Leading change and inspiring lifelong learning

Changing landscapes necessitate changing approaches to alumni relations and lifelong learning. Experts from a variety of industries offer their perspectives

In a volatile world, even MBAs are challenged to keep abreast of trends and issues constantly – and 34% of graduates were found to have accessed lifelong learning from their Business School, post-MBA, in a recent AMBA & BGA survey. Growing interest and demand for continued learning presents Business Schools with a golden opportunity to retain close links with their alumni. As such, a session of the AMBA & BGA Festival of Excellence explored strategies and opportunities for Business Schools to reinvent teaching and learning among students, graduates, alumni networks, and in their custom and executive education offerings. 

Chairing the panel was Ivan Mitchell, CEO of Studious Digital Education, who kickstarted the conversation by saying: ‘I’m sure lifelong learning is on the agenda throughout organisations across the world. I want to start thinking about what the future holds for this space of lifelong learning – what are we optimistic about and what do we think is going to happen?’

Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair of AMBA & BGA, and Professor of Marketing at WU Vienna, proceeded to present a challenge for Business Schools: ‘Business Schools have to become more flexible in two ways. They have to give a lot of delivery options, in terms of the content they are producing, but also in terms of the focus of their content. 

‘A lot of Business Schools have thought in the past that graduation is it, the students are no longer our customers. This meant that alumni relations were more of an afterthought – it was maybe about getting money, or getting someone in to give a talk. That is very wrong, because we need to look at education from the cradle to the grave, so we have to address these kinds of customers in a very different way. I think that for Business Schools, that is the biggest challenge at the moment.’ 

More active roles

Offering a corporate and employment perspective, Ehab Abdel Hafez, Head of Talent Acquisition for Africa, the Middle East and Turkey at Johnson & Johnson, responded: ‘Business Schools should be making sure that corporates are playing a more active role in developing curricula,’ he said, adding that there is ‘a lot of appetite within organisations’ for this form of collaboration. 

Offering the perspective of an MBA and DBA graduate, marketing practitioner and author, Geraint Evans, said: ‘What we must do, in terms of supporting lifelong learning, is challenge the academics, educators and the people who run Business Schools. We have to act now and focus on the fundamentals as we understand them.’

Panellists were in agreement that Business Schools have an opportunity to offer more diverse and innovative forms of lifelong learning. However, Schelegelmilch pointed out that other providers exist in the market and threaten the success of this proposed strategy: ‘There’s a whole range of institutions that offer various degrees and various types of courses,’ he said. ‘In this context, you have to be careful not to just equate lifelong learning with another degree. I think another degree is always nice, but lifelong learning can be as short as a five-minute podcast you listen to every lunchtime. The interesting question here is how institutions can manage and provide lifelong learning opportunities. And how do corporations entice their employees to participate regularly in lifelong learning? I think that is a key issue.’

Keeping up with changes to technology and aspirations 

So, how is the corporate world reacting to this change in the need for learning and development, and how can Business Schools remain in the mix? Elisaveta Nojkovska, Industry Executive for Central and Eastern Europe, Higher Education at Microsoft, offered some advice: ‘Education cannot stop with university or with the MBA. The technology is changing, the environment is changing, tools are changing – so keeping up with trends is something that needs to be a norm and needs to be flexible. Being adjustable to the current situation is something that will help everyone be upskilled.’

Gaya Gamhewage, Head of Learning and Capacity Building, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO) picked up on the current pace and depth of change, before saying: ‘What change requires is for us not to educate or train, but to learn because the purpose of learning is application in real life. Our roles are changing so, even if you’re academically qualified, you will need constant learning and the systems to support that. I think our aspirations also change. Our understanding of equity and human rights has changed our aspirations, and this requires learning not just in our domains but in a complex system. That requires all of the 21st-century skills of communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. 

‘All this necessitates constant learning, not just formally in universities but also through informal learning, so we may go to a course or learn from a webinar but there’s also what we learn every day, informally. How are we learning from our experiences, codifying this learning and sharing it with others? It’s this whole complex system that makes lifelong learning.’

Chair: Ivan Mitchell,CEO, Studious Digital Education

Panellists: Ehab Abdel Hafez, Head of Talent Acquisition (Africa, Middle East and Turkey) Johnson & Johnson; Geraint Evans, marketing practitioner, academic and writer; Gaya Gamhewage, Head of Learning and Capacity Building, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization; Elisaveta Nojkovska, Industry Executive for Central and Eastern Europe, Higher Education, Microsoft; Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair, AMBA & BGA; Professor of Marketing, WU Vienna

This article was originally published in Ambition (the magazine of BGA’s sister organisation, AMBA).

Making lifelong learning a natural extension of an MBA

Lifelong learning opportunities shouldn’t feel forced – instead, they should feel like a natural extension of the programme. Tim Banerjee Dhoul talks to the Director of the Anáhuac MBA, Guillermo Zamacona, and programme alumna, Pilar Brogeras, about where the responsibility lies for graduates’ continuing education

‘Doing what I do, you know that people need development – all the time. You need to be on your toes for whatever’s coming,’ says Pilar Brogeras, a Managing Director at executive search firm, Stanton Chase, and an MBA alumna of Universidad Anáhuac México in Mexico City. 

‘What I see is that when you’re working, you’re in this one lane and it’s pretty easy to lose sight,’ she continues. ‘Sometimes, you’re just running and running like a hamster on a wheel. I think that is where these [lifelong learning] programmes can slap you on the face and be like, “hey, you have to keep it up, you have to keep pushing and gain a little bit of perspective,” because organisations do not always give you the opportunity or the tools to realise where you have to develop.’

‘For me, it’s more of an internal motivation – it starts with you, but I do think that universities have to do this work of putting in place programmes that really respond to the needs of companies and professionals. They have a responsibility to put in place a platform that can allow you to reach whatever it is that you want to reach through those programmes because they have a very strong network of players and strategic alliances.’ 

‘A responsibility from both sides’

Guillermo Zamacona, Director of the Anáhuac MBA, agrees that Business Schools have a responsibility for their graduates’ continuing education: ‘It’s a responsibility from both sides. I think it’s our responsibility as a Business School to be creative enough and to have the right strategy to make it feel natural so that the alumni and the students get involved.

In this sense, much of the work revolves around not only creating the right opportunities, but also facilitating the engagement of alumni. ‘We’ve developed a lot of channels, from academic and social events, to challenges and WhatsApp groups – a really big agenda, both within the MBA programme and in terms of lifelong learning,’ Zamacona explains. ‘We have tried to develop it in a way where it doesn’t feel like they are doing something extra where they have put it in their diary and it’s like, “ugh, today I have to go to this”. We’ve been trying to do it more naturally so that the networks get more efficient and the alumni get more valuable courses and activities.’

Network ‘efficiency’ comes when alumni interact and work with each other automatically in the years after their graduation, as if it were a natural extension of the programme. In the process, they can also continue learning from each other.

‘It’s great to see that our channels are generating this,’ says Zamacona, giving a recent example of spotting – casually, on social media – two alumni collaborating outside the School’s official channels. ‘I saw their picture and it was great to see that they were working together on a new artistic project, especially because it was nothing that we have done directly… I wish I could charge a fee for every business that is created among our alumni and our network.’

Gaining traction

A self-confessed bookworm with a background in communications, Brogeras says she enrolled in the Anáhuac MBA because she wanted to broaden her skills and knowledge through a programme that balanced hard and soft skills. ‘For me, it was very important to have the overall picture of how an organisation works…what I do is place talent – maybe I’m not the specialist in a role but I understand the main challenges.’

She then took full advantage of international opportunities that arose because of her MBA, attending short programmes at Harvard Business School and EADA Business School in Spain in the year she graduated. More recently, she secured a scholarship for a highly selective executive education programme aimed at preparing female leaders for board roles. Run by Banco Santander and known as the Santander W50, Brogeras attended the programme at UCLA Anderson School of Management, having received notification of the opportunity from her alma mater. ‘These [opportunities] were not necessarily from Anáhuac, but they were a result of the educational offer of Anáhuac,’ she says. 

Lifelong learning opportunities offered directly by her School have progressed rapidly in recent years, in Brogeras’s opinion. ‘To be super blunt, when I was there, I think there was not a lot of interest post-graduation. It was more ‘thank you’ and ‘bye’,’ she confides. ‘So, I think it has taken a while to get some traction, but all the work [Zamacona] and the team has done has started getting the attention of many of the alumni.’

‘We offer all of our students the chance to join the alumni association when they graduate and all of them say “yes”,’ says Zamacona, referencing cohorts from the last six or seven years in particular when asked about the current take-up for the School’s lifelong learning opportunities. ‘They sign and become part of the association. But [in terms of] really being involved, we have around 1,000 alumni… I would say that [engagement] is gradual. The three years after graduation around 75% are involved with all of these activities; the next three years, 50%; the next three years, 25%. 

Brogeras, who sits on the alumni association board, concedes that her fellow MBA alumni can be ‘tough cookies’, saying: ‘For someone that graduated maybe 10-15 years ago, there was nothing, and now there’s this bunch of activities. But they probably still feel a little disconnected from the programme as it’s been such a long time. I think it’s sort of like carving stone and being there and being there and eventually they will come back.’

Cocreated activities 

Nominated for an AMBA Excellence Award this year (with the winner yet to be announced at the time of going to press), the lifelong learning programme at Anáhuac’s Faculty of Economics and Business is designed to cover a full range of activities – social, academic, spiritual, cultural, communitarian, and physical – deemed necessary for ongoing career success. These opportunities, Zamacona advises, are all cocreated with its stakeholders: ‘For example, we have quarterly seminars and, this quarter, we had a three-day seminar, after which we launched a survey. In that survey, we asked what alumni want to know in the next quarter. With those answers and some other inputs, from the alumni association or from the professors or students, we create the next agenda.’ 

When asked how the peer-to-peer learning that is so integral to MBA programmes can be replicated at alumni events, both Zamacona and Brogeras talk about the importance of an event’s format and setting.  

‘It’s not like we invite all our alumni to a lecture on finance, or with the CFO of Miniso,’ Zamacona says, referencing a recent example of an event featuring an alumni and c-suite manager with the Chinese retail multinational offering insights into doing business with Asia. ‘It’s a one-hour talk, then 30 minutes of Q&A and then an hour and a half of networking with him and all of the other participants. It’s a balance between academic and social.’ 

‘The right people with which to connect’

Brogeras agrees on the importance of activities’ social aspect, saying that she values, for example, the opportunity to sit down and have a coffee and a chat with other participants before going to see such talks. She’s also big on the value of that traditional benefit of joining a leading Business School’s MBA programme – the network you gain access to as a result.   

The network – or rather, ‘putting in place the right people with which to connect,’ has, for Brogeras, been a clear highlight of what’s been on offer from Anáhuac since her graduation from the programme in 2014. ‘Through your network there is so much to leverage, in terms of perspective, mentoring, or just information you want to understand more about, relating to the sector you’re working in,’ she reasons.

Seven years on from her MBA programme, Brogeras says she’s in touch with fellow Anáhuac MBA alumni a couple of times a month. ‘I have one who was from the MBA, but from a couple of generations [cohorts] before me. We were together in the W50 programme – we’re very close and we even started doing some business together. Another friend is in Deloitte and has done a lot of stuff, so I reach out to him every now and then,’ she says by way of example, before adding that she remains in touch with people from the Harvard and EADA programmes she attended at the time of her MBA.  

A couple of times a month is also the average frequency with which the School facilitates a point of interaction for alumni, a get together, or other lifelong learning opportunity, according to Zamacona. 

Such regularity seems particularly apt at a time of uncertainty for global business and society. The Covid-19 pandemic, for Brogeras, has certainly upped the need for MBAs to look at ways of upskilling and reskilling: ‘Now it’s hit us that we have to change the way we work and the way we
do business. Business models have changed considerably, so it’s very important for us to remain aware of where we might need to develop ourselves if we want to keep our jobs.’

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

The continuing quest for knowledge

Lifelong learning research from AMBA & BGA shows that more than a third of graduates have sought to continue their education beyond their studies, and outlines their areas of interest. David Woods-Hale reports

From quarantined students to a rapid migration to online teaching and learning, business education experienced its fair share of disruption in 2020.

Yet, during this tumultuous year, AMBA & BGA was able to carry out a 360-degree portfolio of research, looking at the perspectives of Business Schools, employers, students and graduates as they sought to acclimatise to the conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The research delved into the need for greater technological innovation – both in terms of course delivery and digital skills – and explored respondents’ views on how successfully the business education landscape is evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of stakeholders at all levels. 

This section of the research focuses on the views of 2,110 MBA graduates, surveyed in the spring and early summer of 2020, on their satisfaction with their MBA and their continuing relationships with the Business Schools at which they studied, in relation to lifelong learning and their continuing development. 

Graduate satisfaction, post-MBA

Graduates’ sense of satisfaction with their MBA qualification was gauged in an earlier part of the year’s research. Encouragingly, 71% of those polled were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with the impact of their MBAs on their careers to date. At the other end of the scale, 10% were either ‘fairly dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’. 

Following this, participants were asked for their opinion on the areas in which they believed the MBA had added the most value to their career prospects. Among respondents, 88% agreed that they have ‘gained substantially more skills to help them do business better’ as a result of completing the MBA. Meanwhile, 81% agreed that ‘the skills they learned during their MBA have helped them be more mentally resilient’, and 74% believed ‘they have been able to develop all the business-related skills they wanted’ as a result of completing the qualification. 

In terms of salary expectations, graduates were less sure as to how far their MBA has made an impact. Just over a third (23%) neither agreed or disagreed that ‘they felt equipped to reach the salary they wanted to achieve in the future’ – and 11% actively disagreed with this statement. 

When the sample was segmented to only include the findings for MBA graduates that had completed their qualification less than a year before taking the survey, the results revealed a higher level of satisfaction, compared with the rest of the sample. In all the areas measured, recent graduates are either one or two percentage points higher in agreement that they had achieved the outcomes listed, on account of completing their MBA programme, than those that graduated more than a year ago.

Survey participants were also polled on the difference that their MBA made to them in terms of their behaviour in the workplace. The top answer, cited by 68% of MBA graduates, was ‘I was more confident about myself’, followed by ‘I was better at resolving problems by finding new solutions’ (62%), and ‘I was more prepared to work in a highly competitive environment’ (58%).

‘If I were to do an MBA again…’

Graduates were asked: ‘On reflection, if you were to do an MBA again, which of the following aspects would you like to see more of, or improved?’ and were provided with options ranging from ‘better quality of teaching’, to ‘more confidence building’. 

Overall, the largest proportion of respondents (54%) said they would have liked ‘more networking opportunities’; 37% would have liked ‘more knowledge and skills specifically to help them start a new business’; 34% would have liked ‘more content on how to run a profitable business’; and 31% would have liked ‘content that was more appropriate to the industry in which they work’. At the other end of the scale, the smallest proportion of respondents (22%) would have liked ‘better quality of teaching’.  In an open-ended question, graduates were then encouraged to share other thoughts as to what they would like to see more of in their MBA programmes, if they were to study for the qualification again. 

Answers were diverse, but responses comprised the following: 

• Case studies that inspire students to find solutions and help in developing a way of thinking.

• More practical case studies with a current or recent focus, relevant to today’s and future industry needs.

• More information about new disruptive businesses.

• To shed more light on current local and global challenges, and how to
handle them. 

• More technological updates and a means to learn how to improve
business skills in such a fast-paced technological environment. 

• Equip me to manage jobs that don’t yet exist and to look more into the future.

• Develop emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence.

• More practical experience of running an SME, or starting an SME.

• Greater oversight of managing a business’ finances.

• The reality of the job market and how to understand that an MBA doesn’t put you at the top of the food chain.

Remaining ahead of the skills curve

Business changes continually, as do individual career paths, so in a volatile world MBAs must keep abreast of evolving trends and issues constantly, and make sure they are nurturing and enhancing the skills they need continuously, in order to succeed in their career trajectories. 

With that in mind and considering these postgraduate reflections, Business Schools have an opportunity to remedy knowledge gaps in their alumni by keeping contact with graduates and offering access to lifelong learning in a variety of ways. 

The survey therefore sought to find out graduates’ views on the subject of lifelong learning as well as the means and frequency with which they are currently accessing it from their alma mater, as well as other Business Schools and further providers in the market. 

To start off with, participants were asked if they had accessed any lifelong learning opportunities through the Business Schools from which they graduated. Lifelong learning opportunities were defined as courses, modules and other initiatives related to MBA study that graduates can complete or attend after completing their MBA and throughout their careers. Just over a third (34%) of participants had accessed lifelong learning post-MBA from their own institution. 

Participants were then asked to share some information, in open-ended questions, about the nature of the lifelong learning options they had accessed. Formats cited included executive education programmes, masterclasses and alumni weekends, while topics cited included ethics, presentation skills, mentoring and negotiation.

Satisfaction with lifelong learning to date

Considering the myriad of courses and lifelong learning initiatives in which MBA graduates had partaken, the survey moved on to examine their levels of satisfaction with the options accessed.  

Almost three quarters of alumni who had taken part in postgraduate lifelong learning opportunities from Business Schools said they were either ‘very satisfied’ (32%) or ‘fairly satisfied’ (41%) with what they had completed or attended. Less than 3% reported dissatisfaction with lifelong learning provisions undertaken. 

Areas of interest for continued learning

Graduates were subsequently asked which subjects they would be most interested in, if their Business Schools were to offer additional management programmes to its MBA alumni.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the rapid evolution of the technology sector, MBA graduates are most interested in tech-related refreshers. The most popular topic cited by respondents was data analytics for managers (47%) closely followed by digital strategy (45%). Other popular topics among survey participants, included strategy execution (42%) global leadership (41%) and global strategy (39%). 

Topics and modules that are most commonly core elements within traditional MBA programmes were of less interest to the survey sample as a whole, in terms of postgraduate lifelong learning or refresher courses. Less than a fifth were interested in completing additional management programmes with a focus on economics (19%) supply chain management (17%) strategic HR management (16%) business ethics (16%) statistics (15%) or accounting (12%). 

Survey participants that selected ‘other’ were prompted to share what they would like to learn more about in their pursuit of lifelong learning. Answers put forward mirrored some of the courses that other participants had already completed (as evidenced earlier in the report), with suggestions encompassing diversity, project management, philosophy, presentation skills, crisis management, financial modelling, conflict resolution, game theory, branding and design, as well as culture and intercultural business. 

Conclusions

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that business continuity and success depends on leaders who know what they want to achieve and understand how they can make a difference in the world.

In conditions that remain volatile and uncertain, businesses are crying out for a new breed of leader to future-proof economies and innovate through complexity. This new breed of leader needs people skills, as well as focus – and this presents Business Schools with the challenge of developing these game-changing traits and relevant skills both while studying on a degree programme at the School and – as this survey confirms – throughout their future careers and lives. This challenge provides an opportunity for traditional business educators – Business Schools – but also for the corporate world and other training providers, who represent growing competition to Schools’ provision of executive and custom education. With adaptive learning and AI also emerging, ‘business as usual’ is no longer sustainable. Traditional Business Schools cannot continue without embracing fundamental change.

Having said that, this piece of research demonstrates that graduates, for the most part, are satisfied with their MBA experience, hold a high opinion of what their School has offered them after their graduations, and have ambitions to continue to grow and hone their skills. 

The test which the Business School community will have to collectively pass is to take this thirst for ongoing development and compete – or collaborate – with the corporate world strategically, effectively and quickly.

This article has been adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

The value of lifelong learning

Judith Hanika-Grünn, Group Expert, Executive Development and Change Management at Raiffeisen Bank International AG, was a keynote speaker at AMBA & BGA’s Business School Professionals Conference 2019 in Vienna, Austria. Here, she discusses the importance of lifelong learning and how MBA qualifications can add value

Why do you value the importance of lifelong learning for employees? 

Lifelong learning is a given. There is no life without learning. We do it anyway. The only differentiation is that you can do in a smart or less smart way. Lifelong learning is a must.

Anyone who has been employed over the past 25 years has had to learn, and that’s whether or not they have attended formal classroom training, or they would no longer be in employment. 

How do you see MBA qualifications adding value to your business? 

MBAs are one of many ways in which we can support our employees in their development. It’s very selective due to
the cost and the time needed for an MBA. It’s not a format that will suit everybody, but for certain people, perhaps those with a technical background who are now stepping up to a more managerial role, for example, an MBA can really help them broaden knowledge and expertise. 

What does ‘good’ look like in an MBA graduate? 

I look at MBA graduates and compare them to how they were when they considering doing an MBA. 

What I first see is that their self-esteem has grown in a very healthy way and the achievement of completing a part-time MBA alongside a full-time job. It is a challenge and if you’re able to do it, it’s a very cool thing. Of course, they have also gained cutting-edge knowledge and built a network beyond their own industry. Our industry is banking, for example, but on an MBA you will normally meet people from outside financial services and this broadens your thinking and expectations. 

What advice would you give to someone considering taking an MBA? 

The first thing is to have a good reason for doing it. You should be very clear about this, perhaps writing down your reasons and sticking them on a pin board at home so that whenever you experience doubts, you remember why you are doing it. You should also ensure you have the support of family and friends, as well as your team and colleagues at work.  

How can MBAs be sure to use their skills in business once they have finished the programme? 

From my experience of colleagues studying MBAs over the past 12 years, as soon as they began studying a particular module or topic, they started discussing with colleagues what they could do differently in their job. This comes naturally.  

This article previously formed part of a larger feature published in Ambition, the magazine of the Association of MBAs.