You won’t read this article in the professional journals. You won’t find this article in the quality news papers not whilst they run full page adverts and pull out supplements for MBAs.
If you are looking to increase your earning potential or take the next step in your career, studying an MBA remains one of the best ways to achieve your goals according to the special supplement in the Guardian. The Times carries the same message in its Business Suplement.
Universities and Business schools have always seen MBA’s as nice little earners but do they represent a good investment of the public sectors drastically cut management development budget? There is no doubt that in a period in which managers are challenged to transform the public sector then it makes sense to equip them for the task. Does an MBA still stand for something worth having or do the letters denote must be avoided- an academic qualification that looks good on the CV but does nothing for the organisation that funded the manager?
What public sector organisations need in a harsh financial climate where staff morale is low due to redundancies and a wage freeze and where managers must introduce radical new ways of working is mangers with leadership skills. In recognition of this many MBA courses do cover the “soft “skills of different leadership styles, team building and effective communication alongside modules on marketing, business ethics and performance management. MBA courses which take managers from the public sector usually offer an option on working in a politically sensitive environment to reflect the differences in being accountable to politicians rather than the board and share holders. But whether it is an MPA or an MBA will it skill up enough managers quickly enough to be able to help the organisation deliver the change agenda?
For the same amount of money as sending two or three people on a MBA course each year you can run an executive coaching programme, management learning sets and support to an organisation wide management mentoring scheme.
This isn’t to say there is not a place for formal management training/ qualifications, but we have moved on from the idea that we can improve the quality of management by simply requiring all managers to have a formal management qualification. We all benefit from time out to think about the big issues, to become more strategic in our thinking and to be exposed to new ideas and theories. But you don’t need to go on a MBA course to get this. Management learning sets which bring together managers from different organisations can achieve the same. Organisations increasingly require managers to have good people skills, to have the insight into how their own behaviour affects colleagues and those they manage. This is best achieved through one to one coaching and the use of 360 degree feedback.
Executive coaching involves managers being observed in a range of work activates, giving a presentation, holding a team meeting, chairing a working group, participating in multi agency negotiations, undertaking an appraisal session. The coach gives direct feedback to the individual following each observation and links this to the material derived from a 360 degree feedback obtained from a range of direct reports, colleagues, and line manager. This is powerful information as managers rarely get independent feedback on their performance/ interactions.
An organisation needs to know the type of manager it wants. Once this has been established there needs to be an investment in management development for aspiring managers, newly appointed managers and managers who have been in the same post a little bit too long. An in house programme will be quicker and cheaper at achieving the critical mass sufficient to change the organisations culture and deliver the change agenda within the government ambitious time scale.
Blair McPherson is author of Equipping managers for an uncertain future published by Russell House which contains a detailed case study of how a large local authority introduced the type of management leadership programme described in this article.