Survival classes in new world of change

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NOBODY would deny these are tough times for the senior manager. Even if the UK recession is receding into the past, there are still downturns in overseas markets to contend with. Even more important, though, are other factors - such as the increased globalisation of business and the threats posed by developing economies - that presage sustained pressure on the boardroom.

All of which points to the importance of 'management of change'. And unlike many past management catch-phrases, this one seems to be holding the attention of executives at the highest level.

A recent survey by KPMG Management Consulting found that more than 75 per cent of change programmes are the responsibility of the board or management team members, while more than half are the direct concern of the chairman or chief executive.

While this top-level involvement may seem a good sign, KPMG is worried that management of change may turn out to be an awkward, time-consuming burden.

In an attempt to meet such concerns, the new Centre for the Study of Change has teamed up with Sheffield Business School to launch what it claims is the world's first MSc in Managing Change.

The course, which will be taught at Sheffield and the centre's office in central London, takes as its theme a remark in Managing to Survive, Sir John Harvey- Jones's latest book, when he says that the ability to manage change is 'without question the most desirable management skill for the 1990s'.

As the centre's chairman, Ian Cunningham, notes this is because big changes used to be rare events that merely punctuated periods of a 'normal' stable state.

'Today it is unrealistic to imagine that most organisations can maintain any stable state. The task of senior managers now is to learn to live effectively with continual change,' he says.

The course consists of four six-month semesters, the first of which starts at the end of this month. While the first part includes a lot of theory on approaches to change, there is a strong emphasis on practical experience.