The Executive Master in Change (EMC) has strong historical roots. It was co-founded by Manfred Kets de Vries, Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change at INSEAD, along with INSEAD Professors Erik van de Loo and Roger Lehman. Over time, it has been further developed and designed in collaboration with industry leaders to ensure a continuous integration of intellectual rigour with management practice.

As part of the programme, participants will identify a topic of personal interest, conduct research and culminate the findings of their work in a Master Thesis. 

What support is available to guide participants through the thesis process, and how can graduates benefit from their work in the programme? We sat down with Elizabeth Florent Treacy, INSEAD Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of Research, to learn more. 

In addition to your role as an EMC thesis supervisor, you’re a highly accomplished researcher and writer in the field of leadership in organisations and experiential learning, as well as an experienced coach for individual and group coaching with senior executives. You are also an EMC alumna yourself. What inspires you most about this programme?

Liz Florent
Elizabeth Florent Treacy, INSEAD Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of Research


The spirit of the EMC community--including faculty, participants and alumni--and the DNA of the programme are what inspire me. From the very beginning of the programme more than twenty years ago, before topics like mindfulness or authenticity at work became more mainstream, we were driven by a genuine and deep desire to improve organisational performance by helping people know themselves, to find the best alignment between their own motivational drivers and their professional role, to work with change, and to effectively manage all their relationships. 

Manfred Kets de Vries, one of the founders of the programme, is a seminal figure in the early movement to bring an awareness of hidden dynamics within people and organisations into business schools.

This was at a time when organisations were only beginning to emerge from an emphasis on scientific management which, one might say, saw people as something like robots. 

Kets de Vries and his peer cohort of academics and scholars insisted that understanding human dynamics was an essential capability for organisational leaders. INSEAD was a first mover in creating a programme that was specifically designed to help leaders develop in this way. 

Organisational life is very high-paced, and the programme provides a much-needed space for people to step outside the “fire of action” and assess what is going on and why.

It is a programme that unfolds over time, changing the way participants see and interpret actions and behaviours. Witnessing this change is something that continues to deeply inspire me. 

What makes the EMC stand out compared to similar offerings?

Firstly, it is the faculty’s extensive knowledge of how to orchestrate an experiential learning space. The programme directors are able to bridge business school academia and approaches of psychotherapy in the EMC classroom. They are particularly skilled at containing and guiding the learning journey of our participants. We say: it is not therapy, but it can be a therapeutic experience. This approach is framed and linked to academic content so that life experiences can be revisited and better understood through lenses of meaningful academic theories.

The second element is the ability of the programme directors to allow the group itself to serve as a learning environment.

The EMC was one of the first in the world to use group coaching and “live case studies”, where participants present their own organisational challenges for group discussion. 

After people settle into it, the EMC becomes a journey that you co-construct with others—including your peers, your colleagues, and even friends and family--making discoveries about yourself, about group dynamics. As the programme directors say, it’s the group itself that does the work.

INSEAD Executive Master in Change

As part of the programme, participants will also conduct research into a topic of their interest and write a thesis. What support is available to participants, and what would be your advice to anyone who might feel daunted about the thesis?

An EMC thesis at its best is a culmination of a journey. We spend a lot of time helping participants identify a topic that is meaningful to them, for example through one-to-one conversations with the thesis director and in continual, informal peer conversations. 

From the beginning of the programme, participants learn to use methods of inquiry that will support their thesis research.

Other assignments earlier in the programme give participants an idea of academic interpretation and analysis, and the mechanics of working with various theoretical frameworks. They get to experiment with methods of qualitative inquiry that are fundamental to the systems-psychodynamic approach, and in this way become familiar with the tools and processes they will use during the thesis. 

Later, each participant begins to gather data for his or her research through a method that feels natural to them. Recent examples include focused interviews designed to deconstruct a particular incident from different perspectives, or analysis of one’s own dreams, or development of a systems-psychodynamic executive coaching approach. This is qualitative research at its best. We don’t use quantitative research methods, and people are often relieved to hear that!

You have also co-authored a book called “Hidden Challenges: Human Dynamics in Organisational Change and Recovery”, which draws on research conducted by EMC alumni. Could you tell us more about how this book came about?

Certainly! We always encourage graduates to continue to develop their research in some way, for example through conference presentations, practitioner journal articles, or books.

In this instance, five EMC graduates who had each earned a distinction for their thesis came together with the desire to make their insights more broadly available, and they approached me to ask if I could work with them. 

This is the first book to come out of the programme that was generated by the authors themselves, and I am very proud of it. 

All EMC theses are publicly available via the INSEAD library, along with collections of work in the Annals of Psychodynamic-Systemic Practitioner Research.

INSEAD Executive Master in Change

In what ways can participants professionally benefit from the research they have undertaken during the EMC?

I like the way Erik van de Loo, one of the programme directors, has described it. He says that the programme itself is like an apprenticeship. After graduation, learning becomes implicit, or explicit.

This means that, for some people, it is a matter of integrating what they have experienced and learned during the thesis process in an implicit way.

They say, “Once you have put on the systems-psychodynamic glasses, you can’t take them off.” 

Graduates test and apply their ability to see below the surface and through facades, for example, asking themselves, “What is the real reason driving another person’s behaviour? What emotion does this evoke in me, and how does that affect the way I behave?” These graduates continue to work in their organisations, but their capacity for effective action, or thoughtful assessment of the need for action at all, or ability to sense what people need in a situation of change, will now run through everything they do.

For others, their learning is used in an explicit way. These are the entrepreneurs, consultants, or executive coaches, for example. During the EMC they may have developed their own frameworks which they now put into practice. This could be an enhanced ability to listen to clients and understand their needs, or direct a consulting project towards what the client truly needs instead of what they think they need, or understand and work with systemic forces when interacting as an executive coach. 

Many become experts, working at the organisational level, from helping organisations to understand the why and how of change, to preparing people who work in the organisation for continual or large-scale change.

Curious to find out more about the Executive Master in Change? Download the programme brochure below or contact us to discuss your profile and objectives with our programme advisors.

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