Executive Education

Peer Talk Profile: Michele Lai

Booth: What made you interested in applying for the Executive Education Scholarship at Chicago Booth?

Lai: Firstly, the topic of Leading High Performance Organizations grabbed my attention. Having started my own nonprofit, Kids4Kids, that serves the local community in Hong Kong and has experienced high growth in only eight short years, I wanted to make sure that I was equipped to lead the organization on a trajectory of continued growth.

Secondly, having too much to do with too little time, a two-day course was the perfect duration that I could commit to.

Last but not least, investment in professional development among NGOs is often overlooked because of cost—it seems difficult to justify as an expense item in the operating budget. Having the Hong Kong Jockey Club provide full scholarships to attend this world-class program from Chicago Booth is indeed beneficial.

Booth: What was your favorite part of the Leading High-Performance Organizations program?

Lai: I enjoyed very much the interactive exercises, particularly the group brainstorm, as it was interesting to have a diversity of ideas and to learn from each other.

Booth: What concepts did you learn in the program that will be the most useful in your job?

Lai: I enjoyed learning about what makes millennials tick and how to manage millennials. I also learned new terms like “w-esiure,” which combines “work and leisure.” I also learned that people should be, above all else, the most important asset of any organization. People are the value creator for any organization. It is the people who have a common focus and purpose that helps to create the culture of an organization, and this is what makes one company high performing and another not.

Booth: Were there any challenges you faced at work before attending this program that you now feel better prepared to handle?

Lai: Yes, I learned that above all else, the people in a high-performing organization have a direct effect on their organization. At the time of the course, I had been dealing with managing several staff turnovers. I should have acted swiftly when I spotted a key staff member’s change in strategic behavior—to use terminology taught in the program—so that it did not affect other high-performing individuals in the organization. It is a tough decision for a leader in an NGO to make the proactive decision to remove staff. It is challenging enough as it is to recruit, motivate, and retain high performers without the basic management tools of remuneration or career progression.

What I learned from the program is the high cost to the organization when a high-performing staff member who changes strategic behavior is allowed to continue unchecked. I am reminded now after the program that I must act quickly, or else the ramifications of delayed action will have major consequences.

Booth: What was your impression of the faculty?

Lai: I enjoyed the program instructor very much, as she had a wealth of experience to share from her work with many senior executives in a wide range of organizations. It was beyond textbook and she was able to give practical examples.

Booth: What would you say to others who are interested in the Leading High-Performance Organizations program at Booth?

Lai: I have already been telling others about the program and how highly I recommend it. Despite being busy and it being hard to carve out time, it was a great two-day time investment and well worth every minute.

Booth: Why do you think it’s important that professionals find new learning opportunities and acquire new skills?

Lai: Oftentimes, we get stuck in our own routines and our set ways of doing things. Attending programs such as this helps us to take a fresh perspective on things and learn to “slow down in order to speed up,” to quote our course instructor.