully understand every risk the business might face going into
the future.

The Institute of Directors says in a recent media release that with many board directors saying they are not getting comprehensive cybersecurity reporting, its new guide on cybersecurity is a wake-up call on the information boards need.

In partnership with cybersecurity consultancy, Aura Information Security, the institute has just released Reporting cybersecurity to boards aimed at helping organisations combat cyber risk. It sets out principles on reporting to boards, key questions to help identify and develop metrics and sample dashboards. The guide is publicly available and it is intended to inform and inspire organisations to improve cybersecurity reporting to boards.

Institute of Directors chief executive Kirsten Patterson says that everyone knows that cybersecurity is a critical risk that can cause serious damage to an organisation. 

“Not only are cyber-attacks hugely disruptive, they have the potential to cause significant financial, competitive and reputational damage.

“Many boards have had cybersecurity on the agenda for some time. But directors are telling us that they are not getting sufficient information about cyber risks and incidents, or the actions they have and should be taking to address these.

“This is a problem and it is critical that cybersecurity reporting improves. Directors need comprehensive reports in order to assure themselves that key assets are being protected.” 

Aura Information Security general manager Peter Bailey says that cyber risk is just like any other business risk and requires ongoing board-level attention and responsibility. 

“The number of online attacks impacting New Zealand businesses is growing – both in number and complexity. In order to provide effective oversight, boards need to have access to regular high-level holistic reporting on cyber risks and the state of their organisation’s cybersecurity programme.”


Applying the learning

Continuous learning is also at the centre of what the Southern Institute of Technology is offering in its Master of Applied Management.

Paulette Halstead, the programme manager of the Post Graduate Business School at SIT, says the Master of Applied Management has been going just on two years now and has 57 mainly international students enrolled for the onsite course in Invercargill and more than 100, mainly domestic students, undertaking the course through distance learning. 

Halstead says the master’s degree encompasses areas such as business analysis, globalisation and international management along with strategic management, strategic marketing and project management. It is a research-based programme so students can go on to complete a PhD if they so wish.

Students tend to be more mature, many with strong business experience, who want to upskill or take on more senior roles. However, they also take students straight from completion of an undergraduate degree.

For domestic students the master’s degree, like all SIT programmes, qualifies for their zero tuition fees scheme although students do pay a small direct materials and administration fee.

The Master of Applied Management programme means that students can apply the skills they gain to their daily working lives and many of the domestic students are working as they undertake the distance learning options on a part-time basis, taking papers one or two at a time.

Halstead says one student, nearing the end of her degree says the confidence she has gained throughout the master’s programme has meant she felt confident in taking up a trustee position on a Maori land trust.

“She told us she had gained so much knowledge that she felt she was able to have an understanding of what would be required on that board.”

One trend Halstead has noticed is that people in business looking towards further education are seeking to broaden their skillset. They may be a skilled technician in IT, a trade or accounting but rather than just start a business they are looking for further broad skills to give them an edge and the understanding that helps them make more informed business decisions.

SIT also runs a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Enterprise for students wishing to set up their own business which covers business planning, marketing, entrepreneurship and finance. These students also undertake market research into the business they are planning on getting off the ground.  


Investing in your people

Jane Welch, learning and development manager of inhouse training at Brightstar, says with the courses her organisation offers, leadership development is always very prominent and Brightstar is seeing more organisations invest in developing their people.  

With many organisations experiencing growth, well developed leadership capability is essential in order for organisations to take advantage of that opportunity. 

She says effective leaders manage their teams and operations well, anticipate and mitigate issues, handle matters that arise and avoid the need to escalate situations unnecessarily. 

This frees senior managers to focus on the strategy and ensures everyone is operating at the appropriate leadership level for maximum impact.

Welch believes many organisations do a great job training their new leaders as they know the alternative often results in energy being deployed on firefighting issues that could have been prevented, being reactive rather than proactive and can create elevated levels of stress for their people.

Similarly, people may be promoted into a leadership role because they are technically very capable.  “Leading a team of people and interacting as part of a wider leadership team, draws on a very different skill set to their technical expertise. Leadership development can prove enormously beneficial, in making the transition into leadership a much smoother one. At the same time, it creates an opportunity to communicate the organisations’ approach to leadership, its values and desired culture, providing guidelines for its leaders on how to behave and operate.” 

Welch also points to growing interest in unconscious bias, diversity and inclusiveness training. Modern organisations are keen to ensure their attitudes, policies, systems and practices are right for today’s more inclusive and diverse workplaces.

“Training allows employees and leaders to build their awareness of the issues, provides guidance for acceptable employee behaviour and can provide practical suggestions on how policies, systems and practices can be adapted.” 

Another area Brightstar is seeing increased demand is for its courses in risk management and health and safety. Since the recent changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act and the responsibility businesses and leaders must bear under the legislation, Welch says it is now being given greater attention. Keeping employees safe, not just from physical hazards but also from social hazards, such as confrontation and conflict or excessive workplace stress is a vital area that leaders want to understand. 

She says organisations want to know what best practice in risk management and health and safety looks like and how to go about achieving that.

Welch also notes that as part of the ongoing learning and development for leaders, effective facilitation and presentation skills has also been identified as really important.  

Employees are required to facilitate group discussions to generate vital information and insights that inform the business and to create or present ideas and findings to clients, the board or a management team. 

“Everyone wants to feel confident when speaking to a group, but many people fear this type of activity and avoid it at all costs which can limit their own career opportunities.

“Training helps people understand how to engage a group and provides an opportunity to practice the techniques in a safe environment allowing them to build their experience and confidence.”

Welch says in New Zealand, business people need to have a really broad capability as they have to be very versatile within their roles. 

Other popular topics for leaders are:

• Strategy Builder: From Operational to Strategic Thinking.
• Problem Solving and Decision Making.
• Project Management Essentials. 
• Finance for Non-Financial Managers.
• Contract law for Non-Lawyers.
• Clear Business Writing.
• Assertiveness and Conflict Management.
• Strategic Influencing and Negotiation.

Brightstar provides public courses and customised inhouse training programmes on a broad range of business and leadership topics. As courses are facilitated by subject matter experts, Brightstar is able to go very deep within each specific topic and courses can be tailored for all sorts of industries, organisations and experience levels.  

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