Special Report Executive Education Behaving Like a Leader

By Fay Hansen

Dec. 19, 2008

When the global banking system exploded in October, INSEAD, the international business school based in France and Singapore, was just beginning a major executive education program on innovative business-to-business marketing for one of the largest companies in the world.

The school immediately brought in an economist who had worked closely with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to provide unique insights into the credit meltdown, and another who specializes in recovery finance.

“We added these two nuances to the program to help the company think about the behavior changes needed in the current crisis,” says Narayan Pant, INSEAD’s dean of executive education.

Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business in Hanover, New Hampshire, moved with equal speed. “Our ‘leading in a crisis’ module became our ‘leading in a global financial crisis’ module,” says Clark Callahan, executive director of executive education.

“We are embedding a ‘managing through a downturn’ element—including themes and materials—in all of our executive programs,” Callahan says. “The idea is to help people make sense of what has happened and what it means going forward, because that is the level of the conversation at this point. We can make curriculum changes very quickly.”

The rapid response at both schools is part of a broader shift in executive education to create programs that reflect the immediate realities of the business world on a company-specific basis. This shift entails high levels of customization in all aspects of executive education and an intense focus on changing behaviors rather than dispensing information.

The new customization now reaches well beyond designing executive education programs for specific corporate clients. It is now transforming open-enrollment classes and executive MBA curriculums and spurring new consortium and coaching programs. It is also fueling focused programs for small groups of executives based on their position in the corporate hierarchy. In every case, the curriculums mirror the new global environment and the demand for leadership skills on every continent.

Experiential learning
“Ten years ago, executive education programs around the world discovered that they were no longer in the education business but in the business of behavioral change,” Pant says. “Companies send their executives into programs because they want them to behave differently when they go back to their work. Programs that can create such change must be a combination of cognitive, emotional and experiential work in a global context.”

At INSEAD, this shift in client needs generated changes in the open-enrollment curriculum. “In the past, we simply described what we did and enrolled participants,” Pant says. “Now we target segments of the executive group, find out exactly who those people are and tailor content to them. We are no longer purveying information, but crafting the behaviors needed.”

INSEAD consistently occupies top positions in rankings of the world’s best MBA and executive education programs. More than 9,500 executives representing 126 countries participate in its executive education programs every year. In addition to its open-enrollment programs, the school provides custom programs for such companies as IBM, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, SAP, Toshiba, HSBC and Microsoft.

U.S. enrollments represent the greatest growth in both the open-enrollment and custom programs at INSEAD, reflecting the rising demand among U.S. companies for executives with global exposure and training. At INSEAD, no single nationality makes up more than 10 percent of total enrollment.

“Companies are increasingly sophisticated in evaluating their own development needs and want to be involved in the education programs designed to create the behavior changes required,” Pant says. “In the customized programs, we realized years ago that the ready-made plug-and-play model was over. Now we start with basic questions for the client about the most granular behavior changes necessary to move the company in the direction that it wants to go.”

Pant describes an INSEAD program designed for a highly successful European company.

“Its order book was filled for the next four years,” he notes. “It operated as a skilled engineering firm in a regional environment. The employees were content. But the CEO saw the global movement toward Asia and knew it would soon force them out of their comfort zone. They needed greater openness, more lateral thinking and the ability to develop strategies that would be resilient across diverse scenarios.”

INSEAD created a program to make the company’s executives and managers question their business assumptions. “We took them to India to meet with senior leaders in government and organizations so they could understand what the markets might look like in 10 years,” Pant says. “Then we took them to Hong Kong to look at a government-owned manufacturing facility that operates with extraordinary levels of quality—far higher than most private organizations.”

INSEAD faculty then introduced the tools that the managers needed to help them build business models and design strategies to succeed in different scenarios —some extremely harsh, some extremely favorable.

“By the end of the program, we had created 40 senior managers who had a very different perspective,” Pant says.

Leadership focus
Part of the push for greater customization stems from the demand for leadership development. “The executive education industry used to design products and push them out,” says Rita McGlone, senior director for executive education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Whar­ton School. “This has changed dramatically over the past five years because companies are smarter and clearer about what they need. They now understand that there is a huge difference between business acumen and leadership skills.”

The majority of Wharton’s open-enrollment programs are now some form of leadership development. In the custom programs, the focus is on developing leader- ship to drive and manage change in the organization. Wharton’s executive education programs serve more than 12,000 participants annually and an alumni network of 84,000 executives worldwide.

“Executive education is now seen as more of a continuum rather than just a specific product,” McGlone says. “Particularly with the customized programs, it’s about creating change in the organization or moving a team along in a particular direction. We now spend a lot of time interviewing stakeholders in the company to ensure that what participants say they need is in alignment with what the company thinks they need.”

The assessment may lead to the creation of a specific program or coaching plan or to sending employees into open-enrollment programs. “The whole time frame for working with the client has changed,” McGlone notes. “There may be follow-up programs or a virtual classroom and meetings that extend over time.”

In both its open-enrollment and customized programs, Wharton has made a decisive shift to focus on the behaviors required for effective personal and team leadership.

“The impact of all the changes in the programs is a new emphasis on the return on the investment in terms of applying the knowledge and tools gained in the workplace,” McGlone says. “There is also a much greater emphasis on experiential learning, which we know is the most effective form of learning for adults.”

Another aspect of customization appears in the proliferation of specialized programs designed for subgroups within the executive camp. At the top sits Wharton’s advanced management program, which executives may enter only if they are within three steps of the CEO slot.

“The objective is to take potential C-suite candidates and expose them to the worldwide changes that will impact business,” McGlone says. “They develop creative thinking about this impact.”

Participants must be nominated by one of their company’s top three C-suite executives or a member of the board, and they must have 15 to 25 years of management experience. The executives who enter the program spend five weeks honing their skills in global strategy. “There’s not much offered in the way of nuts and bolts,” McGlone notes.

Wharton limits this rarefied offering to 60 participants to ensure that every executive has sufficient time with faculty. The executives come from large multinational companies, with U.S.-based companies representing 20 to 30 percent of the total.

Coaching and consortiums
Tuck’s approach to customization flows from its deliberate decision to run a small, selective business school. It offers only one MBA program, which emphasizes management and leadership, and no executive MBA is offered.

“It’s about picking our abilities carefully and executing them well,” Callahan says.

“For executive education, on the custom side we run smaller programs for fewer companies and half a dozen very high-end open-enrollment programs,” he says. “We are not looking to grow dramatically because we want to maintain the uniqueness of the personal scale at Tuck. We focus on close work with faculty, and Tuck’s remote location encourages that close contact.”

Over the past five years, Tuck’s executive education program has adopted a clear focus on leadership development. “We help executives look forward with a strategic mind-set to meet the challenges presented by business change,” Callahan explains. “We also help them look outward to identify and develop the leadership styles necessary to manage change and growth, for example, by building brands globally.”

The curriculum is also designed to help executives look inward, with personal reflection on the behaviors necessary for success, including ethical behavior, building senior teams and conducting strategic negotiations. “Even when we talk about financial analysis, it is from a behavioral perspective,” Callahan says. “The goal is to trans- form yourself, your organization and your industry.”

Tuck has also executed a major shift toward action learning. Open-enrollment courses begin with a business challenge—a structured assignment with a template issued ahead of the program’s start date.

“We might have 15 different companies represented in one program, but each participant is working on a business challenge he or she has constructed with content that is unique to their organization,” Callahan explains.

Tuck has launched a new consortium approach to executive education that blends the best of customized corporate programs and open-enrollment classes. The initial consortium is a custom program for four companies with a focus on global leadership. The companies, which do not compete with one another, agreed beforehand on the structure and style of the course.

“The commitment is to top-tier executive development,” Callahan says.

Participants are nominated by a senior executive, and only those who have already agreed to accept an international assignment are admitted to the program. “Each one has been targeted as a trans­national leader,” Callahan notes. “They are in the high end of high-potential employees.”

The consortium group consists of 40 to 50 participants, with U.S. executives forming a minority. The group spends the first week of the three-week program on the Tuck campus in Hanover, the second week in Chennai, India, and the third week in Shanghai, China.

“The consortium model works well for us and for our clients,” Callahan says. “It is a more complex approach to executive education. We have to get to know each client as we would for a custom program, but then we multiply that by four. It is very powerful because it blends the benefits of a custom program tailored to a specific company with the benefits of an open-enrollment program that allows participants to network with and benefit from the experiences of executives outside their own organization.”

Another aspect of the customized approach at Tuck revolves around coaching and follow-up. “This started on the custom side of the business but is now increasingly a part of open-enrollment programs,” Callahan says. “We bring in Tuck executive coaches to participate in the program along with our faculty.”

Tuck conducts follow-up meetings after a program, and then clients determine the amount of coaching that will occur beyond that point. The school builds into its executive education agreements an option for six to 18 months of coaching at the end of the program. “Another variant is that an executive may want to bring a Tuck coach into the company to work with the participant’s inner circle,” Callahan adds.

Callahan, McGlone and Pant do not anticipate dramatic declines in their executive education enrollments because of the financial crisis.

“In our programs, we teach that the business of good management becomes all the more important during times of crisis,” Pant says. “In a world where everyone has to focus on value and where resources will be very scarce for the next three to five years, executive education has to focus on value and how behaviors must change to create value in this environment.”

Workforce Management, December 15, 2008, p. 24-29Subscribe Now!

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