Everywhere we look, we can see disruption. Established business models collapse under the onset of digitization. Not surprisingly, executive education is also changing, and the challenge is clear: How can we achieve ever-deeper learning without ignoring executives’ need for speed and immediacy?
Long gone are the days in which executives would take 10 weeks to attend a management program. Two weeks are a rare breed reserved for selected flagship programs. Typically, even taking a few days for training is seen as a luxury. Shorter sessions are in high demand, especially considering the desire for immediate and measurable impact.
Current Executive Development Trends
How can we deliver executive education in such short time slots when content is also changing constantly? As Marco Serrato, a board member at Unicon, points out, “The old value proposition ‘Come and learn with me and what you learn will be useful for the next 20 years’ is not true anymore.” Can providers upgrade their content quickly enough? Will they use the opportunities technology can offer?
Many are already doing so: Organizations are exploring the use of holograms of teachers. Simon Vuillaume, director of international projects at Cegos, predicts that in a few years, AI assistants will support executive coaching by, for example, helping them brush up on negotiation skills and advise on negotiation styles in advance of client meetings.
New executive education providers are entering the market. In the past, the focus was on business schools and established training companies. Now, consultancies, executive search firms and technology companies offer executive education content and delivery services – still flanked, of course, by the couple of hundreds individual trainers who serve this market.
What Executives Need
Despite these trends, three primary executive development needs have not changed:
Firstly, even at the executive level, there is the need for knowledge in a variety of fields. Business schools and training companies offer knowledge through webinars and other programs. Technology allows for the delivery of brief pieces of content to deepen what happens in class. For example, Singapore Management University frequently supplies program participants with customized microlearning content after its programs.
Secondly, executives need deep individual learning. Again, technology can meet this need. The European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, for example, uses a virtual reality escape room exercise, followed by a debriefing by coaches. You can also provide this type of learning through traditional methods, spread over long time periods. Kornferry Hay Group, for example, uses questionnaires and self-assessments over the course of a year to develop self-understanding and, subsequently, self-development.
In response to this need for personalized learning, coaching has taken off. Many providers offer post-training coaching and even business consulting. When participants need only quick support in a specific topic such as business strategy, coaches can provide this support in emails and other communication. The whole learning experience has become more personalized. As professor Jamie Anderson puts it, “The key is now ‘just enough,’ ‘just in time’ and ‘just for you.’”
Finally, executives need to connect with their peers, which calls just as much for classroom experience as for joint experiences outside the classroom. In this area, providers are becoming better at customizing the right interventions with their clients. As Christina Schulte-Kutsch, vice president of leadership development and culture at Deutsche Telekom points out, “In my view, in the future there is no way around co-creation with the customer. The world is changing rapidly; especially in view of new technical solutions, it is increasingly important that content, as well as implementation … is developed collaboratively.”
The key, therefore, is how providers develop from clever observers who stand outside the company into partners and integral parts of the company’s development process. To begin walking down this path, some providers have begun developing platforms that automatically alert them on the skills individual executives need to prosper at specific moments in their career.
Ken Taylor, president of Training Industry, identifies the key task for the industry: Executive education providers “must become students, learning as much as they can about the company’s goals and making sure that the learning journey they create for their learners is truly aligned with those goals.”
This task is supported by AI, but it is so human. Market changes are actually helping executive education arrive at the point where it has always aimed to be – helping people make the best of themselves and the companies they lead.