It’s not the what that has changed, really it’s the how

Séverine Guilloux

Executive Director of Open Programmes, Online Learning and Innovation 
INSEAD Executive Education

"Creating a seamless INSEAD experience has been at the forefront of our efforts. And that has meant rethinking how we use our technological ecosystem to better serve executives and organisations."

Séverine Guilloux is Executive Director of Open Programmes, Online Learning and Innovation at INSEAD. In the almost two decades that she has worked with INSEAD, Séverine has had sustained exposure to the evolving nature of executive education, and first-hand experience of learning at INSEAD herself – graduating with an Executive Master’s degree in Consulting and Coaching for Change in 2018.

During her tenure, Séverine has held a number of leadership roles within Executive Education at INSEAD. In her current position, she spearheads the Executive Education efforts in terms of product development for the Open portfolio whether they are delivered on campus or online. Keeping ahead of digital disruption and innovation in education and the processes that deliver world-class programmes is first and foremost, she says, about integrating and aligning internal functions – and leveraging the best digital tools to do so. It is a role that she “loves.”

Séverine, you’ve had an extensive career in sales and marketing, spanning a number of sectors before INSEAD. You worked in electronic manufacturing in the US, and in IT education. What brought you to INSEAD, and how have you seen your field change over time?

I joined INSEAD in 2003 as Assistant Director of Marketing for Executive Education. I was drawn by the international dimension of the school, which I still believe to be very unique. Working at INSEAD, you are part of a community of colleagues from all over the world, all of whom have very different ways of managing and of thinking. There is a mix of cultures here that is hugely attractive.

I started out in marketing at INSEAD, moving on into product marketing strategy and operations. Over the years, I’ve had hands-on experience of just how much marketing has changed and evolved with technology. At the start of my career, the bulk of our budgets would go into printed resources and channels, and over time we’ve seen this massive shift to digital and data analytics.

In my current role, I’ve overseen our digital transformation and the integration of marketing and sales across our open programmes, so we are better able to fully leverage customer insights and optimise our marketing and Salesforce platforms.

One of the great luxuries of working in a business school like INSEAD is that you have access to incredible leaders – our leadership team and faculty – who are there to advise you and to be a sounding board, as you grapple with all the challenges of navigating a complex organisation. You have a privileged resource just in terms of their business understanding and research that you can tap into in your work and in your management of your customer bases.

You mention complexity. Is it fair to say that INSEAD is a complex organisation?

Absolutely. We are a reference in higher education and innovation. And we need to find the synergies and alignment across multiple functions and structures to keep pace not only with the changing needs of our customers, but also with new challenges that are emerging within our competitive landscape.

Covid-19 really accelerated what was an already disrupted competitive space for business schools. In the last two years, we have had to make an enormous shift in the way that we deliver our portfolio. This has called for huge agility in terms of redesigning our programmes to align with a more complex, hybrid learning journey for our customers – expanding our offerings both in synchronous and asynchronous open, online programmes. Meanwhile, there’s been a massive surge in online education globally, with a host of new players – ed-tech firms and others – entering the market. Staying ahead of demand and competition for us has meant some internal reorganisation as we develop faster go-to-market strategies

The pandemic was a huge disruption for business globally. What have been the greatest challenges for executive education at INSEAD in managing this shift or transition that you describe?

Participants come to us looking for the “INSEAD experience.” They expect the same quality, the calibre in their learning journey and the tangible results that we deliver as a school, and they want that whether it’s on campus or online; whether it’s face-to-face or virtual coaching, which is such a differentiated offering that the school has. So creating this seamless INSEAD experience has been at the forefront of our efforts. And that has meant rethinking how we use our technological ecosystem – how we manage the backend and automation to better serve our customers and meet their expectations. It’s meant bringing all of our expertise in addressing pain points – our and those of our customers.

Before this big shift to online and hybrid, executives would come to INSEAD for the full on-campus experience. They would be looking for inspiration, thought leadership and networking. So we have had to find ways to deliver the same experience using technology.

You have pinpointed some of the things that bring participants to INSEAD programmes. Have these needs changed over time, or during the pandemic? From your vantage point, have people’s learning objectives changed much in recent years?

Fundamentally, I would say that objectives remain the same. For individuals, coming to a school like INSEAD is driven by a desire to improve; to be better at what they do. For organisations, it’s about accelerating change and achieving strategic goals. Organisations are looking to build alignment and improve capabilities around their change objectives. And I think that this hasn’t changed. Our customers still look to us to improve performance and create more impact. So it’s not the what that has changed, really it’s the how.

Many large organisations today have their own in-house learning and development functions or universities with bespoke learning platforms and pathways. So the big change for them and for us, is in finding ways to partner that afford more choices, more platforms and better optimised use of technology. Today’s executive learner is also more comfortable using online tools and platforms to connect, explore and experiment, and that’s a change.

Another change is that customers expect more from their learning experience. They want their learning to be more personalised, more flexible and to deliver greater impact. So for us the challenge is to create experiences that map to these needs while really leveraging technologies like interactive video and virtual reality to really embed learning – to make it as experiential, as engaging and as relevant as possible.

That and we’ve seen an upswing in demand for coaching, which is an area in which we excel as a school. On this basis, we’re seeing increasing demand for our Certificate in Global Management, which offers the kind of customisation and adaptability that our clients want. They also see the impact at key inflection points as they progress from programme to programme to complete their certificate, and that has become very important to them.

If the core objectives have not changed per se, nonetheless you are seeing new kinds of demands from customers?

New demands, and also new areas of focus. There is an awareness of certain issues that just wasn’t there before – things like women at work and the barriers that we face. Today’s leaders are increasingly in tune with the benefits of diversity and how to enable a diverse workforce. There’s a greater focus on sustainability and the environment, and on responsible leadership. In our programmes now we are talking about societal issues, about personal and cognitive biases, about diversity and difference – topics that we weren’t ready to discuss in the business environment say 20 years ago. There just wasn’t the same kind of awareness.

Awareness of certain issues has grown then, in tandem with societal change. Would you say that there’s also greater awareness of the importance of education among business organisations today?

Yes, and there’s also more desire to make it accessible to more of the workforce. It used to be the case that people learned ‘on the job’ and that executive education was reserved for the C-Suite. Now organisations understand that to stay relevant, to decipher complexity, and to make better decisions in ever-changing markets, they need to make learning accessible to all. Knowledge runs out of date fast, and your whole workforce needs to stay up to speed, continuously.

You mention staying relevant. How do you do that yourselves, as a learning organisation?

As I said before, we have access to the most amazing faculty of thought leaders and practitioners who work constantly at the coalface, researching the emerging issues, and applying their research with companies. They bring all of that learning back into the design, the content, the methodology of the programmes we deliver.

Within our management teams, we are also constantly exposed to the needs of our clients, and thinking about ways to innovate and to leverage technology to meet these needs.

I think that one of the things that really differentiates INSEAD is the way that expertise is integrated across the school. Our Dean of Executive Education is a member of faculty and faculty is embedded within different layers of management so that we bring together different skills and perspectives. We find synergies that we can all tap into to keep fully abreast of what’s happening in industries and markets, in organisations and in technology.

You speak with real enthusiasm about INSEAD and your work, Séverine.

I Iove my job. This is a role that stretches me and challenges me. When you are working with thought leaders, and negotiating with them, it sparks ideas and curiosity, and the learning is constant. It’s fascinating.

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