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Home > Human and Intellectual Capital Viewpoints > Challenges in Management Skills Development

Human and Intellectual Capital Viewpoints

Challenges in Management Skills Development

by Simon Earp and Eddie Cochrane


Simon Earp is director of corporate development and director of the University of Edinburgh Business School’s part-time MBA program. He has a BSc Dip. Marketing and obtained his management science degree at Warwick University. In addition to running several TCS programs he has overall responsibility for TCS programs throughout the university. Prior to becoming Director of Corporate Engagement and Marketing he was a marketing lecturer in the department. His research interests include relationship marketing, customer service, marketing strategy, and marketing information systems.

Eddie Cochrane is executive development manager at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Currently studying for a PhD in the area of emotional management, he holds the British Psychological Society Certificate of Competence in Occupational Testing (Level A & B). He delivers and manages external executive programs to corporate clients, with recent clients including RBS, NPower, BP, and Nucleus. He has featured regularly in the UK press, most recently for his work on emotional engagement in organizations. He also has responsibility for the design and delivery of leadership and management skills throughout the various MBA programs. He has 15 years’ experience in HR Management where he managed a variety of HR teams in both the private and public sectors.

How does management skills development differ from the traditional MBA?

In our opinion and practice there is a marked difference between the goals of a full-time MBA program and those of a management development program. Many people taking a full-time MBA do so in order to make a sea change in their career path. They use it to reorientate their career and their skill sets. So they will use it to change industry sectors, for example, or to move from a specialist to a general management role. The implications are that the skills and training that they are looking for from the MBA are not skills that they currently possess to a significant degree. They are looking to move outside their existing career trajectory, or of the view of management that is provided by their current organization.

They are investing a very significant sum—usually upward of US$36,000 plus the salary they are foregoing, plus their living costs for the year—in order to step off their current career path and branch out afresh. When you total all that it is without doubt one of the most significant investments, apart, say, from buying a home, that most of them will make in their lives.

By contrast, people doing a part-time MBA program are generally doing so to accelerate their career inside their existing organization. In many instances they will be at least partially sponsored by their organization, and much of the project work that they undertake in the course of their MBA may well address real issues and challenges in the parent organization. In our experience, about two-thirds of students on our part-time program will have some form of sponsorship from their organization, which will be somewhere on a sliding scale from around 15% sponsorship to the company picking up 100% of the fees.

Management development is a very different affair altogether. With management development you are looking at a program that is instigated by an organization, and whose content is worked out by the business school in close cooperation with the organization. Inevitably, for an organization to be willing to invest in a management development program there will be an identified development need inside the organization. This may come about as the result of some fundamental change that the organization is going through, or recognition of the need for a development program may have come about through an internal staff appraisal process. Alternatively, as we will see, it can also be that new developments in management science, such as the development of emotional intelligence and the realization of the benefits that flow from training in emotional intelligence, create a requirement for the development of a program for that organization.

However, the trend in the market for management development—for the last five years at least, and continuing into the present—is that most interventions are not to teach or develop generic skills but to fulfill a development need that is tailored specifically to that organization and where it is at that particular point in time. We use the word “intervention” advisedly here, for a management development program, as we have described it, is very much an intervention in an organization with the aim of achieving specific goals. These are crafted, tailored interventions with measurable outcomes.

From time to time we do see opportunities for syndicated consortia programs, where two or more organizations with common requirements get together to share the costs and benefits of a management development program. For example, one management development program that we are working on involves four organizations, all with a similar need for executive coaching, and we are putting together a program that will go across all four organizations. At present each of the organizations involved is talking about putting 20 of their executives through the course, so that brings the unit cost of course development down considerably for each of them. All four are viewing this as a pilot development and, if it is judged to be successful, the idea is to roll it out across a much broader spread of roles inside those organizations.

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