A New Era for Open Enrollment Programs

For at least a decade, the Executive Education industry has predicted that custom programs – rigorously crafted to fulfill the strategic objectives of global companies – would be the future lifeblood of our business. Left behind would be the traditional open programs that attract executives from a plethora of firms to learn together in the same classroom. And considering the economic ups and downs of recent decades, that trend in thinking made sense. In the past, my colleagues and I have seen the demand for open enrollment programs ebb and flow with the historical tide of business cycles.

In fact, what we’ve found at Tuck is a renewed interest in open enrollment programs, specifically around leadership development and addressing gaps in corporate bench-strength at the highest levels. Many of my colleagues have also witnessed a renewed commitment by industry to developing the leadership pipeline and using talent management as a strategic competitive advantage.

Dr. Peter Hirst, executive director for the Office of Executive Education at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, remembers the environment in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks, where executive education budget lines were likely to be tabbed as discretionary spending, and programs were also impacted by curbed spending on all forms of business travel.

Hirst says the environment feels different this time around. “Those kinds of cuts haven’t quite been the case this recession,” he said. “Ten years ago, people talked about the importance of human capital, but didn’t walk the walk. There now seems to be a more mature understanding – and a more thoughtful approach to managing human capital in companies – people are seen as a worthwhile investment that help sustain the enterprise over the long term.”

According to a November 2010 CLO magazine survey of senior HR executives, the trend for training budgets looks to improve in 2011, with 43 percent of respondents expecting an increase in their budget for this year. Overall, the survey found that budgets for 2011 were expected to grow about 4 percent on average, and also noted that leadership and executive development remains a high priority for most organizations.

If you think of executive learning on a continuum with BUSINESS IMPACT on one end and PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT on the other, custom programs tip toward promoting organization-wide transformation while open programs focus more on individual transformation. However, open and custom programs can complement each other, and many top learning organizations utilize both types of programs to meet their needs.

We tell our clients that a big part of the value of customized programs lies in developing a corporate-wide point of view on how best to tackle a strategic challenge. Over the years, we have seen many of our long-time clients send employees to both custom and open enrollment programs, finding the programs work in harmony to meet their learning and development needs. It’s not uncommon for participants from open enrollment programs to return to their organizations and encourage senior leaders to create a similar learning experience geared specifically to their company’s strategic objectives.

As companies recognize the need to invest in developing and retaining talent, executive education plays a significant role in retention strategies. For today’s executive population – increasingly diverse in gender, ethnicity, race, culture, and religion – individual development opportunities are important milestones. And unquestionably, the content of our executive education programs has evolved continuously over the past 10 years to meet the needs of these truly global citizens.

A new brand of executive education for a global world

The executive education industry’s programs were once somewhat of a proxy for a full MBA degree and traditionally, executives who attended were those who had reached a point in their career where an MBA-like learning experience was seen to be a required credential for their position. That mindset has evolved. Exec Ed has matured into a platform for delivering cutting-edge research and innovative ideas to the marketplace, creating high-impact learning opportunities that equip executive learners to face current and future business challenges. It’s not about getting an MBA or attending executive education programs – both have relevance for today’s top leaders.

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