How to Select an Executive Education Program

Here are some guidelines for selecting an executive education program:

1. Identify the development needs. Boil it down to the top three development needs, or in other words, “what are you trying to get from a program?” Typical answers are “learn how to be more strategic”, “leading change”, or some combination of functional knowledge (finance, sales, and marketing). There may be is a timeframe that’s better or worse than others (i.e., next 6 months, avoid the summer, etc…)

2. Search your favorite executive education providers.  The programs I’ve used have gotten positive feedback and they are also rated favorably by Business Week and the Financial Times. I start with The Center for Creative Leadership and Darden for leadership, Chicago’s GSB for sales and marketing, Wharton and Chicago for finance, Harvard and Stanford for strategy, etc….

3. Once you find a couple potential programs, look for a good fit. Look at the recommended participant level, participant mix, industry mix, and company participation.

4. Check out the instructors, read the bios. Review the day by day agenda, topics, and activities. Again, you’re looking for a good fit for the participant and his/her development needs. Talk to the provider’s Exec Ed Director, or someone who can help you learn more about the programs.
Ask other’s if they have experience with the program.

5. Talk to past participants if possible, or someone in charge of leadership/executive development development.

6. Geography can sometimes be a factor. Looking for a global experience? Than look for a good mix of global participants, or better yet, attend a program outside the U.S. Insead, IMD, and the London School of business are all excellent European choices. I’ve not found much in South America or Asia, but many of the top US programs now take place in Asia. If you want to network for some high tech leaders, then go to Silicon Valley (Berkeley, Stanford).

7. Length of program: Programs range anywhere from 2-3 days to 6 weeks. I honestly don’t know how someone could afford to go to a 6 week program these days, unless they are on a sabbatical or their company is just trying to get rid of them for a while. I’ve found you need at least a week to have a true immersion experience. Some of those deep “ahas” don’t happen until the 4th or 5th day. Two weeks seems to be perfect, with an opportunity to explore and recharge on weekends.

8. Check out the amenities’. All right, I know, this is a learning experience and not a vacation, but top notch food, accommodations, and surroundings all are part of the total experience. All of the schools on my list cater to executives – this actually ends up being a driver of participant satisfaction and the school’s program rankings. Also see if the room and meals are included in the program.

9. Factors that should not be a part of a decision: alumni relationships, timing coinciding with the NCAA playoffs, and catchy program titles.

After all of this, narrow it down to 2-3 program, and then select based on best fit, timing, and costs.

These are often once in a life time experiences for most leaders. University executive education programs are a big investment, usually in the $7,000 – $40,000 price range. Clear your work and personal calendars, and immerse yourself in the week. This is a time to be 100% selfish, and focus on nothing but your own development as a leader. Your company, employees, co-workers, boss, and family will all benefit from the new and improved you!