Fixing Executive Education


There is something wrong with executive education when substantial amounts of spending and effort, particularly in the areas of strategic thinking and change management,  do not appreciably improve the overall level of middle manager performance. Even though I teach executive education (strategy and organizational transformation) at a top business school, I have yet to see definitive research that links high levels of executive education with increased and sustained rates of individual and corporate performance. 

For the foreseeable future, corporate learning will remain a staple of executive efforts to improve productivity and the level of human capital. Enhancing middle management performance makes intuitive sense.  Furthermore, corporate education provides a number of ancillary benefits including enhanced morale and team building.  Yet, what can be done to close the educational gap between intent and performance? 

In my experience, there are many causes for poor executive educational performance.  For example, educators often have insufficient real-world and cross-functional business experience to teach complex subjects like strategy and change.  Secondly, student are rarely taught how to think strategically as opposed to using blunt instruments like benchmarking and SWOT analysis.

Thirdly, most programs rely on traditional lecturing and case studies to transmit information. Although this pedagogy has some advantages, it is not the best approach to imparting knowledge and triggering behavioral change.  Finally, most courses are siloed in terms of content and intent.  However, most managers recognize that problems and opportunities are never limited to one functional area or issue.

Given these challenges, what can firms do to improve educational effectiveness and pay back?

Increase relevance through customization

Many generic subjects like project management can be effectively taught in all organizations.  However, some complex areas such as change management and strategy are best taught by incorporating the company’s competitive challenges as well as organizational considerations into the content. 

Utilize practitioners who can facilitate

Not only do practitioners bring greater credibility to the classroom but they will also be able to convey richer insights and experiences as well as stimulate peer-based learning.

Leverage experiential methods

There is extensive research has shows that experiential teaching methods – simulations, games, and role plays – are superior to any other form of knowledge diffusion.

Teach strategic thinking

Typical strategy courses focuses on the “what” of strategy development and problem solving but little in terms of “how” you would accomplish this.  On the other hand, our programs emphasize learning-by-doing through the use of powerful tools such as problem visualization, making sense of data and business case development.

Follow up

Sobering research says that 90% of everything we learn  is forgotten 72 hours after we are first exposed to it.  Given this, we should not be surprised when individuals do not leverage their learnings in their jobs.  To drive real behavioral changes, corporate education must be an ongoing process and feature regular diagnostic checkpoints.    

Measure the results

Like any other investment, educational effectiveness and payback needs to be periodically measured through the actions of individuals & teams and the outcomes of their projects.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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1 comment so far

  1. Marie on

    I’m getting ready to take an executive education course and am now very intrigued to see how it goes. I’ll take into consideration some of the points you bring up, especially if the teacher does not seem to have real world experience. I think that is a huge disadvantage to students. I’m hoping I don’t have an experience like this because I’ve only heard good things about the course I’ll be taking and the school, Thunderbird.


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