It's the ROI that matters

November 13, 2019

The real dividends of executive education

There have definitely been better times for making secure investments. Real-estate bubbles are bursting and the omnipresent threat of financial crisis is not exactly helpful as far as investment decisions are concerned. So, what can you do? The only investment that is absolutely secure, even in uncertain times, is the investment in yourself: in developing your knowledge and skills. MBA programs and executive education (ExEd) offer an excellent return on investment (ROI). Yet how can you quantify the dividends, and are they really more than the sum of the investment and effort you put in?

Picture of a knob that says ROI
Is it possible to quantify the ROI of executive education?

In the following article, Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé, Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy, provides answers to these questions and explains what side benefits participants can derive from ExEd programs.

Just like in the context of investments in other fields, the ROI is also becoming increasingly important as far as ExEd programs are concerned. This does not come as a surprise, given that a lot is at stake: Businesses want to know whether the money they have invested in their employees is money well spent; for participants, ROI is crucial because they are the ones who are to put theory into practice by making good use of their newly acquired knowledge and skills. ExEd providers are eager to highlight the benefits derived from a particular program, course or training and pave the way for further cooperation in the future.

Portrait Kleinhanns-Rollé

Dr. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé

  • Managing Director of the WU Executive Academy

No matter whether we look at the ROI from the perspective of companies or from the perspective of individuals: What counts is the economic logic. ExEd sessions are successful if they are profitable and generate tangible added value. In practice, both rentability and value added can have different dimensions.

The different dimensions of the ROI

The financial ROI

In order to be able to accurately calculate how successful an investment has been, there need to be clear objectives. Otherwise, it will not be possible to make a before-and-after comparison. “In an ExEd context, we are not used to setting goals for ourselves, and this applies to businesses as much as it applies to the individual employee. When it comes to user-relevant hard skills or specialized training in fields such as sales, project management and IT, it is comparatively easy to accurately quantify the ROI because you can compare clear target figures. The same is true with regard to your paycheck or the new job offers you get precisely because you have earned an MBA degree. As for soft skills, it is also possible to get an accurate picture of the ROI, but things are a little more difficult because specific individual competencies have to be used as the basis for comparison. In other words, you are interested in whether executives are able to make use of new tools or are able to develop a new mindset for themselves and the people they manage,” continues Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé.

A hand is holding some coins
Hard skills are easier to quantify compared to soft skills, because you can define clear target figures. Foto © CC0 Licence

The development of skills and competencies

It goes without saying that the primary purpose of any kind of ExEd is to acquire new knowledge and skills - the ability to change and adapt is said to be arguably the single most important skill that executives need to bring to the job, especially in light of the rapidly changing realities today. Apart from acquiring the latest tools, training the right mindset is becoming increasingly important. Companies need different and above all bolder approaches today.

For organizations, ExEd is a crucial lever for continuous learning and development. Innovative ability, agility and competence building in the context of digitalization are probably the most widely known buzzwords right now. And not without reason: Developing effective strategies to recruit the right people for dealing with new topics is getting increasingly difficult. This comes as a result of the “war for talent” and because it is just becoming more and more important. How can this seeming dilemma be resolved? By providing current employees with tailor-made training in-house. “This is something we see a lot, especially in the field of data science. The experts can hardly be found on the market so we have to make smart investments in our own employees and equip them with the necessary skills,” explains Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé.

The network

One of the strongest arguments for ExEd programs is the network.

As far as organizations are concerned, ExEd is not least about making a significant contribution to the organizational culture: It provides employees with an opportunity to network outside their normal professional routine, get to know one another better and brainstorm about future developments together. Also, many businesses are realizing how hugely beneficial it is when their employees learn together with employees of other companies: “In the context of digital transformation, it is important to know what other companies are doing and what they have experienced. Valuable knowledge and crucial experiences need to be shared through a constant process of give and take - for the benefit of everybody,” says Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé.

For individuals, networks have always been essential: ExEd provides a neutral forum for making contacts and a basis for future cooperations and career boosts. Moreover, ExEd settings are ideal for revealing your own talents and competencies and thus highlighting your individual added value in the network. “An international network, for instance in the context of an MBA program, helps participants make contacts around the globe and supports them in networking with lecturers, guest speakers and other alumni. These contacts can open up career opportunities. Plus, internationally renowned executive search companies become aware of MBA graduates,” explains Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé.

Board game figures standing together
Contacts made during business education can be a valuable start for international connectiveness. Photo © CC0 Licence

The unique added value of executive education

When managers discuss about if and when something is profitable, some truly extraordinary side benefits of ExEd are often neglected and the conversation is rather one-dimensional. Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé explains: “Students and alumni often say that apart from acquiring knowledge and adding contacts to their network, they particularily benefit from having greater trust in their abilities and being more courageous and more assertive. In addition, their job satisfaction and their ‘inner fire for the cause’ increase demonstrably.”

Moreover, ExEd enhances your appreciation of the big picture; you identify new opportunities and perspectives and become aware of where and how you can most effectively make a difference. Along the way, ExEd creates specific learning environments that let you leave daily business behind, get out of your comfort zone, try something new and put radical approaches to the test. “Last but not least, ExEd is a catalyst for strengthening your ability to reflect, finding your blind spots and becoming clear about personality-related questions: What do I want? Where do I want to go? What motivates me? These questions help us lead professional lives that are fulfilling and happy at the same time,” concludes Astrid Kleinhanns-Rollé.

For more information about the Global Executive MBA, please click here.

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