Ask anyone about the hardest career transition, and some will say the transition from college student to entry-level professional has the steepest learning curve. For many, that’s true—until they move from manager to executive.
In making the second leap, you are not only shifting your day-to-day duties and responsibilities but you are also forced to examine goals and issues through an entirely new lens.
As a manager, you spend most of your time focusing on the team you oversee. As an executive, creating organizational strategy requires looking in different directions: up at the executives or board above you, out at competitors and the wider business world, and inward to assess your leadership strengths and weaknesses.
Rather than having a strictly functional focus, your role now requires an enterprisewide perspective.
In a climate of constant change and increasing competition, taking time to attain this new point of view can be a major risk, especially in the insurance and risk management industry. With mounting external pressures, rising customer and shareholder expectations, and the increasing speed of technological disruption, ambitious companies cannot afford for their up-and-coming executives to learn through trial and error.
That’s why the importance of executive education is at an all-time high. It gets future leaders of savvy organizations ahead of the learning curve. Companies that prepare their best executives early for senior leadership roles will be the best prepared to deal with the inevitable and significant challenges facing the industry.
Once recognizing this imperative, though, it’s no small matter to choose a program. Executive education is an industry in and of itself, and it continues to grow as the need for this type of preparation becomes more readily apparent. The sheer number of choices makes it harder to make a selection.
It’s important to keep in mind that a high-quality executive education program should do two things: illustrate how to see the bigger picture and provide actionable advice that you can implement immediately within your organization.
Some programs are long on philosophy but short on practice. Others get bogged down in details without relating them to the context in which they matter. They’re all trees and no forest.
The best programs give both the macro and micro view and are inherently immersive, allowing participants to discuss ideas and work through problems with peers and faculty that are relevant to their current positions. While these require a larger up-front investment, it’s undoubtedly an investment with the potential for exponential returns.
Diversity in coursework is another critical component to shaping this new, enterprisewide mental framework. For today’s insurance and risk management leaders, below are a few essential topics that executive education programs should address.
Measuring Marketing Success
In the era of big data, property/casualty carrier executives should be able to use analytics to hold their marketing managers accountable for the company’s various marketing efforts. Understanding the capabilities of measures like
marketing ROI to assess the productivity of past spending, as well as measures like customer lifetime value and customer acquisition costs to project future profitability, and customer satisfaction statistics like Net Promoter scores,
should be necessary background for all leaders.
Leaders should, at a minimum, learn the broad range of what’s possible with data analytics and the transformative effect they can have on the decision-making process. What used to be guesswork can now be verifiable with the right systems in place.
Executives do not need to be the ones to dig into the data, but it’s important for leaders to make it clear that accountability through analytics is an important direction for the organization. In terms of looking up at superiors or boards, this high-level information can also be vital in communicating where the organization is heading.
Informing the Street View
Looking outside the company at the overall business climate can be bewildering at first glance.
If you’re a new insurance industry executive at a publicly held Fortune 1000 company, this is all the more important as it’s often the first time you’ve had direct responsibilities for Wall Street’s view of your company—from stock prices to talk of mergers and acquisitions. Even at regional or privately held businesses, understanding how you fit into the broader industry is key to making future decisions. Looking at financial statements is just the tip of the iceberg.
The next step is to understand the core drivers that create value in your organization and how those drivers are viewed from the outside. Getting the right pieces in place and understanding how they fit together can be a monumental task on its own, but it’s not enough. The effective executive also needs to make sure the wider business world sees the value because reputation and perception often trump reality.
Experimentation Leads to Innovation
Understanding how to innovate may seem like an intangible art—and some of it is—but there is more science at leaders’ disposal than most know.
For instance, research shows that when it comes to strategically targeting innovation, it’s more effective to experiment with many ideas on a small scale and scale up the ideas that prove most promising than to spend a long time evaluating ideas and then organizing a big push behind the ones that appear to have the most potential. Accurately predicting how customers and stakeholders will respond to new initiatives is a gamble at best, and sometimes the only way to find out is to experiment.
Looking at it another way, this also requires a willingness to discontinue efforts that are not proving effective. Maintaining initiatives that are not working as well as planned to save face or appear confident is a drain from more worthwhile efforts.
An often overlooked part of becoming a successful leader is the ability to fully understand the strengths within you. It may feel unnecessary once you’ve advanced to a top leadership role, but the road to becoming a true leader starts with a deep, genuine sense of self-awareness. Once you better understand yourself and how you best operate, you’ll be better able to build a winning and cohesive team.
These considerations and many others may be completely new ways of thinking for some, and executive education is the fastest, most efficient way to change a mindset. Maybe the most important thing a new leader can learn, though, is that even when he or she finds a position in the C-suite they should still regularly return to the classroom. An executive education program is the perfect way to get a new executive to see business from a different perspective, but lifelong learning is the only way to make sure that vision remains clear throughout the rest of his or her career.