As organizations strive to stay ahead of the curve, the demand for executive education programs has surged, offering seasoned professionals a unique opportunity to refine their skills, gain new insights and enhance their leadership capabilities.
While the curriculum and content of these programs are valuable, it is often the connections made, the relationships formed, and the networks established that truly set these educational experiences apart. So what is networking’s role in shaping the future of executive leadership?
“Networking and peer-to-peer learning are viewed as essential components of an executive education program by participants. They value the ability to learn about current organizational and business challenges others face and the outcomes of attempted solutions within a guided learning environment. Networking additional perspectives: creating more shared learning opportunities for participants,” says Nicholas Hamilton-Archer, Chief Executive Education Officer for the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, at the University of Michigan.
Additionally, he says networking builds stronger bonds within a given group, as participants are able to create sounding boards and friendships that move beyond the classroom.
Strategies for effective networking
So, what strategies or tools do business schools employ to facilitate networking among executive education participants? Hamilton-Archer points to facilitated in-class discussions, group meals, post-program follow-up calls and reflections on learning application in the workplace. “Social media and virtual meeting platforms remain a method of technology-based networking, but participants report in-person, classroom interactions as the most meaningful source of networking in our programs,” he adds.
However, other business school administrators note that some emerging trends or technologies are reshaping the way executive education programs approach networking.
“Emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are reshaping networking in all forms of corporate development and education. VR platforms enable immersive virtual events, while AI-powered algorithms can match executives with similar interests and goals, enhancing the relevance of networking opportunities,” says Karis Burton, Head of Corporate Development at Henley Business School in the UK.
Online collaboration tools and social learning platforms also provide avenues for continuous engagement and networking beyond the physical classroom, she adds. With that said, she underscores the value of in person interactions in addition to networking in virtual settings.
“Hybrid working across boundaries and time zones means that the art of the corridor conversation, unless planned, is becoming increasingly rare,” Burton states. “Programs bring people together in a way that facilitates the human, social connection but more than that, it’s often in a setting that is both physically removed from the workplace and indeed psychologically safe to surface and discuss issues of the day.”
Networking in this context offers opportunities for collaboration, idea exchange, and potential business partnerships. “It allows people to broaden their perspectives, learn from diverse experiences, and gain insights into different industries and markets,” she continues.
The long-term benefits of executive networking
Indeed, everyone agrees that networking benefits participants in executive education courses, both in the short term and the long term. “It can enrich discussions, broaden perspectives, and unite a cohort in the short term. It can also create lasting relationships that can lead to new roles and career opportunities, enable knowledge sharing, and provide a support system of trusted peers in the long term,” says Allison Wheeler-Heau Director of Open Programs at the UK’s Cambridge Judge Business School.
She believes that there are many strategies and tools that drive networking in executive education, and these are tailored to the program’s format, length and type. “Online platforms, social media and WhatsApp groups can enhance continuous connectivity whilst dinners, receptions, reunions and in-person meet-up events can also help to facilitate relationships and build a strong network,” Wheeler-Heau says.
But what advice would Cambridge Judge give to executives looking to maximize their networking opportunities during their time in an executive education program. “Connecting with your cohort before the start of the program can be a great way to build relationships. Be proactive about starting conversations and listen to your peers to gain an understanding of their perspectives,” says Erin Hallett, Director of Custom programs.
“Sharing knowledge, challenges and experiences can all make for a more rounded learning experience. You can connect with your cohort on platforms like LinkedIn and take advantage of any groups that are set up. Additionally, try to attend reunions or follow-up programs which provide valuable opportunities to build long-term connections,” Hallett adds.
Networking in executive education programs can ultimately have a profound impact on career trajectories and organizational success, but it requires careful consideration in order to maximize the benefits.