EDUCATION & TRAINING Making to Measure – Executive training’s new mantra

There’s widespread recognition by tertiary educational providers that generic course content doesn’t satisfy the needs of executives across broad gamut of industries. Thankfully there’s now sufficient critical mass within the fragmented demand to make offering different courses commercially viable.
With variety of content now regarded as given by executives and their employers, tertiary education providers are looking for different hallmarks to distinguish their courses.
Robyn Leeming, head of Massey University’s Graduate Business School, says tertiary institutions are now actively marketing their courses as “total experiences” not just on the strength of their course curriculum.
The net effect of growing competitiveness, advises Paul McDonald, MBA director at Victoria University, is the birth of the “new-age” MBA. Evolving out of its classic management model, he says an MBA typically has strong leadership and strategic focus. “There’s still place for balanced MBAs aimed at structured professions but they are becoming progressively obsolete as the world becomes more complex.”
According to Leeming, the fellow students that executives rub shoulders with are equally, if not more, important than the functional learning the course imparts. She says that aspect takes on added importance for highflying senior executives and CEOs working within global markets.
In varying degrees, New Zealand’s mainstream universities have good reputations for management training. Nevertheless, Leeming says the value many companies now place on international networking means growing number of New Zealand’s senior executives are heading offshore for further training.
And while Leeming suspects Australian management schools have the edge over local providers, she’s witnessing local executives sidestepping both countries in favour of truly global counterparts. Sadly though, she says it’s typically only the larger multinationals that can afford to do this. “Top executives don’t want to rub shoulders with locals. They see them every day,” says Leeming. “They want to compare notes with students at international schools in the US (like Stanford), Europe (like Insead, which has campuses in Paris and now Singapore) and now business schools in China (like CEIBS in Shanghai and Tsing Hua University in Beijing),” says Leeming. “And like it or not, the rise of the global employment market means university accreditations are now essential to attract international students.”
Geoff Perry, associate dean of development at AUT’s School of Business, advises that the networking factor is becoming equally important for domestic programmes. He says that’s why AUT creates opportunities for local business leaders and corporate executives to meet with visiting international experts. “Last month alone there were two such events including one with professor Geert Hofstede, whose research with IBM paved the way for current thinking about inter-cultural communication at work,” says Perry.
And while the MBA remains dominant programme for executives aspiring to senior management, market pressures have also impacted on how they’re now presented. Owing to the demands they place on an executive’s time and family life, McDonald says there’s trend towards more flexible delivery model. “The clear influence of technology recognises the need for modulated and distributed learning options like e-learning. People simply can’t take two years off from the workforce anymore.”
In addition to the move towards greater MBA specialisation, John Bell, director of Otago University’s MBA programme, says there are notably fewer executives prepared to invest the $20,000 to $35,000-plus required to complete an MBA. In fact, he says the move away from residential MBAs has resulted in greater demand for block courses (10 weekends, for example).
From Perry’s perspective, online and e-learning tools have useful role to play, especially for topics where the level of explicit or codified knowledge is relatively high. But that said, he claims e-learning that runs alongside classroom work is more popular and more effective than 100 percent online offering. “For complex subjects like leadership, where there are significant amounts of tacit knowledge involved, there’s really no substitute for personal interaction,” he says.
With most managers having degrees these days, Darren Levy – the University of Auckland’s associate director of short courses – says there’s huge growth in both graduate diploma education and shorter courses focused on the issues of the day. While there’s lot of preoccupation with softer skills such as EQ, motivational, leadership and people management, he says the university’s single most popular short course in the mid to senior management space is its two-day focus on project management.
Perry adds that the need for medium and large companies to keep pace with international standards of business leadership is rapidly becoming an important priority. He says traditional leadership roles such as providing vision, “sense-making” and adding shareholder value are now being complicated with the need to understand new business models. “Equally important is how the aspirations of tomorrow’s knowledge workers can be realised within the new environment, especially within New Zealand’s limited talent pool.”
Levy advises of growing interest – especially amongst larger corporations – for corporate universities, customised inhouse and consortium-based training programmes. Executives are looking for “up-to-the-minute” knowledge delivered by experts and tailored to their business.
He cites the university’s advanced development programme put together for TVNZ as prime example. Lead facilitator Joline Francoeur advises that the “customisation factor” means each individual participant on this programme can identify what they need to learn to embed necessary change into their daily practices.
After concluding that generic training programmes offered limited value, Stuart Baird – general manager of Tyco Flow Control – early in 2004 commissioned Manukau Institute of Technology to develop made-to-measure course. After listening to what Baird wanted, MIT lecturers came back with an eight module management development programme designed exclusively around Tyco’s culture and its key performance drivers. Programme content concentrated on delivering soft skills such as leadership in changing business environment. By looking above the “functional stuff”, Baird says, course content helped the company’s future leaders focus on the big picture strategic content such as operational excellence, HR and marketing’s contribution to the bottom-line, plus how the organisation’s culture drives competitive advantage.
So how do organisations keep track of the growing number of courses and ensure they get the best return on their executive training investment? Perry urges HR managers to liaise regularly with the corporate relationship or partnership managers that many universities now have to keep close eye on what’s on offer. He says the good ones are proactively introducing companies to thought leaders in fields of current interest to business.
When it comes to monitoring returns on the training dollar, Leeming claims there’s no better measure than the number of “right calibre” people wanting to work for your organisation. But from Perry’s experience, returns on executive training are often reduced due to insufficient effort aligning formal education with practical application at work.
He’s convinced picking the right course for executives will become less of dark science if their “HR minders” bother to do the appropriate needs analysis on what training is really appropriate.
Nevertheless, he is witnessing far greater emphasis by organisations on “action learning” to get faster and more relevant paybacks. Perry also spots two other evolving trends: collaborative learning to enhance knowledge transfer within the organisation and grow

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