It's not (only) about the money.
The EMBA has been considered as the pinnacle of executive management training by higher education professionals and lifelong learning academics for quite some time now. And graduates tend to agree. The latest survey results from the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) show a rise in satisfaction levels among EMBA graduates across all criteria – including programme quality and related outcomes, such as salary and bonus increases. But what makes the EMBA such an attractive proposition for seasoned executives is much more than money. It is about learning how to lead in the modern age by exploiting past experiences and gaining new abilities.
“Even at the top, learning can never stop”
The single most important benefit of the EMBA is its ability to confer leadership skills. However, true leadership comes with experience, and that can be found in abundance in the EMBA course. The median age in a typical executive management classroom is 38 years. And with an average of 14 years of work experience and 9 years of management experience, EMBA participants are already extremely proficient in their line of work when they enter the programme.
Therein lies the strength of the EMBA programme. It is not so much about a one-way knowledge transfer, as it is about learning from each other’s modus operandi. This peer-to-peer learning model means that students profit from one another as much as they do from professors and guest lecturers.
While it is true that EMBA graduates tend to earn more than their non-EMBA counterparts – 14.1% more as per EMBAC’s latest data – the real reason for enlisting in the course is the long-term effect on key managerial competencies such as vision and leadership.
As Kelly Fox, CEO of Angeles Millwork & Lumber Company, explains, “When I decided to attend the EMBA programme, it was in part to show my employees that, even at the top, learning can never stop”.
Ms Fox admits, “Earning the WSU EMBA (US) was really about improving my skillset to make the best choices for my employees’ future”.
The EMBA puts the emphasis on leadership-building and personal growth, since there is little else that a seasoned manager has not already attained in their career. For the leaders of today, personal growth involves giving back to the people who have entrusted them to lead. For the leaders of tomorrow, it is about ensuring that there is plenty, or at the very least enough, to be given in the future.
Skills for the new era
That is where the employing company enters the picture. Being a leader is not an end in itself. It serves a purpose. And in the mind of corporate decision-makers, sponsoring a senior executive’s EMBA degree is a pragmatic solution to tangible problems.
The world is changing at a rapid pace, and that is not always good for business. Uncontrolled innovation clashes with increased regulation, established world views come into question, and generational rifts force uneasy questions about employee value. Any manager would tell you that the best answer to a volatile environment is to prepare for the eventualities, and there is no better way to do this than training. At senior management level, this comes in the form of continuous executive education.
According to the latest statistics, 23% of EMBA participants are fully sponsored and 36% are partially reimbursed by their employers. These figures are impressive as they are, but combined, they account for a total of 59%, which means that more than half of all EMBA students can expect to receive some kind of employer funding. This proves that the degree is considered an investment not only by EMBA participants, but also by employers.
Another important piece of data to consider is the percentage of students who receive a job promotion during their time in the EMBA programme. Forty-one percent of students claim to have achieved this feat alongside their studies, and 52% declare an increase in job-related responsibilities. What this means is that skills attained in the EMBA classrooms are in demand, highly transferrable, and extremely adaptable to the workplace.
McKinsey and Co’s own analysis on the matter a few years ago concluded that a mere 12% of companies worldwide could be considered truly “agile”, but those that were, had these characteristics in common: role clarity, operational discipline, inspirational leadership, top-down innovation, capturing external ideas, and knowledge sharing. These are exactly the kind of soft skills that the EMBA teaches, not because they are chic, but because they are coveted.
Companies around the world are in need of visionary leaders who can steer the ship through the stormy weather and anchor it firmly onto sunnier shores – an unmistakably appropriate metaphor for the realities of this century’s second decade.
“New markets require new forms of education. It needs to be hands-on. It needs to be multi-method. And it needs to focus on practices that actually drive performance”, says Jan Brickman, assistant professor in Strategy and General Management at ESADE Business School (Spain).
But how is that achieved in the EMBA classroom? Financial Times Work & Careers editor Helen Barrett explains: “What the modern employer wants from cutting-edge business schools is less talk and more action — or experiential learning, as it is known. It is hands-on, it is demanding and it forces executives to rely on their wits. Most of all, it is fun”.
Ms Barrett emphasises the importance that business schools, and employers, put on learning through role play and how that challenges EMBA participants to tackle complex management problems by taking them way out of their comfort zone. An offshore oil rig disaster played out at Imperial College London (UK), a hostage negotiation simulation game at London Business School (UK), or an entire laboratory specialised in executive role play at Grenoble Business School (UK) – all of these are part of a new trend that aims to realign executive education to practical training by honing the students’ personal skills. The difference between this approach and the classic case - study teaching method appears to be that the kind of cases that EMBA participants solve are less likely to be encountered in real life. Rather, it is the approach and the vision in tackling the challenge that counts.
Thankfully, EMBA participants are well positioned to gain from this new way of training, since they are characteristically curious, mature, and motivated to learn. Becoming an executive leader in the new age is tough, but not impossible. It takes an open mind-set, a trove of experience, and a certain dose of humbleness in the face of a changing world in order to succeed. But it is where experience meets uncertainty that new leaders are born.
This article was provided by our colleagues from the Access MBA Tour. It was originally written for and published in their 2018-2019 Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “Maturity Meets Agility in the Executive Playground”. The online version of the Guide is available for online viewing here.