Announcing Execucoach-Course-Finder

Few HR executives find the time to keep track of latest developments in the ever-changing Business School environment. The result is that, when ad hoc requests come in from a senior manager to help find an executive development program, the search can consume precious hours, and even then yield just one solution, rather than the best possible option. Execucoach Course-Finder, available later this month will provide a tool to enable the executive or their HR adviser to very rapidly identify a suitable course from among those offered by the world's leading schools.

Course- Finder has been developed in partnership by HBC and Business Integration. The tool differs from currently available directories in that:

  • It includes only the World's leading Business Schools. Many directories are too inclusive, putting the onus on the user to know their Business Schools. Most people have heard of Insead or Harvard - but what about IESE or Fuqua - world-class or also-rans? * The School selection is made using surveys from both sides of the Atlantic (egg. Financial Times, Business Week), together with my own experience of working with Business Schools.

  • Updates are made monthly, so that new courses are regularly added, old ones removed and cost and date information are accurate.

  • The database is searchable by up to 10 criteria, including factors such as maximum duration and preferred date - often key considerations in these time-constrained days.

  • A 'guided search' option is available to help the user think through exactly what sort of course they want.

  • The tool also includes:

    • profiles of each school, highlighting their particular strengths
    • guidance on what Business school programmes can and can't do
    • tips on getting the best from a Business School programme

  • Once the choice is made, the tool has a one-click link to the Business School Web-site for full course information or for on-line registration.
Course-Finder is available for corporate subscriptions. Enquiries are welcome from companies, or from third parties interested in selling the tool into their own customer-base.

Also coming soon - news of Development-Adviser a second Executive Development tool in the Execucoach suite.

* Both IESE and Duke-Fuqua are included in our database.

Business School watch

For many years one of the criticisms laid at the door of the Business Schools was that stimulating and developmental as they might be for the individual, there was often little corporate benefit to show for quite substantial investments. To some extent these concerns were addressed in company-specific programmes, where Business School input could be combined with discussions about application, visits from company senior executives etc. AIMS, an 18-month programme I directed for Digital Equipment Corporation, in partnership with INSEAD, involved participants working between modules on action-research projects in customer organisations.

The final module saw participants, customers and Digital's board coming together with faculty to discuss the implication of the research for their globalisation efforts; a case of executive development informing and shaping, not simply implementing, corporate strategy.

However, company-specific programmes are not a practical option for many medium-sized companies. Business schools often work on an assumed group size of 40+ participants - just look at the their amphi-theatres! The economics of customised programmes for smaller groups can be prohibitive at most mainstream schools.

Consortia programmes are another option. In these, several companies join together, each sending 5 or 6 people to each course. The participating companies agree the focus and design of the programme between them. Consortia are a great idea in principle, but in practice they can often be marred by problems. One or two large players may dominate the consortium, companies may vary in their commitment to the programme, and interests that once converged may drift apart over time.

Given all this, it is interesting to note the introduction of team enrolments, especially among the US-based schools. It is true that for some programmes, diversity of participants is the goal, and forms a key part of the learning experience, so that enrolments from the same company are restricted.

But for others, the enrolment of small groups from the same company is encouraged. Often there are discounts for multiple registrations and, most importantly, time is set aside on the programme for these groups to work on their own company issues with the benefit of faculty and peer coaching. Also on offer for some programmes are pre-programme materials to conduct a company diagnosis or prepare a company case, and post-programme follow-up.

This approach seems particularly helpful for addressing issues that need cross-functional understanding and effort to succeed - for example Supply Chain or New Product Development. By sending key people from the relevant functions together, they have the opportunity to develop a common perspective and process, as well as to build the personal relationships that will help them work effectively as a team.

Devil's Advocate: In support of the Course

Headlines announcing the imminent demise of the course seem to come around with depressing regularity. Often they are accompanied by predictions about some new approach to learning that will make the course obsolete; Computer-based training, Action Learning, Executive Coaching, Self-Managed Development, and now of course, Web-based learning. Evidence is mustered about how ineffective the course is as a means of learning useful, job- relevant information, how difficult it is to have whole weeks off the job in today's leaner organisation, how little is retained months after the programme, and of course the difficulty of transferring learning from the classroom to the workplace.

Yet, for all this, the course has proved remarkably resilient. How are we to explain its survival?

One central criticism of the course is that in replicating the 'school' model most of us encountered in childhood, it encourages learners to be passive, to believe that they are learning only when someone is teaching them. But the very familiarity of the course may be one reason for its continuity. Managers understand the notion of a 'course' in a far more tangible way than they understand 'action learning' or 'self-managed development'. A course has a structure, a time and a place. It seems to be more of their world than some of the fuzzy fads that excite the HR manager.

If it is true (at least in part) that courses survive because they are comfortable and familiar, it is also true that alternative approaches have foundered on their very unfamiliarity. Attempts to propel managers too fast in either the high tech or the high touch direction have simply provoked resistance or indifference.

But the real secret of the course's survival, just as in the natural world, is adaptation. What we call a 'course' today may bear little resemblance to its chalk and talk predecessor.

  • Courses today are shorter, and often modular.

  • They are often integrated into an individual, group or organisational development program as just one of many learning strategies.

  • Participants may complete self-paced pre-work so that course time is not used for transmitting basic information.

  • Application is more likely to take place on the job using support mechanisms set up on or through the course e.g. Projects completed between modules, Support and Challenge groups.

  • The focus may be the intact work team rather than the individual to create greater synergy.

  • The trainer may become more a facilitator of learning that a transmitter of information.

The Digital AIMS programme I referred to in the Business School Watch section of this newsletter was the most radical and innovative learning process I have been involved in, with some of the most powerful individual and organisational learning. Built on a learning alliance that engaged Digital, its customers and leading academics in an exploration of the issues of globalisation, it genuinely created new knowledge rather than simply transmitting what was already known. Participants learnt to work as global teams through the experience of completing their projects across the boundaries of distance, culture and time zones. Yet in its external appearance it was a programme. Participants enrolled, or were sponsored by their manager, modules were scheduled on pre-determined dates, joint events took place at business schools or conference centres, there was an end-of-course 'graduation' etc.

Today managers are told that they 'manage their own development' yet few have the skills or the confidence to do so. Simply multiplying the options available to them may do little more than produce a random 'pick and mix' which is no guarantee of effective learning. By broadening the scope of what we mean by 'course' to encompass many and varied learning strategies used before, during, after and between events - in effect by revolutionising its content and process - its familiar form will be with us for some time yet as a necessary and welcome means of structuring learning.

Published on HBC Web-site 02/2000

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