For managers and executives, the idea of executive education can be daunting. Especially in times of budget cuts and payroll furloughs, spending time and money on education may not seem like a good investment.
However, executive education can provide substantial value, including specific skill development and career leverage, which can help you climb the corporate ladder or even land a new job.
At the most concrete level, executive education can help participants gain specific knowledge that's important to their career. Especially for managers on their way up the ladder, the short, intense nature of most executive courses allows them to efficiently upgrade or fill in gaps in their skillset.
“Say I'm head of marketing,” says Bülent Gögdün, director of open enrollment programs at ESMT in Berlin, “and suddenly I have to lead a business unit. So, I have to understand finance, I have to understand strategy.”
In other words, these are skills that a fast-tracked, specialized manager may not have developed yet. According to John Algar, director of open programs at the Cranfield University School of Management, this is a real challenge in today's workplace.
“Because of downsizing, rightsizing, and all those other things, people only have time to keep doing what they're doing,” says Algar. “You need a space for people to just stop and think.”
Indeed, executive education courses and workshops can provide a learning environment where participants can focus and safely identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Carolyn Campbell, associate dean of executive education at the Alberta School of Business, calls this aspect of executive education “invaluable” – the confidentiality of the classroom provides a space where participants can open up and discuss topics that they would not be able to address under normal circumstances.
ESMT's Bülent Gögdün goes further, saying that this kind of learning environment can provide high-level perspective that is almost impossible to find in everyday business.
“Unfortunately, because of the heavy workload, people deal with all kinds of day-to-day business,” Gögdün says. “There's too little time for reflection - really looking at what's going on in your company, and asking, 'Are we still on the right track?'”
There's also value in networking. Executive education cohorts are usually made up of managers from a variety of industries. This leads to a dynamic interplay where participants can share their own experiences and learn about how challenges are dealt with in a variety of different environments.
For example, Carolyn Campbell says that in Alberta's governance courses, participants come not only from various levels of government, but also from banks, nonprofit organizations, and even oil and gas firms. These participants interact in a variety of ways.
“You're getting to know each other,” Campbell says. “You're seeing the styles, you're getting examples from peoples' work, and hopefully learning how to apply them into your own workplace.”
Cranfield's John Algar says that this collaborative aspect of executive education can be valuable for participants' companies. They “get lots of different views on how to solve and fix problems – so their companies, when they go back, actually benefit from essentially free consultancy.”
Executive education: a résumé booster?
So, given the range of value that executive education can provide, can participants use the courses as leverage to get new jobs or switch careers? Cranfield's John Algar (who also serves as a non-executive director for several companies) says that executive education, if it's provided by a reputable university, can indeed be valuable on a résumé.
“I interview a lot of people,” says Algar. “When I see LBS, Cranfield, INSEAD, IMD, Harvard, Duke, etc., on someone's CV, I know this person has put some thought into it. That to me as a hirer is quite important.”
According to ESMT's Gögdün, the résumé benefit depends on the comprehensiveness of the program. While short, intense classes may be good to build specific skills, he says they might not play a substantial role on a participant's CV. However, longer general management programs can help with and, in some cases, actually encourage, career changes.
“Since people are outside of their businesses for longer periods of time, I think that people, almost automatically, start thinking about their careers and about their value in the marketplace,” says Gögdün. “Other companies might see that as a quite interesting investment.”
Likewise, Alberta's Carolyn Campbell says that a longer course, especially those where a certificate is involved, can help give a concrete boost to a participant's career profile.
“I firmly believe that a certificate from a university is something that is of benefit to an individual,” says Campbell. “One of the things that we have in place for many of our programs is that they give you credits toward an MBA...That's a very credible thing to put on your résumé.”
But in the end, the self-fulfilling nature of executive education may be more valuable than developing a specific skill or having another qualification on your CV. Bülent Gögdün says that participants exit his executive education programs with boosted self-confidence. And without that sense of “I can do it,” the career ladder inevitably becomes even harder to climb.