Executive Education

5 Top Trends in Executive Development

EMBA student contemplating executive development

Trends guide society’s decisions on almost everything, from clothes and music to education and politics. Trends can also help guide executives to be better prepared for future changes in the business world.

Where can leaders find these trends? They may start with Trends in Executive Development: A Benchmark Report, which is published every two to four years by Pearson, an education publishing, and assessment company. The 2016 report included survey responses from executives in more than 450 organizations around the world who shared their current work experiences as well as predictions and concerns for their industries.

Results from the most recent survey showed that executives are being pushed to learn new skills and make changes in their leadership approach as a result of shifting markets and the impact of technology. In 2014, trends indicated the importance of creating a compelling vision and engaging others around it, which remained true for next-generation leaders in the 2016 survey. However, while the need for leadership remained constant, the most recent research showed a modest shift in the way leaders approached challenges, including a new emphasis on cognitive readiness and a sustained emphasis on critical thinking.

“It’s the ability to apply strategic thinking, decision-making, creativity, and problem-solving in ever-changing, complex situations that distinguishes leadership,” explains Karen Chiang, vice president of emerging markets for talent assessment at Pearson. “The challenge for organizations is how to instill these skills into all levels of the organization, starting from the recruitment stage of entry-level employees through to senior management.”

The online Executive MBA program at Washington State University can help equip the business leaders of tomorrow with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. By focusing on executive-level strategies and concepts from accomplished faculty with real-world experience, the 100 percent online program is designed to help students become C-suite leaders.

Trending Into 2017 And Beyond

Research from the 2016 benchmark report, as well as many other sources, points to a handful of common trends that leaders should be aware of. Executives can use these and other business trends as a guide to make more astute — and potentially more profitable — decisions in anticipation of the future. Below are five trends executives should be aware of in 2017.

1. Minding The Generation Gap.

Today’s generation gap is historic. 2017 marks the first full year that Millennials, Generation Z, Generation X, and Baby Boomers are co-mingling in the workplace. As Baby Boomers continue to retire at a rate of 10,000 per day, the newer generations are quickly working their way up to top leadership positions, and their much more modern styles will transform the norms of work and life — at every level.

“The workplace of the future is lean, high-performing, and incredibly flexible,” according to the white paper titled The Great Generational Shift by Rainmaker Thinking, a management research, training and consulting firm and the leading authority on generational issues in the workplace.

Executives who are quick to adapt to generational changes are the ones who will be able to play a significant role in shaping modern business culture.

2. Investing In Human Capital.

To close the leadership gap, more companies are investing in human capital, helping to provide the professional and personal development needed to groom the next generation of leaders. This investment is especially important to Millennials, who see it as a motivating factor in their careers.

“Millennials expect to be developed throughout their work life via opportunities, mentoring, and stretch assignments,” according to the Deloitte University Press article, “Leadership disrupted: Pushing the boundaries.”

“Likewise, the most sophisticated organizations view leadership development as more than training. They combine organizational design, job design, mentoring, and development programs to create the leaders they need.”

Through continued personal and professional development, executives can be assured that their employees stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies, while also keeping themselves educated in relevant areas that they may be less familiar with.

3. Leading In The Digital Age.

Due to the generation gap, many leaders must learn new skills to keep up with the demands of today’s technology. In the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey by Deloitte University Press, only 5 percent of companies said they have strong digital-capable leaders — as in those who are well versed in the newest digital technologies. However, 72 percent of respondents said they are developing new leadership programs specifically geared toward creating more digital-ready managers.

In Washington State’s Management of Innovation course, EMBA students have the opportunity to learn the critical leadership skills necessary to guide their organizations through innovation, such as the transformation from “performing” digital tasks to “becoming” digital.

4. Engaging Employees.

In business, employee engagement is a key factor in the success of any company. After all, if employees are unhappy or dissatisfied, those feelings can affect their performance and, ultimately, the day-to-day business of a company.

Some of the newest trends in human resources to help increase employee engagement include:

  • Performance evaluations gradually moving from annual reviews to digital platforms that allow real-time feedback
  • The use of people analytics that can measure employees’ productivity and create conversations about growth and mentorship with managers
  • Restructuring company hierarchy to be more horizontal, allowing employees to work together as teams of equals
  • Focusing on employee wellness to help prevent burnout
  • Instituting more frequent employee recognition programs
  • Building strong cultures that foster employee engagement and performance as one succinct ecosystem

Executives who implement these trends may see a significant increase in employee engagement, thus creating a better and more productive working environment for everyone in the company.

5. Bringing Innovation Back To Business.

What was once a customer-centric model of business is now giving the power back to companies, allowing executives to cultivate the type of employee innovation that can entice customers to do and buy things they never thought about before, or invite them to consume things in new ways. For example, video-streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu have created a society of binge-watchers, and companies like Fab Fit Fun and Graze have subscribers running to their mailboxes for their next box of goodies.

In addition, through technologies such as artificial intelligence, business leaders are able to understand their customers — sometimes better than their customers understand themselves — which can lead to innovative ideas for the marketplace.

Executives who foster these types of visionary concepts may help their companies be more successful in their future endeavors.

Business trends can forecast both calm and turbulent conditions to come. However, what is most important is how leaders pay attention and react to these predictions, which can affect a company’s future success.

Washington State University’s Online EMBA Program

Washington State’s online Executive MBA degree curriculum is delivered from an executive’s point of view and includes courses in marketing management, business analytics, financial management, strategy formulation and organizational design, international business management, and more. WSU’s EMBA program aims to prepare graduates to become the innovative executive leaders of tomorrow. Visit the Washington State EMBA website for more information.

About the Author

The WSU Executive MBA Online is designed for the experienced professional who is looking to gain an executive edge and take their career and organization to the next level. Delivered 100% online, an EMBA student can collaborate with other executives across many industries to solve real-world business challenges and further develop their management skills to become a leader among leaders.