BC Business: Adapting to Change

Feb 14, 2014

The following article was published by BC Business on February 3, 2014, and features comment from Kate Dilworth, Adjunct Professor and Director of Learning Design at the Beedie School of Business.

Executive Education used to be reserved for senior management. Today it’s geared toward helping entire organizations stay agile.

Executive education is not about learning facts and theory; it’s about the spaces around the learning. That means developing innovation-enabling processes, relationship building, cross-sector exchanges and cultivating creative intelligence. “Universities aren’t just there to download their knowledge,” explains Kate Dilworth, adjunct professor and director of learning design at SFU’s Beedie School of Business. “Yes we have some knowledge, but we don’t have all the answers and so we bring that into the space.” The learning depends on input from everybody, she says.

Executive education programs are meant to address the challenges facing businesses and organizations, but the accelerated pace of corporate change in recent years, including the growth of social technology and increased global connectivity, has created a demand for programs focusing on adapting to change itself.

“The programs we’re seeing fully subscribed are those where you get the skill set to ask better questions, to be more innovative, to lead people through change, to help organizations better design their organizational structures for the future,” says Zoe MacLeod, director of the Centre for Coaching and Workplace Innovation in the Faculty of Management at Royal Roads University. “We’re seeing a need for whole-systems transformation and how people in organizations develop their people. It’s basically a re-imagined organization and so those are the things that we see as necessary skills for the future.”

While training in change leadership is in constant demand, other hot topics in executive education today include transparency, cultural diversity, corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

Executive education used to be a perk reserved for the ranks of senior management, but today it’s becoming woven into corporate culture at increasingly junior levels. “We are definitely seeing younger leaders and the desire for leadership development, not just for the top tiers in organizations but at much earlier stages in emerging leaders,” says Dilworth. “We’re really seeing a diversity in terms of where people are at in their career and their ages.” She further notes that it is less the individual and more the company that is seeking training opportunities, offering development to young leaders as a retention strategy.

MacLeod says that five years ago the majority of students in RRU’s Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching program were planning to go into business for themselves, hanging a shingle to be an executive coach. Now, by contrast, about half the program’s participants will be executive coaches within their organization.

Off the rack or made-to-measure?

Those seeking professional development through certificate-granting institutions face two main options: open enrolment, where students sign on to pre-defined courses and programs, or custom-developed programs designed to meet the specific needs of an organization.

In 2009, the organization representing family physicians across the province was faced with choosing between the two options. The General Practice Service Committee, a partnership between the B.C. Ministry of Health and the B.C. Medical Association, was contemplating education alternatives in response to various health care reforms that were about to affect how family doctors do business.

Dr. Garey Mazowita, committee member and department head of Providence Health Care’s Department of Community and Family Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, recalls the meeting: “We really felt quite strongly that there were some very specific leadership skills that were required.” The committee looked at a number of options, but Mazowita and another committee member kept coming back to the positive experience they’d both had with a custom-designed program at SFU.

The committee asked SFU’s Kate Dilworth to come in for a meeting, and in 2010 they ultimately chose to have SFU design a custom program for family physicians across the province. Since then, the demand for the custom program has been high, “and it’s continued to be high because the feedback from their colleagues that have taken it has been so positive,” says Mazowita.

However, the customization process is not for everybody, cautions Dilworth, because it demands constant feedback. “We want clients to participate,” she says, explaining that the initial assessment of the client’s needs is just the beginning. SFU maintains a close relationship with the client during and after the customized program to tweak it and respond to new needs or goals. Dilworth explains the relationship: “We’re so connected to them because we’re designing something especially for them, based on an impact that they’re trying to have. That’s one of the important ways that we’re able to stay current, because we are not guessing what’s going on out there; we’re working directly with folks who are being challenged.”

These custom-designed programs might be a course ranging from one to 12 days in length, or could go as far as a fully customized MBA program. Custom executive education is suited primarily for organizations with enough employees to warrant it. The alternative is open-enrolment programs, which can offer training in general subjects or highly targeted, sector-specific topics.

RRU’s focus is on its open-enrolment programming, but that doesn’t translate into cookie-cutter classes. It combines in-person sessions with distance or self-directed learning. For example, one of RRU’s most popular courses (it’s full for the next three sessions) is the Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching. Students start the program on campus, then work from home for a few months and reconvene on campus for their final sessions.

Dilworth and MacLeod agree that whether employers choose open enrolment or custom programs, the education option has to resonate quickly with the busy professional and respond to what the professionals are facing in their world. These are the challenges that inspire Dilworth. “It’s an exciting time for executive education because we just have a lot of challenges in society. But with that comes opportunity,” she says. “And really, the power is in the people. People are innovative and they’re smart; they can be creative if you give them the right tools.”

Visit the BC Business website to read the full article.

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