Management development that works


A new book from Hult International Business School brings together some of the latest research on what makes management development successful and presents a manifesto for the future of the executive education industry.

Added on 11 September 2015 by Erika Lucas

Business people at Ashridge

Management Development that Works (Libri Publishing, September 2015) points out that in a rapidly changing and ambiguous business world, the techniques used to help managers learn how to lead effectively need to be constantly evolving.

It argues that the management development industry can no longer afford just to react to change – but needs to be leading thinking on how managers can respond to the economic, societal, technological and demographic changes that are revolutionising the way work is organised.

“Learning is now the only viable competitive advantage for organisations,” says editor Patricia Hind.  “Much closer attention needs to be paid to the relationship between the realities of the managerial world, which continue to change, and the management development industry, part of which appears to be stuck in yesterday’s paradigm.”

‘Management Development that works’ aims to help learning and development professionals understand what kind of executive education works, under what conditions and why – so that they can be sure of getting real business value from their investment.

In a manifesto for the future, the book also highlights seven key factors that will underpin management development that is fit for the future. 

1. Individual and organisation

It’s not enough for management development to focus solely on the needs of the individual. Helping people to change, without paying any attention to the potentially unchanged environment into which they will return, is a waste of time.

Equally, an organisational change process which does not explicitly consider the implications for the development needs of employees involved, is unlikely to be sustainable over time. A twin focus on individual and organisational needs will enable change that is directly linked to organisational strategy, will help to embed individual learning and will have a real impact in the workplace.

2. Cognitive and behavioural

Cognitive or ‘knowing’ skills are of course important. Managers need to know how to analyse market trends or to understand the process for designing a new product. But to actually make these things happen, managers also need to understand how to work successfully with others. New products, budgets or strategies do not fail – it is the people behind them who succeed or fail. To be truly effective, management development programmes need to emphasis the ‘soft’ behavioural skills as well as the ‘hard’ cognitive skills.

3. Action and reflection

Organisations are typically designed for action and for getting things done. It’s not uncommon to find an almost institutional bias against the concept of reflection, which can sometimes lead to hasty, ill-advised decisions and a ‘fire-fighting’ approach. The other extreme, of course, is that if we reflect too much and for too long, we can fall into the trap of ‘paralysis by analysis’ and nothing ever gets done. Reflection helps us gain new insights and convert implicit knowledge into actionable knowledge. In turn, patterns of action help create ‘muscle memory’ so that new ways of thinking and behaving become effortless.  Management development at its best addresses both the thinking and the acting.

4. Theory and practice

Theory can get a bad press with managers and is often dismissed as being irrelevant and impractical.  What most managers don’t realise, however, is that they are constant users of theory. After all, the managerial decisions and actions we take every day are based on our beliefs about what is considered best practice and will work.  Good theory helps us to predict as well as understand. The key to success is to help managers explore, adapt and deploy management theory in their own unique context and in the most relevant way.

5. Teaching and facilitation

When used well together, teaching and facilitation help to make learning experiences ‘sticky’ and impactful.  Good teachers engage, challenge, stimulate, inspire and make learning fun. Good facilitators are skilled in group dynamics and can help groups of managers navigate the learning journey as well as providing individual support and feedback.  Effective management development therefore needs both the ‘sage on the stage’ as well as the ‘guide on the side’.

6. Intellectual and emotional experiences

Hard-hitting, ‘emotional’ experiences which stretch people out of their comfort zone are a key facet of successful management development programmes. Well-crafted management development gives managers a safe and supportive environment where they can spread their wings and confront new challenges. It helps them prepare for the unexpected and learn to manage the anxieties, stresses and pressures of an uncertain and ambiguous world.

7. Formal and informal learning

Informal learning that happens on the job is potent and immediately relevant to the individual’s context – although it can also be inconsistent or inaccurate. Formal learning is explicit, scalable and provides opportunities for benchmarking, for reflection and for learning from peers. On the downside, it can wither away when detached from the day job. Ideally, we need well-thought through strategies to integrate both formal and informal learning. Organisations need to shift their mind-set to a scenario where development begins on the job well before a formal intervention starts and continues back on the job well after the formal learning has ended.

Management Development that works will be available from Libri Publishing from late September.

You may also be interested in the Delivering Excellence in Learning and Development open program.