Why executive education is particularly valuable in times of crisis
Many executives and high potentials are asking themselves the question these days: Are the current crisis-ridden times and inflation the right time to do an MBA? "Absolutely," says Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy. The only risk-free investment, even in uncertain times, is the investment in oneself: in one's own further development - with an excellent return on investment (ROI). But how can the return from executive education be quantified at all, and is executive education really more than the sum of investment plus effort?
The experience of many business schools around the world after the economic crisis of 2008 has shown that people use the crisis to get ready for the next career step. "And the best way to do that is to invest in your own (leadership and management) competencies, i.e., in your own market value, so that - after the crisis - you have a competitive advantage in the labor market. ROI is also becoming increasingly important in executive education. After all, a lot is at stake: companies want to know whether the money they have invested in their employees has been well spent; for the participants themselves, it plays a major role, because they are the ones who put the new knowledge and the newly acquired skills into practice.
Especially in times of crisis, a lot of structure and sound knowledge is needed at management levels to better assess interactions and economic interrelationships as well as forward-looking entrepreneurial decisions. This was already evident during the financial crisis in 2008, but even more so during the Corona pandemic and now in times of persistently high inflation against the backdrop of the Ukraine war.
In times of crisis, the ROI often serves not only to strive for further career advancement, but also to secure the current position vis-à-vis others. In the right key position in the company, with forward-looking positioning and the relevant expertise, one makes oneself indispensable for the employer in the long term. And: "What better sign of motivation for the job than an investment in one's own competencies and skills," says Stöttinger.
For this reason, cutting-edge topics for overcoming crises are also included in the content of all MBA modules as a cross-sectional subject, for example by working on current cases against the backdrop of scientific findings. Students thus receive urgently needed specialist knowledge combined with input from the field.
The main motives for participating in an MBA program, however, were and remain unchanged even in times of crisis: the next career leap or even self-employment as an entrepreneur. And the results are impressive: On average, alumni salaries increased by +29% after MBA graduation. The salary of Global Executive MBA alumni increased the most (+53%).
But besides the financial ROI of one's own education or that of one's employees, there is much more: "Regardless of whether we look at ROI from the company's point of view, or from the individual's point of view: What counts is the economic logic. In other words, a training measure has been successful if it is (financially) profitable and generates concrete added value. In practice, both profitability and added value can have different dimensions," says Stöttinger.
In order to be able to reliably quantify the success of an investment at all, there must be very specific objectives. Only then can a before/after comparison be made. In the case of user-relevant hard skills and specialist training, for example in sales, project management or IT, such a comparison is quite simple, as very specific target figures can be used. It is also easy to calculate the before/after balance for salaries or new job offers based on an MBA. This is also possible for soft skills, but it is somewhat more difficult to map because specific individual competence fields must be stored for comparison. For example, it could be a question of whether a manager is able to use new tools or develop a new mindset for himself and his own employees," says Stöttinger.
First and foremost, of course, any continuing education program is about acquiring new knowledge and skills - especially in such rapidly changing times as these, adaptability and the ability to change are cited as probably the most important competencies for managers in the 21st century. In addition to acquiring the latest tools and methods, however, it is also increasingly important to train the appropriate mindset. Today, management positions in particular require different, new and, above all, bolder approaches.
For organizations, training is an important lever for continuous learning and development. Developing effective strategies to recruit suitable employees for new topics and to train them further is becoming increasingly difficult and at the same time increasingly important. The solution to the apparent dilemma: targeted internal training and further education of the company's own employees.
Another important reason to choose continuing education is the network. From the organization's point of view, it is not least about making a significant contribution to the organizational culture by offering their employees the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other away from the daily work routine, to get to know each other better and to think together about future developments. On the other hand, many companies recognize the positive effects of their own employees learning together with those of other companies: "It's about a constant give and take of valuable knowledge and important experience - to the benefit of all," says Stöttinger.
For individuals, networks were and are essential: continuing education as a neutral place to get to know each other and as a basis for future collaborations and career boosts. Moreover, continuing education situations are very well suited for recognizing one's own talents and competencies and thus clarifying the individual added value in the network.
In the sometimes rather one-dimensional discussion of whether and when something pays off, quite extraordinary side effects that further education brings with it are often neglected. Stöttinger comments: "In discussions with students and graduates, it has been shown that, apart from broadening knowledge and expanding networks, aspects such as greater confidence in one's own abilities, more courage or assertiveness are very often cited as positive effects on their daily work. Satisfaction with the professional situation and the passion with which someone "burns" for a topic also demonstrably increase."
In addition, continuing education sharpens the view beyond the end of one's nose, one identifies new possibilities and perspectives and recognizes where and how one can best become effective oneself. In this context, continuing education creates targeted learning spaces that offer the opportunity to leave one's own comfort zone away from our daily business, to try out new things and to test radical approaches. And Stöttinger concludes: "Last but not least, continuing education makes it possible to strengthen one's own ability to reflect, to uncover blind spots in one's ego and helps to clarify questions about one's personality: What do I want, where do I want to go, what drives me? Questions that help us lead a fulfilling and at the same time happy professional life."
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