The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

A Challenge in Curriculum Design
Technology and digital media allow information to continuously cascade through our lives, so it is no wonder that many of us can miss tiny data points, which often get hidden in the volume of information and noise. Organisations and leaders can turn to executive education establishments to help them to learn or improve the skills to foresee trends, customer needs, market changes, crises, or disruptions as well as observation skills for weak data and signal capture. We suggest that leaders find stimulation to develop their own settings. We also invite business schools and other executive learning organisations to bring elastic, creative and non-linear thinking approaches into their curricular design, coursework and networks.

We have argued elsewhere that business faces a new challenge to remain competitive, namely, to better adapt key decisions to changes in market cycles that the given business may face, i.e., when to enter ‘in’ and when to exit ‘out’, or when to invest, build or grow, versus when to divest, reduce or stop (Lorange and Mugnaini, 2024). Much of the background data for an effective analysis based on key indicators for in/out decisions can be found in our book, The Future Ready Leader (Lorange and Mugnaini, 2023). Therein are referenced some 70 books on various aspects of management, totalling more than 15,000 pages, with interviews from around 21 senior leaders from business, politics, and the educational sector.

The Future Ready Leader is written for business leaders looking to stay ahead of the curve. Here we aim to provide an essential guide that covers major trends shaping the future of business, as identified by recent management books and senior leaders. We also delve into the question of how executives and the executive education establishments they may choose to attend can best identify and elaborate on appropriate skills to ensure that leadership is future-proofed for what most of us determine will be an increasingly volatile and challenging environment.

Our approach

We have delineated a four-step conceptual model for identifying lead indicators elsewhere (Lorange and Mugnaini, 2024). This approach may perhaps also be illustrated in terms of the following four interacting circles in Figure 1.

We do not, of course, state that only our book should be the basis for learning. Rather, we propose that accelerated learning from, by and with different sources might be the way ahead. This could be balanced with slower or longer-term learning situations, both for individuals as well as collectively, through informal and formal networks as well as courses and programmes. We thus promote acquiring practical knowledge and real-life experiential learning through continuous interaction with other business leaders from varied sectors and markets. Although this knowledge acquisition should be expedient, time should be allowed for reflection and realignment before gathering momentum again, and repeating this process throughout the learning journey. Think of it as similar to our own sleep cycles, as we move from stages of wakefulness through non-rapid eye movement (NREM) levels (1, 2 and 3) to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, with each stage serving a clear function. Learning effectiveness, like business itself, can move through such cycles.

A Challenge in Curriculum Design - lead indicators

Let us now provide three examples of how schools’ curricula might be adapted. While these examples have been intentionally anonymised, with no specific reference to any school or place, it should be noted that the authors have been centrally involved in organisations resembling each of these three examples. Thus, one might claim that there is actual experience at work in the following, in contrast to mere speculation.

Example: An MBA programme at a leading business school

Leading MBA programmes are typically rated by authoritative certification institutes such as EFMD, AACSB, and/or AMBA. While graduates from such programmes may enter many different types of businesses, a general ‘test’ of their effectiveness might be that graduates can make a true impact on their teams and organisations and, above all, contribute to sound business decisions.

In our book (Lorange and Mugnaini, 2023), we have identified eight ‘clusters’ with subject areas particularly relevant for tomorrow’s leaders.

It is important to emphasise that any analysis of critical success factors should be business-specific. In many business schools, besides the MBA (or EMBA) programme, there are typically many other shorter programmes, some fully online and others mixing virtual with on-site learning, as well as specialised coaching programmes. Critical success factors can be identified in each of these programmes in the context of where the learners come from.

Reflections for the executive education establishment

When business school programmes are compiled, there may be a query regarding the wide array of critical success factors suggested. Are there simply too many faculty competencies required to realistically cover all of the eight clusters suggested in our book? Are a school’s faculty actually competent to contribute to all of this? Also, when adding new programmes to a school’s offerings, the leadership may ask whether this implies that significant new critical success factors might now have to be covered. To expand a programme portfolio without creating an ‘explosion’ of new critical success factors is important!

Example: Modernised MBA programme offerings, typically given on weekends and vacations

Here, one might see an emphasis on eight different modules, reflecting the eight ‘clusters’ suggested in our book. Functional skills might be covered in various specific modules. Finance, for instance, may be covered as part of a section on ‘investing to maximise wealth’ (part 7 in our book). Or marketing might be covered as part of a section on ‘the business: your company’ (part 4 in our book).

A major premise might be to draw on visiting faculty on an ‘as needed’ basis. Such programmes may perhaps be primarily aimed at relatively older students who are already in employment but want to reorient their careers.

This approach may be quite similar to that proposed by Professor John F. Rockart of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, with critical success factors stemming from industrial, environmental, strategic and ‘temporal’ elements. Temporal here means ‘easy to organise timings and schedules of offerings’.

Reflections for the less traditional executive education establishment

Would such a curriculum be too radical? Might a business school risk losing its accreditation at some of the leading accreditation agencies (EFMD, AACS, AMBA)? After all, classical accreditation criteria have tended to draw heavily on more traditional axiomatic fields. With the increasingly rapid fundamental changes facing us, both at the macro as well as the micro level, a relatively stronger weight on cutting-edge relevance might be on the cards, as proposed in our book. For accreditation agencies, this also implies a requirement to adapt faster to such factors and in more fundamental ways. However, is the world and its pressure on executive education changing so quickly that even the accreditation agencies cannot keep up? Do we need to dynamically change the way, not only of teaching and learning, but of how we judge the effectiveness of those who teach?

Example: Networks of virtual learning

A platform and network allowing executives to formulate their own learning through active participation may be structured around the sections in our book.

The concept behind such a network may be to create a closed, safe environment of highly diverse business practitioner experts to whom others might turn for advice, guidance and inspiration. As an active investor, for instance, one might be able to arrange a few phone calls or online meetings when considering investing in a new area. Thus reaching out to a trusted few to ask what might be happening in the market, where the growth opportunities are, what are the predictions and risks, etc. This curiosity and questioning is an example of being receptive to what we might call ‘weak signals’, a major ‘delivery’ factor stemming from such learning networks. Now imagine, besides the investor calling around, a network where search engines are optimised to answer those key questions, thus providing knowledge acquisition precisely where needed.

Here are some more critical success factors for such learning networks. If we apply Rockart’s critical success factor concept, the network reach implies that fresh, cutting-edge topics might be covered both in terms of content online as well as perhaps at ‘special’ events, such as webinars, physical gatherings, roundtables or workshops. Customers shall have direct access to other leaders in a safe space for inspiration, aspiration and stimulating exchanges that are opportunistic and growth-oriented. Members might study content and ‘attend’ webinars and events as they wish, including reading recap notes and watching digital event recordings at their convenience. Posting or sharing business opportunities as they occur could also be key.

Conclusions

Technology and social media allow information to continuously cascade through our lives, so it is no wonder that many of us can miss tiny data points, which often get hidden in the volume of information and noise around them. Yet one might help both organisations and leaders to foresee trends, customer needs, market changes, crises, or disruptions – our aim in developing this new book. Clearly, it would be both impossible and unrealistic to expect that explicit and individualised lead indicators or ‘weak signals’ might be found in our book. Our hope is that enlightened leaders will find stimulation to develop such factors for their own settings by drawing on our book. It is our sense that most, if not all, of the authors we have reviewed, as well as the leaders we have interviewed, have themselves focussed on such lead indicators. Thus, we hope that there might be a relatively easy transition to the specific contexts of a given executive’s own situation.Future Ready Leader cover

Besides the openness to learning and mindfulness of the environment, which we highlight in our book, we advise leaders to be receptive and thorough in data collection, management, monitoring and analysis. Using the talents of observation that athletes, doctors, scientists and artists possess can allow business leaders to spot weak signals and think in different ways. Once the weak signal has been felt or seen, leaders can dive more deeply, often counter-intuitively, into what these points could indicate or may suggest. This navigation through data is also a key factor in making sense of our book.

We expect that critical success factors will emerge at an increasingly rapid pace. Our three examples illustrate this possibility. Leading business schools will have to adapt rapidly and in fundamentally new ways: traditional axiomatic discipline focus may no longer be enough. With the emerging emphasis on lead indicators for effective cyclical management, business schools may need to pursue new frontiers and adopt novel ideas but then be prepared to turn these upside down. Going forward, it will be critical for academia to challenge, dismantle and rebuild.


References

Lorange, P. and Mugnaini, K., (2023), The Future Ready Leader, Springer Nature.

Lorange, P. & Mugnaini, K., (2024) A New Business Leadership Paradigm to Understand Signals and Timing: When to ENTER a business and when to EXIT European Business Review, 18th March 2024.

A Challenge in Curriculum Design

Dr. Peter Lorange is Honorary President, IMD Chairman, S. Ugelstad Invest.

Karin Mugnaini, formerly Head of the International Alumni Association, IMD, is currently Head of IMD Alumni Data Optimization.

Stay connected
Search Global Focus
Subscribe to the
Global Focus Newsletter