Executive development: Managers in a different class

Employers have no excuse for ignoring the development needs of their executives, argues Philip Schofield d
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Indy Lifestyle Online
To be effective in the fast-changing world of work, managers must be committed to a process of lifelong learning. Informal learning, from experience and from colleagues, is rarely enough on its own. Some learning needs to be systematic and structured through formal courses of education and training.

There is a huge executive education and training industry, Managers at all levels, from trainees to board directors, can find courses to suit their personal career-development needs.

Most people entering management quickly need to acquire some practical work-related skills. Employers complain that new recruits lack skills in team working, leadership, oral and written communications, problem solving, business awareness, numeracy (mainly arithmetic and statistics), the ability to prioritise work and good time management. Large companies with well developed graduate training schemes, such as Unilever, provide this training internally. But many look to outside providers for many elements.

Outdoor development providers (which don't always use outdoor activities) are probably the top suppliers of courses offering team working, leadership and problem-solving skills. These are not restricted to management trainees. Providers like Brathay Development Training and Impact Development Training also provide courses on team working, managing change and creative thinking for senior managers.

Business awareness is often taught through business games. For example, Development Dimensions International (DDI) recently launched a Making Sense of Business board game. Taking one day to play, it involves up to 25 people divided into "companies" of two to five people. Each company starts equally, and players can see how the policies they set relating to pricing, investment decisions, cost-control, R&D, borrowing and quality initiatives affect earnings, cash-flow, competitive status with the other teams, and overall performance. More advanced versions are available for middle and senior managers.

Prioritising work and time management is often linked to company-wide paper or PC personal organiser system such as Time/System and Lotus Notes. When introduced without related training, these are often used as no more than diaries. Consequently some suppliers like Time/System run both public and in-company courses.

Many managers seek a professional qualification early in their career and membership of the appropriate institution. Studies are usually by day or block release or through distance learning. Most institutions work through college and specialist training providers in the delivery of their programmes.

Many managers, particularly once they have five to ten years experience, identify a need to upgrade their formal business learning. A minority take a self-financed year or so out to undertake full-time study, but many opt for a part-time or distance learning Master's programme, usually supported by their employer.

Some executives, wishing to develop their expertise in a specialist area or possibly to change specialism, take a business school MSc or MA in a particular specialist area of management such as finance, human resource management or marketing. These courses combine intellectual rigour and technical detail with practical applications.

There is growing collaboration between academe and industry. An excellent example is the joint initiative of the management consultancy industry and Surrey University in setting up the Management Consultancy Business School. This recently launched an MSc in Management Consultancy. The course develops the particular skills of consultancy and claims to be distinct from other business management courses.

However, the world's most popular and marketable management qualification is the Master's in Business Administration (MBA). A large and growing proportion of company directors now have one. MBAs are offered by almost 120 UK business schools, but their quality and status is very variable. Potential students should research courses and schools carefully, (the Association of MBAs Guide to Business Schools is invaluable).

Business schools don't only offer extended programmes of management education. Many also run short courses to update skills, introduce new ideas, examine current issues and so on. These typically last one to five days. Ashridge, Henley and others run a variety of such development programmes for executives. Some events are one-off. Next month, for example, Manchester Business School is running a free one-day forum on Cutting Edge Issues in Marketing.

The Industrial Society, the largest independent training provider in Europe, offers courses in almost every topic and at all levels from the shop floor to board level. Most are run at several UK venues and on several dates. They can also be run in-house. The current course directory runs to 188 pages.

At board level the Institute of Directors provides training and development services through its Centre for Director Development. Its most comprehensive programme is the company direction programme which comprises eight short courses concentrating on all aspects of director's role.

With such a huge choice of programmes and providers, employers have no excuse for ignoring the development needs of their executives. And their corporate survival probably depends on it.

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