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Business Management Education

Re-thinking Our Approach

Do we need to re-think our approach to business management education?

In order to develop as a manager, effective techniques and tools need to be combined with intellectual skills and insight. There are many places on the web that will provide the former, some that address the latter, but not many that do both.

At the Happy Manager we aim to bring the two together. We help managers combine techniques, and tools with intellectual skills and insights.

We believe getting the balance right between techniques and insight is vital, but just as important is the way those skills are developed. How do you develop these skills?

When you think of business management education, what usually comes to mind? The word “education” probably makes you think of taught classroom courses, such as many MBAs or other formal business management programmes.

However, ask managers where they learned how to do their job and more often than not their answer will be “at work”.

Turning Business Management Education on its Head

For too many managers, the bridge between classroom-based business management education, and work itself, is one they find difficult to cross. Especially when they are facing the challenges of a busy management job.

The work we’ve been doing with organizations and their managers has led us to a clear conclusion. If you want to make the most of your management development activity, you need to make much more of the way formal education is linked to the workplace.

We’ve taken the view that it’s time for more conventional thinking about business management education to be turned on its head. Rather than sending people away from the workplace to learn, using lectures, assessments and case study discussions, the workplace itself should become more an integral part of the learning experience.

Business Management Education

Ask the Right Questions

As a learning environment, the workplace is messy – in fact it can be full of complex messages, politics, conflicts and challenges, often with no single “right answer”. The role of the management educator should start with helping managers to ask the right questions. It’s only after this is done that we can bring in relevant management concepts, theories and insights to help managers learn and define the actions they need to take.

That’s why most of the resources we have developed include tools to help managers assess their working situations. In so doing, our emphasis is on helping managers to consider new knowledge, adapt it to their context, and put it to use effectively and quickly.

Take Time to Think

There is no doubt that taking a step back from the workplace can also be helpful, perhaps even essential on occasion in order to make sense of things. That’s why we also see learning as a social process in which managers who face real life challenges have much to learn from each other. Our role is to create a fertile learning environment, with numerous opportunities for this can happen. For example, take a few minutes to read about our 4T’s model, a good illustration of one of the structured learning processes we use to develop managers and leaders.

Thinking Differently About Business Management Education

So if you want to make your business management education more effective, start by thinking differently about it. Remember our three tips to help you on your way:

  1. Bring learning and the workplace closer together, make the workplace an integral part of the learning experience
  2. Start by finding the right questions to ask about the business. Then draw the relevant concepts, insights and resources together to answer the challenging questions that are crucial to taking the business forward.
  3. Bring managers together to answer the challenging questions. Give them time to reflect so they can explore the concepts and insights that will become a springboard for action.

Make The Workplace An Integral Part of Your Management and Leadership Training and Courses

It may be that your leaders and managers are already involved in formal programmes, such as MBAs or other leadership and management courses. If so, think about how the principles discussed in this article can be incorporated alongside those programmes, ensuring theoretical learning is more closely linked to practice.

It’s important to put a process in place which complements ongoing formal education, facilitating and encouraging clearer integration of theory with practice. This makes the formal education far more valuable to the organization. Especially where the learning can be made relevant to the organization and its situation.

To gain the most from any course you need to think seriously about how learning from that experience is transferred to better practice and improved ways of working. To do that you may need to re-think your business management education strategy. Try placing a greater emphasis on the processes which make the workplace an integral part of the way your managers learn.

You’ll find a really interesting and challenging discussion of management development and education in Henry Mintzberg’s book “Managers not MBA’s”. You can read the introduction here. Note how Mintzberg argues that managers learn best and most from their actual expereinces in the workplace. You might also be interested in a discussion of the importance of leadership and management development, especially to help enable growth from a recession in an article on our companion website: “Better Leadership Skill Training – a key to combating a recession.”

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