Measuring the Impact of Executive Education

When developing custom programs with a client, the question at the forefront of my mind is always: How do we measure the ROI for the client? When will we know if the education we present has made a true impact on the teams we work with?

To answer those questions, I turned to Dan Burton, Senior Manager of Training & Development at the Genentech Vacaville Plant, who has partnered with Executive Education at UC Davis Graduate School of Management to plan and deliver custom executive education programs for his company. Burton explained that Executive Education at UC Davis allowed his company to “spend less and receive four times the value for the investment made.” His perspective is based on the active partnership and continuing collaboration after the program ended between Genentech and UC Davis.

For Burton, the impact on Genentech resulted from the ability to develop a program with a specific goal to solve challenges and opportunities tied directly to a specific company outcome. The 70 Genentech executives who participated in this year’s program also built stronger professional networks as they learned the common language of the program, which was based on the topic of value. What’s more, the ROI for Genentech is being measured over time by identifying how the tools and strategies learned are being implemented on a day-to-day basis.

Burton explained, “Sending individuals to a program that they experience alone in an organization, that does not have a strong learning structure in place to transfer the knowledge, and then expecting the information to be shared with a larger group upon their return is like turning money into vapor.” In other words, a complete team of individuals learning together is a critical component to a successful and impactful program.

The Genentech Program at UC Davis was a success due to the customized learning structure that encouraged executives to work together, solve problems collaboratively, and achieve specifically defined goals. UC Davis executive education has nurtured a continuous partnership with the company to encourage implementation back at the office. However, measuring success in executive education is not always easy to determine.

ROI for executive education: the Holy Grail?

Every year, the Financial Times conducts a survey regarding Business Education. In the May 2011 survey it was reported that 7 in 10 HR professionals were more likely to provide business education now or in the future (sample of 277) and 71% are more likely to provide access to executive education. The publication also reported some benefits associated with custom education programs:

  • Specialized focus that isn’t widely available
  • Flexible dates and timing
  • Efficiency in educating groups of employees at the same time
  • Cost control
  • Ability for employees to spend time together

There’s a place in the learning and development budget for conferences and other individual learning programs, but the ROI to the business of creating and implementing a custom program designed for a specific outcome cannot be undersold.

Some researchers compare measuring return on investment in executive education with the “pursuit of the Holy Grail.” However, the Phillips ROI methodology can provide a starting point for us to understand the impact of the programs we create. The ROI Methodology is best described by considering the five major elements. They Include: an evaluation framework; a process model; case applications and practice; operating standards and philosophy; and implementation.

Using this model, we can examine what clients were doing to evaluate ROI at the following levels:

  1. Participants’ reactions: immediate post program
  2. Acquisition of learning by participants
  3. Application of new skills or behaviors by participants
  4. Results at an organizational level
  5. Financial ROI

Creating a model to maximize value

I believe that measuring the ROI for an executive education program is directly related to creating an upfront understanding of “what does success look like” to the client.

It’s our responsibility to deeply interview and question clients on the assumptions they are making on what they expect the program to change within their organization.  During the “peeling back the onion” phase, I frequently hear language like “we need a mini MBA” or “we need to be more innovative”. These are merely buzzwords or phrases that do not lend themselves to creating quality programs.

During program development, paying attention to the engagement of the participants prior to the program; the format and delivery of the content during the program; the application of the material after the program; and the structure for measuring success will all lead to the ability to determine whether these programs have impact.

The partnership we’ve developed with Genentech has enabled us to create a model that helps organizations understand how to truly maximize the value they hope to achieve through executive education. Contact us if you would like to better understand how to evaluate this offering within your organization.


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