TRAINING Targeting the Training Dollar

Whether you need to strengthen soft skills, smarten up on strategic planning or perfect your project management performance, there’s plethora of training programmes catering to almost every executive skill deficiency.
There’s also no shortage of local executive training providers – from polytechs and universities to private or institutional specialists. Their offerings range from full or part-time degree courses to brief but punchy training top-ups or customised leadership programmes.
But while New Zealand execs are positively spoilt for choice at mid-level, it seems we may be lacking critical weight at the top end of executive education. For that, our top managers still tend to head offshore.
In the public service, for instance, more senior folk are now being dispatched to offshore centres – generally in the UK but also in Australia and the US, says Alan Cassidy, manager of executive development in the state sector’s Leadership Development Centre.
“Some of that has to do with the shortage in New Zealand of super high quality presenters or faculty. I think probably it’s factor of having relatively small population – there’s not really big critical mass. We’re talking about only relatively small number of people that this training would be suitable for.
“There is also strong belief that the high calibre of an offshore training programme is seminal career experience – in part because you’re networking with people from very diverse and large organisations. It’s also because of the research flavour those programmes have.
“Often they’re coming from universities or institutions that are engaged in leading edge research in leadership and management.”
The sort of people you rub shoulders with on such courses is big attraction, agrees Gabriella Meden, director of the Training Network in Auckland.
“New Zealand offers some very good leadership development programmes at quite high level but there’s still trend to go offshore for particular individuals to get that senior management level training. There’s the reputation these schools have and there are also networking opportunities we don’t quite have here.
“So it’s about development but it’s also about working with other organisations and more diverse group of people.”
Topping the offshore popularity poll are the prestigious names such as Henley, Stanford, Harvard or Wharton. Closer to home, Australia’s Graduate School of Management (AGSM) courses are highly regarded by those who’ve attended, says Cassidy.
Australia’s Mt Eliza Centre for Executive Education also gets mention as learning destination for number of New Zealand executives. particularly popular offshore programme at present is the Templeton College programme on strategic leadership run out of Oxford, notes Cassidy.
He is in the process of gathering evaluation data on the various senior-level programmes based on people who’ve attended or utilising resources such as the Brickers Executive Education Search.
“We do bit of broking service – people come to us to ask what various programmes are like and we have some data and information on these.”
And what about local options?
In terms of providers, the University of Auckland’s Business School seems to have earned good reputation for its management training – as does Waikato University’s Management School. Meden describes the executive training “pool” in New Zealand as quite strong.
However she also notes that many of the offerings such as Forum, Blanchards or Four Quadrant Leadership are based offshore – “so all the research development is done overseas but they have local representatives here”.
While the dollars spent on executive training probably haven’t increased much in the past few years, what it’s spent on is more tightly targeted to organisational values, goals and strategic direction, says Meden.
“What we’re finding is that most of the organisations we work with are looking at leadership development across the board – all levels. It’s not just senior executives but what you might call second or third tier through to general managers and team leaders.”
This training is designed around core competencies the organisation has deemed essential to its culture and direction.
“It’s very much focused on where they want to take the organisation and where they need to develop leadership to get there. So it’s much more strategic approach to training – they’re asking what are the core competencies of our leadership, what makes good leader for this organisation, analysing what that means then developing skills around that and coming up with core training programme to achieve it.”
The Leadership Development Centre (LDC) takes similarly targeted approach. Four times year, it runs its own course that is very public-sector focused and involves around 12-14 participants. And the centre’s activities have to be seen in the context of the leadership gaps it has identified, says Cassidy.
“We’re finding that the key gaps in senior executives going for CE roles are in two major areas. They’re really strong in critical thinking and good at stakeholder/community relations but they’re generally weaker on the people management side and some of the business systems and processes needed to run efficient and effective organisations.”
LDC also uses customised short courses and has relationship with Victoria University’s Centre for Accounting, Governance & Taxation Research to provide these. Cassidy believes time constraints are pushing trend to short courses and increased distance learning options.
“There’s huge culture of ‘busyness’ and it’s increasingly difficult to get people to free up time in their diaries to extend management training. People want to compress their learning. It you look globally at trends there’s move to distributed learning via on-line and e-learning tools. Some of the big consulting firms such as Booz Allen or Accenture have moved lot of their education onto e-learning options.”
There’s certainly growing range of options in terms of how executive training is delivered and greater customisation of content – but at least one local human resources adviser wonders whether quantity isn’t outpacing quality and relevance.
Richard Rudman, Wellington-based consultant and writer who specialises in human resources management describes the executive education market as becoming increasingly fragmented.
“There is huge and not necessarily desirable proliferation of programmes available and it’s hard to believe they are all sustainable.”
He also distinguishes between ‘management’ in theory and ‘managing’ in practice.
“What they teach to undergraduates is management but what experienced people want is some help in managing. These don’t necessarily contradict but each informs the other. I’m not an advocate for the school of hard knocks but I do think there’s not much that is able to replace the ‘been there, done that’ experience.
“There’s plenty of educational options but what I believe some people need is more experience.”

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