Executive Education, Q&A

Executive Education Excellence

Eric Weber, associate dean of IESE Business School, discusses how and why the school’s executive education consistently ranks high in the Financial Times annual rankings.

Eric Weber. Photo by Roger Rovira.

IESE Business School, the graduate business school of the University of Navarra, consistently ranks on the Financial Times’ annual twin rankings of executive education programs worldwide; the publication does separate rankings for open-enrollment programs and customized courses. For the 2018 Executive Education Rankings, IESE was ranked No. 1 for the fourth consecutive year for customized programs and third for open enrollment.

Headquartered in Barcelona, IESE is the first European business school to establish a permanent residency in the U.S., opening a center in New York City in 2007. Chief Learning Officer spoke with Eric Weber, associate dean and professor of accounting and control at IESE, about what sets the business school’s offerings apart and what he sees on the horizon for executive education.

Chief Learning Officer: What do you think makes your executive education programs stand out?

There are four things that are key to our ranking results in custom programs. The first one is [we] listen to our clients. [The second is our] faculty have a deep understanding of complex global problems, and they know how to deliver those situations through case methods in class. The third point has to do with our philosophy — how it works with participants, clients and organizations. We try to build a relationship and understand the organization’s learning and development needs for [participants] at different stages of their careers. The last point has to do with the fact that we don’t claim to have the solution to all the problems. We help participants in open-enrollment or in custom programs to navigate and improve in prudential decision-making.

CLO: One of the things participants say they value about IESE’s open-enrollment programs is they encourage new ways of thinking and equip them with new skills and perspectives that are directly relevant to their work. Can you talk a bit about how your programs do this? What about your programs is special in that regard?

We help participants navigate and improve in prudential decision-making — that means everything we do in the classroom is a call to action. Participants must stand on their feet and say, “In this situation, this is how I will address it; this is what I would do.” We do all this from a general management perspective. The technical lingo [participants] might have not known, but the application of that knowledge will help them make better decisions.

We provide a more complete framework for decision-making. We work three different distinct levels, the [first being] knowledge. This is difficult to compete across business schools because knowledge travels quickly. [Participants must] be competent and understand the knowledge in their field. The second level is skills: communication, negotiation, critical thinking. All those tools/techniques that a manager/participant needs to make better decisions. We also focus on the third level, which is attitudes and value. This has to do with three levers: prudence, prudential decision-making and justice.

CLO: Can you talk a bit about your new New York-based executive education program, Driving Leadership Potential, targeted toward high-performing millennials? You mentioned the program offers learning “portion control” to young managers. What does that mean?

People have less time to do training programs. [We are] aware of this and designed a program that is rigorous and helps young high-potential individuals in organizations take performance to the next level. The result is this developing leadership potential program that has six milestones — leadership, driving business performance, strategic thinking, entrepreneurial mindset, digital acumen, and effective communication and negotiation.

One component is discovery, which is a self-paced module participants do online. We are helping them develop a skill set. Each of these six milestones has a discovery part. The second phase is the discussion part, which is done in a day and a half. [This comprises an intense and realistic combination of sessions, workshops and guest speakers.] There’s parts of the program which have to do with a personalized leadership growth journey where we are working on their life story. There’s mentoring, coaching, interactive exercises and active vision for their future and career.

When we say “portion-control,” this [means] that we can offer all the elements considered important in a program of this nature, easily digestible by participants, minimizing time away from the office.

CLO: What are some of the biggest changes taking place in executive education right now? How is it being changed by technology? How is it changing to meet the needs of more digital-savvy generations?

Technology enables and provides access to training and development in many ways to different people that before would have been impossible to think about. Look at the MOOCs, open and massive online courses. These are magnificent ways for organizations to provide hundreds and thousands of people some form of education. [The findings] in that space focus on very specific skills, capsules of knowledge [individuals] need now to get a task done. This is great, quick, online and cheap. Technology is a tremendous tool.

Something technology doesn’t do very well, where I think traditional forms of learning, development, business schools and programs still have an upper edge, is prudential decision-making. [We] do this in our programs. We give them the tools and skills not only to understand them but also the mental framework of how to link these loosely presented partial and incomplete pieces of information into a whole — a process of synthesis that we call the inference process. That’s where technology one day might move to, but for now it is done better in a traditional learning and development setting.

CLO: In what subject areas or professional functions are you seeing the highest demand?

Everything related to digital: digital instruction, digital transformation, digital innovation, digital customer synchronicity. In our case, anything global: global business, global leadership, how to do business globally, how to take business from being regional to local-regional countries to more the global company. How do we foster leadership? How do we lead organizations particularly in light of millennials, technology and destruction? What kind of leadership skills are going to take companies that are represented in the classroom to the next level? [Also] strategy implementation. It is not enough just to craft a good strategy. How do you implement that to an organization with good leadership and execution to get things done, solve problems, take action, deliver what your strategy is supposed to deliver?

It’s those four things: digital, global, leadership and strategy implementation.

CLO: Do you feel the traditional MBA is being disrupted by microlearning opportunities?

There’s two answers to this, the first one being short-term: yes. We look at the short-term needs of individuals and reflect on how technology offers this opportunity of learning in a quick, online, cheap way. Microlearning opportunities are attractive, nimble, agile, provide [participants a powerful skill.] There are some that are almost fooled into believing that’s all they need to progress in their careers and their life.

The second answer [relates to] long-term effects. One must think about the short-term benefits but also the long-term consequences of learning and development. Microlearning is not as helpful yet as what we are doing in the classroom in prudential decision-making. The longer-term career advancement of [those who take] shorter skills-based programs versus participants who might take a traditional MBA … there’s a difference in terms of advancement in their careers, pay and positions they have in the organization. Those [who] are engaging more in microlearning and taking short courses see this plateau in their career perspectives, whereas people that have MBAs of a five-year, 10-year, 15-year progression see they are advancing at higher levels of responsibility and go through higher levels of pay.

Microlearning is a new phenomenon, but the early research show there’s more of a plateauing effect versus a longer steady progression for people who have done the traditional MBA.

Rocio Villaseñor is a Chief Learning Officer editorial associate. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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