‘Tell them what they want to know not just what you want to tell them’

This is an familiar quote to anyone well versed in designing learning and development interventions for executive audiences from any sector in the private or public domain. It relates to ensuring that the designers listen to the client issues before developing content.

At a recent event for the Association of Business Schools (ABS) there was discussion about the gap between what business schools offer and what business leaders say they need. Senior leaders indicated that while the traditional topics of business were being well covered (e.g. Corporate Finance, Leadership, Strategy, Human Resources, etc.) This menu of business knowledge only covered part of the insights, tools and techniques that global and local businesses need to survive and thrive.

The missing piece is around the ability to look at and over the horizon of the constant change, in many cases disruptive changes, that face business.

So what do business leaders want to know versus what business schools are telling them? The trends related to ever faster moving technology and what it means for them specifically and especially before they invest money in what just might be ‘old technology’ by the time the new systems are implemented. What does it mean for business now that trust and institutional values have been tested and show to be failing in their promise to various stakeholders? Trust in banks and government has equally been damaged by the post-2008 downturn and their reactions to stem the melt-down. Demographics are a huge topic area and how can business leaders distil the information and leverage it for their businesses? The stalwart is environmental issues but go well beyond being a ‘Green’ organisation – what are the strategic planning implications of consequences (positive and negative) sit behind their activity or inactivity in this fast growing business and social issue. Lastly, how are social values changing and what will be the impact on business? Not just in terms of the traditionally viewed family unit of ‘Mother, Father and 2.4 kids’ but in terms of the changing social values across generations, groups and individuals. Again, there are business positives and negatives around social values but many organisations have no idea how to even start the dialogue with customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and a myriad of other stakeholders.

Equally important business leaders want to know what strategies and tactics they should be considering to both take advantage of these disruptive changes and to better shield their businesses from the impact expected. They also want their management and leadership teams to have the insight, planning ability and courage to face these disruptive challenges head-on!

Business schools, like any business in any sector, need to look at their offerings through the lens of their customers to ensure they are relevant and add real and substantial value to the thinking of current and future managers and leaders. There are many models and frameworks that have been created by some incredible minds to help organisations grow and consider their place in the competitive landscape. Tools and frameworks like the ‘SWOT’ analysis, ‘Boston Matrix’, ‘Five-Forces’ and many more have been utilised to great effect and taught in many business schools. A meaningful and relevant addition would be a framework through which future horizon scanning can be achieved to ensure trends and disruptive changes can be properly filtered and utilised as a competitive insight for advantage or early warning radar for changing organisational direction.

This approach will create an opportunity for business schools and the organisations with whom they work. It will also add a new element to the business school-participant relationship dynamic with a new process that starts with ‘Unlearning’ before learning can take place. Business is finding that what got it ‘this far’ may not be enough to take it further. This implies there is a need about identifying and acting on signals from an effective horizon scanning approach.

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