Once a decision has been taken to invest in executive education programs, the “real work” begins – previously vaguely defined objectives need to be transformed into specific needs and requirements which enable the design and delivery of a learning initiative. The design in turn then depends heavily of the nature of the program and its objectives. Often though, it turns out that the needs originally defined evolve and new ideas, focus areas or requirements previously not thought of emerge. What is often needed is clarity early on to define where and what to look at. A guiding framework such as shown in the table can thus be helpful.
It can be helpful to structure the discussion along the categories shown as the results have a significant impact on both the content and more importantly on the didactical approach and set-up of an executive learning initiative. One dimension to look at relates to the time horizon: Does the program support the challenges faced today or in the near future (short term) or is the focus the longer term for a world that is nowadays often characterized with the term VUCA (a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous)? The second dimension relates to the area that learning focuses on. Traditionally, individual skill building and competency development has been the main driver. However, more and more, what companies are after is to change the entire organization via organizational learning processes (“systemic” view). And last but not least, the need to launch a learning initiative stems from a concrete business initiative such as a new growth strategy, product innovation processes or similar.
Structuring the dialogue on these target areas helps to focus the customizing process. Is the objective to equip Managers and Leaders for today’s challenges in their jobs and to improve their current job performance? Or is the focus rather on tomorrow’s challenges meaning long term oriented skills and competencies which might not be immediately applicable today on a broad scale. Focusing on the individual usually involves strong ownership of the HR and/or L&D department as the learning is typically closely linked with HR processes or tools such as Talent Management, or “filling the leader pipeline”. Often times the content is mapped against competency models and related identified competence gaps of the participants. Opposed to such a scenario are cases where an entire Senior Team is supposed to go collectively through a learning journey to facilitate collective, organization development type learning. This for example, can be having a Senior Team go systematically through an action-learning based Strategy Process intervention and training which targets to raise the quality of the strategic output and which should facilitate the evolution of the team from a too operational to a more strategic level.
In practice, of course, this categorization is difficult to apply rigidly. Improving overall organizational effectiveness through a learning initiative does of course also drive individual learning and competencies developed for “today’s” world will be useful and applicable in the future as well. However, a look into the impact measurement research shows the importance of making sure that context and objectives of a learning initiative are clarified early on at the outset in order to be able to measure success and track impact afterwards. A framework like the one proposed here is used to guide and orient the discussion on where to focus and where to start when launching a customized Executive Education initiative.