What does it take to deliver executive education for a high impact of learning? Akankasha Dewan talks to Essilor International about the planning and execution of their General Management Programme (GMP).

The main focus for Essilor’s General Management Program (GMP) is to give and reinforce managers’ ability to understand and assimilate the fundamentals of managing the company.

But in planning this programme, the company’s vice president of global head learning and development for human resources, Philippe Bonnet, had to keep in mind the range of business strategies the programme’s agenda would cover. These included the company’s marketing, supply chain, value creation, leadership development, and finance acumen.

The nature of this broad programme therefore intensified the need for Bonnet to create a programme which had direct correlation with participants’ day to day responsibilities. He believed doing so would allow employees to better understand how each strand of the programme was helping them develop professionally.

Keeping it relevant

Throughout the process, the key word for Bonnet was “relevance”.

“The learning experience had to relate to real life, otherwise it is tough to make any impressions and deliver the sort of high impact learning demand today,” Bonnet says.

New ideas need to resonate with the participants’ existing experience and the challenge they may be facing or anticipating. Real world relevance is critical
To facilitate the planning and execution of the programme, Essilor worked with Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School (NBS) and submitted a tender integrating their business challenges, as well as the competencies and the skills they wanted to develop in their managerial workforce.

The final curriculum for the programme comprised of NBS faculty’s presentations, real life situations encountered by executives working in Essilor, and business simulations to engage them in realistic and protected situations.

“During the design, we were permanently reflecting among the design team, the faculties and Essilor’s own L&D team on issues such as ‘What are the keys of a great executive programme and of a great session?’ and ‘What makes the distinction between a good and bad programme?’”

Leveraging on the value of self-reflection

The seven-day programme was eventually rolled out across Asia Pacific in 2012 with the initial cohort of 30 to 40 specially selected participants from 10 countries.

In line with keeping the programme as relevant as possible for learners, Bonnet and his team fixated on the question “How can the programme be applied back home?” throughout the duration of the programme.

This was done primarily through four ways.

Firstly, by focusing research on practical challenges facing real companies, the programme ensured important and frequent problems and solutions were discussed in these sessions.

By doing this, not only did the programme tackle most relevant issues faced by participants, but also kept them engaged and committed to the learning process.

Secondly, these insights were translated into relevant output and materials for the learners to grasp theories and solutions in a more efficient manner.

Teaching faculties and executives were also involved in the learning process. This was done to ensure different point of views could be integrated into the programme for a holistic understanding of content.

Lastly, “live” audience were used in these sessions, and feedback and comments were taken into consideration to aid the efficiency of the programme.

“In a course like the Essilor GMP programme, what is ultimately important is to reactively combine content and activity type in order to create high impact learning that can be applied practically,” Bonnet says.

“In doing so, we can distinct three types of learning results: Building intellectual awareness (knowledge and related skills), emotional awareness (personal and social capabilities) and action based application (intellectual and emotional).”

These three categories aid in providing a structure to the broad ranging nature of the learning programme.

In addition, the value of self-reflection is what becomes evident in such a process. Participants not only understand more about their own learning abilities, but also how they can influence faculty attitude themselves.

And discovering more about one’s own intellectual and personal capabilities helps in engaging these participants to the task at hand.

We discovered that it is easy to touch them when we engage them to work with feelings and not just theories or methods.
Accommodating cultural and leadership challenges

It is important to keep in mind that accommodating cultural challenges are part of this attempt to foster an emotional connection with learners.

During the programme, concepts and theories introduced are translated into the actual context of where the participants are in relation to their real-life work.

This is done via including the perspectives of different stakeholders during action learning project groups and group dialogue sessions.

In these sessions, variables like cultural values, country-specific business environments and practices are taken into consideration.

“Creating the real world context is, for sure, the most challenging part of designing and delivering a programme,” Bonnet says.

It also remains integral for selected teaching faculties to share a common learning philosophy based on participant centered learning.

“It requests from the NTU team a particular ability to understand the customer deeply, develop relevant real-world material, and build among participants a strong networking to learn.”

This demand is by no means an easy one to fulfill, especially when rolling out the programme across different countries.

However, extensive research on organisational and regional cultures and effective training strategies aid in the creation of a high-impact learning programme.

The programme’s emphasis on bridging cutting edge theories with current industry trends and challenges has worked successfully to provide real, meaningful and relevant learning experiences.

More than 120 participants have completed the learning programme since its launch, and Bonnet credits the programme’s success to its alignment with actual business settings.

“It is important to set the corporate context to create the ‘best buy case’,” he says.

Essilor also aims to improve the programme by extending its’ coverage to include a wider spectrum of best practices across industries.

Real live examples from participants in the classroom remain key in the programme, as they provide valuable contributions in terms of key takeaways.

However, Bonnet adds more could be done to improve the programme by increasing leadership involvement within the programme.

Not only do leaders play an integral role in building a continuous learning culture within organisations, their expertise and active involvement in planning these learning programmes help in making them relevant and strategic.

“To guarantee a great output of the Essilor GMP programme, it is critical that the programme director must also be committed and motivated, extensively brief, and should have contact with the L&D team and the faculties team before the project is launched, as well as during the programme workshop, execution phase and after action review,” Bonnet says.