The INSEAD Executive MBA (EMBA) is the perfect “next step” for experienced managers who have excelled in their careers so far. The benefits to you are clear. As an EMBA candidate, you are seeking to develop your leadership skills with a view to move to the next level. Nevertheless, the EMBA also offers significant benefits to your organisation. During the programme, you will continue to work – which means you will take new skills, knowledge and motivation back to the office after every module. Remember, like all good investments, the EMBA offers significant returns.

This guide has been created to help you convince your boss, HR Director and/or CEO that undertaking the EMBA is the right move for both you and your organisation. Whatever your circumstances or ambitions, you will certainly need the support of your company to complete the programme. But you may also consider asking for sponsorship or other forms of assistance.

Preparing to ask for support – your business case

Putting together a business case should help you prepare for all the questions you may face when asking your company for sponsorship. It is a way to plan your strategy and ensure you are well-equipped to address the concerns of key decision-makers in your organisation.

How to Gain Your Employer's Support
How to Gain Your Employer's Support

Know yourself & define your commitment

  • Ensure that your motivations are clear: it is essential that you know your own reasons and objectives for embarking on such a rigorous and demanding programme as the EMBA.
  • Put forward a clear plan for managing your deadlines and fulfilling your commitments. Your managers’ number one concern, when you tell them you are considering the EMBA, will be your regular absence from the business frontline. As you will need to reassure your boss, you should be extremely well prepared for this conversation.
  • Be prepared to be flexible: employers may require a variety of commitments from sponsored candidates, from lock-in periods post programme to agreements to refund tuition in the event you leave the organisation. This is your opportunity to reinforce your long-term commitment to your employer. Keep in mind that talent retention is an important issue for HR managers. Your lock-in period is very likely to be an integral factor to the level of support you receive.
  • Carefully plan the support that you will require.
Put forward a clear plan for managing your deadlines and fulfilling your commitments. Your managers’ number one concern, when you tell them you are considering the EMBA, will be your regular absence from the business frontline.

Know your organisation

  • Do your research: study company policy with regards to master’s programmes. If you are approaching HR or a senior manager, it may be worthwhile including a reference or letter of support from your current line manager.
  • Outline the key benefits: what will your organisation get out of sponsoring you for the INSEAD EMBA?
  • Network with others who have done similar programmes: either in your own organisation or in a similar organisation from the same sector. They could have done an EMBA elsewhere, the INSEAD MBA or even executive education programmes. Ask them what they gained from the experience, as well as how they gained funding and/or other support. You can contact us to find out if somebody from your company or sector has completed the EMBA and who may be able to advise you. It is essential to have this information at your fingertips in order to adapt your negotiation position and set the right objectives.

Know the programme

  • During the conversation with your employer, specific questions regarding the programme content, structure and logistics may come up. You will want to ensure you can answer all of their questions.
  • Check out our website: the INSEAD EMBA website has a great deal of information, but you will find out even more by attending one of our regional or on-campus events. Areas to consider are length of programme, class profile, rankings, cost, programme content, alumni network, faculty and programme schedule.
  • Our team is committed to helping you through this sponsorship process. In the past, even our Dean of Degree Programmes has spoken directly with companies to explain the value that they can expect to gain from sponsoring their employees through the INSEAD EMBA. Just ask for our help!

The key benefits for your company

It is important that you highlight the many opportunities to apply all of your EMBA learning to your organisation’s activities. You will be able to deliver practical and beneficial recommendations, informed by the latest business thinking and research of our world-leading faculty in topics such as innovation, blockchain, fintech and digitalisation.

Specifically, there are two major opportunities to link your learning directly to your work: firstly through short "implementation essays” and secondly via a substantial final project. In both cases, your assignment can be customised to fit your company’s strategic priorities. And your final conclusions can easily be turned into a report to share with your leadership team.

Highlight the many opportunities to apply all of your EMBA learning to your organisation’s activities.

Implementation essays

The overarching goal of the implementation essays is to add value to your company by thinking through how the knowledge gained can be applied to your organisational context and suggesting improvements to your organisation.

Typical examples of topics:

  • Brand Management or new market entry for a product or service
  • Organisational diagnosis of a recent performance problem or success
  • Capital investment and allocation decisions in your division

Final project or thesis

The final project (Global Executive MBA) or thesis (Tsinghua-INSEAD Executive MBA) constitute a significant part of your studies. It also provides a springboard for post-programme action. Your company may choose to get closely involved in your project and allocate other resources, such as senior management time, to support you.

Even if not, your project should ideally be designed to give something back to your company in return for its support by tackling a genuine strategic issue within your company or wider industry, offering potential for real business impact within your company, integrating and applying your knowledge from several parts of the EMBA curriculum and the Leadership Development Programme.

Ideally, it should be preparing you for your next career move within the company, by helping you build contacts, assemble resources or gain buy-in.

Typical examples of topics:

  • A rigorous competitive analysis
  • How CSR can make business sense
  • Achieving post-merger/acquisition excellence

Of course, we understand that some issues are confidential as they may be sensitive business challenges that the company is facing. In such situations, we will sign a standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA). You can reassure your manager about our sensitivity to these matters.

Your project should ideally be designed to give something back to your company.

What kind of support do you need?

Some candidates wait to be admitted to the EMBA before they start any conversation about support (especially financial), while others decide to inform their managers early in the process. There are no universal rules. However, we encourage you to start your research as early as possible. Depending on your particular situation and organisation, you may consider asking for different types of support from your employer.

Essential: Time and commitment

Your company/manager’s support in terms of time and commitment is crucial to your success in the programme, and that’s why we ask that all participants obtain formal written commitment from their employer before they start the EMBA. Upon admission, you will receive the official documents that your firm will need to complete.

Offer your employer a full and realistic picture of the time investment, which depends on where you opt to do the initial core courses (Asia, Middle East or Europe section). All three options require a further 10—12 hours of study every week – probably during evenings and weekends. Remember also that, as the programme goes on, you are likely to study in Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, depending on the choices you make – plus possible off-campus locations, depending on the options available. All the module dates are fixed well in advance, so you will have ample time to plan around them. However, the timetable is intense and you will have very little time for calls and emails while you are on campus for a module.

Time to do the programme may come in a variety of forms: unpaid leave; additional paid leave; holiday weeks “borrowed” in advance; a sabbatical year; parental leave; combining study with business trips… we see many creative solutions and combinations negotiated!

Nice to have: Financial backing

Gaining a place on the programme is an achievement in itself. But financing your INSEAD EMBA may be an even greater challenge. It is therefore important to consider your financing options as early as possible, whether through savings, loans, INSEAD scholarships, sponsorship from your employer or – most likely – a combination of sources.

It is entirely at the discretion of your employer whether or not to support you financially. At INSEAD, we estimate that around 27% of our EMBA participants receive some level of financial support and typically only 19% of the class is fully sponsored. Keep in mind that any financial sponsorship will be directly linked to the estimated benefits that your company believes it will gain from your participation in the EMBA.

As mentioned earlier, you might be asked to sign a retention agreement, which will oblige you to stay a number of years in the company in return for sponsorship or to repay all or some of the amount. This is a relatively common course of action.

Another option to explore is some form of “retrospective” sponsorship, whereby the company pays a percentage of the total fees, as and when you deliver certain pre-arranged conditions. For example, if your workload and deadlines are not compromised after your attendance to the first three modules of the programme, your employer may reimburse you a pre-agreed amount.

Final Checklist

  • Do I know who to speak to? Have I considered their various possible reactions?
  • Have I found out about official company policies?
  • Have I networked with others in my organisation who have done comparable programmes?
  • Have I decided on the best time to make my first approach to the key stakeholders?
  • Am I able to explain how the programme addresses specific needs in the company?
  • Can I explain how the programme addresses my career development within the organisation?
  • Am I clear about the benefits that this programme will bring to my employer?
  • Do I know exactly what kinds of support I’m going to ask for?
  • Am I able to explain exactly why I’m asking for this support?
  • Do I know my own negotiating position and the compromises I’m ready to accept?
  • Have I made some contingency plans in case the answer is “no”?