London Business School: Never Too Busy to Learn

It is one thing for companies to put executive education on the corporate agenda but quite another to find schemes that fit leaders’ schedules. JoEllyn Prouty McLaren explains to CEO that senior executives cannot afford to neglect their own development.

As global economic pressures drive companies to optimise efficiency and reduce costs they may be tempted to cut back on training and development. This would be a grave mistake. People are prize corporate assets and their skills often determine a company’s chances of meeting long-term goals.

‘A key reason companies have trouble delivering strategic objectives is that they don’t have enough of the right people with the right capabilities. Succession planning, managing transition and moving people around to different roles in an organisation are all important, but so is the exposure leaders gain from external training and development opportunities,’ says the London Business School’s executive education open programmes director, JoEllyn Prouty McLaren.

London Business School is among the world’s leading centres for executive education. The success of its general management programmes are proof, believes Prouty McLaren, that companies value executive education. ‘Companies are getting better at prioritising development, but it is a cultural shift and most aren't there yet. Many are not sure how to embed it within an organisation. That is why we have developed a learning accountability model, to help organisations ensure the right learning for the right individual at the right time, for the right outcome,’ she says.

The value of learning

She also stresses that training and development, at all levels, are particularly important today, even in the midst of the credit crunch. ‘There is often pressure to reduce development, though in fact it is more critical than ever to invest in it. Companies want to cut costs, and historically training was one of the first areas to be cut, but if that happens they may lose critical skills, talent or even people. Remember, emerging markets can’t find enough of the right skills and experience, so CEO’s have to protect their strongest assets,' she says.

‘Internal development enhances institutional knowledge and enables optimisation of resources. Moreover, learning and development makes people happier and more likely to stay. People often leave because of limited opportunities, not because of money.’ Caught in the pincers of the credit crunch and the war for talent, companies would do well to invest in talent development. ‘There is also a lack of understanding about the cost of recruitment compared to the cost of training a current leader. Outsiders are expensive to bring in and can derail,’ Prouty McLaren says.

Don't forget the CEO

Even in companies that do prioritise development, CEOs do not always include themselves in executive development. ‘The best organisations are those with role models at the top, but most CEOs neglect their own development needs. They either don’t have time or they feel it is seen as unacceptable to need development,’ observes Prouty McLaren. Recognising this, London Business School emphasises identifying the right development programmes for senior executives and devising structures to make courses accessible to busy people. So they have recently launched a portfolio of two-day programmes, which quickly immerse executives in an intense learning environment.

Alongside the school’s well respected one week and extended programmes, the two-day programmes offers a mix of learning opportunities to suit individuals’ needs. Some are designed specifically for CEOs, on topics including ‘managing the board of directors’, and ‘making strategy happen’, or the new demands placed on today’s leaders such as the impact of new technology or coaching for performance.

‘Traditionally, learning has focused on the education, not necessarily on executives and the demands of their lifestyle. They need accessibility and flexibility,’ Prouty McLaren remarks. ‘The two-day programmes address that. They enable executives to step out of their business, stretch their thinking and meet other CEOs from around the world with different insights and experience in a risk-free environment where they can ask the questions they need to. It is difficult for CEOs to do this within their organisations, as they are expected to have the answers already,’ she explains. CEOs should lead by example in executive development, and they now have courses that enable them to do so.

JoEllyn Prouty McLaren, London Business School's executive education open programmes director.