All change for business schools

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 May, 2008, 12:00am

As businesses become increasingly global and demand outstrips the supply of skilled managers and professionals, the relationship between human resources (HR) departments and executive education providers is changing.

Business schools and other providers are increasingly viewed as knowledge partners rather than vendors in the corporate war for talent. Helen Lange, dean of business management programmes for U21Global, said the complex needs brought about by globalisation and a knowledge economy had led to increasing demand for skills and competencies that were not learned on the job or from a first degree. As a result, executive education had become essential, for the organisation and the individual.

Narayan Pant, dean of executive education at Insead, said in the past HR managers sourced programmes that would fill the competency gaps in certain positions.

'Now the challenge for HR is balancing the needs of the individual and the organisation, using executive education to bring about specifically needed change in the organisation,' he said. 'The shift in focus is because talent is truly becoming the key source of value in an organisation.'

Human resources director (Asia) for Rolls-Royce Patrick Burns said from an HR perspective, 'for companies that have developed a competency framework, executive education offers the formal learning that supports the skill and knowledge requirements needed for success'.

A recent DDI survey of jobseekers illustrated how much value professionals placed on opportunities for development in a role. This was cited as the most important factor in a new job.

Kavitha Iyer, human resources director for American Express, JAPA (Japan, Asia-Pacific and Australia), said: 'People would not join or leave a company due to its executive education alone, but it might be a consideration.'

Mr Burns agreed, and said companies that had a reputation for investing in executive education tended to be the ones that high-calibre prospective employees aspired to.

Another factor which HR departments have to contend with is catering for the workplace and the work-life balance expectations of the new generation of managers. These globally connected, technologically savvy managers bring value to the organisation, they support innovative ideas, and give and want respect for skills, creativity and differences. They also have strong moral values, expect flexibility, and seek inspiring leadership - and they don't mind changing employers to find those.

Executive education is viewed as one weapon in the armoury of HR managers looking to retain the organisation's hard-won talent.

'Employees who are engaged in a well-defined and rewarding development programme, which includes executive education, may be less inclined to become footloose when external offers come in,' Mr Burns said.

However, he also warned of the eternal conundrum of human resource departments - developing people who were then recruited by predatory competitors.

Annie Koh, dean of executive education at Singapore Management University, said many companies wanted to invest in people, but they did not want them to run away. 'We work with our partner companies to design and deliver custom programmes that are aligned with their reason for investing - to create high-performance teams for the company to do better,' Professor Koh said.

Some companies use accreditation as a way to hold, but not bond talented individuals. With their executive education partners, they run accredited modules, developing industry standard competencies, with credits towards a degree or other qualification. This provides powerful motivation for the individual to complete the course and stay with the company for the duration of the programme, and addressing the needs of the organisation.

So what kind of programmes are needed and how are they best delivered? Programmes that focus on the soft skills - on enhancing self-awareness and the attitudes, behaviour, values and competencies that made a good team member or leader - are gaining in popularity. So are those that build functional competencies in areas such as change management and strategic thinking.

According to HR managers and executive education professionals, companies and individuals want programmes that are relevant to their workplace and personal needs. Managers lead busy and structured lives. So to meet those demands, executive education needs to provide flexible access and make use of creative approaches, such as interactive Web-based technology and online learning, which are cost effective and less time consuming. Programmes may include coaching or mentoring. Ideally, therefore, there should be extensive co-operation between the executive education provider and the company to customise programmes, to use their own case studies, to apply the learning to the workplace and to create ongoing development as part of the job.

Ms Iyer said that employers were looking for 'programmes designed for specific contexts and that carry robust action planning'.

Public, open-enrolment programmes continue to have their place ensuring individuals get exposure to, and benchmark themselves against, a broader spectrum of managers at their own levels and building functional competencies in particular subject areas.

Increasingly though, programmes are tailored to individual companies. It seems that gone are the days when executive education was all about sitting in a classroom doing case studies or when executives were rewarded with a week at a nice venue in a forest. Organisations and individuals now regard executive education as an investment and they want measurable returns that will help them succeed in a risky business environment.