MSU Joins With ASP eePulse to Develop A New Executive Learning Forum | Article

elearningEvery executive wants to go to a seminar and magically learn how to improve performance. Now they can really do that by joining the Learning Leaders Forum, a joint effort between Michigan State University’s Eli Broad School of Business and eePulse, an ASP.

Now companies can “watch their employee data like their stock price,” says EePulse President and CEO Theresa Welbourne.

The Learning Leaders Forum creates “a unique synergy between traditional executive education and employee survey processes” by combining real-time benchmark data, open-ended comments from the leaders, and executive learning, Welbourne says. It represents the next progression in executive development. John Hollenback, Professor of Management at Michigan State University (MSU) and Welbourne’s partner in the Forum, says early executive education programs featured an open enrollment program. Executives attended classes they selected just like college students.

This approach has two negatives, according to the professor: the curriculum remained the same regardless of who attended the classes. And they were case studies of someone else’s business, Harvard Business School style. The advantage of this type of class was the executives were able to meet fellow executives in various industries with differing perspectives.

Hollenbeck says over time executives wanted custom-tailored programs. Universities then designed special classes for single companies; the organization itself became the case study.

The professor says this approach had three drawbacks. First, there was no cross-pollination from people outside the company who could provide valuable insights. Second, no one was interested in being frank because they had to work with their classmates when they went back to the office. Third, most faculty members didn’t like to teach this type of class; that meant the students never got access to the university’s top teachers.

Technology Creates a New Approach

The Learning Leaders Forum uses technology to combine both approaches. The partners invited 25 executives of leading-edge corporations to join a consortium. British Telecom and General Motors are members of the current Forum, the first. The Forum’s professors collect data from everyone, then build case studies based on the collected information.

The result: an executive experience tailored to their specific companies with input from a wide variety of participants. “There are no off-the-shelf courses,” Hollenbeck says. “We develop every course to be useful to the companies providing the information.”

The MSU professor says he selects universal issues that all the participants “care about.” Retaining top talent or growing the business are universal topics, for example.

The technology allows the professors to send specific data back to them. Hollenbeck says this is useful because “not everyone has the same problems.”

Once a year all the Forum members travel to MSU’s East Lansing campus for a two-day session; the first congress will be this October. There are also telephone conferences when necessary.

But everyone does most of the work online. EePulse conducts a monthly electronic survey using eePulse’s Web-based tools. The MSU professor says monthly surveys allow the faculty to “tell when certain trends start or end,” making it easier to track changes.

The goal of the Learning Leaders Forum is to improve firm performance through more effective change management. So every year the Forum will produce a progress scorecard for each participant. The professors will issue a report describing their progress or lack thereof. For example, if the topic is retention of top talent, the report describes how well the company did in this field. If the company did not meet its stated goals, the professors address the issue. “This helps companies get a grip on their problems,” says Hollenbeck.

The Forum also helps corporations spend their money more effectively. Hollenbeck says corporations send their executives to training sessions and spend money on company surveys but rarely link the two. “They are missing the opportunity to leverage the data,” he points out.

The Advantages of Using an ASP

“We like eePulse because of the strength of its surveying process and the speed at which it can turn around data,” says Hollenbeck.

Welbourne understands the need for speed in research; she was on the faculty of both the University of Michigan and Cornell University. Human resources management is her specialty. She studied measurements that predict performance, sending a survey to leaders around the world every 60 days. She discovered she was “creating a community of leaders who wanted to learn what their data meant.”

While at Cornell, Welbourne discovered that people perform best when they are challenged and pushed. Her research shows there is a quantifiable “productivity zone” where workers do their best. Her participating corporations wanted to know if their employees were in the productivity zone.

“You can’t measure energy at work once a year,” she explains. So she started to collect data weekly. But that required a new way of doing the research. “We had to develop a different way of collecting data,” she continues. The new tool was so useful one of the CEOs she worked with offered her the venture capital to start eePulse.

Today she says the diagnostic tool she’s developed “goes from an X-ray to an MRI.”

She opted for the ASP model because it’s the easiest way for a company to start using her tool. No one has to buy hardware or software; they just pay to use the service. Almost everyone is up and running in just 24 hours.

Benefits for the University

Welbourne decided to start the Learning Leaders Forum but she wanted an academic partner. “We send out the data. But you have to know what to do with it,” she explains. She had worked with Hollenbeck when she was at Michigan. “MSU was very aggressive about wanting to do this with us,” she says.

Hollenbeck says professors like the new technology because it gives them an opportunity to do original research. “We can make a contribution to the knowledge base,” he explains.

The progress scorecards create accountability for the efficacy of the executive training program, he adds.

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