Executive education for business growth

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Quality learning for the industries of tomorrow

African business schools have a role far beyond issuing postgraduate qualifications; as African executive education comes of age it has the potential to embrace a bigger and more strategic role within the society it operates in. This is according to new research released by Jonathan Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director of Henley Business School Africa and a board member of the Association of African Business Schools (AABS). By embracing this comprehensive societal role, he says there is no limit to the areas in which African business schools  and their graduates can widen their local, continental and global footprint for maximum industry impact. 

“African education is truly coming of age,” Foster-Pedley explains. “As African executive education finds its voice and cements its role in society and the world, greater pan-African collaboration will prove critical to build stronger institutions that are truly capable of addressing the unique needs and context of the continent as a whole.”

According to the research released last month in Casablanca, African institutions can exert a direct influence though their pedagogical approach and business model at a societal level, encompassing the communities, students and organisations that they cater to. In doing so, business schools can affect far-reaching systemic influences that have the potential to change widespread approaches and discourses, at a local and regional level. 

Foster-Pedley hopes this will be the first step in a continent-wide process of change. The research, therefore, does not shy away from criticism of the business models and approaches currently directing the efforts of African business schools, but instead seeks out practical solutions and strategies to enhance the executive and management education offerings available to the continent. 

Impact areas for African business schools 

African business schools can and do have impact — directly, socially and systemically. The research found, after a variety of interviews with experts, including global and continental business school deans, senior leaders, and global educators and provocateurs in the higher education space, that business schools and executive education continue to fulfil a number of roles, but must reinvent themselves to stay relevant in changing contexts. 

These traditional and emerging roles include: getting the fundamentals of quality education right; building solid reputations and faculty expertise in cross-continental collaboration; creating curricula that are relevant to both Africa and the world; and harnessing the reach of digital tools and innovation.

It is also vital for them to focus on working with business and government to solve African problems while boldly outlining areas of potential impact, and creating workable and forward-thinking strategies that support the purpose, relevance and evolution of African business schools.

An action plan for Africa, and for you 

To support African business schools in their endeavours to widen impact and relevance, the white paper proposed a strategic framework. This African Business School Impact Action Plan should be considered in line with every institution’s unique strategic long-term vision and purpose, as well as the country and context in which each of these business schools operates in.

Foster-Pedley says the action plan outlines nine noteworthy areas for consideration, and offers insights into diverse areas, including applying mindful evolution strategies; ensuring relevance at a country, context and continent level; ensuring approaches that are in step with future and unfolding contexts; deploying deliberate innovation interventions; transforming current structures to secure greater autonomy for African business schools; developing credible faculty; enhancing engagements with business and society; and striving to build greater regional cooperation, while maintaining at all times a clear global outlook.

“Poised at the intersection of business, civil society and government, African business schools can — and should — carve out a more far-reaching role for themselves,” he explains. “African institutions should not shy away from taking on a more active role that would enable them to do more than just produce transformative leaders capable of driving business forward.” Instead, he says, these leaders would be equipped with the skills and mindset needed to solve the continent’s most pressing social, political and economic challenges. 

To achieve this big picture goal, business professionals and executive educators must show a commitment to personal mastery. This is according to Leadership Development Expert, Coach and Trainer Kirti Carr of the Creative Consciousness Academy. “I believe performance and execution are in a dynamic balance of excellence,” she says. “When it comes to executive education spaces, critical thinking as a combination of executional and strategic thinking is becoming vital in the ‘vuca’ (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.” 

Business schools must have the very traits they hope to instil in their graduates, she explains: “They must be able to dance between timelines and viewing points  — internal/external, big picture/fine details, past/present/future and me/you/us — all while remaining open and empathetic. When it comes to learning, there are only eternal students, and this is even more true of educators. Life is a learning platform and every interaction and relationship and task is a learning opportunity. We’re changing, and education is changing too as we realise that the teaching and learning methods of the past are no longer impactful or serving current needs.” 
— Jamaine Krige

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Outcome-based education: A nexus of knowledge and capability

The most sought-after individuals are not those who have either broad skills or deep skills, but rather those practitioners who have both. This is according to top recruiters, who say that during times of unprecedented uncertainty, volatility and insecurity, there is an increased appetite for what hiring experts call “T-skilled individuals”. 

OBE’s primary focus is on what the students actually learn, and how well they are able to implement it in real-world situations.

T-shaped skills combine a substantial depth of knowledge (the vertical bar of the letter) with the ability to work with others across a variety of disciplines (the horizontal bar). One way that educational institutions develop T-shaped skills in their graduates is through the implementation of outcome-based education (OBE) in their curriculums.

OBE is a learner-centred approach where the emphasis is on what the learner should know, understand, demonstrate (do) and become, rather than just what the educator is able to impart.  In this process, educators and students shift their focus to predetermined results that need to be achieved by the end of each learning process. Experts agree that business schools employing this system prepare their graduates by combining hyper-specialised knowledge with dynamic and cross-sectional capabilities through revolutionising curriculums.

The OBE educational system differs from the traditional system in a number of ways. One of these ways is that OBE’s primary focus is on what the students actually learn, and how well they are able to implement it in real-world situations. There is less of a focus on what is taught, and more of a focus on what is learned, and how well it serves the learner. There is a focus on learning outputs that are measurable and observable, rather than learning inputs.

According to a study by Priya Solomon and Ruchi Khandelwal: “The approach will help to provide  better technical knowledge to 21st century business school graduates and at the same time, to a large extent help in the development of effective domain attributes which have become equally important in workplace: interpersonal skills, strong business ethics, motivation and personal initiative.” 

By adopting an OBE-approach, business schools are better able to build T-shaped skills that will help graduates thrive in the ever-changing corporate space. 

Hiring experts and recruiters recognise that employees and their skills can be divided into three categories: those with I-shaped skills, those with X-shaped skills, and those with T-shaped skills. T-shaped skills are particularly sought after as these candidates are experts in their field, but also possess a broader skill set that allows them to collaborate across fields and disciplines. 

T-shaped skills for executives and business leaders include skills like critical thinking, public speaking, interpersonal communication, and time management skills. These skills can allow future executives to change their approach to management. Studies show that a “T-shaped manager” is the executive of the future: one who breaks out of the traditional corporate hierarchy to share knowledge freely across the organisation and the industry, while remaining fiercely committed to individual business unit performance.

Executives who are effective T-shaped managers can benefit almost all companies, but are particularly valuable in big corporations, as they encourage collaboration between business units and eliminate toxic competition between units that traditionally leads to the hoarding of expertise. — Wessel Krige

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You are an industry leader 

Critical skills and competencies are important, but for a leader to truly grow their business into tomorrow, they must first grow themselves. This is according to Dr Claudelle von Eck, an Executive Coach and Strategic Advisor who has served on a number of local and international oversight committees as both an executive and non-executive board member.  

Dr Claudelle von Eck, Executive Coach and Strategic Advisor.

In this context, continual learning is as important as breathing: “In an ever-changing world, we cannot afford to stop learning. More importantly, our brains need constant stimulation and new input to stay sharp and flexible.” As the founder of Brave Inflexions, she assists leaders to strengthen their skills and propel them and their organisations forward and upward. 

Like the business leaders who embark on them, executive education programmes must also be dynamic and adaptable to the current context. “Progressive MBAs are constantly evolving and remain important, but I would caution against entering the programme simply to attain the qualification, because that is not the most important part.” 

She says that shifting out of stagnation into a space of ongoing success and expansion is a journey that requires leaders to put in the work. “I firmly believe that those who are able to ensure sustainable business growth are those who continually stretch themselves,” she explains. 

When it comes to an executive education, the journey is as important, if not more so, than the destination: “Critical thinking is the most valuable skill you will walk away with, so make sure that this is at the forefront of any programme you decide on. One must just be careful that you do not fall into the trap of thinking that you have arrived once you have earned the qualification. You should continue learning, albeit not at the same brutal pace.” 

Transformative leadership skills for growth 

A quality executive education can be what is needed to take someone from manager to leader, Von Eck explains: “Leadership is what you display when you need to inspire people to willingly move from point A to point B, when tough decisions need to be made or when you need to lead people through a crisis. Here, the critical thinking and decision-making skills you learn can make all the difference.” 

This is even more pertinent when it comes to exponential growth and transformative leadership, which comes into play when people, systems and organisations go through frame-breaking change. “This type of leadership requires the ability to envision a new state and how to get there, and at an individual level requires a real willingness to change — and not just to change your mind.” 

These changes can take a toxic environment into a healthy organisational culture: “One would have exercised good leadership when you were able to make people feel that they have a sense of purpose, when they are inspired to deliver on the organisational goals and are constantly developed while becoming better versions of themselves. Managers manage things; leaders lead people. Bosses tend to have a top-down approach, while leaders have an inclusive, integrated approach.” 

If business leaders want to foster personal and professional growth in themselves and their organisation, self-reflection and self-correction is key. “It is frightening how many people have a level of self-awareness that is much lower than we would expect of our leaders,” she explains. “Being brutally honest with yourself, about who you are and how you show up in the world is important for leaders.” 

While many people believe the traits of a good leader are inherent and intrinsic, Von Eck says they can be honed. A good executive education programme will assist leaders to step into and sharpen their existing strengths and talents, while also developing and strengthening those areas of themselves that may be holding them back in life. 

Purpose-driven practices to see visions realised 

“Today, more than ever, it’s also important to display empathy in an authentic manner,” she says. “To do that, one has to be willing to look through the lens of others without judgement, with the objective to understand their experience, and to be willing and able to move obstacles for others where you have the power to do so.” 

The ability to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels connected to the organisation’s purpose is vital for good leadership, she explains. “Crafting a compelling vision is important, but great leaders have the ability to make people feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that what they do has meaning. Great leaders are purpose driven, and understand that they are in service of the greater good.” 

To do this, however, a leader must first understand their purpose, and be familiar with the vision they are working towards. The most important advice she has for someone who is considering furthering their education, with their eye on the corner office, is this: “Firstly, be clear on the why. Being in the C-Suite comes with responsibility. You should be sure that your aspirations are not just linked to the title, but rather about what you want to achieve through the position. In furthering your education, look for a programme that will challenge you to become a better version of yourself.”  — Jamaine Krige

Executive Coach offers top tips for those taking the leap

Executive Coach and Strategic Advisor Dr Claudelle von Eck says business schools and institutions that offer executive education have realised the benefits of incorporating executive coaching and mentorship as a part of the curricula. But, she says, coaching can also aid those who are still deciding on how to approach the next rung of the career ladder, and whether furthering their education should be on the cards. 

She says the coaching process is ideal for those who need to make major choices, like deciding whether to embark on an executive education or deciding on a suitable learning programme to follow. “Through meaningful engagement and personalised interaction, the person being coached is able to develop a personal strategic plan and roadmap to success which is crystalised and refined through the coaching process,” she says. “It also helps address anxieties and insecurities that may be present when returning to school,  as well as deal with the complexities, accelerated growth and uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with leading a business in these trying times.” 

She says one of the biggest challenges and concerns that prospective students, especially high-level corporate players, face when deciding to return to studying is whether there will be enough time to engage with the programme, and whether they will be able to stay on course. “Another possible challenge is that people might be concerned about failing, or that the course they are embarking on may be above their capability,” she says. 

Prospective students may also struggle with which institution to enrol at and whether the programme they are considering would be a good match for their personal, professional and organisational needs.

What should business leaders and executives take into consideration when deciding which of the executive education qualifications are on offer for them? “For me, first and foremost, you should ask whether the programme will enhance your critical thinking skills,” she says. “Who are the lecturers? Are they conformists, or do they challenge the way we think about the world?” 

Next, candidates should ask themselves whether the programme will enhance their understanding of key areas that they need to develop themselves in further: “Also, is the programme progressive and does it embrace futurist thinking? You also need to ask if the programme will enhance your versatility and contribute to your flexibility and agility.” 

After all, she says, the world is changing and it will keep changing. “One has to expect constant shifts going forward, so trying to find a programme that is an exact fit for where you will be five years from now is not feasible,” she explains. “It is really about whether the programme will equip you to move fluidly in your thinking and be able to connect dots where you are.” 

The question, she says, is not whether a person should consider further development: “Instead, the question at any given point in time in your career must be what are you doing to further develop yourself. Whether you choose a formal qualification or a different self-development method like coaching depends on who you are and where you are — and, of course, on where you are going.” 

Coaching is not a corrective measure for poor performers. “Having the right coach is a competitive advantage for any leader; sometimes we need interventions to get us out of the rut we’re in, and it gets lonely at the top. Having a confidant and sounding board can make a huge difference to the pace at which you can deliver and the quality of the decisions you make.” 

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The Great Resignation vs the Great Reengagement

The workplace as we know it is destined to dramatically transform in the coming years and key to every company’s current and future trajectory is learning how to attract, engage and retain the top-performing talent who, essentially, make it work. It goes without saying that, in today’s economy, a company’s competitive edge lies largely in its ability to find, cultivate and keep its top talent. 

Kerry Morris, Chief Executive Officer of recruitment agency The Tower Group

Kerry Morris, CEO of leading recruitment agency, The Tower Group, says the key to success in today’s competitive market is putting people front and centre of your business strategy. “This starts with recruiting and continues with identifying top talent that will stay the course and who fit the bill in terms of your company’s culture and values and what your business — and its future — needs,” she explains. 

Just last year, 47% of high-performing employees left their companies to join another in what has been dubbed The Great Resignation. Their motivations varied, with some seeking better perks, greater corporate resonance with their values or more flexible, remote working. According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, 44% of current employees are job seekers and a third of those are actively job hunting. 

Apart from the gaping wound felt by losing key talent, there are also substantial, hard costs associated with hiring, training and building effective teams. Employee turnover can cost an average of 33% of the employee’s salary and for companies to break even on the expenses of onboarding a new manager, it takes just six months of the employee staying at the company. That is, if they stay! Since the latest statistics convey that nearly a third of employees leave their new job within the first six months, with almost 70% leaving within three months, it’s becoming clear for most business leaders that retaining talent is far more cost-effective than hiring new people.

Millennials are fast on the verge of becoming 75% of the workforce by 2025, with Gen Z hot on their heels. These are generations who are estimated to have around 12.7 jobs over the course of their working lives, with an average tenure of just under three years with any given employer. It’s no surprise then that the talent gap has been identified as one of the top two critical issues facing global business leaders today. — Jamaine Krige

The Tower Group’s four tips for retaining top talent

Understand what your top performers want

The shifting dynamic of the workforce as well as the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic mean that, increasingly, perks often outweigh pay when it comes to giving employees what they want.

Stay interviews are considered by some as the new exit interview: in-person, regular meetings with long-term, high-performing employees in which you attempt to uncover the parts of their job and your company that keep them coming back every day, so as to realise how to retain them before they even think of leaving. Take what you learn from the two-way conversation and apply it to inform a new, better way to work — for them as well as for new employees joining your teams.

Build the right culture

The hard truth is that employees who are less engaged are also more likely to leave. The best way to engage employees is through building a company culture where people feel seen, heard, valued and empowered.

According to MIT’s Sloan Management Review in 2021, employees would rather be unemployed while they search for a job than stay stuck in a toxic workplace. The aim is therefore to cultivate a hub of safety and curiosity, to keep the flames of inspiration alive.

Invest in growing leaders

Investing in developing your leadership teams is critical to ensure a healthy pipeline of next-gen leaders, across all levels of your business. It’s also a key tactic for retaining talent as it provides a way for employees to grow within a company rather than move elsewhere to fulfil their career goals.

Define the roles that are critical to creating value for your company moving forward, and then assess the skills, attributes, knowledge and experience of existing talent. Run leadership development programmes to develop employees with potential so they can take on senior leadership positions.

Set rewards systems that work

For decades, employee rewards programmes or benefits have featured the usual suspects: medical, dental, childcare, and maybe even a gym contract. But, how relevant are these today? In Hired’s 2019 Global Brand Health Report, Airbnb scored the highest Brand Positivity Index. Some of their employee benefits include: A $2 000 annual travel stipend which, paid out quarterly, allows employees to stay at any Airbnb listing in the world, a generous parental and family leave, ample paid-time-off, as well as incredibly innovative offices. It’s different for every business, every performing employee, and every business’s budget, but there are small wins that, if managed according to an employees’ emotional needs, can make a great impact.

 It’s estimated that 80% of top performing employees want continued perks more than they want a pay raise. These don’t have to be expensive: a free day out-of-office per month, a duvet-day every quarter, a team lunch once a month; incentives like a night away for two as an employee target achievement or a spa treatment for a job well done can go a long way. Get creative and be sensitive to this kind of people strategy — your employees will appreciate it.

“Business is about people. Put your people first by understanding their needs, by giving them what they need to thrive, and by creating not only a company and culture that they feel proud, excited and inspired to work for, but also ensure that there’s ample scope for them to grow within the business, too. Seek to create the kind of environment where the business’s potential mirrors their own; where they can see their future in the future of the company; and are engaged and rewarded to build it, effectively and with passion, with you, through real leadership,” says Morris. 

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