As a leadership consulting business, we assess and develop leaders and leadership. Alongside our consulting work we research, write, and teach on the topic of leadership; we have long-standing relationships with several of the UK’s business schools and we are proud to have played a part in helping them to adapt to the challenges of the past year.

Business schools have faced unimagined challenges over the past year, and they have met them head-on. This is testament to the resilience of the people who educate our leaders. That said, everybody has found it hard and the legacies of a year working at full tilt remain palpable.

Research premise

We regard leadership education and development as a public good and we felt a duty to support that cause in its time of need. Our small contribution was to undertake research during the first quarter of 2021 to investigate the ways in which UK business schools have responded to the Covid pandemic. We work at several points in the system, and this affords us a perspective few others can see; we hoped that our perspective and the results of our research might help business schools take stock of the events of the past year and reflect on the ways in which they transformed their approach to delivering executive education at a time when it was needed more than ever.

Our chosen methodology

Our project began with desk research to examine the scope and scale of the market for executive and leadership education in the UK. This served to focus our research on participants with relevant shared experiences, and to bound the challenges associated with recruiting them. We conducted 14 semi-structured interviews during March and April 2021, using seven core questions to elicit responses. Interviews were guided by the core questions, but interviewees were given the opportunity to expand on the issues that were most pertinent to them. We timed the interview phase to capture experiences whilst they were still fresh without distracting people at the height of their challenges; we also wanted to allow sufficient time to have elapsed for participants to have settled into something of a ‘new normal’.

Key findings

At a practical level, all the schools we spoke to have found ways to get around the problems posed by the Covid lockdown. Programmes had to be rescheduled or cancelled entirely, yet all schools reported that they had continued to deliver some teaching over the past year. Learner needs, client expectations, programme design, session structures and content, presenter styles, cohort dynamics and the executive education ‘experience’ have all changed markedly, and schools have taken giant leaps in using digital technologies for programme delivery.

Looking ahead, our findings suggest that these new approaches will continue and proliferate. Covid was not a temporary adversity to be endured, but a springboard for new approaches that can benefit participants, client companies and business schools in the years to come.

There is still much to be done. This forced adaptation, painful as it was, may have come at just the right time for the UK’s leadership education sector, and it is not over yet. Covid is far from beaten, the threat of major economic disruption (including that from Brexit) remains, and radical changes in social attitudes, working patterns and technology are progressing at a rapid pace.

Secure your copy of the report

Our final report, which was shared with participating business schools at the beginning of June 2021, is now available to all. We hope that it will prove to be a useful resource for those with an interest in the future of leadership education at executive level. If you would like to a free copy of our report, you can now download a copy here.