Talent & HR Personal growth Organizational culture Leadership

Is executive education worth it?

Participants sitting in a classroom

Executive education is top-tier management training, offered in public programs open to anyone in a business role, or customized for organizations with specific learning and development goals for their leaders and employees. It is designed to both develop and strengthen business acumen and leadership capabilities. Executive education can be used to reward employees, fill skill gaps, solve persistent business challenges, and strengthen teams.  

In business, there’s no such thing as too much education. You can never know all there is to know or be over-qualified for your current or future role. However, that doesn’t mean that every executive education program is worth the time, effort, or money required.

Intangible executive education benefits 

Whether it’s a program for individuals or teams, or customized for an organization, executive education can offer many benefits. Yet not all benefits can be measured on a spreadsheet. 

“Executive education is about learning new tools, frameworks, ways to think about the business and the global economy. That’s not something you can test at the end of a chapter,” Rochelle Weichman, Associate Dean for Executive Education at MIT Sloan.  

Personal and professional growth

The premise of executive education is to learn and become more successful in business as a result of that learning. Program participants require highly actionable insights, frameworks, and strategies to apply in their own roles. They need knowledge and processes that will empower them to meaningfully contribute to the success of their organizations. As a result, they will become more attractive and valued by their own – and potential future employers.

Advancing in an organization means you will be managing people whose jobs are outside your realm of expertise. To understand the responsibilities of your direct reports and their impact on your organization, it’s important expand your knowledge base. This can include learning the language of finance and technology or familiarizing yourself with strategic thinking. Even the most seasoned business leaders learn during their careers that professional development is necessary, especially when making an effort to stand out for a promotion.

An executive education program is an excellent way to demonstrate your ability to think from an organizational perspective instead of a functional one. The ability to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty – and reduce complexity – while exploring new opportunities for growth are highly sought after skills in today’s global business environment. With executive education, you’ll gain an understanding of your business’s competitive context, and the ability to plan strategically to create a more resilient future.

Team building

Most business schools offer executive education courses in two formats: programs open to the public, and custom programs developed in partnership with corporate clients. In a custom program, the university works with an organization to create a specific program of learning aligned with their strategy, vision, and learning and development goals.

At The Ivey Academy, custom programs combine functional experience in the organization's core business with leadership skills. A program that is customized to an organization’s specific needs can offer a bonding experience for frontline teams all the way up to the executive level. In addition to individual learnings, program participants are challenged to problem solve as a group through shared experiences. Communication and workflow improvements often occur as a result of custom programs because they act as a contiguous team-building exercise.

The benefits of team building are not limited to custom programs alone. When an organization sends one or more employees to a public program, they often see a multiplier effect once those employees return to work. After being exposed to the latest trends, research, and business thinking, these employees share the learnings they've absorbed with their colleagues. Organizations that have invested in their employees' professional development have found those employees to be more engaged with aspirations to grow within the organization.

Grow your network

Networking has always been a hallmark of executive education. Through interaction with peers facing similar challenges, you gain an invaluable sounding board, build lifelong bonds, and form a unique network of contacts that you can draw upon for years to come. This powerful alumni network is a long-term resource for participants to share business opportunities or seek advice on life and career challenges.

The opportunity to learn from thought leaders

Educational organizations that are thought leaders possess the cutting-edge knowledge and insights sought by prospective students. The Ivey Academy utilizes top faculty from Ivey’s world-renowned thought leadership institutes to effectively set itself meaningfully above its peers. This means the same professors responsible for authoring cutting-edge research and insights are the ones who deliver it to program participants.

Prepare to navigate change

While you cannot predict the challenges that lie ahead for your business, you should always be preparing yourself to face the unknown. Many executive education courses will keep you ahead of the curve and be ready to withstand a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous business environment. These programs cover relevant topics, including strategic leadership, driving change, supporting a culture of innovation, generating insights from data, and leading through disruption. When facing an unpredictable business environment, 86 per cent of companies with strategic leadership development programs were able to demonstrate an ability to respond more rapidly.

“Never stop learning. Whether you’re an entry-level employee fresh out of college or a CEO, you don’t know it all. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness. The strongest leaders are those who are lifelong students.” Indra Nooyi, the Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo.

In addition, an executive education program can open your eyes to new business ideas and ways to improve your marketing, leadership, culture, and ability to thrive in complex situations. 

Tangible executive education benefits 

At the end of the day, the worth of executive education has to be tied back to both the organization and the individual. These are a few of the real, measurable benefits that executive education can provide:

Solve real world problems

Most organizations and professionals face significant business challenges that they need to address. If the goal of executive education is to solve a problem or to expand an executive’s knowledge base, then the results can be particularly worthwhile.

"Executive education is a really great way to translate strategy into action, because while leaders are learning new skills, they can also develop the organization’s strategic plan as a learning project," Mark Healy, Executive Director, The Ivey Academy.

Several of The Ivey Academy’s custom program clients connect the content of each program to the realities of their work by integrating the learning experience with their own strategic objectives. Participants in Bruce Power’s Leadership Pipeline custom program have worked on 24 action-learning projects, which tackle issues such as reducing waste, reducing their own energy consumption, and improving transportation efficiencies. In addition to realizing millions of dollars in savings and efficiencies, these real-world projects meaningfully connect the students with the curriculum content.

Action learning isn’t limited to The Ivey Academy’s custom programs. Throughout The Ivey Academy’s portfolio of public programs, a teaching method known as “LEAP” (Learning Embedded in Action and Practice) is employed. In many instances, participants are asked to identify a specific strategically-important challenge they are currently facing. The process of solving this problem is known as the “LEAP project.”

Over the course of each program, Ivey faculty help each participant learn how to solve this problem with examples from other organizations and leading edge research. Participants are exposed to a broad range of industries, businesses, and complex situations to help find unexpected and innovative ways of thinking about their LEAP project. The solution to this challenge has long-term implications for each participant and their organization, providing a tremendous amount of tangible value to both the individual and the organization as a whole.

“I’ve been able to apply so much of what I learned in the program in my day-to-day role. The learning feels innate now,” Leila Verheyen, program participant of The Ivey Academy’s Ivey Leadership Program.

Switch careers

If you’re considering switching careers, executive education is a great way to start gaining skills and knowledge in a new field while still at your current job.

While you may possess a number of transferable skills across a number of fields, it’s common to discover knowledge, skill, or experience gaps when considering switching to a specific career. Not only can executive education programs prepare you for a career transition, but they also provide valuable networking opportunities. We’ve already discussed the benefits of group-based learning for executives looking to improve team dynamics, build relationships, and grow their networks. But these networking opportunities are particularly valuable for leaders considering a career change. There’s an old adage that says “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In the business world, it’s both.

Test the waters of a full-time degree

If you’re uncertain about leaving the workforce to take a full-time MBA, an executive education program may be the intermediate step you need. Executive education programs are relatively risk-free and require a comparatively minimal time and financial commitment. You’ll learn from the same faculty and learn the same cases as you would in an MBA program. Not only will you be able to determine if the education was valuable, but you’ll also be able to see how additional education impacts your career ambitions.

Attract and retain talent

By investing in your own people, you’re signaling to the market for talent that your organization is a progressive and desirable workplace. Leadership development boosts employee engagement, increases the organization’s ability to deal with gaps in the talent pipeline, and reduces the expense and hassle associated with turnover. In addition, developing, coaching, and promoting people internally is significantly less expensive than the costs typically required to hire an employee externally. Organizations that invest in their own people seize competitive advantage in their industries.

To put it another way, instead of considering the cost of investing in employees, organizations should consider the cost of not doing so.

Improve the bottom line

Organizations that invest in leadership development perform better than those that don’t.

“Superior human capital management is an extremely powerful predictor of an organization’s ability to outperform its competition.” Laurie Bassi, Human Capital Management Predicts Stock Prices.

Organizations that rate highly for their investments in professional development deliver stock market returns five times greater than those that place less emphasis on learning and development. Leadership development builds organizational resiliency, encourages the creation new lines of revenue, and improves customer satisfaction.

As mentioned previously, the dynamic of group problem-solving real business challenges, guided through practical learning and coaching from a thought leader or industry expert, drives real-world results. Industry examples have consistently shown that companies that invest in employee training enjoy higher profits than companies that don't.

Ivey Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Gandz 
on measuring the impact of executive education.

To learn more about The Ivey Academy's executive education portfolio, explore our programs & services overview.


About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.