Top-notch education Featured

12:25pm EDT May 26, 2004
The competition has gotten smarter. Have you?

Executive education used to be for executives who had climbed the ladder without an MBA or other advanced degree, but as that demographic has changed, so, too, has the education system.

"Executive education used to be for providing fundamental business training for executives who didn't have the type of training they needed or who didn't have an MBA," says Clark Callahan, executive director of executive education at Dartmouth College. "Now there are far fewer that don't have a degree or training who are in senior management roles. Companies are also demanding that any learning that is done is tied to business initiatives.

"The result has been that companies don't just send executives to sign up for courses, they now design initiatives that will help them address strategic issues. This is really a fundamental shift in executive education."

That means the days of the generic classes dominating the course offerings are waning.

"We have a long-standing executive education offering called 'Finance for Non-financial Managers' that is a three- to five-day course," says Callahan. "A major focus is on what is shareholder value, what the drivers are and how managers use it as a metric and tool. It's a course that's been around for a long while.

"Now, a company is more likely to come to us and say, 'We have an initiative in our company that is built around a particular approach to shareholder value that we have developed internally. We want to use our formula as an initiative across the country.' We would help them achieve that initiative through learning tailored to their needs rather than generic lectures.

"It might be facilitated by discussions based on the company's specific financials or a simulated case study based on the industry. Based on what they would learn, the key people attending the program would help drive the initiative out into the organization."

Customization is rapidly becoming a major part of executive education programs.

"In our business now, half of our revenue is coming from custom courses or some sort of specialized programming," says Callahan. "It used to be a majority came from open enrollment. We've seen a dramatic shift."

Custom programs can be expensive, so companies must carefully choose participants.

"At some point, it becomes expensive - too expensive - to run large numbers of people through a program," says Callahan. "How deep in the organization do you want to go? What most companies target is often described as the sweet spot.

"This is the high-potential segment of managers, regardless of what role they may be in now, that have the potential to be in the senior role. It is used to give a broadening experience to these managers - and it might include people all the way up to the CEO."

The size of the class can also affect its success.

"You'll hear lots of opinions on that," says Callahan. "It does matter. In a larger open enrollment class, 60 people wouldn't be unusual. That's OK for a custom program, but 30 is more manageable. When you have actual learning projects and more group work, it becomes harder to manage a larger group.

"But if you get small enough, you will not have certain kinds of interaction. Working on team-building skills with half-a-dozen people is pretty hard."

Companies can expect short-term and long-term improvements if the program is successful.

"You should see some immediate results in terms of energy level and focus on key initiatives," says Callahan. "If the program was designed to address a problem area, and if, in 18 months, it's gone or improving, then we have succeeded. If, after two or three years, it hasn't, then we haven't succeeded." How to reach: Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, (603) 646-2839