executive education

rethinking executive education management“The practice of management, as evidenced in a lot of big corporations and banks, is utterly dreadful. I don’t think business schools really get it, or care to get it.” – Henry Mintzberg

Executive education is one of the big-ticket items for every CLO but, as Mintzberg’s words demonstrate, it needs a major overhaul. What follows is an outline for a practical framework offering a new and different way to think about how you commission, design and deliver executive education.

We asked experienced faculty at an international business school what makes for outstanding executive education. The group is involved in delivering and designing executive education for a range of organizations across a variety of sectors, industries and continents. The majority also have previously held client-side senior management roles. The interviews provided revealed four key areas to consider. They are equally important, complementary, multifaceted and in some respects overlapping, but they are also distinct enough to merit individual consideration. They can be labelled as: communities, contracts, content, contexts.

When we unpack these themes, it’s clear how complex it is to design and deliver good executive education.

  • Contracts: Many formal and informal contracts are involved in the process. The contract between the provider and the buyer is obviously critical. However, equally important are several psychological contracts. For example, where the business school develops and demonstrates a good understanding of the client’s business context and culture, the organization must, in return, be as open as possible about advised learning needs. Other less obvious, informal contracts also contribute to effectiveness such as those between the participants, between faculty and participants and between participants and their sponsors.
  • Communities: Identifying and understanding the power of different communities involved is an important part of success. The community of participants in every program is a network that can help or hinder the learning process. However, other equally important communities of stakeholders are sometimes neglected, such as senior executives in the host organization, or even the community of the faculty team.
  • Content: This refers to everything that takes place in or during program delivery; the quality and relevance of teaching, the materials, the structure, design and flow of teaching. We were able to divide content into head and heart issues. Head issues were materials, design and methods of delivery, pace, space for reflection, etc. Interestingly, time spent not offering teaching or delivering materials, but allowing for reflection, was reported as equally significant. This can be challenging for clients, as white space on a program does not look like value for money. The heart issues were to do with the participants’ emotional experience in the program.
  • Contexts: The final piece of the puzzle involves the contexts in which learning takes place. As well as the immediate context of the learning environment, there is a need to understand and consider local, regional and global business contexts. Also, remember that participants have personal contexts which will impact their learning.

All four areas need to be expertly managed at all times. Further, delivery — whether virtual, classroom or blended — is only half the story. What happens before, and after, the program is equally important.

Partnership is critical with clients and faculty working closely together. This framework offers a great opportunity with which to rethink executive education. Creating a better learning journey for individuals also will deliver greater relevance, impact and a better return on organizational development investments.

When providers and clients together use this approach, it ensures all the essential ingredients for an effective development intervention are discussed early in the design process. Clients who want to avoid commissioning poor executive education can quickly highlight the importance of a thorough diagnostic phase and assess the quality, relevance and rigor of proposals. Business schools will up their game and show that they get it, and that they actually want to get it.

Professor Patricia Hind is director and Viki Holton is senior research fellow at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, U.K. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.


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