The changing face of executive education

Apr 25 2005 by Mike Jones Print This Article

Executive Education has changed considerably over recent years as organisations recognise the critical importance of their human capital. But what does this mean for the business schools?

Once upon a time, a Training Manager sourced courses from a plethora of brochures or an individual manager choose to enrol on a programme because the content might be of interest and it's a break from everyday work. Not any more.

Today, the development of its people is seen by the businesses as a core business dynamic and played out accordingly. It is serious stuff with a high cost and demands serious attention from both buyer and provider alike.

Open programmes, usually sold from a widely-circulated brochure, is a mature market with only slow growth. It is populated by a multitude of providers, from University Business Schools, Management Colleges, Consultants and individual training providers.

Their programmes have their strengths and supporters will claim that the diversity of participant mix and the exposure of individual managers to different sector and industry cultures is an inbuilt advantage that is inherent within the context.

But within this market there is a tendency towards skills training, shorter programmes and conference-type design. It is also hugely price competitive and for organisations seeking transformational results, validity and evaluation are big issues.

The real growth within the executive education market is coming from tailored, in-company programmes that are specific to the needs of the organisation. In this respect, client expectations are changing. They require individual attention in terms of diagnosis of needs and increased flexibility and mobility in terms of design and delivery.

Underpinning this change is the growing recognition by organisations of the importance of their human capital. The development of people is now recognised as "core business" and management development linked to organisational development has become an essential ingredient in strategy implementation.

The importance of developing a "talent supply chain" as part of their growth, continuation and succession strategies has placed a growing onus on the HR function to manage the future of the organisation in terms of resourcing and nurturing that talent.

This, in turn, means that they demand measurable outcomes from all their investments - and the investment in human capital is no different. Organisations are therefore demanding innovative programmes of education and skills development that allow for behavioural metrics to be applied that are measurable.

Participants in executive education are also more demanding and have increasingly high expectations .The "sheep dipping" mentality that saw cadres of managers all put through the same learning experiences has now given way to more bespoke and targeted career plans.

What this means in practice is that visible outcomes are more important than attendance. Managers are only prepared to exchange their valuable time if they are convinced that the outcomes will reward their intrinsic needs and career ambitions. They are looking for a combination of knowledge and skills that will enable them to shine at the next development or assessment centre opportunity.

So what does this all mean for the business schools?

Firstly, executive education is a growth market albeit a very competitive one in which only the strong will survive.

Secondly, it is fertile ground for research opportunity. Research provides for "thought leaders" and enables the transfer of new ideas into programmes, both of which give business schools a competitive advantage.

However for this to work to mutual advantage, both the research and its application must have real relevance to the business situation.

Executive education is a demand-driven market but business schools, with their somewhat rigid University strictures, have traditionally been mostly prescriptive in their approach.

So with academic integrity now face-to-face with consumer priorities; clients expect Business schools to be responsive to their needs with an alacrity and flexibility that delivers even when this involves course accreditation or qualification credits.

To meet this force head on, business schools must recognise that the way forward is to engage in learning partnerships with their corporate clients and that two-way learning and knowledge exchange is the key to mutual satisfaction.

Schools will need to be innovative and flexible so that corporate strategies can be integrated into developmental opportunities, leading to quality-driven bespoke programmes that satisfy their clients' requirements.

They must also recognise that programmes may have to be delivered on-site, while also accepting that in today's business world the technology also exists to "take the learning to the learner".

And they need to remember, too, that coaching, mentoring and leadership-building are all integral pieces of the in-house development jigsaw.

But most importantly of all, the business schools must realise that in the executive education market, organisations are buying solutions that deliver and develop their strategies. In response, schools have to seek out alternative ways of delivering quality and value to that of their traditional, discipline-based, prescriptive offering.

And if they are to look forward to an enduring competitive edge that will lead to lasting client relationships, business schools will have to start seeing themselves as a "learning network" and not as competitors in a one-stop-shop environment.

That means developing strategic alliances that facilitate "best of breed" programmes using different institutions or cherry-picking the best possible faculty to deliver.

About The Author

Mike Jones
Mike Jones

Mike Jones is the Director of the Foundation for Management Education and a former Director General of the Association of MBAs, the professional organisation for holders of the MBA degree.