Trends in University Executive Education

IESE Business School © IESE Business School, University of Navarra

According to IESE Business School and Financial Times (FT), the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be profound, causing potentially long-lasting changes in the way business schools teach, and in terms of the management skills executives need to succeed.

In 2020, the coronavirus significantly impacted executive education, which most often involves on-site instruction, when travel was restricted or lockdowns were in force. According to Financial Times, these challenges led to business schools having to rethink “the ways in which they teach online, blended with classroom and client-based learning; develop new partnerships and ways of working with different institutions around the world; and explore the trade-offs between price, duration and numbers of participants in their courses.” FT adds that there will likely be an increase in demand for new, relevant wisdom that already exists in business schools, as well as ways for leaders to bring external experts and insights.

According to IESE Business School professors, in addition to changes in the way executive education is taught, recovery from 2020 will present unique challenges that require specific management skills, including:

* Empathy – Professor Anneloes Raes suggests that the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes to understand what they are feeling is important in business. “This is really something that I think is very important in many business situations, whether it is about understanding your clients, understanding your team members, understanding your negotiation partners, understanding the markets.” It is especially critical in times of crisis when people are struggling.

* Flexibility – According to Professor Mireia Las Hera, “We tend to repeat things that have worked well in the past. But the year 2021, for sure, is not going to be a year that is going to be similar to anything we’ve had before.” Managers will need to exhibit mental flexibility and willingness to do things differently, even if the way they worked in the past was successful. “Either you are flexible or you die,” Las Heras says. “Because there is no way that we can navigate the situation we are living now without re-examining our own assumptions, our own way of doing things.”

* Learning agility – Learning agility incorporates both empathy and flexibility, says Marc Sosna, Executive Director of IESE’s Learning Innovation Unit. “Learning agility is a mental model or a mind-set and also a set of practices,” he stresses. “Companies will need to change their strategies, change their business models, and take into consideration many more external factors and trends than they ever had to before,” Sosna says. “Learning agility will be an incredibly important aspect of being successful in that.”

* Data-driven decision-making – “The key benefit of data-driven decision-making is that it removes and reduces the importance of, or the effect of, human biases, of human emotions, from the decision-making,” says Professor Sampsa Samila. Having objective measures instead of relying on emotions or intuition can help produce better decisions.

* Lean budgeting – Professor Edi Soler points out that more flexibility will be needed all areas of the company. “I think we need to start getting used to this new concept of frugality, which means utilizing resources in the most efficient way. This is all about doing more and better with fewer resources,” Soler says. “I suggest that companies should go into the details of all the costs and resources and just start from zero. Start from scratch.”

For more information on trends in executive education delivery, visit the FT Web site.

For additional information on key leadership skills for 2021, visit the IESE Web site.

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