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Executive Education

Photo of a man smiling
Photo of a man smiling

Interview with Sameer Hasija

Sameer Hasija

Dean of Executive Education; Professor of Technology and Operations Management; The Henry Ford Chaired Professor in Technology and Operations

Change is intensifying in speed and volume, so the heat is really on us to remain cutting edge in skill development and pedagogy—so that our clients, be they organisations or individuals, can maintain their cutting edge too.

How has executive education changed during your tenure as Dean of Executive Education at INSEAD?

I think that everything is changing in our world. What businesses and their leaders need to know is in a state of constant flux and evolution. For providers of executive education that translates into an imperative to predict emerging needs and to develop solutions to address them ahead of time.

I think that this is where having a faculty that is at the frontier of knowledge is absolutely game-changing. Our research keeps us in tandem with the tempo of change; we are a faculty at INSEAD that is working in precisely the same cadence as the shifting needs of industry. The challenge is to constantly maintain that alignment, and to remain in a position where we can foresee what decision makers are going to need in terms of skills and knowledge.

Getting this right is not just down to academic rigour; it also implies a certain level of agility. Of course, being agile enough to adapt to changing needs is neither new nor surprising—agility has always been a fundamental requirement in top-tier executive education. What is perhaps surprising is the increasing intensity of this need. Change is intensifying in speed and volume, so the heat is really on us to remain cutting edge in skill development and pedagogy—so that our clients, be they organisations or individuals, can maintain their cutting edge too.

What is changing most perhaps, is the need to deliver new ways of training for new skills and greater impact. We face the challenge of constantly innovating in our pedagogy such that what we teach is experiential, sticky and directly actionable in a changing business environment.

Are people learning differently in this changing environment?

I think learning has become more proactive. Where previously learners would absorb insights and develop those insights into action over time, now they are more actively engaged; not just in what they learn but how they learn. What we are seeing is a shift to greater ownership of the learning experience. Our participants decide what, where and how they want to learn—whether that’s on campus or in a café; whether it’s every now and then or continuously. And we provide the digital tools to give them this kind of agency and flexibility of choice.

I’d share an anecdote as an example. One INSEAD alumnus told me that he’d decided to delete all of his mobile social media apps, from Facebook to TikTok, so that his Metro commute to work could be spent instead on following content on the INSEAD learning hub. This is the kind of self-powered enhanced learning journey that we are really seeing at INSEAD, where learners are making decisions and dictating the pace and the direction.

What is this new breed of learners looking for from a business school in your view?

Again, I think this is shifting. Before learners might have come to us to support them chart their career path. Today that has become more of a skills path. We’re seeing executives with less out and out certainty about the jobs they will do in the future, and who are looking instead for the future-resilient capabilities and aptitudes they will need going forward. In this sense, INSEAD has become a partner to them for their overall development journey. And it’s a journey that doesn’t stop.

Executive education is no longer a one-off intervention, but a continuous and life-long process to ensure that skills are maintained, refined, enhanced and renewed in cadence with evolving challenges. As business schools, we have to respond to this longer-term association by providing deeper and longer offerings: programmes and certifications that map to their learning journey as it evolves. And that requires a new level of commitment and partnerships with learners.

At INSEAD we say that we don’t have clients. We have partners.

You talk about the evolving and continuous need to stay cutting edge as a learning partner, and you talk about your faculty being on the frontier of knowledge. But how do you, as a school, stay relevant in terms of changing needs?

If you can’t stay relevant to business needs, you really shouldn’t be in the business of executive education [laughs]. At INSEAD we stay close to change by maintaining an active connection to the market and to reality. We do this with organisations by co-designing training with them, working cheek by jowl to pinpoint needs, figure out solutions and determine the design of the programmes we offer. For individuals, again we leverage our work with corporations to understand emerging market needs and we translate those needs into impactful learning experiences.

Something that differentiates us as a school is the role that everyone plays in researching market needs. Within our Executive Education team it’s not just faculty, but our marketing and advertising colleagues who are out there having conversations with organisations and decision-makers. What they learn feeds back into an ongoing dialogue with faculty, helping to shape the direction of research and informing the content and pedagogy of our programmes. There’s a real synergy in this symbiotic relationship between research and marketing. And it has a powerful role in keeping the design of our open and custom portfolio absolutely cutting edge.

Talking of cutting edge, INSEAD is prioritising sustainability across its MBA programme. What can or should executive education be doing in this space?

Every business in the world needs to realise that to stay relevant, sustainability has to be front and centre. Sustainability is not a box to be ticked, it is fundamental to the future.

As providers of executive education we also have a duty to have these conversations and not to kick the problem down the road for future generations. At INSEAD we are fully aware of our responsibility here, and in fact, many of our professors are actually setting new industry standards in measuring environmental, social and governance impact.

In terms of programmes, we already offer two dedicated programmes on sustainability: one is an intense, week-long learning experience and the other is a nine to 12-month, blended learning journey. Elsewhere, sustainability is integrated into almost all of our programmes and this will only increase as they go through the update and redesign process which is a continuous requirement at INSEAD.

What is heartening and exciting, I think, is that sustainability is no longer pitted against profit as part of an either-or dynamic. We’ve moved way beyond that, and we’re looking at better ways to align our triple Ps of Profit, Planet and People. In our research and our programmes we are really getting into ways of thinking about sustainability as a driver of strategy and competitive advantage.

Sameer, what would you say is the real benefit to an executive or organisation in coming to INSEAD?

I think it’s really about rigour, relevance and impact. And I think this is as true today as it was before Covid as it was 10 years ago. I think that INSEAD is a unique school in that we have really found that sweet spot at the intersection of these things. Too much academia and you lose relevance and impact; too much impact and you lose the depth of research that is the engine of discovery. INSEAD has perfected this balance between academia and industry.

And if you were to share one key message with learners this year, what would it be?

I’d say that more than ever it’s time to rethink learning as a life-long, never-ending journey. And that it’s critical to take control of that learning and find the partner to make your journey as productive as possible.