In today's turbulent economy, executives are under pressure to meet ever increasing demands and learn new skills in order to succeed. Many times, on-the-job training is not enough. That is where executive education can fill knowledge and skill gaps.
Executive education consists of intensive academic programs designed for business leaders to enhance specific skills or address specific organizational challenges without the long-term commitment of a degree program. Custom programs are growing in popularity as academic institutions partner up with organizations to create executive education programs tailored to meet the needs and challenges of that organization.
A custom executive education program is exactly what one Mason client, a division from a Fortune 500 company, needed to address their retention problem and recreate the culture.
Four years ago, this client's division had a reputation for producing top-notch talent, but internally was considered only a stepping-stone to more prestigious positions within the organization. Other divisions within the company were using them as a reliable recruiting resource.
One senior manager wanted to change this. He wanted to find a way to make his division a place where people wanted to stay—a destination, not just a gateway to a better position elsewhere. He wanted to give his employees a compelling reason to stay.
More money was the easy answer, but a difficult promise. Instead the client offered employees something they were not offered elsewhere.
The division partnered with George Mason's Executive Education team within the School of Business to customize an invitation-only, intensive one-week curriculum that included lectures with top-level professors reinforced with practical exercises to test for understanding, open dialogue with guest speakers from economists to CIOs, individual leadership analysis to maximize management skills, a competitive business simulation challenge, and high-level executive involvement.
"Giving individuals more money as an incentive to stay is one answer to address retention problems, but usually not the most effective," says Dr. Roy Hinton, associate dean of executive education at George Mason's School of Business. "This custom program offered managers a chance to network with peers, develop leadership, communications and business skills, and engage with senior leadership within their organization."
The client noticed that the employees that were most vulnerable to turnover tended to be regional managers who were driven, ambitious, and overachieving. Offering them an invitation to this exclusive custom executive education experience was a great opportunity to provide them additional employment benefits and enable them to focus on professional development, strengthen strategic techniques, and learn measureable business skills.
For the client's regional managers, who are on the front lines, the custom executive education program fulfilled a real need. These managers face business and industry challenges on a daily basis including economic uncertainty and the complexities of globalization. This was a unique opportunity to further cultivate internal talent and also provide additional value to retain these managers within the division.
One participant said, "By far the most intense, thought provoking, and gratifying program I have ever been part of. Many of the things I learned at Mason help me today to be a better leader, innovator, and typically result in more revenue for my team."
This customized program is a prime example of the benefits an executive education can deliver to an organization. Executive education is a good use of time, money, and energy, and its impact is measurable in the increased productivity the participants and organizations realize. It builds a network among professionals, increases confidence, and of course, provides new skills to participants. Mason's executive education programs provide high-impact, results-driven executive training that translates into tangible value for an organization by building the knowledge, skills, and motivation that support the team's performance goals.
Since the client's first program, the benefits have continued to grow for their division. Retention improved after the first year, and now it's at an all-time high. What was once a net exporter of talent has become a net importer of talent from other divisions within the company. Participants formed an online alumni network that is now more than 100 members and select alumni return as guest speakers in subsequent programs. Other participants have recreated exercises for their own teams and direct reports, and invitations to attend have become highly coveted.
Businessweek magazine estimates that executive education in the United States is approximately an $800 million annual business with approximately 80 percent provided by university-based business schools. Customized programs, which are tailored for and offered to executives of a single company, represent the fastest growing segment of the market.
Despite the growing popularity of executive education, the global economic recession has challenged the industry's growth during the past few years, but as the economy is showing signs of improvement, increased executive education training has followed.
"Executive education is the answer to many problems," says Hinton. "It can become a transformative experience for an entire organization."