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Sep 30, 2016

The Return On Investment Of Executive Education

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - University of North Carolina Wilmington

This Insights article was contributed by Laura Gail Lunsford, PhD, Director of the UNCW Swain Center.

Is it true you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Or does the Harvard Business Review have it right in its recent article, "The Best Leaders are Constant Learners"?

It is harder to change as you advance in your profession, but as Jack Welch famously said, you need to “change before you have to.”

Today’s pace of change is faster. Think about it - Moore's law states that computer power doubles every two years, which means many senior executives received their education before there were computers in every classroom and home. It is easy to experience information overload, and the research is clear that more stress and greater distractions lead to poorer performance.

Successful leaders add skills to their business tool kits to be nimble in a more connected, global economy and to recruit and manage a more diverse workforce. Further, leaders who model lifelong learning by cultivating a culture where professional and executive development is expected and rewarded find their investments add to the bottom line.

The challenge is measuring the return on investment (ROI) in people-development strategies. These investments must be tied to organizational outcomes by supporting the mission and shoring up pain points that slow down progress. Development of a strong human resource function - even in small and mid-size companies, governmental agencies and non-profit organizations - is critical to ensuring that employees have opportunities to develop and change.
Employee engagement matters when it comes to maximizing profit margins and minimizing errors. Engagement can be maximized through hiring the right people, supporting their development in a positive work environment and spotting and developing talent as part of a succession plan.

Through the Swain Center at UNCW, we find that the soft skills of managing work through others are the hard skills to master. At other times - through our programs like Data Analytics or Finance Training - it is math that is hard when we find that employees don’t know how to use available data available to make strategic decisions about topics like deployment of resources or customer satisfaction. Sometimes it is the case that those in the C-suite need a better understanding of how executive and professional development will improve organizational performance.

Another way to measure the ROI is to assess whether training reflects the latest business knowledge, rather than out-of-date knowledge. For example, there are far better and less-expensive personality measures than the Myers Brigg Type Indicator to predict behavior at work, yet companies often want to use it because that is what someone heard about or experienced. However, the MBTI has been shown to predict little to no work behaviors.

The benefit of relying on a partner like the Swain Center in the Cameron School of Business is that professional development -conducted by faculty members and instructors - reflects cutting edge thinking about leadership, management and process improvement, as well as accounting and financial practices. The Swain Center specializes in providing professional and executive development to organizations.

Show your commitment to learning and join our region’s business leaders and executives at the annual Economic Outlook Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6. Regional and national economists Dr. Adam Jones and Dr. Tom Simpson will share their forecasts, and an informative panel discussion on the business of healthcare will also be held. For more information and to register, visit
Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 60 full-time faculty members and 20 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,000 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 200 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].

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