The executive tool box Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

Futurists estimate that, due to advances in technology and the need to access information, business executives will need the equivalent of 30 credit hours of instruction every seven years just to remain competent and competitive in the work environment. But with constant changes in legislation, regulation, technology and economics, it’s hard to keep up with the latest skills, let alone make time in the busy workday to learn these new skill sets. Executives need to develop such skills as sound analysis and decision-making so they will be able to solve problems in the business world.

“There are short-term and long-term benefits that impact the bottom line,” says Janice Barrow, Ph.D., a finance professor in the executive education program at Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. “You need to develop and maintain these skills just to maintain a competitive edge in this extremely competitive environment. Leaders and entrepreneurs will also be developed, and will help create a work force that will compete and deliver globally.”

Smart Business spoke with Barrow about executive education’s role in developing these skills, how future trends in executive education match global economic trends and how to make time for developing skills.

What role does executive education play in preparing executives for the future?

Executive education helps produce entrepreneurs and innovators, develops leaders for all sectors, facilitates technology transfer and produces a world-class pool of talent that contributes positively to the social good. Efficiency in this process requires a close partnership between the education providers and their beneficiaries to identify needs, establish priorities and design curriculum that will be most useful in the workplace.

Professionals such as engineers, physicians, scientists and other technocrats, now in managerial or administrative positions, are constantly faced with decision-making that requires a cognitive style, which has not been part of their professional preparation. In transitioning to an executive role, these professionals have been shown to benefit from leadership training and skill development in areas such as identifying and building on latent abilities and propensities.

What are the future trends and developments in building executive skills in the key areas of business?

Executive education is imperative in helping executives implement strategy and, with the economy the way it is now, developing sound decision-making skills. With the knowledge set changing, and methods of doing business changing and moving globally, the old systems no longer apply. What might have been effective before is no longer effective now, so it’s a dynamic process. It’s important for corporate business entities to stay in touch and work with trainers and executive education deliverers to develop priorities.

For example, in the finance field, the focus has been on making good investments, but investment opportunities are now restricted. It’s important to be able to make good investments, but priority skill sets look at items such as being able to obtain capital structure and making good capital structure decisions. That’s the hot topic now, but the hot topic for next month or next year may change. You need to have critical thinking skills that are flexible and have the mindset to adopt and process information effectively so you can make good decisions.

What are some future trends in executive education that match global economic trends?

These are global trends in conjunction with changes in technology. We’re now a more fast-paced society, with much more data to analyze and process, but not enough resources and training available. Longer-term education programs that are working toward a degree may not be as popular as shorter-term programs on task training programs or skill development programs that are responsive to needs. These may be delivered online or in short formats, mentoring formats or in-house formats that can be customized rather than programs that are more generic and focus on a broader skill set.

How do you make time to develop these skills and use them on a daily basis?

Sometimes the most expensive thing to do is nothing. You’re wasting your time if you’re using a skill set that’s dated, not current or relevant. You need to make updating your skills a priority and schedule it on your calendar just as you would a meeting or important task. There are online programs, there are in-house programs that can come to where you are, and there are shorter programs to work within your schedule.

It comes back to executive education institutions partnering with corporate entities to make sure that the curriculum is on target. Things that are covered in class, during the weekend, need to be applicable and usable in businesses on Monday morning. It’s imperative that partnerships exist so that both sides are in a dialogue and keep each other up to date, current and relevant.

Janice Barrow, Ph. D., is a finance professor in the executive education program in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Reach her at (770) 420-4465 or