Measuring the benefit of executive education


Only a small minority of organisations evaluate the return on investment or organisational impact of executive education. But pressure is growing for this attitude to change.

New research by Ashridge Business School, on behalf of UNICON (International University Consortium for Executive Education) – the first of its kind – has revealed that only one in 10 (11 per cent) of organisations evaluate the impact at the organisational level and a mere three per cent regularly assess the ROI of executive programmes.

Where evaluation does take place, it tends only to be at the level of individual participant reactions.

The research was carried out amongst HR professionals and programme sponsors such as CEOs and managing directors.

But whilst over half the respondents are happy with their current evaluation approaches, more than eight out of 10 of the HR professionals who took part accept that evaluation of executive education programmes will become more important in the next three years.

Bob Stilliard, Director of Executive Education at Ashridge said that there was an increasing expectation that the value of executive education needs to be demonstrated.

"Business schools should be encouraged to respond to the significant interest in this topic and work closely with organisations to develop a greater understanding of how the potential value of executive education can be maximised," he said.

The survey showed that the overwhelming majority of organisations believe that HR professionals will have to get better at proving the worth of executive education in the future.

Two thirds of both the HR professionals and business sponsors surveyed agreed that other functions have proved that 'intangible' benefits can be measured, so that same should be true of executive education.

However, some disagreement over the role and nature of evaluation also emerged. More sponsors (44 per cent) than HR professionals (32 per cent) agreed that clear evidence that individuals benefited from a programme is enough to prove a positive return on investment.

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of HR respondents said that they would like to see business schools develop methods to calculate financial ROI, while there also seems to be more pressure in the public than the private sector to try for the 'holy grail' of financial ROI.

But more than six out of 10 sponsors said they would like business schools to focus research on understanding the factors in the organisational climate that influence how well participants can apply and transfer learning from executive programmes.

Mike Jones, Director-General of the UK-based Foundation for Management Education, said that the research had addressed an important but much-neglected area.

"The business schools, their clients and course participants all have a lot to gain from ensuring that programmes of management learning have a validity and become firmly linked with organisational development," he told Management-Issues.

"And this assumes real strategic importance as organisations seek to nurture their talent supply chain whilst at the same time responding to the intrinsic needs of those they seek to develop."