EMBA and Crisis Management: Preparing for the Inevitable

А growing number of EMBA programmes are including crisis management courses in their curriculum.

EMBA and Crisis Management: Preparing for the Inevitable

Crisis management is becoming a constant feature in the Executive MBA curriculum, helping senior managers understand the fundamentals of how to plan and lead their organisations through any type of crisis.

For senior managers and executives, this emphasis on leading through difficult times comes in handy in light of the crises that have occurred over the last years. It also allows Executive MBA programmes to demonstrate fresh practical relevance and adaptability. 

From fringe to centre stage

Crises represent a basic feature of life. They affect the political, social, economic and other spheres and, in the current information age, they seem to be occurring more frequently. A crisis may wreak havoc and destruction, but it could also be successfully managed and mitigated. Crisis management and its most essential component, crisis communication, offer strategies and advice for people and organisations preparing for or facing a crisis.

Once peripheral, crisis management has been taking a more prominent place in core MBA and Executive MBA curricula over the last couple of years, largely thanks to Covid-19. When the pandemic struck, business schools scrambled to offer courses to help managers navigate change. Ever since, more EMBA programmes have made these modules permanent.

Still, crisis management courses are far from universal adoption. According to a research paper published by the International Journal of Management Education, only a few MBA programmes (online, executive and traditional) have embedded crisis management modules in their curriculum. Based on a search of AACSB schools offering MBA programmes, crisis leadership is minimally represented, with 3.2% of business schools examined including a crisis leadership course as part of their curricula. For comparison, leadership courses are more commonly included as part of the curricula, with 64.8% of business schools offering them.

Is crisis management expertise really necessary?

Just a quick glance at the current state of affairs shows that there is a pressing need for Executive MBA programmes to build crisis management competencies as part of the core curriculum. War, an energy crisis, inflation, rising tensions between some of the most powerful countries in the world, and a looming recession are just some of the worrying events happening on a macro level right now. And there are just as many, or even more, micro crises that affect individual companies and that require competent crisis leadership.

There is a popular English proverb that goes “cometh the hour, cometh the man”, describing the belief that the right leaders will step forward when times are tough. While such stories make for good movies, it shouldn’t be a way of life, especially at organisations. If a company lacks executives with crisis management expertise and a pre-established course of action, improvisation is unlikely to provide good results. Mary Galligan, a Deloitte Advisory director in the Cyber Risk Services practice at Deloitte & Touche LLP, told the Wall Street Journal: “In the absence of pre-determined procedures, novel crises—whether they be natural disasters, terror attacks, cyber breaches or malevolence such as shootings or inside sabotage and fraud—can test leadership’s decision-making and strategic-thinking abilities.”

Read more: 5 Top Management Skills Executives Gain with an EMBA

Tackling the crisis head-on

Business schools employ different methods to prepare managers for the vagaries of crisis events. For instance, a recent panel of Chicago Booth (US) alumni described how organisational leaders can enhance their coaching skills in a way that supports and empowers their employees during crises.

Some schools go further, subjecting participants to simulated crises. On the CEIBS Global Executive MBA (China), an eight-day leadership module at the start of the programme involves a challenging outdoor group and problem-solving exercise. Executive students are filmed throughout the exercises so the coaches, groups, and individuals can analyse the dynamics of leadership, and how they are perceived by others in their exercise of leadership. “Everyone came to the class and nobody wanted to listen to the others, and everyone thought they were the smartest in the class. However, after this one-week journey we saw ourselves as a group and asked how we can work together with different personalities and styles of leadership,” Jessie Lian, a 2015 GEMBA graduate, says.

Business schools in Europe also lean towards action-packed crisis management courses that take participants out of their comfort zone. In 2021, NEOMA Business School (France) involved RAID, the elite French national police unit, in a simulation of an attack on a hospital. After each person had been given a role, head of operations, information officer or negotiator, their mission was to find a way to manage the crisis. With regular intervention and advice from the police unit, the GEMBA participants learned by doing, sometimes making mistakes but learning a lot as they went along.

At Emlyon, another French business school, EMBA participants learned how to deal with crisis management through a mountaineering expedition in the Chamonix ski resort. The goal was to discover the way that alpine guides and rescuers manage risks and fears, as well as how they structure the process to make better decisions when faced with uncertainty. “Mountaineering at l’Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix is the ultimate setting to learn about crisis management! No class course can let you understand what it means to have to find your way while, due to an intense fog, you cannot see anything except, at times, what you think is maybe the path,” EMBA participant Giulia Rizzo said.

The future is uncertain, but a growing number of EMBA programmes are helping students prepare for the unknown. There will always be crises, so these newly acquired skills and knowledge are the best preparation you can get.