Elite education

Modern executive education largely takes place outside of the workplace, but still manages to focus on what corporations want in their next generation of leaders.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Greater Madison’s executive suite is graying, and so companies, organizations, and industries rely more than ever on formal executive education programs to prepare their next generation of leaders.

However, whereas in the past many industries saw workers sticking with a company long-term and slowly working their way up the corporate ladder and learning the ropes along the way, local education experts say today’s competition for the best and brightest workers is so fierce — and the workforce is so much more mobile — that organizations have had to seek more training opportunities for their workers outside of company walls.

As a result, there’s been tremendous growth in executive education and graduate business programs at Madison-area colleges and universities.

Executive education is much more targeted than it was even 10 years ago, notes Jon Kaupla, executive director of the Center for Professional and Executive Development at the Wisconsin School of Business. Clients now select or co-design programs with a much clearer understanding of what they need to advance their business and careers. “Clients are much more sophisticated about managing their talent today,” Kaupla adds.

As technology plays a larger role in all of our lives, employers must better integrate technology into executive education. When employees say they want on-demand content that can be immediately applicable/available just when they need it, they turned to programs like Skillsoft or Lynda. Unfortunately, they found that these programs have costly enterprise fees and very low utilization. “The struggle has been finding the balance between traditional executive education and the changing workforce,” Kaupla notes.

Executive education must advance to meet the needs of a global economy, acknowledges Dr. Stevie Watson, dean of the School of Business at Edgewood College. “The application of technology, ecommerce, data analytics, and more have become critical for global companies,” Watson notes. “Companies are looking to accelerate development in the areas of leadership, business strategy, execution and the vis-à-vis approach to managing teams, and critical thinking skills, so executive education programs are becoming more customized to meet the needs of corporations — and rightfully so.”

To that end, local educators are working closely with companies and organizations to tailor executive education programs to fit the unique needs of today’s workplace and workforce.

“We are seeing increasing requests from our clients for courses on topics such as innovation, business strategy, influence without direct authority, matrix management, and culture,” Kaupla says. “In addition we’re hearing more requests for design thinking as a form of meeting customer needs. As you look at the state of many organizations, the C-suite needs to be better equipped to drive agile, innovative cultures that can respond to rapidly changing business environments.

“We are also seeing an increase in demand for leadership and culture assessments. Executive leaders are realizing the power of a deeper understanding of strengths and weaknesses. They have the desire for feedback, reflection, and coaching.”

This is echoed by Dennis Wessel, director of business and industry services for the School of Professional and Continuing Education at Madison College. Among the topics the faculty and course facilitators at Madison College address are critical thinking and decision making, developing employee talent, performance, planning, and resource allocation, managing conflict and difficult situations, emotional intelligence, and diversity and multi-generations.

“We live and work in an ever-changing environment and failure to navigate change and transitions can be very costly, as well as ineffective planning and use of resources,” Wessel says. “Competition is intense, and for many industries certain standards and regulations must be met. There isn’t the time and money for re-do’s.”

Kathleen Radionoff, dean of the School of Professional and Continuing Education at Madison College, says an important thing to note about 21st century adult workers is that they’re actively seeking out training on their own in order to “upskill.”

“Employers favorably view employees who take charge of their own development,” she notes. “Another consideration is the significant increase of freelance workers who do not have access to employer-sponsored training.”

Bench coaches

According to the 2016 Trends in Executive Development Report from Executive Development Associates Inc., a consulting firm specializing in executive education, the lack of bench strength — having leaders who are prepared to step into key positions as needed — was in the top five of the most influential internal and external factors driving executive development.

Additionally, while 48% of survey respondents noted that their leadership talent pipeline was “Stronger,” 49% said their pipeline was “About the Same” or “Weaker.” The report identified two possibilities to build bench strength:

1. Wait it out. The demographics are not in our favor as the boomers exit and Gen Xers move up because there is a math problem. There are 11% fewer Gen Xers than there are baby boomers, so there are just not as many people to choose from as there were for the boomers. Not to worry though, it won’t be long until the massive Gen Y generation gives the Xers a push or a little healthy competition for the “suite seats.”

2. Progress may be made in this area as executive development professionals educate senior executives on the trends, the current state of their organization, and work together to establish bench strength targets as key business objectives.

Madison College’s Wessel says identifying and developing talent from within and the need for succession planning are some of the key motivators. “Organizations do not want to get caught with voids in key areas. We see more organizations looking to develop leaders within their organizations. Within the past several years, the number of leadership academies we are doing for companies has greatly increased.”

As local businesses and organizations look to prepare their next generation of leaders, they are looking for both technical skills — how to build a strategic plan or how to create a marketing plan — and they are also looking for wisdom from sources seemingly unrelated to their businesses, such as case studies from other industries, peer leaders from other businesses, and retired executives serving as mentors and coaches, explains Kaupla. “We’re seeing that newer leaders are more interested and more comfortable studying and applying learning from multiple contexts.”

“I think the expectations are higher,” notes Wessel. “Years ago people may have attended seminars and conferences looking to see if they could learn or pick up a few pointers or something new. Today the expectation is that we will address their specific needs and that participants will come away from our programs with specific ideas and skills they can immediately apply.”

Watson points out that sometimes the most important business lessons still do come from within. “It’s important for executive managers today who are getting close to retirement age to understand that today’s generations are different, to understand the ideas that young people bring to the table, and also to put younger people who have great potential in the position to grow,” Watson says.

“You have people in organizations from time to time who operate on fear,” Watson continues. “They don’t want to [be mentors] because they’re afraid of being pushed out of the organization themselves. It requires an understanding from current executives that it’s really about making sure the organization is in good shape for the future so it can continue to thrive with new ideas and ways of doing things that will lead to greater success.”

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All companies, great and small

One thing local experts note is that executive education isn’t just for large companies or traditionally white collar careers.

Madison College currently provides leadership development training in many different business segments, primarily for companies in the 100–600 employee range, notes Wessel. “Many larger companies have training and development staffs and oftentimes we may do something for them as part of their overall training programs, recognizing that it is good to have some exposure to people and ideas from outside the company.”

Kaupla says insurance and health care seem to be experiencing the most transformation with pretty uncertain futures. “These clients seem to be making the most investment in ensuring their leaders can be ready to meet whatever political changes occur.

“We’re also seeing a strong demand in executive education from mid-sized companies (up to about 2,500 employees) in manufacturing,” adds Kaupla. “These businesses have often grown quickly from small startups and have leadership teams who are nearing retirement age and need to quickly prepare/equip their next generational leaders to step into key leadership roles.”

Edgewood College’s Watson notes the school’s graduate business programs utilize traditional faculty members with Ph.D.s, as well as practitioners in various industries — who are all required to have master’s degrees — who can lend practical knowledge and industry experience to students.

Part of that practical wisdom transferred is the notion that executives need to understand the entirety of the business, regardless of how big or small the operation is, Watson says.

“A lot of times in business, people get focused on a specific aspect of a company and become compartmentalized,” explains Watson. “I think it’s really important for executive education programs — and many of them do this — to make sure that executive managers understand the importance of each aspect and facet of an organization and how they intertwine and interact with each other. It’s important to provide employees the opportunity to gain training and knowledge in different aspects or departments of an organization and to see how those different units interact and how they affect one another.”

Millennial machinations

As with so many areas affecting corporate culture in recent years, the question of what to do with/about/for millennials looms large.

A trait often associated with the millennial generation is a high degree of career mobility, with millennials often switching jobs and employers every few years as a means of career advancement and fulfillment, rather than the old way of paying one’s dues over many years with the same company to move ahead.

It’s created a fear among some companies that if they spend time and resources working to develop and train younger employees, those employees will just take those newfound skills elsewhere and the original company won’t see the payoff from its efforts.

However, there are many misperceptions with the millennial generation, especially around loyalty to their employers, notes Kaupla.

“Now that they have officially taken over the baby boomers as America’s largest generation in the workplace — and are arguably the most educated generation in the workplace — what we are seeing is their confidence to make career changes when they are not happy,” Kaupla explains. “Employers need to create or offer programs that increase engagement and improve the overall culture.”

Wessel says he knows the millennial question has been a topic of discussion, “but what is the alternative? To not provide training and development opportunities in fear people may leave anyway? By not providing growth and development opportunities, you are essentially guaranteeing people will be leaving your organization in search of other opportunities. The key is to develop a means of constantly encouraging, engaging, and developing talent within an organization.”

A climate of leadership and empowerment within an organization ensures that as one leader leaves, another is ready and willing to step up, notes Lynn Wood, vice president of Wood Communications Group and program director for Leadership Greater Madison and LGM-Youth. “Individuals may move frequently, but employees who feel valued want to provide value in return.”

Local executive education programs are appealing to younger professionals by designing highly engaging curricula and using a variety of instructors, from traditional faculty instructors to industry facilitators who can offer a practical viewpoint on different industries and trends.

Diversity and inclusion is also a topic that is consciously being weaved throughout training programs, notes Wessel, as is finding ways to reach students from a broader pool through online outlets and in-house training. Edgewood College, for example, has four graduate business degree programs, one of which — its Master’s of Science in Organizational Development — is conducted strictly online.

“What’s important with online education is providing flexibility for today’s business executives and managers,” says Watson. “People are multitasking, they have multiple responsibilities at their jobs, they’re working late hours, they have families to take care of. There’s lots of competition in graduate education, so one of the things we try to do is provide students with the flexibility of face-to-face classes and programs, as well as online programs.”

The UW is delivering programs in-person both at the Fluno Center and on-site at company locations across the globe. “We also are delivering more programs in a hybrid delivery platform which includes on-demand eLearning as pre-work, live online/virtual classrooms, and coaching for up to six months post program to help with application and reinforcement of learning,” Kaupla says.

“Our clients find that having successful practitioners alongside university faculty teaching our programs is very impactful,” he adds. “We also provide regular content via social media to both clients and the general community. We’ve found increased engagement in this form of social learning.”

Conversely, because advancements in technology and communication are moving at practically light speed, Wood says there isn’t any need for Leadership Greater Madison to try and teach its participants about new technology — they work with it every day.

“Where they are less likely to have experience is in the face-to-face, collaborative dynamic,” Wood explains. “The abilities to network, work together, and manage a team are essential for executive leaders. In addition, the training we provide to really dig deeply into issues and not necessarily take things at face value is something we strongly believe benefits today’s executives. In a world that focuses a lot of attention on extremes, learning to ask the right questions and look beyond the obvious is a valuable and transferrable skill.

“The fluidity of corporate and community leadership relies more than ever on the importance of creating meaningful connections,” continues Wood. “Once you are confident about creating relationships, it is easy to utilize all of the ever-changing technology and social media tools to help support those connections.”

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Badges of honor

Millennials are often chided for being the generation where everyone receives a trophy just for showing up.

While that generalization is overused and not entirely accurate, it’s not incorrect to say that most people do like to receive some recognition for the work they’ve done.

Kathleen Radionoff, dean of the School of Professional and Continuing Education at Madison College, says one way the school has begun recognizing its students is by awarding digital badges to its professional development students who successfully master their coursework.

“I recognized that adult students, particularly millennials, were not satisfied with paper certificates of completion in a world of social media. [With digital badges] adult students are able to share their accomplishments on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.”

Lessons in leadership

Training for executives isn’t just happening in classrooms or online. Now in its 24th year, Leadership Greater Madison has been providing young professionals with the tools to become successful local business leaders for more than two decades with practical, skills-building projects in the community.

Lynn Wood, vice president of Wood Communications Group and program director for Leadership Greater Madison and LGM-Youth, says among the many things that makes LGM such a success is its ability to stay nimble and adapt to the community’s changing needs. “These are skills that are applicable not only in the larger community but in our alumni’s professional and personal lives, as well,” notes Wood.

One way that LGM has evolved over the years relates to team projects. Small, hands-on group projects have always been an integral part of the program, according to Wood. Previously, teams worked directly with designated nonprofit organizations to help accomplish a specific, pre-arranged project. Now, teams work together to identify and explore a significant community issue themselves; they reach out and establish collaborative partnerships; create a workable plan; and develop a substantive and sustainable project that addresses that issue in some meaningful way.

“LGM focuses not only on the project’s end result, but on the process itself,” notes Wood. “That process is at the heart of the LGM leadership training experience. The training comes from engaging in that process, utilizing the wide variety of tools that are available, learning to work with a diverse group of individuals, and digging deeply into those challenges in a way that helps individuals see things through a different lens than they might otherwise use. That same process certainly translates to professional leadership skills.”

Wood says future leaders are motivated by the strong desire to make a difference in their professional, personal, and community lives.

“This next generation of leaders wants to be involved in the decision making at all levels of the process. They are anxious to step up and not afraid to be innovative. Business and industries need to look beyond the paycheck and provide opportunities for growth in leadership capacity.”

Educating credit union executives

Credit unions are typically small financial services operations, and as such don’t often have the resources to provide extensive executive education to their employees. It’s a problem that led the industry to find a unique outlet to solve its leadership problem.

In 1962, the Fitchburg-based Credit Union Executives Society (CUES) was born. CUES is an international membership association dedicated exclusively to the education and development of credit union CEOs, directors, and future leaders.

John Pembroke, president and CEO, Credit Union Executives Society

“We are the talent development organization for the industry worldwide,” notes John Pembroke, president and CEO. “The majority of our members are in North America but we have membership in other countries, as well.”

According to Pembroke, the current graying of the workforce is very prevalent in financial services, especially the credit union industry. It’s something that has made CUES more relevant than ever.

“We’re looking at 50% turnover at the CEO level within the next four years. We’re also at an all-time historic low for unemployment. When you combine those two factors, there’s a shortage of talent. Executive education is being used in a variety of ways to try to help credit unions win the war of talent.”

CUES offers a variety of learning platforms for rising credit union executives to appeal to all learning styles, as well as availability. The organization provides schools, seminars, conferences, institutes, webinars, and online learning/virtual classrooms.

“We also do blended learning,” notes Pembroke, “where we do live-taught online courses. There is an instructor leading the sessions, there are breakout groups where a subset of the meetings will have different groups break out and discuss certain topics on the call and interact with different online functionality before coming back to the big group to share what was discussed. Online learning can be leveraged in different ways to really improve the affordability, as well as provide a deeper and broader understanding of the content, and then online learning is also how the younger generations learn now. It’s not all face-to-face.”

With so many colleges and universities getting into the executive education game, one might wonder just why an organization like CUES is still necessary. Pembroke says it has everything to do with the group’s laser focus of the issues important to the credit union industry and how to educate credit union executives to face current challenges within the financial services sector. “Credit unions compete against banks, obviously,” he notes. “They’re often competing against larger organizations with a lot of resources. CUES is an outlet for credit unions to receive business education with an understanding of industry issues. That is our sole focus.”

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