By Paul Slaggert, Director, Open Enrollment Programs, Kelley School of Business Executive Programs, Indiana University

In my recent article, “How will you and your company address the leadership skills gap? Start with yourself,” I referenced the work McKinsey has done in identifying the significant skills gap that companies need to start addressing immediately. In the July 2021 McKinsey Quarterly article “Three keys to building a more skilled post pandemic workforce,” this crucial need for companies to develop their employees continues to be emphasized. In their research, the authors found “Fifty-eight percent of respondents to our recent global survey said that closing skills gaps has become a higher priority since the pandemic began, and 69 percent said their companies engage in more skill building than they did before the crisis.”

Invest to Close the Skills Gap

Knowing where to focus this investment of time and dollars is necessary if companies want to ensure that efforts to close these skills gaps have the fastest and largest impact. Maybe surprisingly, the authors found that it is not technical skills that pose the greatest opportunity. In fact, they found the following: “Intriguingly, the skills companies prioritize most are leadership and managing others, critical thinking and decision making, and project management (Exhibit 1).”

closing the critical skills gap

This information provides a roadmap for organizations on where to prioritize investments in developing their employees. Focusing on these areas of highest impact, while not neglecting basic technical training, is the best way to start closing the gap that exists between a leader’s current and needed capability to lead.

Professional Development to Close the Skills Gap

The quickest way for organizations to efficiently provide their leaders with needed professional development opportunities is by working with existing providers to address their top leadership priorities. Taking steps now avoids the risks associated with allowing the leadership skills gap to continue. Additionally, organizations can leverage readily available resources of qualified providers (and I am very biased toward university-based providers), including benefitting from their broad and deep expertise.

There are several options available to organizations. First, and perhaps the easiest, is to find available resources to equip leaders and managers to become better at what they do every day. Open enrollment seminars and workshops are available both in person and online. They provide the ability to match the individual to the “right” program for them. Reasonably priced programs are available with high quality instruction and a wide range of topics—more than any organization can provide on their own.

In addition, your organization can work with a selected provider to bring programs in house. Professional development on customized topics can provide consistent content across the organization, with programs delivered in the time frame and format that best meets the rhythms of the organizational calendar.

When combined, open enrollment seminars and workshops and customized in-house programs provide the most effective way for organizations to address critical needs expediently. Timing is important. Inaction places your organization further behind the competitive curve. Successful organizations recognize that investing in their leaders and managers to develop new skills, capabilities, and competencies is necessary for continued success. Additionally, providing professional development opportunities demonstrates to employees that they are valued. The beneficiaries of these professional development investments will better understand the expectation that they can significantly contribute to the success of the organization. This becomes a strong motivational tool, helping you retain valuable employees.

This may require organizations to change their existing approach. The McKinsey authors state:

“Organizations must also be willing to question their legacy mindsets, including presumptions of what employees want and what they’re capable of. Employees are often more energized by skills development than senior executives give them credit for.”

The skills gap challenge is real. Organizations that regularly address leadership needs rise above their competitors. Leveraging a wide variety of professional development opportunities offered by qualified providers builds momentum for employees and organizations while contributing to a legacy of growth, value, and success.

Paul Slaggert is director of Open Enrollment Programs at Kelley School of Business Executive Education at Indiana University. He has nearly 40 years of experience at IU, Notre Dame, University of Cincinnati, and Boston College helping individuals develop their leadership skills and capabilities. He is one of two instructors in the Kelley School’s short course Frontline Leadership. Paul has delivered this program for a wide range of organizations and for leaders at all levels. He also has extensive experience working with client organizations in designing and delivering customize solutions.