Three labourers on a building site were asked by a passer-by what they were doing. One said he was breaking stones. Another said he was earning a living. The third said he was building a cathedral.

Almost a hundred OU Business School MBA alumni came together recently to test this anecdote of management guru Peter Drucker and reflect on their own perspectives of the work-place. Gathering at the Prudential Training Centre in Newport Pagnell, this MBA reunion was taking advantage of an intensive updating weekend offered by the business school's alumni association headed by Christine Sargent.

Peter Cook, one of the MBA graduate organisers of the event, had learned from the successful first oversubscribed experimental residential weekend last year. "We knew our MBAs wanted to see how to make the theory walk. It had to include active as well as reflective sessions as colleagues wanted to share their own expertise. It had to be aspirational and we planned it to be a real `knowledge pool."

For Jeremy Mills, who completed his MBA five years ago, this residential session was what he needed - `This is perfect'.

With colleagues constantly `borrowing' his MBA course materials from his desk, Richard Bawden found this face-to-face refresher kept up the perceived value of his qualification.

The alumni could choose from a rich mix of workshops and lectures including the latest strategic thinking on human resources, brand management, and knowledge management. Optional seminars included Reviewing your sources of power, Personality Styles and Adverts that Work and the more esoteric Organisational Theatre of Creative Action incorporating the Forman Theatre technique developed by the Brazilian theatre practitioner Augustus Boal.

An information point in the building foyer (described by one MBA as an electronic ouija board) offered more spontaneous skill sessions provided by MBA colleagues.

Using the Drucker quote, Chris Mabey, Head of the Centre for Human Resource and Change Management at the OU Business School, compared management to architecture and first building a vision. Working the metaphor hard, Chris offered insights into why organisations are co-created (like buildings) and how to create new management perspectives (`Make your own solutions').

Yet-to-be published research was shared with the MBA graduates demonstrating that management development really added value in an organisation. Getting beyond the rhetoric, Chris drew on recent research from the Institute of Personnel and Development which found that effective human resource management was perhaps the best predictor of business performance in an organisation.

Leslie de Chernatony, Beneficial Bank Professor of Brand Marketing, enthused about the importance of managing brands and reflected on why they thrive or die. He argued for the need to manage actively the functional, rational and emotional elements of consumer brands. Brands do not necessarily die in the market-place. The death-rattle can begin inside the organisation. "Brands are dying internally if managers are pulling in different directions."

Leslie's recent experience on a consultancy in Russia showed him brand power at work. "When Russians buy tyres they take the tyre in to the garage and say `I want a tyre with this number on the side'. Customers go the extra mile to buy the products they really want."

In the west, Levis consistently brand their jeans by identifying them with rebellion. But what does rebellion mean for each generation? Levis try to cover all the bases by employing a young hip agency whose task is to anticipate the cultural and style changes of a generation.

With a robust call to all MBAs - "This is information warfare!" - Professor of Information Management Roland Kaye threw out a challenge to re-think the use of IT within organisations. With IT spend increasing and business productivity going down, Roland argued that the information focus is wrong. "Car drivers spend their time looking out of the windscreen not at the dashboard," he claimed. "Organisations do the reverse!"

It was no longer an issue of organisations experiencing incremental change. The external environment was relentlessly volatile and with "external scanning" a low priority for organisations, "trauma" is becoming the key agent of change. Concluding his lecture with a celebration of the skills of computer hackers and of the virtue of knowing not only your competitor's internal phone directory but also who was building their web-site, Roland argued that all was fair in information warfare.

Comments