Increasingly, to be in business means developing into the business of everything — a challenge learning leaders and academics alike are thinking about.
For Devin Bigoness, executive director for executive education at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, executive education programs have got to be a more consultative resource in order for executive education programs to stay relevant and offer value to companies seeking innovative solutions to today’s common and complex business challenges.
So much so, Bigoness said, “that a head of talent or a head of learning can deploy it to solve multidisciplinary problems and create new innovations.”
Today’s problems aren’t cookie cutter; executive education program offerings can’t be either. “We look at education not just as an event but as a process,” he said. And in the case of executive education, it’s an evolving process where programs mold themselves and are molded by client expectations.
He described four changes in the executive education space that organizations should plan to see more of as they head toward 2020.
1. Executive education will be innovation focused. A leader’s ability to lead innovation, create new value and empower the workforce continues to be a key concern that Bigoness said clients continuously voice. “I haven’t yet met a client that says ‘We want to be less innovative,’ but innovation means something very different to every single organization that we talk to.”
2. Executive education will be a multidisciplinary process, using an integrative approach. Today’s enterprise challenges don’t fall as neatly into the classic business school buckets as they once did, Bigoness said. And the environment in which people learn is far more varied, and one must consider factors like time, resources, learner preferences and learner location.
Increasingly, Johnson’s executive education program and others like it are being asked about their ability to provide integrated learning processes that can include any combination of in-person learning, e-learning, webinars and an array of other methods. While classic areas like finance, marketing or operations are component pieces driving innovation, the problems that organizations are looking to solve are incredibly complex and multidimensional. Access to resources and brain trusts that lie outside of the university’s business school can help drive an organization’s ability to innovate and subsequently, broaden the manner in which different perspectives and approaches can be leveraged to create a unique business solution.
3. Executive education will have a blurred distinction. The line between business schools and consulting firms — as well as companies’ own learning functions — is becoming less clear. “I would say that the whole industry is twisting, turning, morphing, evolving so that we think there are avenues for unique and dynamic partnerships within those three bodies,” Bigoness said.
He attributed this blurring in part to individual organizations’ evolving needs, as well as the manner in which people are shifting. Meaning, a head of talent might come from a business background, or a faculty member could move into a practitioner role.
4. Executive education programming will be a talent resource. For Johnson’s executive education program, it’s not uncommon for clients to interact with top talent from the university. In at least a couple of instances, Bigoness said the program has brought in top performing undergraduate, graduate and business school students to work as part of cross-functional teams with leaders for an innovation boot camp. In one case, where leaders expressed a need to learn how to lead next-gen talent, students were invited to be part of the classroom experience and serve on a panel. Participants could ask students questions like what they looked for in a leader and future employer and students could engage directly with leaders.
Typically executive education is focused on the retention and development of talent management, but it also can be a way to recruit. Bigoness said that in the past, if top students who got to engage with leaders weren’t hired by the firms, they at least had a better understanding of what the organizations did and vice versa.
“I would certainly be interested in seeing how that evolves,” Bigoness said.