‘Using the classroom to help develop people already practicing management is a fine idea, but pretending to create managers out of people who have never managed is a sham.’ Critically debate this proposition drawing on the literature on management education and, if possible, your own experience.
Management development is a subject that has caught various debates and arguments with regard to its importance and implications. Its importance has grown over the years due to the rising business challenges due to the rapidly growing business environment. Companies seek leaders rather than plain managers who can drive profitability and growth into the business (Viacava and Pedrozo, 2010).
The basic objective behind management development is to simply ‘develop’ managers who are to be those high potential future leaders. Various companies follow different strategies for incorporating management development into their human resource management systems in order to equip managers to face challenges of the business environment specific to the nature of the business (Nicholson, 1997; Coff, 2004). The more holistic the approach the more effective, as evident from the case studies of companies, such as Unilever. To debate on the topic of management development, three essential elements of a successful manager, creating which is the basic objective of management development, are to be explored (Cole, 1995). These are professional skills, competencies, and work experience, all of which combine to create an effective and successful manager who is highly sought after by the companies. To what extent the classroom learning can infuse these characteristics into a person to create an effective manager and to what extent they are unable to do so, are the two questions that the paper attempts to answer in the light of these three key elements.
Professional skills are the necessary skills that an individual needs to have in order to become a manager and practice management (Daft, 2007). These professional skills are embedded in the most management development courses for business school students or for in-practice managers (Davis, 1995). Beyond educational qualifications, the most essential skills that are required for the manager are the know-how of the various company operations, relating to the human resources, financial management, marketing management, operations management, the supply chain management, and customer relationship management (Gasper, 2006). Knowing these, the manager can take on a holistic approach in decision making for both tactical and strategic operations and activities (Cole, 1995). Analytical and problem solving are a must have as well as effective interpersonal skills as the manager needs to handle complex problems and get work done from subordinates and people around him (Gill and Lashine, 2003). Most importantly, coupled with the basic professional skills and interpersonal skills, for future leaders having leadership and entrepreneurial skills are essential as they make up their potential and capacity to become a driver of business profitability. Without these as a part of the course of the management development program, the outcomes will be quite ineffective (Cole, 1995; Heaton and Ackah, 2007).
Business schools transfer know-how via delivering lectures on different company operations and environments, bring in guests from the industry to shed light on the prevalent business challenges. Case studies allow the students to learn about how companies handle different situations (Kerin, 2008). Industry trips and visits to companies offer insights as to how different types of work and processes are carried out within the companies’ operations (Longenecker and Ariss, 2002). Students are given projects related with bringing in new ideas and developing strategies for real products and real businesses and are evaluated for their professional skills that are depicted in the final projects done (Coff, 2004). Schools often send out these projects to the companies the projects are based on or other professionals if the idea is related to a new business that does not exist presently (Nicholson, 1997).
The other important component of management development program is the development of managerial competencies (Pine, 1999). These comprise of a manager’s ability to handle complex situations, manager’s competitiveness and drive for development competitive strategies, the manager’s ability to generate innovations for the benefit for the company in terms of acquiring edge in the market and profitability, manager’s high performance for the organisation and the ability to create high performance levels within his chain of command, manager’s ability to adapt to the changing environment and be a change agent to allow implementation of the organisational change to take place effectively, manager’s ability to be a profitability driver into the business and manager’s team playing and team leadership skills (Gill and Lashine, 2003; Rodwell, 2005).
Business schools provide insights into the complexity of the practical work environment through computer-aided simulations or group work tasks. At presents management studies are offered projects and tasks to challenge their skills into delivering solutions to companies (Shen, 2005).
Business schools encourage the students to be competitive and compete against each other for exceptional ideas in projects and assignments and ideas (Viacava and Pedrozo, 2010). This produces a certain level of rivalry and thirst for out of the box thinking that is helpful and effective in infusing into them the competitive spirit and ability that is required by the organisations. However, this only reflects the competitiveness against colleagues in classrooms where less is at stake and not millions like in a practical work environment (Cole, 1995; Heaton and Ackah, 2007). With the stakes high, the competitiveness becomes a risky game for which clever strategies need to be developed. And in order to develop those competitive strategies years of experience is required and proper business intelligence in place which the business schools and class room environment does not entail in its courses (Vloeberghs, 1998; Rodwell, 2005).
The projects and assignments that the classroom lectures and business school courses comprise of create the capacity within the potential managers to think outside of the box and challenge their creativity into bringing new ideas relating to products and strategies. However, this creativity is limited subject to the restrained approaches to analyse the business environment. Much is unreal; however, real figures are taken from the business environment and because of these non-real and impractical situations, the depth of the idea and innovation remains shallow. There is a major line between a real business problem and a real solution (Kerin, 2008). Only a manager who is in that problem will be able to clearly see the requirements and complexities and come up with a solution (Viacava and Pedrozo, 2010). A consultancy from a student who has no experience or insight into the matter and only takes in opinions and literature to come up with solutions is ineffective practically speaking (Nicholson, 1997; Coff, 2004). Thus, the in-classroom training remains good for generating a potential within the individuals to get them prepped to face the business challenges by giving them a small taste of the complex business environment and its underlying ambiguous situation (Shen, 2005).
What class room learning does not entail however, is the capacity of performance especially under stressful conditions especially those that managers in the modern business environment face that only continue to grow bigger as the businesses and the micro and macro business environment expand. The student’s only concern during their courses is towards task accomplishment relating to projects and assignments and being regular so as to score high and graduate with good ranking (Vloeberghs, 1998; Viacava and Pedrozo, 2010). The key distinction between performance levels and capacities is of the objectives and orientations. In companies, keeping performance levels high is challenge as various external and internal forces hinder the effectiveness to prevail and there are a lot of high stakes that further produce complexities and challenges for the mangers to face such as losing out on the job if a massive loss occurs, fear of redundancy if performance levels are low, fear of hampering the career if a slight mistake occurs in the managerial effectiveness and if targets are not met by the subordinates under the manager (Gill and Lashine, 2003; Rodwell, 2005). The holistic and integrated nature of the performance is something only being in a company can be taught. However, one that has worked in an organisation before and faced these challenges, knows exactly what to produce further and uses the management development program to cover his weak areas only and matches his currently acquired skills to the challenges he needs to accomplish once he gets back to work (Nicholson, 1997; Coff, 2004).
The competency of adaptability and flexibility for a manger is highly essential as pointed out earlier. This competency is one of the hardest to develop and companies have had to face tremendous amount of challenges and problems owing to the management’s and thus, the organisation’s lack of flexibility and adaptability (Cole, 1995; Heaton and Ackah, 2007). The competency of flexibility and adaptability comes from the change acceptability capability of an individual which is very much related with a person’s attitude towards work. Be it a student or a professional, a person cannot be taught to be adaptable if his attitude towards his job does not permit him to be so. This is something both the organisation and the business school fail to infuse into a person. However, what an organisation and business school can do, however, is to prove to the student or manager how difficult it is to survive without having acceptance for change in a constantly changing environment at work (Crowther and Carter, 2002).
With organisations largely engaging in team work for tactical and strategic projects, a future leader or manger needs to have effective team playing and team leadership skills in order to get a competent edge over others in the organisation (Prince, 2002). Leadership as often acclaimed by researchers and scholars and practitioners is an inborn characteristics, however, people can be shaped with time and effort to adopt leadership skills. The most important elements, therein, are to have that urge, commitment and strive to become a leader and a team player (Vloeberghs, 1998). No one can be forced to take on the role of the leader (Gill and Lashine, 2003; Rodwell, 2005). This goes for business school learning and class room learning as well as organisational management development for in-practice managers (Crowther and Carter, 2002). The distinction between the effectiveness of the class room and the organisational management development program in creating leadership characteristics within the managers is that in-practice managers, with prior experience of being around leaders or have been in the role of leadership, where they suffered lack of skills to get the work does from the team members, know exactly what to improve or what to seek and have a much larger amount of motivation to pursue the training (Cole, 1995; Heaton and Ackah, 2007). The non-practicing and non-managerial students that have no prior experience of management know little as to what to expect from a leadership role and thus, take the learning as a general course and have to later look back onto these details, which they often forget once they start work, upon facing difficulties in managing problems. They then learn from their mistakes rendering the classroom learning ineffective (Vloeberghs, 1998; Viacava and Pedrozo, 2010).
This brings to the third most important element of the management development program: the work experience. The possession of work experience allows the individual to actually become a manager. A manager is only so upon practice as book reading does not make a manager only practice does (Prince, 2002).
Because of the possession of an ample amount of work experience of the in-practice managers, the management development initiative taken for them renders quite effective outcomes as they to enhance their sills and qualifications in a specialized area of interest and capability as identified through prior performance and development appraisals, and to improve their weaknesses and remove their deficiencies (Shen, 2005).The result of this effort is the high performance output that the developed managers produce for the organisations (Gill and Lashine, 2003; Rodwell, 2005). The potential managers that graduate from schools with no prior work experience are not equitable to the role that the experienced managers with development course have, though both may have the same educational background (Nicholson, 1997; Coff, 2004). Business schools, thus, only create potential managers, that may need to undergo further management training when need be and if they are unable to handle complex business problems (Pine, 1999; Prince, 2002).
Companies upon external recruitment prefer candidates for the role of managers in the organisation who possess strong managerial educational backgrounds but with educational qualifications, they seek work experience and specific skills that match the challenging nature of the job in context. This notion then questions the ability of the business schools to ‘develop’ or rather create managers as often the successful and progressive managers in the practical work environment are those that are managers in practice and obtain grooming and development on-the-job or as part of the company training programs (Nicholson, 1997; Coff, 2004). Companies also send their high potential managers to business schools for specialized managerial courses to further their competencies (Vloeberghs, 1998). These managers find more career opportunities and growth as they enhance their qualifications as leaders and challenge further the ability of the un-experienced management graduates to pursue their career in management in contrast and win the companies’ preferences for employment.
Self Learning Audit
The Skills and Insights Developed
The course of management development has a lot to offer to the management students and delivers the key insights of the need to continuously develop one’s skills and capabilities as a manager in order to succeed in a challenging business environment. The course was surely in-depth and offered various learning elements to be infused into a student’s mind to be prepped for the career development as a manager.
Specifically, the following skills and insights were developed:
There are three key components of a management development program that produce effective outcomes: professional skills of a manager, competencies, and work experience. All of these need to essentially incorporate into the management development programs in order for effective managers to be created;
The classroom environment surely does not suffice fully the requirements of a successful management career and the creation of effective and high performance business leaders, as the importance of in-practice management and work experience cannot be ignored;
Business schools have begun to incorporate professional training and practice management courses that enable the students to gain work experience during their course of studies, which is proving to be effective as it gives the students an edge in the job market, and fulfils the requirement that the companies seek upon recruitment relating to prior work experience;
Management development, owing to its importance for growing companies and progressing managers, and the creation of future business leaders, it has and will continue to receive immense importance and exposure. The subject is growing in its scope and various new modules and components are being added into the management development courses and training programs coupled with computer-aided tools and techniques to produce interactive and simulation based learning of the potential managers.
Areas of Improvement
Having a hindsight of the project, I would have used more data collection sources in my exploratory research study such as interviews of professional human resource development managers, so as to gain a more first hand and detailed insight into the matter.
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