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Working with business and forging partnerships

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Executive education and development

One of the most sustained ways in which HEIs develop partnerships with business is through customized executive education.

As distinct from off-the-shelf courses, which plug gaps in the executives' knowledge and skills, bespoke programmes tailor the training to the strategic needs of the company, hence providing education in context.

There is thus a strong consultancy element as the business school will work with an organization to find an intervention that is appropriate to the organization's goals.

Duke Corporate Education, of Duke Fuqua University, and IMD are respectively first and second in executive education according to the FT Business School rankings (IMD is first in Europe).

Duke Corporate Education works closely with the organization to design an individual programme, and the objectives are derived from the particular business challenge it faces. The analysis involves a deceptively simple process of examining what employees need to know, do and believe in order to effect lasting change.

Image - Figure 1. Diagram illustrating Duke's analysis of corporate training requirements, © Duke Corporate Education.

Figure 1. Diagram illustrating Duke's analysis of corporate training requirements (© Duke Corporate Education)

Once the needs have been assessed the programme can be put together, drawing on the staff at Duke, their academic affiliates and partner institutions from around the world, including the prestigious London School of Economics. The programme venue is also up for discussion with the client, and the teaching method – which may be either a traditional approach or a novel one, such as action learning – is chosen to suit the objectives.

IMD's partnership programmes, of which it delivered 150 with 123 clients in 2007, are tailor-made to a particular client and the challenges they face. As with Duke Corporate Education, IMD works very thoroughly on the development process to understand the context within which the programme must take place and what should be its top priority.

According to Mike Stanford, director of IMD's partnership programmes, its training courses may be on a whole range of issues, such as:

  • helping a wholesale bank move to solution selling and building stronger relationships with its clients;
  • a utility company develop processes for buying and integrating smaller utility companies;
  • a global construction company establish a global supply chain company; or
  • the finance function of a global bank develop communication, continuous improvement and HR processes so that it becomes a unified global finance organization.

A key characteristic of all programmes is that they seek to have a direct impact on performance: "Application is the dominant approach at IMD", according to Stanford, and a variety of approaches are used depending on the issue to be addressed. One of these is action learning, "whether the emphasis is on capability building or helping a team reach its business goals", to make sure that "we have a significant impact on the individuals, teams and organizations that rely on us to support their work".

The two-year partnership with Borealis exemplifies the active learning approach to executive development. When considering executive education institutes, Borealis vice president of human resources, Jaap de Vries, knew that IMD talked the right language when they explained that management teams learn best when actively engaged in the learning process.

To turn the company from being an underperforming middling player, an executive development programme was created called Courage to Lead. The programme was specifically designed to cut across functions, cultures, age and gender, to include senior leaders, mavericks, and young guns. Its final message was to keep driving innovation forward and hence outsmart the competition, and it resulted in 30 new business projects, as well as a more integrated network within the company as the result of so many different levels working together during the executive programme.

However, according to Connor and Hirsh (2008), HEIs are not always the best providers of bespoke courses: they may not be set up to deliver courses on the short turnaround demanded by industry, and in the experiential and facilitative style preferred. In that respect, they may find themselves competing with private training providers.

Where universities do have a key advantage is that they can offer accreditation, and it is to this that we shall now turn.

Accredited courses

Employees will want to go to universities for their development needs, according to Connor and Hirsh (2008), if the latter can provide leading edge knowledge. In today's knowledge economy, professions are fragmenting and reforming; also, in many cases, the knowledge required is changing and increasing. An MBA has long been considered a useful passport to the higher echelons of management; however, we have also seen a growth in more specialist master's degree courses such as the MSc in financial mathematics mentioned above.

Sheffield University Department of Information Studies has developed a number of master's degree courses in response to what it sees as the market need: it has revamped its MSc in Health Informatics to make it international, and it is adding programmes on information literacy, electronic and digital library management and legal information management. All these support roles are carried out by information professionals.

Achieving accreditation was a part of the motivation for Emerald's partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University to deliver an MA in International Business. The management team was looking for ways of recognizing the achievements of staff who completed the company's in-house staff development course, the action learning based "Academy" programme, which involved working on a company project outside the immediate scope of their job. Enrolling on the MA programme means that this learning can be accredited.

According to Mark Hindwell, head of external relations and a student on the course, the appeal of this degree lies in its international aspect, matching the increasingly international dimension of the company which deals with people all over the world, and which has opened up several new branches in other countries including the USA and China. The degree has modules on cross-cultural management and international strategy; an MBA, he felt, would not have had the same components, but would focus instead on more quantitative aspects, such as accountancy and economics.

The course is exactly the same as that done by full-time and part-time students at Leeds Met, but is geared to Emerald's requirements in several ways. Delivery is on site at Emerald's Bingley office by Leeds Metropolitan staff, and the Emerald cohort (the programme is open to employees at all levels) is allowed time off to attend lectures and seminars.

Relevant case studies are used, illustrative of the field in which the cohort is working, so that they can transfer the knowledge gained into practice. A specific set of optional modules are chosen that are relevant to all (it would obviously not be practical for a small cohort to choose different modules, although it would have been possible to tweak modules or even design specific ones).

The research dissertation must be company related, for example one student is hoping to look at the cross-cultural implications of the learning organization.

According to Fojt et al. (2008: p. 149) the degree programme helps to fulfil the objectives of:

  • creating the company's future,
  • demonstrating the managerial and scholarly academic competences of the learner.

The fact that it is available at all levels of the company means that all employees gain confidence to put forward proposals, thus maximizing the thinking power available to the company.