How Executive Education is getting the job done in the new normal
As life under Covid’s shadow continues, one thing has never been clearer - there is no static ‘new normal’. This pandemic has driven dramatic changes and innovations in the way business is done, and it will continue to do so. For Executive Education, adapting to such a rapidly changing environment means staying agile and clearly understanding the ever-evolving ‘jobs to be done’ of their corporate clients and program participants.
That’s according to research from The International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON). As management educator Tom Ryan found when conducting the research, individuals and companies are looking at their jobs to be done in this changed world and seeking solutions for the new skills and capabilities they require. Traditionally, Executive Education has been a go-to for finding and developing those solutions - but, as Ryan states, “surveys suggest that a substantial number of businesses find university-based executive education does not fully meet their needs.”
There is also a belief, according to UNICON’s research, that some Executive Education programs today “fail to demonstrate an understanding of what clients really need and their jobs to be done.” Part of this may be rooted in misperception - as Ryan puts it, “A firm is a solutions provider only when its clients see it as such,” and schools should be doing more to ensure that their capabilities are seen and understood as relevant.
In order to remain relevant, the UNICON report recommends that Executive Education programs should focus on developing the following areas.
Executive Education programs must take on a more customer-centric, customized approach
Many business schools choose to focus on empirical knowledge as the key selling point in their offering to clients. However, as UNICON’s report found, the ability to provide solutions that meet client needs through customization is seen, now more than ever, as far more critical - which may be why as many as 75% of respondents to a UNICON and Financial Times survey said they planned to use non-university training partners.
The survey, in fact, found customized executive education to be the most sought-after criteria by clients when choosing an education provider. Nearly 40% of respondents considered it extremely important, compared to less than 5% who prioritized research-based and empirical knowledge. According to another 2021 UNICON report, “Why Companies Don’t Use Business Schools,” a provider’s ability to create content clearly related to a client’s individual business needs and challenges was also seen as key criteria.
Customization, clearly, is part and parcel of what it means to have a customer-first vision - and this explains why companies are increasingly opting for tailor-made solutions, like those prioritized by HEC Paris, instead of a more ‘traditional’ business school approach.
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Adopting a solutions provider mindset
As a Harvard Business School marketing professor famously said: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Programs in the executive learning space, including those offered by HEC Paris, are sharpening their client-centered business models with one goal in mind – delivering solutions that meet the specific needs of their clients more effectively. In these unprecedented times, the best way for Executive Education to remain relevant and competitive is to position itself as a provider of solutions.
Though an exclusively customer and solutions-centered focus may not be possible for universities due to structural factors, UNICON’s report found there are some tactics, particularly when it comes to choosing staff and faculty, that Executive Education leadership teams can take. “One of the most important antidotes to the lack of customer-centricity,” Ryan wrote, “is to hire and develop people with the perspective and skills to help the client meet that job to be done.”
Carefully selecting the faculty for custom programs, as HEC Paris does, can help schools “build the human capability needed to be client-centric and solutions-oriented,” he adds. By offering customized learning experiences and putting faculty with both empirical expertise and real-world experience at the helm, programs can better position themselves as in-touch with today’s business challenges - and their solutions.
Adopting new systems for learning
As the UNICON report underlines, with the shutdown of business schools’ physical campuses in response to the pandemic, the “competitive advantage of location fell aside - and made the need for offering customer-centric solutions even more important.”
The business schools that experienced the least amount of friction as Executive Education moved online were those that had already embraced digitally supported models, like HEC Paris. And rather than characterizing a moment in time, this era’s new, digital-heavy learning methodologies must continue to be utilized. As UNICON’s report highlights: “The ability to deliver content virtually or in an asynchronous online format can enable schools to make better use of their capability and to provide solutions to our clients’ jobs to be done.”
In an environment as competitive, and as unpredictable, as the one we’re currently experiencing, Executive Education has no choice but to innovate. It’s high time, as Ryan underlines, that more of these programs make their own job to be done out of “providing client-centric relationship management and delivering meaningful solutions with real-world application to the learning and development needs of organizations.”