Picking an Education Provider
Identifying the right school to work with can mean the difference between success and failure. Organizations all over the world have their choice of learning and development partners, among them academic institutions. When it comes to addressing emerging business concerns, tapping into external expertise is particularly important, said Karl Johnson, senior vice president of leadership consulting for the Full Circle Group.
Learning leaders should start by examining exactly what is it the company needs. Today’s organizational needs are increasingly complicated and unique. Solutions are needed yesterday, and time is of the essence. But this learning investment can start at $1,000 per person, per day. As an organization’s prospect of investing in executive education, “it has to be a good fit,” Johnson said.
To create a winning partnership, determine:
Is the partner up for the task? Among the factors Cigna Chief Learning Officer Karen Kocher considered when identifying the program provider the health insurance company would use was whether the prospective institution demonstrated the knowledge and skills in the areas the executive team was most interested in.
Is the provider customer-minded in its approach? Today’s marketplace is fast-paced, and the organizations working to meet its demands have just as demanding needs. The partner should want to understand the organization’s needs and to craft something to meet them in a very customer-focused and agile way.
Can the provider work quickly? It’s far from unusual that when an organization decides what it wants, Kocher said, “we want it to start yesterday.” That may be difficult for some academic institutions because the pace is different. “Changes in academic curriculum and other things can take years; getting them to work this urgency can be difficult.”
Is the institution offering something unique that will give the organization a competitive advantage? Creativity wasn’t the driving decision-maker for Kocher. In the case of the organization’s global acumen needs, that program not only had an in-country international learning component but also used a consortium approach, allowing Cigna leaders to exchange ideas and work with peers in other industries.
Programs “that have really done a great job of building a robust network of all kinds of different partners beyond their own faculty are the ones you now see serving the needs of corporations much better,” Kocher said.
During initial meetings between the executive education provider and the organization, the university should be in listening mode, getting a feel for the company’s current state of affairs, its capacity in stated areas of need and its objectives, said Steven Miranda, managing director for Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.
Collaboration is critical to design a program doesn’t slap a bandage on a program’s issue but addresses the underpinnings of any issues.
By design, most of the more advanced executive education partnerships with corporations and chief learning officers have a mix of program participants, said Johnson, who served as assistant dean for executive education at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management before becoming senior vice president of leadership consulting at the Full Circle Group, and has held similar roles at the University of Notre Dame and University of California Berkeley.
“In some of the best programs we’ve run, the CEO will come in and introduce the program, and lay out the strategy,” he said. “Then a strategy professor would come in, lay out some tenets and models of strategy to get people clear on how to develop strategy in the future but also get a clear understanding of the direction the organization is heading.”
Programs that have a mix of leader-to-leader, academic-to-participant types of dialogue going on in the room are often more effective. When actual projects are brought in for participants to work on as part of action learning, organizations often feel the effect of their executive education investment sooner.
At the heart of it all, program design should build the appropriate skills, get participants clear on the company’s direction and what type of leadership will make it successful in the future, and — while Johnson said it’s often hard to come by in a university space — engage leaders on a personal development journey.
WHAT IS ACTION LEARNING?
This experiential approach to learning elevates the effect and immediacy of an organization’s executive education program results. Often a part of custom programs, action learning has leaders work on an existing business opportunity, to learn through doing while also meeting real-time business objectives.
Measuring and Feeling the Results
To assess the effect of Cigna’s investment in leadership and global acumen, Kocher examined promotion rates, global movement rates and job performance for the program participants. She also used Net Promoter Score, a common customer satisfaction measurement tool to gauge internal program satisfaction.
Beyond that, learning leaders evaluate executive education program engagements in a number of other ways including:
Leadership competency modeling: Executive education programs are often designed to develop specific skills the organization has said are essential. Learning leaders can survey participants’ bosses and managers three to six months after an engagement to see if they observed a change in knowledge, skills and abilities.
Action learning projects: Many executive education programs include action learning projects, focused on strategic organizational issues. Teams generally report their recommendations for these projects to senior leaders within the organization who can then provide the learning leader with a qualitative assessment of the engagement’s success.
Individual development plan: Programs often include an individual leadership development and/or cohort leader-to-leader component, said Karl Johnson, senior vice president of leadership consulting at Full Circle Group. This typically includes a 360-degree assessment, executive coaching and an individual development plan. While the assessment results aren’t shared, he said the plan should be. “The CLO may then choose to survey boss/managers of participants three to six months after the engagement to determine how much progress participants have made against the goals described in their” individual development plans.
Additional organizationwide program impact measurements, usually owned by talent management leaders, include succession planning metrics, employee engagement surveys and employee retention metrics.
FOR THE JOURNEY
“Be really broad in your thinking about the potential partners that you can and should work with for any of the various opportunities that you’re dealing with,” Kocher said.