Transforming the Practice of Learning and Leveraging Partnerships

Reflections on the 2019 EFMD Executive Education Conference by the conference Chair, Africa Ariño, Professor of Strategic Management, IESE Business School.

The current landscape of business education calls for a transformation in the practice of learning. No single institution can undertake such a transformation on its own. To achieve it, leveraging partnerships is of the essence.

The need for learning 

The conference kicked off with Giuseppe Auricchio, IESE Business School, picturing the opportunities and challenges that fast-paced technological progress poses to business education. The needs of individual learners are changing, and educational institutions need to move from offering programmes to providing learning moments throughout individuals’ lifetime. This requires combining resources and capabilities from the various types of organisations that configure the educational ecosystem through partnerships among them.

Understanding the “Why” and  the “How” of Partnerships

Why and how to partner were the focus of subsequent discussions led by Africa Ariño from IESE Business School, followed by a third one on learning in partnerships. Why partner? In a disrupted world where new competitors appear that serve customers’ needs in new ways or where these needs change, partnering is a more effective approach than going alone. However, partnerships are complex as they feature characteristics both of organizations and markets. As such, they require both flexibility and commitment; trust and formal control; and also, the capability to cooperate while competing.

How to partner? Levers of partnership success include the selection of partners, the process of partnership design and negotiation, activity coordination and communication. David Deegan from Cranfield Centre for Executive Development and Lesley Abery from Mercuri Urval shared with participants their partnership experience. Combining Mercuri Urval’s ability to assess Senior Leaders’ capabilities with Cranfield’s expertise in programme delivery, they were able to accurately and comprehensively design and deliver targeted leadership development interventions.

Learning in Partnerships

Learning in partnerships occurs at three levels: the project, the relationship, and the portfolio levels. Learning through repeated projects involving the same partners helps to build a relationship that becomes a useful resource in itself as it allows for discovering new opportunities for joint value creation. Learning across the portfolio of partnerships builds a partnership management capability which is essential in a world where partnerships are a must to remain competitive. Business schools may learn from businesses how to develop such a capability. To this end, Jacobo Winzer joined the session and shared insights from his experience as Head of Strategic Alliances & Partnerships, Amadeus IT Group.

Conference participants were also able to listen and discuss the cases of the winners of the Excellence in Practice Award, which recognize high impact client-supplier partnerships. For more details on the cases, see the global focus special issue.

Key messages that came across throughout conference discussions were: 

  • together, we can reach further;
  • get into your partners’ shoes;
  • go step by step; and
  • the path is made by walking.