A huge part of executive education is programs that are tailored to the developmental needs of organizations, known as custom courses, as opposed to open-enrolment programs that anyone can attend.
Embarking on custom programs can deliver huge benefits for the individual and the employer, but they require extra care and attention to maximize these benefits. For organizations to reap the most rewards, they usually need to co-design programs together with business schools and the executives who will actually receive the training.
Cynthia Lu, Senior Project Manager for Executive Education at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, says that it is important for executives to communicate with business schools about the company’s strategic imperatives, staff capability and skills gaps, as well as training expectations before they embark on the process of co-creation.
At that point, she says business schools will provide an initial proposal after gathering the information. From there, executives then provide feedback to the school. Once the partnership is established, the program teams from both sides need to work closely to fine-tune the course design.
“It is essential to build a cohesive team at the beginning of the journey, so all team members are on the same page and understand why the company decides to embark on a custom program, who will be the participants and how they will be nominated, what are the key elements of the program, and how to measure the program success,” says Lu.
Typically, companies decide to embark on a custom program because they find people and talent development gaps, challenges and opportunities, which are usually caused by changes occurring both externally (business environment, technology, competition, customers) and internally (strategy changes, organization structure changes).
For executives who want to get ahead in their firm, Lu says the key to convincing your employer to invest in a training program is to fully analyze the current and future people development gaps, and communicate with all the stakeholders and get their buy-in.
‘Immense upsides’ of executive education
It will help to stress the immense upsides of such a course. “The main benefits to the individual learners are supporting their personal and career development in the company,” says Lu. “For organizations, the program provides their managers and executives with the knowledge and skills necessary to support the organization’s vision and strategic imperatives.”
Bülent Gögdün, Director Corporate Programs at ESMT Berlin in Germany, adds that custom programs are often an asset for employer branding. This means they can help attract and retain talent at a time of great labor market shortages. “Feeling part of a community that the company sees potential in and invests in, usually results in engagement and pride.”
On top of that, he says custom programs can offer the opportunity for participants to discuss important questions about the strategy of the organization and the need for change — but in a safe space. “The alignment achieved through this can help the organization improve its performance.”
Such discussions can even occur before the custom program beings, in the design phase. “Customization works best when organizations clearly communicate about their goals and preferences and provide access to internal stakeholders and materials to allow for a deeper understanding of their business,” says Gögdün.
Apart from hard goals, he recommends that executives also create a narrative of what will be different as a result of the program, and which new leadership behaviors will prevail —and are needed. “In today’s fast changing environment, organizations and their managers need to adapt and develop themselves continuously,” Gögdün says. “They have to learn to think and act differently in order to be able to sustain their success. Executive education programs can play a significant role in helping organizations manage the transformation they need.”
In addition, custom programs that have been well designed should include time for participants to develop an action plan, says Marie Taillard, Associate Dean for Executive Education at ESCP Business School in Europe.
“Concrete action plans that focus the learner’s attention on what they will change upon returning to their office are extremely effective in motivating learners to make the right kinds of changes and engage in new behaviors,” she says. “Ideally, action plans are developed by each learner and discussed in peer-to-peer sessions during the program.”
Post-program follow-up coaching can also be very effective to ensure that the takeaways from the program are implemented successfully, she adds.