Education for the higher educated
Published on: 6 November 2013
Function: Academic Dean Vlerick Business School and General Director Vlerick Business School
Organisatie: Vlerick Business School

Hungry? Management education provides food for thought

Management education is no longer something that is fitted in “after hours”. High-quality education creates development for you and your organisation.

Management education is no longer something that is fitted in "after hours". High-quality education not only forms the crux of personal development plans, but also contributes to developing a forward-looking organisational culture. An interview with General Director Patrick De Greve and Academic Dean Professor Dirk Buyens of Vlerick Business School.

Until about five years ago, management was regarded as a "bolt-on", something you studied alongside your main field of expertise. Management education stood in splendid isolation - simply a subject taught in the classroom, divorced from any kind of real-life business context. Things are different these days. Patrick De Greve explains: "Professionals are now explicitly choosing to pursue a management career. People management, governance, transparency, organisational culture, sustainable strategy etc. are all concepts they deal with in a more considered way. Management education and management development are an integral part of their personal career development plan. Consequently, they have a clear set of needs and expectations as regards education."

Hungry? Management education provides food for thoughtManagement education, 2013-style

Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School offers two different management education options: business-to-consumer programmes - open enrolment programmes for which individual participants can sign up - and business-to-business programmes, in which the learning experience is tailored to an organisation's specific needs. Patrick De Greve: "In our company-specific programmes, the integrated approach comes very clearly to the fore. The organisation uses the education programme not only to instil management skills in its employees, but also as a platform for working on its organisational culture: to support change processes, set up projects and impart knowledge. In a break from the past, organisations want 'learning' to be a deep-rooted part of their core culture so that it can make an impact on other processes."

Teaching methods have also changed in recent years. Professor Dirk Buyens: "The classroombased teaching approach that used to predominate is gradually giving way to personal coaching, online tools and learning platforms outside the classroom."

Shared responsibility

Against the backdrop of these new developments, responsibility for management education is now shared between the educational institution, the organisation and the individual participant. The education provider is expected to offer "quality". A glance at the criteria of a number of executive rankings indicates what this actually means in practice. Patrick De Greve: "The rankings show that clients are looking for value for money, future use and relevance. The impact and applicability of a management programme are crucial. What's more, we know that Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School as a European top 15 player is particularly highly rated for its flexibility, commitment and no-nonsense approach, and value for money."

Half of the return of a management programme depends on the chosen educational institution, but the rest is down to the organisation and the participants themselves.
Who is sitting next to me is the single most important question. Patrick De Greve: "Nowadays, management education demands that companies get actively involved in the learning experience. They have to ensure that the participants receive coaching and monitoring - before, during and after the programme. Their internal communications also have to be attuned to the new learning reality: not every programme necessarily increases personal promotion prospects, but it contributes to individual career development and to the success of the organisation as a whole."

Return: from measuring to managing

Expectations regarding the return on investment (ROI) from management education are quite a bit higher nowadays compared with about five years ago. The educational institution itself can assess client satisfaction with the programme, the lecturers, the course material, etc., which is what Vlerick does as a way of obtaining direct feedback. This evaluation offers no guarantees as to how the participants will apply the knowledge they have acquired, however.

Professor Dirk Buyens: "These days, the climax of many programmes is the submission of a 'deliverable': a business plan, a final assignment, a project. This is already a kind of direct payback, ROI. Moreover, I believe that most management education programmes should be measured on the basis of the conduct of the individual. That conduct should, in turn, lead to enhanced performance." Patrick De Greve nods in agreement: "In that sense ROI is not measured, but rather managed, by considering all the factors that can contribute to a better performance: an accurate needs analysis before the start of the programme, the right programme coordinators, suitable lecturers, relevant teaching material, committed participants, and so on. The success of any programme demands a professional approach, from both the provider and the client. The ROI will ultimately be reflected in the organisational culture: better leadership, more efficient marketing, greater expertise in financial matters, etc."

Topics and trends in times of crisis

Return on investment is certainly not an insignificant factor in times of crisis. In the current turbulent economic climate, does management education have more or less added value than it used to? Patrick De Greve: "Companies are perhaps signing fewer people up for open enrolment programmes, but demand for in-house programmes is growing. All professional organisations are currently striving to make their operations as cost-efficient as possible. At the same time they realise that they have to invest in the future in order to keep top talent on board."

Are particular topics in management education more popular than others at the moment? Patrick De Greve: "The top three favourite themes at business schools are (sustainable) leadership, performance and strategy. One noticeable trend is the growing popularity of innovation management in all its facets and sales management. This development was already evident before the economic crisis, but is now the focus of even more attention."

Shelf life of expertise getting shorter and shorter

The complexity of the challenges, markets and products we are faced with today requires people to constantly update their skills and knowledge. This is not a marketing slogan, but harsh reality.

With four years of education under your belt, you used to be able to build a forty-year career, based on a ratio of 1 to 10. These days, four years won't get you very far. Developments such as the economic crisis and globalisation mean that we need to continually reframe our knowledge.

Companies have to permanently invest in their talented people, but also talented people need to invest in themselves. We see an increasing number of MBA & Executive Education students financing their education themselves (e.g. via loans). It's no easy task to get people back into the classroom, as everyone is pressed for time nowadays. But the shelf life of expertise is getting shorter and shorter. This doesn't mean that you'll get the sack, but that you have to keep honing your skills. Management-related topics and themes are constantly evolving. Insights change and improve on a daily basis. It's up to us to disseminate that new knowledge.