Flexible courses, learning from theatre, music, sports and poker, and even building self awareness. Schools are banking on innovation to make AMPs more effective
Philip Cardamone had been with Brainlab, a boutique medical company, for 12 years when he decided he needed to do an AMP. “As the company grew, I realised that it had been a long time since I had been to school. We were achieving targets alright, but were we doing the right things for our people and organisation?” says Cardamone, now vice president (Asia Pacific), Brainlab.
But there was one catch. He was heading the company’s Asia-Pacific operations, and could not afford to go away for several weeks. He needed something that he could complete at his own pace.
He finally chose the programme offered by University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The course has three core modules and three electives. The core modules are held in Chicago in September, March and the final one in September the following year. The electives are also held at different times of the year. These are regular open enrolment executive development programmes. You can choose the one most relevant to you — Finance for Executives, M&As and High Performance Leadership among others. You can extend your course to the next year as well.
There is a reason why Chicago Booth designed its AMP to be flexible. For one, it is very difficult for companies to send someone away for anything beyond two weeks at a stretch; two, if a CFO goes to an AMP and spends time learning how to calculate the net present value, that’s a waste of time.
There’s another benefit of this structure. “Our brains have a limitation of cognition and absorbing. So the programme structure allows participants to go back and reflect on what they have learnt, apply it in their organisation and come back and discuss that in class,” says Paula Beckmann, senior associate director, Executive Education at Chicago Booth.
The downside, of course, is the additional cost. Says Cardamone, “I am based in Australia and for me to fly to the US six times costs more than the course!”
Like Chicago Booth, others are also playing with the AMP format to make it more relevant. MIT, for instance, replaced its traditional programme with ACE (Advanced Certificate for Executives). It has two formats: The first, ACE-in-1, is held in one block of five calendar weeks. If you can’t give five weeks at a stretch, you can opt for the flexible ACE, which you can finish over four years.
Then there are others like Singapore’s NUS Business School that are tweaking the AMP themes to suit specific audiences. For 28 years, it has been running an AMP with Stanford, which blends Western and Asian perspectives. But five-six years ago it realised that many executives want a more specific focus on Asia-Pacific as they go deeper into doing business in the region, says Prem Shamdasani, associate dean, Executive Education, NUS Business School. So NUS launched another AMP which focusses on building competitive advantage in Asia.
Some others also offer industry-specific AMPs to improve domain expertise — Thunderbird Global School of Management offers one for executives from the oil and gas industry; University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business offers one for telecom.
Yet others like Harvard Business School allow participants to use the AMP to craft solutions for real problems from their organisation, identified before they come to the programme. “They tap peers, faculty, and the HBS community for insights and counsel. This allows us to ensure the programme is directly relevant to the issues participants are dealing with in their own companies,” says Michael Tushman, faculty chair of the Harvard AMP.
Leaders are most likely to derail if they lack self awareness,” says Adam Kingl, Director - Emerging Leaders and Accelerated Development Programmes, Corporate Executive Education at London Business School. That’s why a lot of AMPs spend a substantial amount of time on individual personality assessments. It is not uncommon to have tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 360 degree feedback and the NEO.
In London Business School, all through the first week of the Accelerated Development Programme, participants spend half the day with an executive coach. “The idea is also to help them develop coaching behaviour themselves,” says Kingl.
Every participant has a two-hour coaching session each evening at Said School of Business’ (Oxford) programme. Several Oxford professors continue to handhold participants even after they have returned to their companies. This year Stanford too has introduced individual leadership coaching led by an organisation behaviour expert, as an add-on to the main programme (at additional cost).
Lectures are passé. Schools are going to great lengths to introduce new methods of teaching. Take Columbia Business School. “Our programme is all about experiential learning,” says Paul Ingram, faculty director of the Columbia Senior Executive Program (CSEP). “We use New York City as a laboratory.” So, CSEP participants hone their leadership and team-building skills through a session in Harlem with a jazz band. They go to the Frick Museum where the chief curator teaches them about communication with symbols. The emphasis is on learning from each other, says Ingram.
This approach is pretty popular these days. AMP participants at Wharton understand communication skills through poetry sessions and participate in a regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. “We try to take multiple approaches to building leadership — and connecting the left side of the brain which is more algorithmic and analytical with the right side of the brain which is more about emotion. Music, poetry, art and sport help in balancing the two,” says Dave Heckman, director, Senior Management Programs, The Aresty Institute of Executive Education, Wharton. Says Rajesh Jejurikar, CEO, automotive division, Mahindra & Mahindra, “The Wharton programme is structured around trying to give you very good experiences. That helps you mould yourself and become a complete leader.”
Schools go to great lengths to enable this. UK’s Ashridge Business School recently employed a Las Vegas poker player. “We bring him to do half a day on the business of risk taking, intuition and judgment,” says Stefan Wills, director of the AMP at Ashridge. At Canada’s Richard Ivey School of Business, professional actors were brought into a session on having difficult conversations with difficult employees. “The participants didn’t know that they were actors but had to tackle these ‘difficult employees’ in a role play,” says Jean Louis Schaan, faculty director, Ivey Executive Program, Richard Ivey.
Several schools have included physical challenges in their AMPs. Says Kingl of London Business School, “We use physical challenges to experientially work on personal impact. Your brain is screaming, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ It goes against our nature. Under stress you revert to your natural behaviours.” So for one whole day, participants at the school’s ADP, go to Redding just outside London. They work with professionals and participate in various challenges. They range from building with blocks to more extreme things like climbing a pole and standing on top of it, climbing a wall, etc.
Increasingly, schools are bringing in the best minds to teach — CEOs, policy makers, bestselling authors. Former Intel chairman Andy Grove, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd and former US Secretary of Defense Bill Perry address sessions at the Stanford SEP.
Increasingly, AMP programmes are starting to focus on physical and mental well-being as well. On the first day of Stanford’s SEP (a course on strategic leadership), executive director Robert Burgelman tells participants that the philosophy of the programme lies in the ancient Roman notion of a healthy mind and a healthy body — basically, how to take care of your personal strategic assets. A medical professor gives participants an overview of vital statistics, age-related health issues, weight control, etc. An exercise regimen is crafted out for them.
At Columbia, the participants learn about managing stress and how a busy executive can fit in the time to keep their fitness and well-being high. Oxford’s Said School of Business has personal trainers who help you craft an individual exercise regimen. At University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, participants can get a personal wellness profile done.
“If your health is at a maximum, your energy and creativity will operate at a maximum level too,” says Susian Brooks, director, Darden Executive Education.