A New Era for Open Enrollment Programs

The international story is the same at Columbia, Darden and MIT, where shorter-term offerings draw closer-to-home participants, and programs longer than a week have populations where more than half the participants come from outside the United States.

For domestic and international participants alike, part of the draw of open enrollment is for an individual to accelerate growth of their leadership skills. In three intensive weeks at the Tuck Executive Program, we help participants take their career to the next level. They increase their capacity to make decisions and exercise judgment – which bolsters their credibility and readiness to lead. A significant part of the coursework is presenting versions of real-world problems and giving participants a framework to tackle those issues.

A network that extends beyond the classroom

One of the often overlooked benefits of open enrollment is the opportunity for participants to build an external network. We see a lot of open enrollment participants who are homegrown talent, and for those executives – who may have spent their entire career climbing the ladder of a single organization – it is a tremendous benefit to have exposure to other corporate cultures.

“It’s a safe environment to explore different challenges,” Columbia’s Malefakis says. “With such a diverse group of senior executives, we’re modeling the complexity of the world a little bit in open enrollment – things are a little less predictable. The skill of faculty is helping participants share their varied experiences in a way that allows senior executives learn from each other.”

Frequently, we hear stories of participants calling or emailing colleagues from other companies after the program concludes, asking for their thoughts on an obstacle or issue. From a benchmarking perspective, that connectivity is also a key asset as participants share different organizational approaches to problem-solving and process improvements.

While the e-learning trend has caught on for broad employee and manager-level trainings, in-person delivery still reigns supreme at the higher end of the leadership pyramid. However, we are seeing the rise of social networking, which many schools are utilizing to help facilitate the evolution of those networks even once a program has ended. For example, dedicated LinkedIn groups for Tuck program alumni help to foster communication among learners and often times, faculty involvement as well.

Hirst says the power of place still cannot be underestimated. Speaking of MIT’s campus, he observes, “So much innovation happens here, to be a part of that lends even more to experience than just the content alone. Our content has always centered on seismic shifts around individuals and markets – the market may change, but the themes are always familiar – transformation, leadership in times of change, technology and innovation.”

One of the distinctive features of Tuck’s programs is the campus’s retreat-like setting. Away from the distractions of a large metropolitan area, it is conducive to reflection and community-building, promoting informal interactions with faculty and fellow participants outside the classroom.

Open programs also provide a rich opportunity for faculty to share new material with executive learners with varied backgrounds and organizational experience. “For those new ideas in our portfolio, open enrollment is a place to explore how to teach that new content and pedagogy,” said Darden’s Newkirk. “Creativity comes from assembling diverse parts. And open enrollment allows senior executives to get exposed to a true diversity of people in the room.

So while custom programs remain a key solution for organizations addressing a specific, strategic objective, open enrollment has evolved to meet the needs of a new generation of executives – many of whom already have MBAs or formal business education. An open program’s just-in-time learning and development experience for executives is a great opportunity to develop networks and the leadership skills required to reach the next level of effective leadership. In the end, it is the combined strengths of both custom and open programs that foster individual learning and transform organizations.

Drawing on his extensive experience in executive development in the US and Europe, Clark Callahan oversees Executive Education and all non-degree programs at the Tuck school. In addition, he works closely with corporate clients on custom engagements and consortium programs.


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