MBA or Bust… Spend Wisely or Don’t Bother!

Shaun Conning, a HR Professional and Coach in the UK, shares his experience of Executive Education and offers 3 key things for organisations to consider to ensure they maximise their impact and gain most value from this important area.

When I graduated back in 1995, I was promptly whisked off to Templeton College – courtesy of Kingfisher Group and put through a post graduate diploma with 20 other graduates.  My lasting memories of those regular jaunts to Oxford are mostly those of the (dis)honesty bar, punting down the rivers of Oxford and a presentation we did to a group of Executives – thinking it was a good career move to do it in the style of a famous Steve Coogan character.   Of course, I can reflect on the fact that the quality of the “executive education” was indeed first class, however as my career progressed down an HR route these memories often made me question how organisations choose to invest in business education and how “sticky” this is back in the organisation.

As the years have passed I have been exposed to numerous business education programmes; as a learner, an HR Director, a coach or purely hearing my friend’s experiences in the pub.  I have seen companies make significant investment in Harvard MBAs, developing their own “Global Leader” programmes and sending teams of executives off to Silicon Valley to visit the world’s top tech companies.  Some have had huge personal impact, some have caused frustrations with the executives involved, some have resulted in a complete change of career and some have real impact back at the ranch.

There is no doubt in my mind that giving todays and tomorrows learners new insights and ideas from other organisations, sectors and some of the best business minds in the world can support both the growth of the individual and the business they work in.  However, the way in which we support making these decisions as HR Professionals and business leaders is often not thought through enough.  Often interventions are decided upon based on identifying tomorrows leaders and not thinking of what they actually need, using development as a panacea for retaining top talent or responding to on-going request from the individual themselves.

Of course, there are numerous factors that could drive your decision making – although, like most things in HR, if you keep it simple and focus on making sure key bases are covered of you will have a much better chance of getting a decent return on your investment - as well as achieving the other benefits we know are associated with investing in executive development.

Here are my 3 key things HR Professionals should consider when investing in senior leader development:

1.       Make sure the “Insight” is right for the individual and your business

Sound’s simple, however this really needs some thought before committing to programmes and activities.  If you’re working with a business school or partners, make sure they spend the right amount of time in your business and “bespoke” programmes with the right sector or functional insights that address current challenges in your business.  When selecting MBA partners for individual learners verify their sector or industry credentials and alumni.  As a really simple rule of thumb ask whether the insight and learning delivered can add business value in a 24-month time frame and, if not, why bother as most business strategy if rarely targeted over greater than 2 years these days? Concepts need to be relevant and likely to be used “in-role” or they remain in the classroom or are forgotten by the time they are really needed.

2.       Team Development and Powerful Alliances increase application of new ideas.

When learners facing common business challenges are bought together to discover new insight, there is far more chance they can develop concepts, strategies using them that are “sticky” in the organisation.  Whether that is achieved by sending 2 or 3 team members on the same programme or scoping external insight sessions for “natural work teams” – the impact of the learning on your business will be significantly greater and much more aligned.

3.       Blend insight with Coaching or Mentoring

Using relational approaches helps embed learning into “real life” back in the organisation and adds real value in two main ways.  Firstly, the right coach can use a range of models, approaches and techniques to remove barriers, question and get the individual to align the external insights and learning to the challenges they currently face.  Secondly, it ensures a focus remains on the learning well beyond the original intervention and is not forgotten or parked when day-to-day pressures return to the fore. In this way you satisfy the business need for tangible return on investment through focused action and also the talent development need of long-term individual growth.

Following these three key focus areas when focusing on the tangible returns from any executive transformation project will give you the best chance to get that Holy Grail of HR challenges – increasing the capability and impact of your most senior leaders. Good luck!


tap’d Solutions have developed a partnership with Ideas for Leaders to create our “Ideas Into Impact” concept.  Taking insight directly from 50 top business schools and developing bespoke interventions designed around your business needs, strategic aspirations and talent development goals.