Making the Case for University-based Executive Education
Articulating your competitive advantage when competing against consulting firms
Based upon a 2018 discussion among Bill Scheurer, UNICON Executive Director, and former board chairs Mike Malefakis and Clark Callahan
There are an increasing number of options available when it comes to executive development. In addition to the university-based variety practiced by UNICON members, groups that offer some form of executive education/training include consulting firms (large and small) and niche organizations that specialize by industry or discipline.
While each of these entities has a role to play, it is worth reminding ourselves from time to time just how well positioned university-based executive education (UBEE) is to deliver the best executive development solution. Sometimes UBEE practitioners are too close to their own product to see just how ideal it can be for the right client!
Clark Callahan, Managing Director of Harvard Business School Executive Education, and former board chair, 2015-2016, spoke recently about the sweet spot UBEE occupies. It’s one – he believes – that no other provider can claim.
Clark shared the following comparative observations about three of the most frequently sought-out executive education options:
- Elite consulting companies. These organizations are solutions-focused. They are brought in to solve a specific problem, or to maximize a specific opportunity. They are laser-focused on the issue they are engaged to deal with, and will provide the client with a recommendation on exactly what to do and precisely how to do it. Rarely, if ever, is there an educational or developmental component to their work. If senior executives pick up a tip or two along the way, that’s great. But that’s no more than benign spillage.
- Niche training organizations. These organizations are experts in a very specific discipline (coaching, leadership techniques, etc.). They tend to teach about that topic in the abstract. They provide frameworks and tools, but are not very good at contextualizing the topic for a business, because they are not business experts. At the end of a course, participants may understand the concepts in some depth, but are often unclear about how to apply them to their daily business challenges.
- University-based Executive Education Providers. Unlike the niche training organizations, UBEE departments teach important concepts in the context of business. While it’s important to understand the conceptual frameworks, participants walk away knowing how to apply those concepts in practical ways that enhance their business objectives. And unlike consulting firms, UBEE providers teach participants how to think, not what to think. Faculty apply their deep expertise to the client’s specific opportunities, providing a new way to think about strategic alternatives that will pay off for years to come.
So, next time you find yourself going head-to-head with a non-UBEE provider, remember these important distinctions. Thank you to Clark Callahan for such insightful observations.