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Home > Human and Intellectual Capital Viewpoints > Why Management Development Is a Challenge for Both Business Schools and Client Organizations

Human and Intellectual Capital Viewpoints

Why Management Development Is a Challenge for Both Business Schools and Client Organizations

by Andrew Kakabadse


Andrew Kakabadse is professor of international management development at Cranfield Business School. He was the H. Smith Richardson Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, North Carolina, in 2005–06 and is a visiting professor at the University of Ulster, Ireland, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Australia, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona, Université Panthéon-Assas (Paris II), France, and Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. His research covers boards, top teams, and the governance of governments. He has published 37 books, more than 220 articles, and 18 monographs. Kakabadse is coeditor of the Journal of Management Development and Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society. Among his most recent books are Bilderberg People: Elite Power and Consensus in World Affairs (with Ian Richardson and Nada Kakabadse), Rice Wine with the Minister: Distilled Wisdom to Manage, Lead and Succeed on the Global Stage (with Nada Kakabadse), and Global Boards: One Desire, Many Realities (with Nada Kakabadse).

If there are general competencies that all managers need, why are so few generic management development programs available from business schools? Why is there such a marked preference for bespoke courses?

The simple and straightforward answer is that the requirement to “skill up” a particular management cadre is almost always raised as a specific issue inside an organization and is driven by events and by the operational context of that organization. At the back of it there is always a problem that needs resolving. Every expenditure by a company or a public body needs to be justified. There is always at least an ad-hoc cost evaluation of the anticipated benefits against the probable costs. So, training initiatives at a senior level, which cost significantly in terms of time and money, have an inertial weight against them to begin with, and very few organizations are prepared to embrace the idea of generic training for senior management. They will sponsor or partly sponsor MBA candidates at lower to middle management level, but that is a different thing altogether.

This being the case, business schools have generally eschewed the idea of putting on generic management development courses, even though you could specify general management competencies that could go into such a course. Courses like that simply would not sell a sufficient number of places. As a result, management development training has evolved as a bespoke discipline geared to meet the particular challenges and problems of specific client organizations.

Is there much common material from course to course, or does everything have to be developed from scratch on each occasion?

The courses tend to have some basic elements that are common to all or to most courses, such as an introduction to leadership, or some of the psychological profiling that we use. But the challenges that the client organizations face make the courses very different from each other. There can be targeting by level, by function, and also by region or division within the organization.

Does the client organization, then, already have a clearly articulated sense of the business or operational challenge that it is facing when it seeks to enlist the help of a business school in developing a course for its management team?

It may, or it may just have a sense that its performance in particular areas is not at an optimal level, or is falling behind by comparison with the competition. Clearly, an organization that is about to undertake a major initiative or new project will be faced, fairly sharply, by the challenges associated with that venture. But even here there is usually a substantial amount of work to be done by the business school in refining the perception of the problem so that the course can be targeted more specifically. Clients will, in general, have a pretty clear sense of what is causing them pain. They have a sense of the damage that is being done or will be done to the organization through people not having sufficient competencies in particular areas.

In this sense, if one steps back and looks at the exercise as a whole, the criteria for the success or otherwise of a particular management training and development initiative are fairly sharply delineated—which is clearly a good thing, both from the client’s perspective and from the standpoint of the business school.

Success means that either some area of the business or the organization that was problematic is solved and is perceived to function more smoothly, or the pain associated with getting some new project off the ground, such as a major expansion in a new region or country, is eased. The benefits in each case are palpable and are seen as justifying the intervention.

A far more difficult problem, in many instances, is not how to judge success, but how to get the client organization to open up and allow light to be shed on the real problems that they are having. You have to remember that, in most instances, the project will be initiated by a telephone call and the person making the call may be unable or unwilling to specify the problem at anything like the required level. Our first task, then, is to work at defining the problem to our own satisfaction and to the client’s. Then we have to make a judgment about whether that problem is such that it can be helped significantly by our intervention. What can we do, and will what we do make a sufficient difference?

It may well turn out to be the case, when the problem is properly analyzed, that what is required is not management development training but some transformation in operational procedures which the organization may or may not be willing to make. Problem analysis can be a very complex and demanding field. It is a field in which we have acquired a great deal of experience and skill over the years, and part of that skill is recognizing when we can usefully be part of the solution and when we probably cannot.

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Further reading


  • Bain, Neville, and Roger Barker. The Effective Board: Building Individual and Board Success. London: Kogan Page, 2010.
  • Galavan, Robert, John Murray, and Costas Markides. Strategy, Innovation, and Change: Challenges for Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. London: Penguin, 2008.
  • Hall, Tony, and Karen Janman. The Leadership Illusion: The Importance of Context and Connections. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Paxman, Jeremy. The Political Animal: An Anatomy. London: Penguin. 2003.

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