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The response of a company or participant to an executive programme can have far-reaching implications for the success or failure of the course.

Follow-up is very important, says Peter Degnan, executive director of the Wharton executive education porgramme, at the University of Pennsylvania.

The school runs about 250 programmes each year with roughly 9,000 clients. Follow-up – which is often conducted virtually – can quickly pinpoint how successfully the programme is working. If necessary, he says, it allows the school to tweak the programme and additionally “[helps us] identify certain issues that the company may be responsible for and to alleviate some of these barriers going forward”.

While it is difficult to measure return on investment in any real way, Mr Degnan says, the focus is on the programme’s impact. Senior management can see this and outcomes such as greater teamwork or improved morale, which they can then put a value on.

Coaching also appears to play a significant role in post-programme follow-up. At IMD, Robert Hooijberg, professor of organisational behaviour, says that where an executive programme has employed coaching, there is increasing demand from participants for follow-up coaching, In response, the school tries to structure the programmes so that clients can buy a package where coaching is included.

One of the difficulties of all executive courses, says Mr Degnan, is that participants enjoy the experience and feel inspired while they are on the programme, but once they are back in the workplace they are busy. Consequently they find it hard to implement the changes they have in mind.

However, where follow-up coaching is included and participants know that they are going to receive a call from the coach asking if they have implemented their plans, it makes the programme more effective.

“It is very much like parental intervention,” he says. “The simple fact that they knew the call was coming was a big stimulation.”

The Center for Creative Leadership also uses the coaching format as part of its executive programme follow-up. Coaching can help the participant maintain the momentum of the class and the value of the programme once the client returns to the workplace.

Allan Calarco, group manager for open enrolment programmes at CCL Europe, says the introduction of “Friday5s” for those participants on the centre’s Leadership Development Program has been very successful. Friday5s are part of a 10-week follow up process that enables participants to continue to make the most of the programme even though they have left the classroom.

Every other Friday at 5pm, clients enter online two or three goals they intend to work on in the coming week. The CCL coach subsequently follows up, asking the participant whether or not he/she has succeeded in achieving the goals, as well as giving regular feedback. Participants are also able to share, if they wish, their progress with colleagues and other LDP clients.

Further follow-up can be offered in the form of reflections, adds Mr Calarco. About three months after the programme has finished, colleagues who knew the participant before he/she came on the course are asked to reflect on whether they are seeing changes in the participant.

Web-based follow-up is a time-efficient method of maintaining contact with a participant once a course has finished. At Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, for example, participants access the school’s web-based tool, Learning, Reflection and Action. At the start of the course clients discuss their learning objectives and during the programme participants consider how their new knowledge will help them achieve their aims.

Post-programme, LRA prompts the participants via e-mail to review their goals and record their progress. This elps participants to extend and reinforce their learning after the programme and helps to maximise the learning investment, says Paula Beckmann, associate director for executive education at Chicago GSB.

“We have found that the participants who have established learning objectives prior to the course and who have followed up by articulating their progress, post course, achieve greater success in implementing their new knowledge and skills,” she says.

Cranfield School of Management in the UK has invested in a Learning Services team so that it can offer its clients appropriate learning interventions. Post-programme the school offers a 360 degree feedback process that can be customised to the client’s own competency framework.

“Organisations are taking a more qualified approach, making sure it [the programme] is focused on needs and value for money,” says Bill Shedden, director for Cranfield’s Centre for Customised Executive Development.

Mr Shedden says that business schools face increasing pressure to develop the expertise and facilities for learning support services, an area in which these institutions have not played a particularly large role.

This message has been heard at Lancaster University Management School where Simon Western, course director, says the school is taking post-programme follow up seriously.

Lancaster is putting into place a formal network for participants which includes feedback, ongoing supervision for clients who have gone through the course and post-programme master classes.

With customers more focused on return on investment, executive education providers are discovering that the need for a comprehensive follow-up to a programme is as significant as both programme preparation and the programme itself.

Those who do not invest time and effort into the follow-up process will find that repeat customers are thin on the ground.

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