When some managers look at executive education programs, they might get a sense of sticker shock. And it's not hard to see why: for the cost of many short open-enrollment programs, you could instead take a nice, long luxury vacation. A general management program at an elite business school might cost as much as a brand new Lexus.
Ideally, a potential executive education participant can get their employer to cover some or all of the expense. But in today's era of squeezed budgets, some participants are finding that their companies simply aren't willing to fund employee training and development as extensively as they used to.
So, how do you convince your employer to help fund your executive education?
For somebody who works in a company where other employees have previously used executive education, there might already be professional development funds or other forms of support ready to be utilized.
It also might pay to ask around, to see how others have done it in the past. According to Kate Anderson, the director of marketing and enrollment for executive education at MIT Sloan, “if someone mentions to us that they are having trouble getting their organization to cover the costs, I often look for past participants from the inquirer’s organization, and see if they might be willing to connect with the person and advise them on how they managed it when they attended a program.”
But those who work at companies where executive education is a new concept might have a harder time. According to Nick Barniville, the director of degree programs at the Germany-based ESMT European School of Management and Technology, “there are some companies where there is absolutely no structure,” for supporting executive executive education, “and the person has to create the enthusiasm for the project within their own company from scratch.”
“It's often a harder sell, because there is no precedent,” says Barniville.
For people in this position, Barniville suggests pitching the idea to the employer or the company's human resource department in the terms of a business case study. This helps demonstrate to the employer – in their own language – just how valuable the education will be.
“We really encourage people to develop a pithy argument that's short, and presents the benefits of the investment,” he says. “It's basically a cost-benefit analysis that they should be able to present to their company.”
Rudolf Repgen, executive director of IESE's executive education programs in Germany, would agree. He says that “it is mostly about explaining the value proposition,” which is that, “there are clear components that can help participants develop as leaders, and which can make their companies more competitive.”
For example, Repgen says that somebody who pursues a course in finance will come away with tools and techniques that can immediately save his company money. And this can directly translate into bottom-line impact.
“The program can be paid off in the first week,” says Repgen, “because you are learning cost-saving methods in the first week of the program.”
And in some cases, there are external funding sources that executive education participants can explore. According to MIT Sloan's Anderson, “some participants, particularly in nonprofit organizations, obtain third-party funding such as a grant or scholarship.”
Never enough time
But for many executives, the actual cost of the program isn't always the deal-breaker.
“If you talk about people at the top tier” says IESE's Repgen, “it is less of a financial issue for most companies, than a question of time off from work.”
Indeed, high-capacity managers are likely involved in many aspects of a company's day-to-day operations, and might be hard-pressed to find time to sneak away to an executive education course or workshop.
For managers struggling with how to convince their employer to allow them some time off for executive education, Repgen advises pursuing a modular program that's broken up into several sessions, so they don't have to be away from the office for a long period of time all at once.
ESMT's Barniville suggests another approach to negotiate some time off, and to minimize the financial impact of an executive program.
“The candidate can offer as part of the pitch to his or her employer that they would be prepared to sacrifice vacation time,” he says, “or that they would be prepared to pay for some of the expenses,” such as travel costs or hotels.
A fresh mind
Beyond extolling the financial benefits of executive education and negotiating time off, a potential executive education participant might contend that other factors – like exposure to new research and networking possibilities – could help their company in more profound ways. According to Barniville, “there's exposure to top-level research and the latest thinking, and that helps people to make more informed decisions” in their business.
A manager who has been in a single industry or functional area for a long time can try to convince her employer the exposure to new ideas executive education can provide much needed perspective.
According to IESE's Repgen, “if you are working for ten or fifteen years, going in the same direction, by nature you will lose a little bit of the connection to new ideas and other industries,” he says. “Executive education can provide you a fresh mind.”