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Price vs value: is it all about the money in executive education?

By Cranfield School of Management


There is a saying that goes: “you get what you pay for”. I’ve been known to mutter it to myself on occasion, normally when quietly reproaching myself for not investing more cash in a particular area of my life to secure a better product or level of service. On the occasions those words leave my mouth, I’m certain that if I had paid more money at the outset, that particular product wouldn’t have broken or stopped working, or I’d have received a more professional level of customer service in return for my subscription.

But is this the case with executive education? Are the most expensive training and development courses always the best? How much does price tell you about the quality of the learning you’ll receive?

Let’s find out…

Choosing to invest in executive education is a big decision, whether you’re paying for it for yourself or on behalf of your company. Let’s face it, training courses cost a lot of money. So, it’s vital to make a sound investment.

The problem is that what you’re buying isn’t something you can test in advance, so you have to rely on a range of indicators to avoid wasting money and time, and the whole exercise turning out to be a disappointment.

Many people will consider price as part of this evaluation process. But, in reality, this is mired with further difficulty. The cost of executive education courses can vary from provider to provider, and often these costs are determined not so much by the course’s quality as by a range of other factors, including the provider’s overall pricing policy per classroom day and specific course marketing strategies. So, beware of choosing the most expensive course on the basis that it must be the best – that might not necessarily be true.

Choosing the least expensive course based on price alone is also a mistake. Regardless of the amount of money you spend, you’ll be investing your valuable time, or your employees’ valuable time in taking the course, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting the most valuable knowledge and skills back in return.

So, if price isn’t the answer, how do you choose the “best” executive education course for you? And how do you maximise the value you get from your monetary investment – however much it may be?

Choose a good quality, specialist provider

Linked very closely to price can often be the thorny issue of “brand”. Some institutions have become synonymous with providing excellent quality and value for money, and it can be tempting to limit your search to just the top two or top five providers as a way to sort through the wealth of available courses in front of you. But be careful – you might miss a “hidden gem” – a unique course offering a “deep dive” in a particular area or topic. There may be other institutions that perform just as well in the area you’re interested in. By limiting your selection, you might have to pay more, travel further or wait longer than you’d like.

Having said all this, it is worth remembering that brand can play a part. Whatever course you choose is likely to be on your CV for life, so the provider’s external reputation is important.

Look carefully at the course content

Key among all things is to work out what it is you need to gain from the learning. What skills do you or your employees need to develop? What areas are you trying to grow in and what weaknesses do you want to address? If you’re an individual, where do you see your career going? Think about your specific business or personal development goals and look at the available courses that specialise in those subjects, paying keen attention to how much detail they go into and making sure it’s appropriate for the level of existing knowledge you have and the level that you want to get to.

If you’re exploring your options as an individual employee, be sure to involve your colleagues and managers in your decision. Ask them for recommendations on courses they have completed in the past, and enquire as to what ways they think you could develop your skills to support the goals of your team or wider company. Don’t feel that you have to stay local – you may need to travel to access the specialist learning you want. It will be worth it.

Share the knowledge

While the cost of executive education courses can seem high when you think about them in terms of just the one individual taking the course, it’s important to realise that individual learning can benefit the rest of a team and organisation too. The key is to share the learning, so that others in your company can benefit from the same investment.

If you’re an employer looking to recoup your costs, ask the employee who undertook the training to lead a team meeting where they share what they learned, so the team can discuss how it can be applied in the workplace going forwards. The cost of some courses can be recouped within a matter of months if the learning is applied.

Interact with others

When deciding on a training course, most people concentrate on the advantage they will get from learning the course material, but there is one huge benefit that is often overlooked, and that is the value gained from being in the presence of other people: both the expert(s) leading the training and other members of the cohort.

It is important to engage with the trainer leading the course, as he or she is the one who will equip you with actionable tools and give you guidance on how to apply them in your specific circumstances. Make the most of them as a resource for future support too, if you have further questions or need additional guidance.

Being in a room with other people from outside your organisation can offer new perspectives and insights that could be applied in your own organisation. Rubbing shoulders with these people now could lead to future business collaborations or opportunities for personal career advancement. The value to be gained from this relationship-building is hard to measure because it is in the future, but it is important just to understand that the value of the right executive education course can last beyond the initial experience of taking that course, and take this into consideration when evaluating the cost of enrolling on any given programme.

With studies showing that – despite the myriad of executive education courses out there and the time and effort that providers invest into developing them – around half of all participants think they could have made better use of their time, it is clear choosing the right course is absolutely crucial. Training and development does not and should not come cheap – if you’re getting something good then it is based on years of academic and business research, which would cost thousands more if you did it yourself. In today’s cost-sensitive environment, price is inevitably an important issue. But it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s value that counts.

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