Using Executive Education As A Strategic Tool

Either way, not everyone is decisive about enrolling into executive programmes as it involves both time and money – depending upon one’s circumstances, either or both of them can be a major constraint. However, pursuing executive education can be a strategic step for an executive as well as the organization to which s/he belongs.

It is common knowledge that education empowers one with better intellect and wisdom; but, executive education, in addition, enables one to achieve a faster career progression. Executive education provides two types of opportunities to working executives – one, opportunity of higher education to those who entered job market at an early stage of their life with just basic qualifications and who now want to explore new career possibilities, and two, opportunity of continuous education to those who want to refresh or upgrade their skills alongside their current job so as to advance their career potential or move to leadership positions. The first type of opportunity may require enrolment in longer run programmes (2-year/1-year), while the need of the second type could range from a longer programme of 1 or 2 years to programmes of a few months, weeks or even days. Irrespective of the nature of the opportunity, the purpose of both groups may be a better career, particularly with the longer duration programmes. In other words, while seeking executive education, some might be targeting the next hierarchical levels in their functional roles while others might be seeking leadership roles after having sailed through their earlier operational roles. 

Either way, not everyone is decisive about enrolling into executive programmes as it involves both time and money – depending upon one’s circumstances, either or both of them can be a major constraint. However, pursuing executive education can be a strategic step for an executive as well as the organization to which s/he belongs. 

From an organizational point of view, it is a strategic tool for HR managers who face the brunt of employee grievances and frequent employee departures leading to lost expertise and recruitment pressures. Executive education can be used by organizations as an allurement to retain employees who otherwise would have been part of the turnover. Executive programmes help the employees enhance their skills and claim faster career advancements. If organizations can facilitate this, they will have reason to be loyal to the organization. Even if an organization is unable to create new opportunities, the skill development support employees received from the organization may attach them to the organization and help them contribute more to their jobs. More significantly, an executive’s continuation with the organization can be assured with an educational sponsorship at least during the tenure of the education programme (which could be 2-3 years in a longer duration programme), because the executive may feel disruption if he leaves the organization during the programme due to various reasons: s/he may not find a new organization ready to offer sponsorship so early, her/his focus on the programme may get affected due to the transition, or it may be difficult for her/him to give adequate time, with a programme in hand, to the new responsibilities and the new organization where s/he has to establish herself/himself afresh. Even after completing the programme, it may take some time for the executive to find a new job if s/he is determined to quit or if her/his organization is unable to accommodate her/his higher expectations arising from the newly acquired skills. Following several motivational theories including Maslow’s theory on hierarchy of needs, Vroom’s expectancy theory and Ouchi’s Theory Z, there is even a chance that the executive may not leave the organization due to the enhanced motivation or out of his gratitude. The financial obligation associated with the sponsorship may also play a role. 

For executives too, executive education can be a strategic tool under two circumstances – one, significant further career progress within or outside the organization requires further skill enhancement, and two, there is a recruitment freeze or tightening or a freeze on promotions or salary hikes due to a difficult business situation. Particularly if such circumstances are likely to continue for some time (maybe years), it would be in the interest of an executive to acquire valuable skills that may help her/him to get those few rare job openings or get the early openings when the market revives. The difficult times that otherwise could have been a cause of demotivation and despair can be, thus, effectively used to come out stronger for the opportunities that arise with the job market revival. 

One important point to remember here is that for those who target, in the post-executive education scenario, leadership roles as compared to their earlier functional roles, the right educational focus (especially when seeking post-graduate programmes) should be a general management exposure with a specialization in Strategic Management and related areas. On the other hand, for those who target better functional roles as compared to their current roles, the right choice of programmes will be from among relevant functional specializations that may strengthen their functional expertise. 

As an additional point, executive education is not a strategic tool just for executives and organizations; it can be so for the country as well. Once upon a time, Indian universities like Nalanda were international centres of learning. Today, the US universities are playing this role. But, given India’s knowledge economy, intellectual resources, and low-cost position, India can (and should) again become an educational hub. However, it may take some time to attract foreign students to India on a large scale, in view of the visa issues, law and order anxieties, and other economic and cultural factors. Till such time, the internet and digital/distance learning technologies could be used to explore large-scale enrolment of foreign students in Indian educational programmes from around the world (including African, Latin American and other developing countries). Executive education could be a big beneficiary of this possibility. We could just commence the process by connecting our diaspora (such as in Persian Gulf countries) to the executive education programmes already offered by Indian institutions. It could, then, be expanded to other regions and customers. This may help develop Indian educational brand expectations in a way that could aid future popularity of Indian education abroad. By spreading Indian education, India may also be able to cultivate more intellectual support abroad.

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'Nov. 20, 2018' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue Nov-Dec 2018'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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