18 Nov 2005

Seniors, too, still keen to learn

By Ian Grayson for CNN

(CNN) — While executive education is usually associated with professionals just starting out in the world of business, the learning process often continues throughout a successful career.

Even after climbing to positions such as general manager, managing director or even CEO, executives still find reasons to brush up on skills and learn new techniques that can assist them in their daily endeavours.

Around the world, business schools and executive education specialists are noting this trend and creating courses specifically for people with considerable real-life experience. They believe anyone can benefit from continued learning, regardless of how much success they have already enjoyed.

But rather than shoehorning senior executives into standardized courses, schools are going to great lengths to create content and structures that reflect the particular requirements and goals of individuals.

Where MBA degrees, for example, spend considerable time focusing on functional skills, these have already been acquired by senior executives. There is little point in lecturing a CEO about the basics of financials or introductory management theory.

Rather, course content tends to be focused on higher skills such as strategic thinking, organizational dynamics and personal management skills.

Schools report growing demand for education covering these areas, as senior executives find themselves wrestling with complex challenges such as globalization, information technology and changing market forces.

Chief executive of UK-based Ashridge Business School Kai Peters says many courses end up being individually crafted and run for very small groups of executives from a particular firm.

"Designing and running courses for senior executives is a major challenge," he told CNN. "Getting agendas to co-ordinate among a group of senior executives is notoriously difficult, and also many issues faced by senior executives are not group challenges but are questions of internal strategy and thus company specific, or they are personal and thus more one-on-one."

Peters says getting very senior executives to come to "open" programs is usually quite difficult. The real growth is coming from one-on-one coaching sessions or custom courses for very small groups.

Coaching session

"We recently launched a new leadership for senior leaders initiative, but quickly redesigned it to address new CEOs and the chairman of the board as a 'pair' who would have to work together," he says. "The intervention effectively became a facilitated coaching session rather than a course."

Other schools, such as the U.S.-based HarvardBusinessSchool and the Sasin business school in Thailand, also offer opportunities for senior executives. Both have developed focused short courses looking at particular business challenges and exploring the skills needed to address them.

The Sasin Senior Executive Program is a three-week course taught by professors from Kellogg and Wharton business schools. Areas covered include change management, the global economic environment and corporate financial decisions.

Participants stay in a resort location in Thailand for the duration of the course. As well as providing a stimulating environment, this ensures they remain away from the day-to-day distractions of their regular positions. The three-week course costs about $12,000.

Ashbridge's Peters says more senior executives are opening themselves to the concept of further education because of the increasing rate of change in their industries.

He says questions being asked include 'how to manage in a knowledge-based economy', and 'how do you deal with workers when knowledge is more important than physical products?'

"We ma

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