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Implementing Organizational Change

How the Kellogg School creates custom programs with corporate partners

Every step of the way, Kellogg works closely with major corporations, small businesses and government agencies alike to design the right executive education program. To learn more about each step, click the links below.

Step 1: Assess company/school fit
Many of our custom program relationships span decades and operate on multiple levels: custom clients recruit at Kellogg, and their executives become guest lecturers and are featured in case studies. Some even participate in faculty research. Our experience suggests that selecting a school for a long-term, multifaceted relationship is best achieved through in-depth, face-to-face communication between senior managers and senior faculty members.

Typically, senior executives and human resources managers from prospective custom clients are invited to visit the James L. Allen Center, the Kellogg School’s executive development facility on the shore of Lake Michigan. In addition to touring the center, our guests meet with senior faculty who are likely to teach in the program. Faculty briefly present the sorts of managerial issues they address, and, more importantly, the faculty listen very carefully to each prospective client’s needs: the rationale for the program, the nature of the company’s strategy and culture, participant backgrounds and current responsibilities, the potential scope of the initiative, and who is the program’s champion.

The purpose of this meeting is to determine the fit between the Kellogg School’s capabilities and culture and the client’s strategy, business problems and culture. The client should feel that the Kellogg School is the best place for them, and we should feel that the Kellogg School is uniquely qualified to address the company’s needs, given our faculty resources. And, because the Kellogg School is known for its culture of collaboration, teamwork and customer focus, we seek custom clients who prefer collaboration to the traditional transaction-based vendor relationship. If everyone agrees that the match is excellent, then we proceed to a more formal proposal stage.

Step 2: Preliminary program design
In discussing initial ideas with the custom client about curriculum and program format, Kellogg assigns to the program an academic director (normally a senior faculty member) and a program manager (responsible for program logistics). The academic director reviews archival research on the company and conducts a series of in-depth, confidential interviews with the organization’s senior management and prospective program participants. The goal is to develop a keen sense of the business issues facing the company, the nature of the program’s participants, the program’s objectives, and any logistical considerations such as maximum program length and unique format requirements. Based on this information, the academic director proposes a preliminary program design that includes specific subject areas to be covered in the program, the faculty who would teach each particular session, program length and format, and any action learning exercises, advance assignments, or company speakers who may be part of the program.

Step 3: Design evaluation meeting
The Kellogg School asks the client company to form a small, six- to eight-person curriculum design team comprised of a few potential program participants and senior-level executives who are intimately involved with the envisioned strategic change or leadership development initiative. Then, in collaboration with the academic director, the client design team reviews the overall design and meets with the faculty members who will teach in the program. The faculty then presents the subjects that the academic director has asked them to teach. The role of the client design team is to provide reactions to the proposed curriculum (more of this, less of that), alert faculty to any potential sensitivities they may encounter with the client organization, and suggest to faculty those company resources who will assist them in preparing their sessions. The result of this meeting should be a revised curriculum, a client design team that is comfortable with the faculty and topical coverage, and faculty action plans for customizing their sessions around company-specific needs. In all, the design of a custom offering usually requires six to nine months in advance of the first session.

Step 4: Initial program delivery
While the first session of a custom program is often called a “pilot,” in reality it is a carefully designed delivery based on an in-depth understanding of the organization and its issues. The Kellogg School recommends that the participants for the first session include managers from the program’s target audience. As the first group, their feedback will be instrumental in program refinement. They should, however, fully experience the program rather than simply observe and critique it. Setting appropriate expectations for the first group of participants is critical to receiving valuable feedback.

Step 5: Program rollout and refinement
With revisions from the first session, the program is rolled out to the group of managers for whom it was designed. Depending on the total population of managers to attend, class sizes vary from 25 to 60 participants per session, with two to six sessions offered annually. Each session is thoroughly evaluated, with refinements made to subsequent sessions. It is also standard practice for the Kellogg School to have periodic status and debrief meetings with the client design committee to discuss possible changes to the program as well as changes in the client organization. Take, for example, a program to improve a company’s marketing strategy. Over time, the expectation is that the company will embrace new marketing techniques and improve performance as a result of the program and other possible initiatives. Thus, the program should be revised to include company marketing success stories to demonstrate that the desired change is possible. Further, the content level may be elevated to address the company’s use of more sophisticated marketing tactics.

Follow-on programs
Many programs come to a natural end based on their objectives and target participant population. Other programs run for many years, with adjustments made to accommodate an increase in the target participant group or as changes in the company’s needs evolve. The Kellogg School’s experience suggests that many companies may want to consider follow-up programs. For example, a company may want to take a version of the base program to lower-level managers or managers from different functions or business units. Similarly, as company managers gain expertise in program content areas, more in-depth programs are often indispensable for those who need deeper and more specialized knowledge.

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