Adapting to Change

Zoe MacLeod, Royal Roads University | BCBusiness
Zoe MacLeod, director of the Centre for Coaching and Workplace Innovation in the Faculty of Management at Royal Roads University, may just have the longest job title in B.C. academia.

Executive education used to be reserved for senior management. Today it’s geared toward helping entire organizations stay agile

Executive education is not about learning facts and theory; it’s about the spaces around the learning. That means developing innovation-enabling processes, relationship building, cross-sector exchanges and cultivating creative intelligence. “Universities aren’t just there to download their knowledge,” explains Kate Dilworth, adjunct professor and director of learning design at SFU’s Beedie School of Business. “Yes we have some knowledge, but we don’t have all the answers and so we bring that into the space.” The learning depends on input from everybody, she says.

A Degree in Social Media?

Local business and universities step up to the plate with certificate programs in social-media literacy by Jacob Parry

As an MBA candidate, your Twitter account or LinkedIn profile probably won’t land you that dream job—but it could certainly be the reason you don’t get it. Employers today expect managers who can scout leads, communicate across teams and build the brand online. And whether you’re gunning for a mobile marketing position, a slot on the communications team or even CFO, your social-media presence will be a definite asset.

Enter HootSuite University, Vancouver-based HootSuite Media Inc.’s certification program in social media geared toward its corporate clientele and web-savvy professionals. The bulk of HootSuite’s grads received training via their employers’ enterprise subscription, but web-savvy freelancers can sign up for $20 per month.

HootSuite University director Kristen Bailey estimates that 50,000 professionals in total have completed its four-to-nine-hour course, which consists of a mix of video-based courseware and half-hour webinars that use case studies (and a how-to for HootSuite’s own product) to teach social-media best practices.

Trepidation and social- media horror stories—whether it be the trolls that plague the McDonald’s Facebook wall or the HMV supervisor gone rogue on Twitter—have led many execs-in-waiting to eschew an online presence. That’s a big mistake, according to Chris Breikss, founder of digital marketing agency 6S Marketing Inc. and an instructor in mobile strategy at UBC’s Continuing Studies program.

“The c-suite tends to focus on what can go wrong with social media and that’s the wrong way of looking at it, as there are so many areas in the social-media space not being capitalized on,” says Breikss.

UBC’s Sauder School of Business also runs a four-day executive-education seminar on social-media strategy and tactics, which focuses on governance, monetization, metrics and marketing.

“How MBA grads portray themselves on social media is really important when they’re looking for a new job and also when they’re managing their personal brand,” says Breikss. “A potential hiring manager or vendor or customer is going to Google your name early on, so it’s not only important to be on social media, but to conduct yourself in a professional manner.”

—Jacob Parry

Executive education programs are meant to address the challenges facing businesses and organizations, but the accelerated pace of corporate change in recent years, including the growth of social technology and increased global connectivity, has created a demand for programs focusing on adapting to change itself.

“The programs we’re seeing fully subscribed are those where you get the skill set to ask better questions, to be more innovative, to lead people through change, to help organizations better design their organizational structures for the future,” says Zoe MacLeod, director of the Centre for Coaching and Workplace Innovation in the Faculty of Management at Royal Roads University. “We’re seeing a need for whole-systems transformation and how people in organizations develop their people. It’s basically a re-imagined organization and so those are the things that we see as necessary skills for the future.”

While training in change leadership is in constant demand, other hot topics in executive education today include transparency, cultural diversity, corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

Executive education used to be a perk reserved for the ranks of senior management, but today it’s becoming woven into corporate culture at increasingly junior levels. “We are definitely seeing younger leaders and the desire for leadership development, not just for the top tiers in organizations but at much earlier stages in emerging leaders,” says Dilworth. “We’re really seeing a diversity in terms of where people are at in their career and their ages.” She further notes that it is less the individual and more the company that is seeking training opportunities, offering development to young leaders as a retention strategy.

MacLeod says that five years ago the majority of students in RRU’s Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching program were planning to go into business for themselves, hanging a shingle to be an executive coach. Now, by contrast, about half the program’s participants will be executive coaches within their organization.

Off the rack or made-to-measure?

Those seeking professional development through certificate-granting institutions face two main options: open enrolment, where students sign on to pre-defined courses and programs, or custom-developed programs designed to meet the specific needs of an organization.

In 2009, the organization representing family physicians across the province was faced with choosing between the two options. The General Practice Service Committee, a partnership between the B.C. Ministry of Health and the B.C. Medical Association, was contemplating education alternatives in response to various health care reforms that were about to affect how family doctors do business.

Dr. Garey Mazowita, committee member and department head of Providence Health Care’s Department of Community and Family Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, recalls the meeting: “We really felt quite strongly that there were some very specific leadership skills that were required.” The committee looked at a number of options, but Mazowita and another committee member kept coming back to the positive experience they’d both had with a custom-designed program at SFU.

The committee asked SFU’s Kate Dilworth to come in for a meeting, and in 2010 they ultimately chose to have SFU design a custom program for family physicians across the province. Since then, the demand for the custom program has been high, “and it’s continued to be high because the feedback from their colleagues that have taken it has been so positive,” says Mazowita.

However, the customization process is not for everybody, cautions Dilworth, because it demands constant feedback. “We want clients to participate,” she says, explaining that the initial assessment of the client’s needs is just the beginning. SFU maintains a close relationship with the client during and after the customized program to tweak it and respond to new needs or goals. Dilworth explains the relationship: “We’re so connected to them because we’re designing something especially for them, based on an impact that they’re trying to have. That’s one of the important ways that we’re able to stay current, because we are not guessing what’s going on out there; we’re working directly with folks who are being challenged.”

These custom-designed programs might be a course ranging from one to 12 days in length, or could go as far as a fully customized MBA program. Custom executive education is suited primarily for organizations with enough employees to warrant it. The alternative is open-enrolment programs, which can offer training in general subjects or highly targeted, sector-specific topics.

RRU’s focus is on its open-enrolment programming, but that doesn’t translate into cookie-cutter classes. It combines in-person sessions with distance or self-directed learning. For example, one of RRU’s most popular courses (it’s full for the next three sessions) is the Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching. Students start the program on campus, then work from home for a few months and reconvene on campus for their final sessions.

Dilworth and MacLeod agree that whether employers choose open enrolment or custom programs, the education option has to resonate quickly with the busy professional and respond to what the professionals are facing in their world. These are the challenges that inspire Dilworth. “It’s an exciting time for executive education because we just have a lot of challenges in society. But with that comes opportunity,” she says. “And really, the power is in the people. People are innovative and they’re smart; they can be creative if you give them the right tools.”