There are two things we can say with certainty about the future: it will give rise to challenges different from those we’ve faced so far, and it will arrive sooner than we expect. With the quickening pace of change, Natasha Ganesan analyses a variety of leadership development programmes targeted at building the skills for tomorrow.

It is no surprise that employees today are looking for more than a job; they are looking for an experience that offers them opportunities for all sorts of development beyond just career progression, along with training to evolve them as leaders for the near future.

In fact,’s annual survey findings for the “Top Companies of the Year” pointed out that career development, as well as training and development, have remained among the top five priorities of employees in Singapore for consecutive years.

But, are employers fulfilling these needs of employees? While there are some advanced employers who have been successful time and time again in developing their employees for managerial positions, there is still a lot to learn.

According to Borderless’ 2016 survey on Leadership Development, it was revealed that nearly six in 10 senior executives surveyed expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with the effectiveness and investment in leadership development. More astonishingly, many corporate heads consider leadership development as a complementing initiative rather than a strategic imperative.

As a result, more than 65% of executives do not believe investment in leadership development within their organisation has evolved in recent years. Let’s uncover some lessons from companies across Asia on future-ready leadership programmes.

Diversity on board: Royal DSM’s approach towards women leadership

“Without women on the table, an organisation’s progress may be impeded,” says DSM’s vice-president of human resources for Asia Pacific, Jan Anne Schelling. DSM, a global science company active in health, nutrition and materials, puts its money where its mouth is through leadership programmes all the way from the Netherlands’ HQ to Singapore.

“In the future of leadership development, DSM’s key focus area is to drive from an unconscious to a conscious bias to include any nationality and gender in order to create an inclusive culture,” he says.

He affirms that as far as leadership is concerned, innovation is one of the key ways to move forward. To do so, enhancing female leadership is vital. “Without women on the table, progress may be a problem. We need In pole position: Without women on the table, an organisation’s progress may be impeded, says DSM, which works hard on a culture of diversity. to respect every individual and include every individual energy to build the diversity of our organisation. That is the notion that drives our leadership programmes.”

With the need for innovation as a driver, DSM’s leadership development programme tackles the issue at various levels. Starting from the middle-management level, the company offers an induction management leadership programme, where new managers learn how to lead their team, and set targets to achieve the company’s strategic intent.

At a director level, there are more cross-cultural, strategic building activities focusing on team composition, as well as working with and mobilising the team.

Interestingly, the executive committee at DSM is very keen on women empowerment. In an executive leadership programme, DSM’s CEO makes himself available to have a lengthy dialogue with the participants. “He is part of the board of catalysts who are moderating this conversation by being great role models. Having such strong support from our highest management really helps with implementing the programmes.” In fact, having senior management’s sponsorship for the project actually encourages employees to participate in these programmes.

Without women on the table, an organisation’s progress may be impeded.
- DSM’s vice-president of human resources for Asia Pacific, Jan Anne Schelling
He adds the company uses active learning whereby participants need to work on real business issues. In groups of up to six participants there are at least two women.

“The participants feel that having diversity in the team, in terms of gender and nationalities, makes the team more effective. Thus, even after completing the programme, they will understand why diversity is so important for a company,” he says.

While the leadership programmes require employees to allocate time on top of their existing work, DSM believes these projects help staff understand the value in doing something new and diff erent to move them out of their comfort zones.

“In turn, this strengthens their talent, and speed of development and learning, and consequently, enables them to sharpen their leadership skills to make them better communicators within their teams and to their immediate superiors,” he says.

One of the primary concerns companies typically face in such programmes is to convince stakeholders of their viability. While there is a tremendous amount of data proving the case for women leadership, Schelling asks: “Should a woman always have to prove a business case so that she can become a leader?”

The results of this strong belief are starting to show, as he explains. “Women in our company did hesitate to take on complicated roles. Men typically look at the requirements [of a new role], and they apply as long as they know at least 60%. As for female staff , even if they were not sure about one requirement, they push back the time to take on the role.”

However, progress has been made. “Now we have mentorships and active role modelling from top managers to encourage women to let go of their hesitations,” he says.

He adds that companies should look to grow talent step by step. “One such step is our reverse mentoring, whereby a senior member gets to be mentored by a junior colleague. This provides them with the necessary coaching to become mentors themselves one day,” he outlines.

Moreover, from the recently concluded middle management leadership development programme in Asia, nine out of 12 teams not only finished their assignment, but their business solutions were also implemented. Yet another measure is that out of those three cohorts of 20 people, all of them have been promoted, both male and female.

And while Schelling admits that return on revenue is yet to be measured, he affirms the broader skills and deeper experiences these participants have learned have helped them lead their teams better.

Employee engagement in DSM has increased marginally over the years from 70% in 2014 to 71% in 2016, and he notes there is still much room for improvement.

Th e ratio of female to male employees has been improving year on year, with 2016’s data showing 27 women to 73 men. As a previously male dominated industry, the company has created an inclusive environment for both women and men in the workforce, and reduced the gender gap at the senior management level, achieving an inclusion index of 73% – a testament to the impact of such initiatives.

Eyeing the future: Essilor International’s vision for leadership development

If Hogwarts did not exist, Harry Potter would not have received the right training to defeat Lord Voldemort, which saved the lives of millions of Mudbloods. Likewise, companies cannot progress without training employees to become great leaders. Essilor International’s vice-president of human resources, and learning and development global head, Philippe Bonnet, says his company does just that through specially tailored programmes.
Essilor has created an “accelerator” programme called COMET, where 25 participants are handpicked from across the globe, to represent their respective regions and businesses.
“At Essilor, leadership programmes are based on the principle of enhancing the performance and expertise of an individual, and how the way they lead their team has an impact at an organisational level,” he says. These leadership programmes cater to young and mid-career executives, as well as senior leaders. There are two programmes – one for young and new talent, and the other for managers to develop into leaders.

In line with its mission to escalate young talent development, Essilor has newly created an “accelerator” programme called COMET, where 25 participants are handpicked from across the globe, based on profile, to represent their respective regions and businesses.

The participants form diverse teams of five to accomplish business projects outside of their functional area over the following six months. While they have the right to reject the programme, as of 2017, only 5% have done so.

Th e COMET programme was launched in early 2017. “We provide our young talent with exposure to our leadership team, connect them to peers across different regions and businesses, engage them on a rewarding business project, as well as support their careers through personalised mentorship,” Bonnet says.

Catered to new leaders, Essilor has a coaching boot camp, “Transition from Management to Leadership”. In this four-day session, participants are able to reflect and act based on their leadership instincts through co-development from peer experience, alongside group and individual coaching sessions.

Participants are also taken on a learning journey to mould and refine their leadership brand and signature. “We also build and reinforce our capability in offering mentoring and coaching through selected psychometric and leadership development tools to enable leaders to perform at their best,” he says.

Th e result? Programme participants acquire a better understanding of what it means to be a leader and they will be better equipped to move into new and increasingly more complex leadership roles. “Reflecting about their leadership aspirations, we aim to engage each individual to really connect their personal vision and values with that of the organisation, as they develop into leaders.”

To execute the programmes, clear lines of communication with the leadership and development teams, talent management teams, and line managers is crucial. Bonnet adds it is essential to satisfy business leaders’ needs to develop their talent and team, while contributing to company performance.

“In the years to come, we can foresee programmes becoming shorter, but much more regular to support both the business challenges and development needs of staff .”

Moreover, with the prevalence of a digital future, artificial intelligence may soon be a useful tool for engaging, assessing and developing leaders.

“Building our own talent pool is akin to building a sustainable workforce. With external disruptors to face, it is better to have the capability to settle our internal disruption mainly associated with leadership challenges by developing better leaders.”

Positive chemistry: BASF Asia Pacific creates an in-house coaching formula

Through science and innovation, BASF creates chemical solutions to contribute to a sustainable future. The company also pledges to develop and empower its employees to be future-ready, knowing this investment will have an impact beyond the bottom line. This is achieved through initiatives such as internal coaching, aimed at creating change agents, developing a coaching culture and concurrently strengthening its leadership pipeline.
So far, 447 leaders have participated in an internal coaching module, and 50 leaders have completed all four modules to become BASF-certified internal coaches.
Vice-president of talent development, learning and management consulting (Singapore) at BASF, Magali Simon says: “We engage our leaders at different touch-points across our 18,000-strong organisation in Asia Pacific. This includes supporting our managers and leaders at key leadership transitions and providing leadership development for our high potential leadership candidates.” BASF also leverages its experienced leaders as change agents to build deep coaching expertise.

The in-house coaching programme is an essential part of BASF’s strategic leadership initiative. Th e concept originated from a business leader, and combining the passion from HR, the team convinced the regional board to pilot the programme. In addition to the ongoing communication, senior managers were invited to attend the programmes and experience first-hand the impact of coaching and realise the benefits for their teams.

“We partner with a recognised coaching institute for four training modules, supervision and the BASF certification process. The programme is widely supported by management as an integral approach by the company to develop our coaching capability and to invest in our own talent,” Simon says.

Evidently, leaders are expected to benefit the most from this initiative, as they consider their own leadership legacy and how a coaching mindset can enhance their leadership impact within their team.

This will also have a direct impact on their immediate teams. High potential leadership talent will benefit as they have access to experienced leaders to coach them, drive their development, build their confidence and knowledge. “Having a coach enables them to optimise their capabilities by focusing on where they are now, where they want to be and how they can get there.”

So far, 447 leaders have participated in an internal coaching module, and 50 leaders have completed all four modules and requirements and become BASF-certified internal coaches. As such, they have helped to enhance BASF’s leadership pipeline and have coached 60 high potential talent as part of their development.

Th e greatest impact of the programme? The new behaviours seen among employees and leaders in the company. From their testimonials, leaders acknowledged positive changes in their own leadership skills, as well as in the way they approach complex challenges and their changing environment.

For example, one leader reflected: “ What I have observed is our attitude is changing towards more centred and humble ... more a listening culture rather than a speaking culture.”

With one eye on the future, Simon points out there will likely be an increased focus on how companies can nurture and develop their leaders even more effectively through an ecosystem across organisations. Learning can be shared among various companies with the same passion to develop their leaders.

In line with this, BASF is interested in building a consortium of learning organisations with similar priorities in building leadership capabilities and a talent pipeline, and to partner on common leadership development initiatives to exchange leadership experiences and insights.

“We believe this diversity in leaders from across organisations will bring additional context and richness for our current and future leaders to learn from,” Simon concludes.

A worthy investment: Bangkok Bank deposits efforts to advance its leaders

“Your focus determines your reality” – Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars).

Focusing on the future, Bangkok Bank has embarked on creating leadership programmes to be rolled out in 2018. Devanandan Palmer Batumalai (Devan), vice-president and head of talent and learning, human resources, at Bangkok Bank, affirms that with the strategic repositioning within the organisation, it is essential for line managers to be at the same proficiency levels.

Accordingly, there are three programmes the bank wishes to roll out in its Management Development Academy (MDA), namely – Emerging Managers Programme (EMP), New Managers Programme (NMP) and Senior Leaders Programme (SLP). EMP focuses on equipping junior executives with necessary skills to demonstrate the qualities of line managers, and build a competitive work environment. For senior executives, under NMP, they will learn how to inculcate a performance-driven culture in the workplace and retain talent.

We have a lot of young managers stepping into leadership roles. They need to understand how to effectively manage employees from different generations.
- Devanandan Palmer Batumalai (Devan), VP and head of talent and learning, HR, at Bangkok Bank

Under SLP, vice-presidents will undergo training similar to NMP, as well as learn how they can increase employee engagement. “At this stage, leaders become instrumental in developing leaders for the future. Thus they will be thinking of how they can drive sustainable performance of the company while championing leadership development across leaders in the entire organisation,” Devan says.

The curriculum for MDA, which is pitched to the management committee, addresses these competencies: managing performance, developing capability and coaching.

“The board of management is able to understand our reasons for rolling out the programme, and in turn, they gave us the necessary support,” he says. “We are also looking at a blended learning approach with a combination of web-based training, instructor learning modules, business simulations and leadership libraries, where we are working with Melbourne Business School.”

As for trends that could play out in the next year, Bangkok Bank’s stand is that bridging the generation gap in leadership will become a more important topic. “We have a lot of young managers stepping into leadership roles. Thus, they need to understand how to effectively manage employees from different generations.”

Paying the right price: How Mastercard credits its emerging leaders

How did a leadership programme that started in New York take flight in Singapore? Over the past five years, Mastercard has had an executive leadership programme for its senior management in the US, the success of which inspired the global LeadershipNOW programme, says Appandairajan Krishnakumar (Rajan), vice-president for talent management for Asia Pacific at Mastercard.

Following the business demand to accelerate the development of emerging leaders, the Asia Pacific LeadershipNOW programme focuses on immersive and simulation-based learning. “Held in Singapore annually, it aims to foster a community of emerging leaders, who can lead a positive change with agility,” he says.

Lasting for no more than four days, the programme has sessions involving personal stories from senior leaders about how one can lead change and be authentic. “LeadershipNOW was very well received and we are now planning to run the next Asia Pacific session in the third quarter.”

Mastercard is already working on enhancing its programmes for 2018. This includes having year-long leadership experiences for leaders of all levels; to benefit from multi-day programmes; intrapreneurial business challenges; and involvement in pro-bono external projects.