Management training: complexity, practicality and opportunity

Josep Maria Galí
Associate Dean for Executive Education at the UPF Barcelona School of Management

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“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not in everybody’s power and is not easy”.  Aristòtil

There is nothing like the classics to make us think. Plying managers with knowledge and skills may not be difficult, but successfully transmitting knowledge, skills and tools to the right person, at an opportune moment and in the most effective and practical fashion, is a much more challenging feat, however.

Management training is the acid test in the training portfolio offered by management schools, universities and consultancies. To put it more bluntly, it either works or it doesn’t. And there can be no excuses, given that it’s an open form of training normally without certification that is completely (fortunately) unregulated. Ask any individual or company if investing resources into management training has been worth it and their response will be a clear yes or no. The management training market is under direct pressure from the managers or companies to have followed such courses. There are no excuses for providing a useless service. And providing excellence in management training is a particularly complex task given the scope it must take on in order to be successful. In fact, the management training space may be structured into four pillars, with the cognitive or affective elements of learning on one side and the individual or relational elements on the other side.

The first pillar encompasses more traditional training based on cognitive individual learning, such as management and decision-making models, analysis methods and decision-making with a direct, functional use oriented towards decision-making in operational areas and new techniques generating new opportunities. This is the pillar in which business schools experience and will continue to experience more competition from training providers able to structure distance-learning services at much more affordable prices than those traditionally associated with management schools and universities. These providers have much more flexibility than universities and traditional schools, which are held back by their heavy, rigid structures that are resistant to change and generate knowledge based on academic concerns, which do not always encompass all the themes relevant to industry or to managers’ issues.

The second pillar involves the individual training of managers on themes related to self-regulation, self-control, self-perception, improving interpersonal skills, understanding others and interpreting subtle signs sent by people and groups in organisations. Some of the world’s leading management training schools offer a portfolio of face-to-face seminars and courses that, by means of intensive, ongoing, face-to-face study, promise to apply a practical method to make the highly complex feat of training managers accessible, with some very advanced skills reflecting what is termed ‘emotional intelligence’ considered fundamental to the leading of an organisation in an entirely new disruptive environment that is changing at a speed no rigid structure can possibly keep up with.

The third and fourth pillars provide the framework in which cognitive and emotional skills are developed in the social sphere, basically within the framework of managing groups of people. The development of management skills in this sphere is a privileged field in management training. In this type of training, the role of the facilitator of a group’s learning is fundamental. Participants learn about themselves by means of others and learn from others by (the risky business of) revealing their own vulnerability, in processes of high cognitive and emotional complexity. Managers to have successfully completed this form of training have recognised how the development process for these skills has allowed them to make strides in their personal maturity and in the understanding of highly complex phenomena for which there are no applicable models or benchmarks.

The availability of distance-learning training tools has called into question the traditional model of face-to-face schools with a much more intensive focus on the first pillar, basically due to the differences in cost. And not only for the course itself and for transport, but also in terms of the lack of convenience, the rigid schedules and limited availability, which is of utmost importance to managers facing problems that they lack the tools and skills to solve effectively. Integrating this teaching model into management schools and providing excellence in fostering the development of personal, leadership and team management skills are the challenges management schools face in developing management training.

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