Stanford GSB Executive Education Pivots Programming Amid COVID-19
MetroMBA recently interviewed Sarah Soule, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Ryann Price, Director at the Stanford Executive Program, of Stanford GSB to discuss the school’s pivot in program offerings as COVID-19 impacts higher education. Sarah and Ryann also talk about the future of Stanford GSB Executive Education post-pandemic and provide in-depth information on specific programs they are offering for 2020-2021.
Can you provide a brief overview of the new Stanford GSB Executive programs? Talk a little about why Stanford GSB decided to pivot their program offerings and the process you took to design the courses.
Sarah: The Stanford GSB Executive program just launched their on-demand online classes in the beginning of September. These courses allow participants same-day access to experiential research-based content that was designed by the Stanford GSB faculty. The program was developed so that leaders can immerse themselves in topics that are relevant right now and are business challenges they face currently, so students can have real impact on their organizations. Additionally, the Stanford GSB on-demand online classes are available for you to self-pace yourself as you go through the program.
The process the Stanford GSB Executive program took to decide these topics was to focus on the challenges we are facing right now. The first topic, given the climate of the country and the world, is leveraging diversity and inclusion for organizational excellence because of course there has been so much attention on the reaction to the killing of George Floyd, and the protests in the U.S. and other places on what organizations can do to improve upon diversity and inclusion. Another topic is focused on disrupting your business, thinking about the climate we are in right now with the pandemic and what economic forces are doing to business right now. The main takeaway is how leaders respond to these challenges and their ability to be agile to that response.
The next learning topic is focused on sharpening communication skills. The Stanford GSB Executive Program discovered that leaders right now need better abilities to communicate both internally and externally. For example, Zoom has become a new mode of business for us all, so finding effective ways to communicate using this platform is vital. In addition, thinking about the importance of communicating to disperse workforces and how to effectively do that. Finally, the last course is our Paths to Power, a class that has been very popular in our MBA program for many years and the Stanford GSB Executive program thought it was great opportunity to roll out during our pivot.
There is no application fee for this program; however, each course is $1,500 and you receive a certification on completion. It is on-demand and online where you sign up and are immediately put into the class. You have 60 days to access the program, but you can do this at your own pace. The courses have assignments, which they have designed to be experiential and engaging with feedback from professors. The plan is to roll out more courses as the program continues.
Can you talk more about the newly launched Stanford Business Leadership Series and the adjustment to the Stanford Ignite program?
Sarah: The Stanford Business Leadership series was launched this summer and exceeded expectations in terms of the quality and quantity of the number of participants. The program gives students the ability to purchase a subscription, which provides access to over 50 faculty members. We are about to launch the second version in October 2020. Like the on-demand classes, the Stanford GSB Executive program decided to be really particular about the kind of needs leaders have right now.
There are a variety of modules available to students, who can choose to do all of them or just do one. The modules include Leading in the COVID Era, Leading Diversity and Inclusion, Leading Strategy on Development through Execution, and Lead Transformation: 5 Mega Trends Every Leader Needs to Know.
The Stanford Leadership Program is different than the online on-demand learning; these programs cost $2,500 for a 2-week module or a 10-week module for $7,500 all-access pass (though prices may adjust). The summer program had their first topic, “Leading in a Turbulent World,” thinking a lot about where we are as leaders during the pandemic and economic crisis. They also had a module on strategic leadership, another on innovation and creativity, another about entrepreneurial mindsets, and demystifying the numbers.
The summer Stanford Business Leadership series sought to implement what they are known for as a business program and Executive Education, but add a layer about what is going on in the world. Now in the fall, we want to focus on what is going on in the world and how Stanford can leverage how to speak best to COVID, diversity and inclusion and a distressed workforce. There is no prep work for the program since it is all lecture and Q&A, compared to the other program where there are assignments. Upon completion of the program, all students receive a certificate.
Another program we launched that has been incredibly successful, is that we pivoted a number of programs we planned in-face to online experiences. The Stanford Ignite entrepreneurial program, which is a multi-week program, we put it online for students who had planned to attend on-campus. Students were with us on Zoom throughout the day.
Ryann: Other learning opportunities at the Stanford GSB Executive Program that transitioned from in-face to online experiences include: Innovative Technology Program, Program for Growing Companies, Harnessing AI and Big Data. With these we experimented over a number of weeks, and students would attend a number of hours in the morning then work their jobs. We learned how long they should spread content out. For example, can students handle eight hours of learning on Zoom? We found that people need connection and people need learning. Leaders are making up so much as they go through their day to day, they need engagement, connection and learning.
What was the process you went through to decide on the pivot?
Sarah: Ryann was involved with the pivot and deciding on how to provide these programs.
We did what we teach: Design thinking, customer empathy, really finding out what problems people have and how they are experiencing them, to understand through their point of view what their problems and needs are. We spent a lot of time talking to students in their program and who were disappointed they weren’t able to travel and offer face to face program. We spoke with custom clients to find out the challenges they face right now versus what they thought they would be facing. We used that information on how to respond to the here and now and meet people where they were at the moment with the current challenges. It was an all hands-on deck between administration and faculty to get this implemented and launched.
Ryann: One highlight about the process – we were listening and testing out what we heard from leaders about staying connected and they wanted a better sense of hope and greater control of what was happening in the world. We tested how that would be received through a ‘7 Day Challenge,’ a free series of content based off of creativity from faculty members. That series was very popular and people felt like they could engage with a sense of purpose. We felt they were given tools at this time of need.
We used data via partnership with our coaching provider through our executive program. We had access to larger data sets about what students are talking about with their coaches, not at an individual level, but at a theme level. So, they were able to see that struggling with uncertainty was a challenge and we also found people wanted help with communication. Also, we heard from users that flexibility was important to them. All of these programs offer a higher degree of flexibility. People who typically have a 9 to 5 job now have greater access to these programs and manage their work/life balance.
What is a typical participant profile for the Stanford GSB Executive Education programs?
Sarah: The anti-racism module that is about to be released is for anyone who is curious or wants to engage in material.
The Stanford Business Leadership program tends to target upper level leaders in companies and nonprofits with some degree of leadership or managerial experience.
We also plan to continue our LEAD program, which is a one-year certificate program. With this program, the spring intake had the largest cohort with just under 300 participants. There are over 520 students in our new fall intake. This provides something that people need. This participant set is typically (see attachment). Many already have advanced degrees, but they are people who are at a career pivot, new role in their organization, leadership training, and/or usually managing some people. Some already had an MBA, but wanted more leadership training or a brush up on the core classes they provide.
Our Stanford Ignite program ran one cohort for post-9/11 veterans, which was very specific, but we care deeply about this demographic as a school. We also hosted another program for aspiring entrepreneurs. What we have been doing with the pivot is serving more and different people than we normally would in face to face programs. We are offering more access with these online programs that offer more flexibility.
Ryann: These online programs are designed to remove the barrier for those who want to attend our on-campus programs – it usually is a geography barrier, but also they may be a founder of a company, but could not commit to a face to face experience. We hope to understand that user profile so we can continue to develop programs that are more flexible and accessible.
Do you view the Stanford GSB Executive Education programs as a complement or alternative to an MBA?
Sarah: The challenges that we have been discussing would most definitely benefit an MBA. The on-demand classes for 60 days can absolutely be taken with an MBA and are viewed as a complement. There might be students who want to see more diversity and inclusion in their curriculum. You might be in an MBA program that does not cover topics such as inclusion and diversity, but you would like to learn more. Taking the online on demand class is set up so you can take this as a complement and earn your certificate strengthening your professional profile.
The LEAD program is one year and based on the time commitment, so it wouldn’t be a complement to a current MBA; however, many students believed it would be a great option as a ‘third year’ to their MBA because they learn key skills and expand their network.
Ryann: Also, the Stanford Ignite program has multiple cohorts per year and the part-time program is designed for driving innovation or for entrepreneurship. The program is committed to exploring what it would be like as an entrepreneur or if they stay with their current role and want to transition to the team driving innovation via the product or process side.
What is the admissions process for the Stanford Executive Education Programs?
Ryann: There are programs that do not have an application. We encourage applicants to select the right application for you. Stanford also has learning advisors during all business hours to answer questions to help learners select the right program. The first step is if you are not sure, reach out to them.
If there is an application for a program, it sounds a little cliché, but we recommend leading with yourself. We want to bring together a live dynamic learning experience for their peers. We want to find people when we put the cohort of individuals together, we want to create a dynamic class. We are hoping through the admissions process to provide the right opportunity for them. We want to create an experience where faculty and students are learning together.
Sarah: LEAD is a long certificate program. We have an application process with an essay and two video questions. We look at them really seriously and take into consideration the whole application. We want to make sure you are a change agent and how you can contribute in the classroom.
Will the impact of COVD-19 make these learning opportunities the norm for future leaners?
Sarah: It is exciting because this is a new opportunity and we do not know when it will be safe again to be on-campus and travel. Since we had to make this pivot, it allows more flexibility. It will provide more blended experiences – such as bringing people to campus for two days for an intense experiential learning program. It will also complement their current offerings and potentially be an additional opportunity for students moving forward. It will allow us to change the way they think about what it is we offer in terms of educational opportunities for leaders.
Ryann: We are asking ourselves this question every day and using a discovery process – always iterating and learning and considering other options. Faculty are creating ideas and staff are articulating how they can logistically make them possible. It is a challenging time because it is not safe to be on campus, but it allows them to be free to explore what could be possible. We are proud that we came together to find innovative products and serve their students’ needs.