Blog: Developing Managers

Don’t just sit there…

4 May 2017

Co-authored with Jonathan Gosling

Imagine a conference with a keynote listener instead of a keynote speaker. How about a meeting of the executive committee with the CEO facing backward, eavesdropping on the discussion but speechless until the end? Or picture a gathering of managers sitting in a circle to “show and tell” about their interests, just like they did in kindergarten.

Does all this sound like some other world? It could be yours. For years, we have had great success doing such things with managers in our programs. This began with our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org), created to get past training about the business functions (the MBA), toward true education for managers. While a manager cannot be created in a classroom—this is the misconception of so many MBA programs—people who practice management can enhance their capabilities in a classroom that respects their experience.

Co-authored with Jonathan Gosling

Imagine a conference with a keynote listener instead of a keynote speaker. How about a meeting of the executive committee with the CEO facing backward, eavesdropping on the discussion but speechless until the end? Or picture a gathering of managers sitting in a circle to “show and tell” about their interests, just like they did in kindergarten.

Does all this sound like some other world? It could be yours. For years, we have had great success doing such things with managers in our programs. This began with our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org), created to get past training about the business functions (the MBA), toward true education for managers. While a manager cannot be created in a classroom—this is the misconception of so many MBA programs—people who practice management can enhance their capabilities in a classroom that respects their experience.

The IMPM does things differently, starting with our 50:50 rule: faculty get half the class time to introduce ideas, but the other half is reserved for the managers to reflect on their own experience and share their insights with each other. In this program, which runs over 16 months, the managers come into our classrooms for five modules of 10 days, each one devoted to a managerial mindset, delivered by leading business schools around the world. (The reflective mindset takes place in Lancaster, England; the analytic mindset in Montreal, Canada; the worldly mindset in Bangalore, India; the collaborative mindset in Beijing, China; and the action mindset in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.) Call this an emba if you like, so long as you realize that here it means engaging managers beyond administration.

“How are you going to seat them?” asked Nancy Badore, who had created a novel program for Ford executives and was helping us think through ours. “I suppose in one of those U-shaped classrooms?” one of us answered. “Not those obstetrics stirrups!” Nancy shot back. We got the point! With that, we were off—never looking back (except when the class asked us to face backward, to receive some feedback).

Nothing explains these differences better than the seating arrangements that we have established in the IMPM. These enable the managers to listen more attentively, speak more thoughtfully, and address their problems together more effectively.

Table Talk 

Thanks to Nancy’s comment, we decided that the managers in our classrooms would sit at small round tables to facilitate learning from each other. No need to “break out” in some other place.

Round tables turn a collection of individual students into a community of engaged learners. (See Figures 1 and 2 at the end.) Managers bring wonderful experience to the classroom, so why not let them build on that with each other? So much better than pronouncing on cases that no-one in the room has experienced, or listening to theory without connecting it to their reality. We have a ritual starting every day in the IMPM, called morning reflections.  It begins with everyone scribbling personal thoughts in his or her Insight Book (empty except for their own thoughts), followed by sharing their insights around the table, and then on to the plenary…

Show and Tell in a Big Circle  

For these plenaries, we used to do what most programs do after workshops: ask for comments from each table—that dreadful go-around. Tell the teacher what was learned. Then one day, a new colleague put everyone in a big circle and sat down too. A great “show and tell” discussion followed. The next day, another colleague put them in the circle again but stood there, as if to say: I will give you permission to speak, and you will direct your comments to me, which I will follow with a smart reply. (Professors hate to stop professing.)

We had a photo of this, and so we whited him out. The next day, one of us repeated the circle, stood there too, and announced: “I’m in charge”—and promptly walked out. When he returned after the plenary, the class informed him that next time he was to take his place in the circle, like everyone else.

Eavesdropping  

How about this? Instead of just discussion around each tables, followed by a big circle, turn around one person at each table, to eavesdrop without speaking, and then have these people report in the plenary on what they heard. Focused on listening, instead of waiting to speak, they hear a lot more of the nuance.

Here’s an example of using this eavesdropping. A colleague who was doing a session on managing retrenchment polled the class in advance as to who had positive, negative, and no experience with retrenchment. The positives sat at some tables and the negatives at others, to share their what they had learned about retrenchment. But what were we to do with the few who had no experience? Of course. have them eavesdrop at those tables! They all took profuse notes, and then…

The Inner Circle  

…we brought these eavesdroppers together in the middle, facing each other in a little circle, to chat about what they heard, with the everyone else listening all around. (They became the eavesdroppers, about what they had just said!) Everyone loved this. One manager in the middle said that her group probably learned more about retrenchment than anyone else. Another, on the outside, said this was the best reporting out of a workshop that she had ever seen. The class dubbed the circle in the center “The Neutral Zone.”

Tapping In  

Why stop here? After those in an inner circle have had their say, and some others are itching to add something, why not let them tap someone on the inside and replace him or her. The discussion carries on, in fact gets enlivened, still with the same number of people. Here we have something quite fascinating: a running conversation, with a few people at a time, yet everyone participating—listening intently and able to join, with no-one in charge. Once, when a journalist from the New York Times was in the class to write an article about the IMPM, we put him in the inner circle. Trouble was, everyone hesitated to tap him out!  (See his article, “The Anti-MBA.”)

Keynote Listener  

If we can have eavesdroppers at the tables, then why not in the whole class? One time, in another of our programs, we invited Marshal Ganz from the Harvard Kennedy School to do a session. He came early, to see what we were doing beforehand—presentations on some earlier work. So we designated Marshall to be the keynote listener, and comment on the presentations. Everyone, Marshall included, sat in a big circle as he discussed what he had heard. No canned speech, just honest reactions from a thoughtful listener.

Beyond the Classroom  

OK, so all of this is well and good for a bunch of managers and professors having a good time while learning a lot in a classroom. But it hardly needs to stop there. We have used keynote listeners to replace keynote speakers in large conferences. We have used inner circles in rooms of 200 people, all sitting at round tables. After a presentation and workshop discussions around these tables, we said: “Quick, point to someone at your table who had a really good idea.” We invited the first few targets to come forward and share their ideas. One participant described this kind of exercise as a “great way to turn a large meeting into a series of meaningful conversations”—as well as one big conversation.

And into the Managerial Workplace  

We have yet to turn the CEO of some major corporation around. (Maybe because they are too busy turning their companies around.) But imagine bringing all of this into the workplace: round tables, morning reflections, eavesdropping, taping, keynote listening, big circles and inner circles. Carlos Ramos was exposed to the seating in another of our programs (EMBA Roundtables), and when he got back home, installed a round table on the floor of his factory in Mexico City. Here is the picture he sent us, with the comment that “We use it very often” when there is the need to reflect on a difficult issue.

Coaching Ourselves

The two of us are part of another program, called CoachingOurselves.com, that dispenses with the professors and the classroom, but not the ideas. Managers gather together in their own workplace with a few of their peers or reports, and download slides on a particular topic (for example “Strategic Blindspots” or “Developing our Organization as a Community”). These they discuss with each other while relating the ideas to their common experience, to carry their insights forward to improve their organizations. In other words, change how and where managers sit, and suddenly management development can become organizational development!

As we mentioned earlier, you can experience all this for yourself. The next IMPM cohort begins in September (impm.org; for other innovations in the program, see “How about an emba that engages managers beyond administration”). Another version, in health care (imhl.org), begins its next class in April of 2018. The embaRoundtables.org, a one-week IMPM-type program for managers, runs every May (this year from May 1 in Dublin), and the McGill-HEC EMBA, modeled after the IMPM but with shorter modules in Montreal, runs from September every year.

Morning reflections in our IMPM module in Rio de Janeiro.

© Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg 2017; edited from an initial posting on this site on 1 July 2015. 

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MBAs as CEOs: Some troubling evidence

22 February 2017

Business schools like to boast about how many of their graduates have become CEOs—Harvard especially, since it has the most. But how do these people do as CEOs: are the skills needed to perform there the same as those that get them there?

MBA students enter the prestigious business schools smart, determined, and often aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce cleverly on situations they know little about, while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem—no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the “old boys” network that can boost them to the “top.” Then what?

Business schools like to boast about how many of their graduates have become CEOs—Harvard especially, since it has the most. But how do these people do as CEOs: are the skills needed to perform there the same as those that get them there?

MBA students enter the prestigious business schools smart, determined, and often aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce cleverly on situations they know little about, while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem—no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the “old boys” network that can boost them to the “top.” Then what?

Some Surprising Evidence This is one question that these centers of research do not research. Some years ago, Joseph Lampel and I made an exception. A decade after its publication in 1990, I looked at a book called Inside the Harvard Business School, by David Ewing, long an insider. (The first line was “The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world.”) The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who “had made it to the top”—the school’s superstars as of 1990. My attention was drawn to a few of them who would not have been on that list after 1990.

So Joseph Lampel and I studied the post-1990 records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that their company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable. Some of these 14 CEOs built up or turned around businesses, prominently and dramatically, only to see them weaken or collapse just as dramatically.

Frank Lorenzo experienced major failures with all three airlines that he headed, while Roy Bostock, who for a decade headed up Benton & Bowles, the renowned advertising agency, saw it close down five years after he retired. Perhaps most prominent and dramatic was the story of Bill Agee, CEO of Bendix and later Morrison Knudsen. About a book written by Mary Cunningham, another Harvard MBA, who worked alongside Agee, a Fortune reviewer wrote:

What little discussion there is of actual business consists mainly of genuflecting in front of a deity called The Strategy…. Near as I can tell, it consisted of getting Bendix out of a lot of fuddy-duddy old-fashioned products and into glitzy high tech. What makes this a terribly ingenious idea, let alone a good one, she does not say.1

Another Fortune article elaborated. Agee “was facile with finance and accounting, shrewdly selling assets and investing in other companies…. [But after] Bendix’s ill-conceived effort to go high tech…a takeover attempt…backfired, leading to the sale of Bendix.” Then, at Morrison Knudsen, a construction company, Agee “made some dreadful business decisions.” According to some executives, he used questionable accounting practices to boost earnings by tens of millions of dollars. The writer concluded that “Agee’s fatal flaw was his weakness as a manager.”2

Of course, a couple of years in a classroom does not necessarily destroy someone’s potential for management—there were, after all, those 5 other CEOs who seemed to do well. But the performance of the 14 suggests either that this business school has succeeded in putting some wrong people on the track to that top, or else that its emphasis on cases may have given some right people the wrong impression of management.

More Surprising Still   These results were obviously surprising. They did not prove anything, but they certainly deserved consideration: is it possible that the most renowned business school in the world graduated a group of people who performed so dismally at the apex of managerial power?

Hence, more surprising still is what happened next. Nothing.

We hardly hid these results: an initial version appeared in a 2001 Fortune magazine article3 and a later version in my book Managers not MBAs (2004, pp 111-119), which has sold 90,000 copies (presumably to some people who read it). You might think that this would have set off alarm bells, or at least evoked a bit of curiosity. That they do not suggests as much about business schools as do these results about their graduates.

More Troubling Still   Since I first posted this lament here in late 2014, two business school professors have weighed in, one of them my first doctoral student, Danny Miller, Director of the Research Center for Business Families at the HEC business school in Montreal, the other Xiaowei Xu of the University of Rhode Island. They authored two articles with much larger samples and even more troubling results.

In “A Fleeting Glory: Self-serving Behavior among Celebrated MBA CEOs”4, they used an ingenious sample:  444 chief executives of American corporations celebrated on the covers of Business Week, Fortune, and Forbes magazines from 1970 to 2008. The research compared the subsequent performance of those companies that were headed by MBAs—one-quarter of the total—with the ones that were not.

Both sets of companies declined in performance after those cover stories—Miller commented later that “it’s hard to stay on top”—but the ones headed by MBAs declined more quickly. This “performance gap remained significant even 7 years after the cover story appeared.” The authors found that “the MBA degree is associated with expedients to achieve growth via acquisitions...[which showed] up in the form of reduced cash flows and inferior return on assets.” Yet the compensation of the MBA CEOs increased, indeed about 15% faster than the others! Apparently they had learned how to play the “self-serving” game, which Miller referred to in a later interview as “costly rapid growth.”5

The second study, entitled “MBA CEOs, Short-term Management and Performance” (20176), used a wider, more recent sample: of 5004 CEOs of major U.S. public corporations from 2003 to 2013.  The results were much the same. “…we find that MBA CEOs are more apt than their non-MBA counterparts to engage in short-term strategic expedients such as positive earnings management and suppression of R&D, which in turn are followed by compromised firm market valuations.” Once again, these MBA CEOs were rewarded for this “performance.”

Why does this persist?  Business schools have become enormously successful, in some respects deservedly so. They do a great deal of significant research (Harvard now especially so). In universities, they are centers of interdisciplinary work, bringing together psychologists, sociologists, economists, historians, mathematicians, and others. And their MBA programs do well in training for the business functions, such as finance and marketing, if not for management. So why do they persist in promoting this education for management, which, according to mounting evidence, produces so much mismanagement?

The answer is unfortunately obvious: with so many of their graduates getting to the “top”, why change? But there is another answer that is also becoming obvious: because at this top, too many of their graduates are corrupting the economy.7

© 2017 Henry Mintzberg    See the last TWOG which described something  quite different: management education for practicing managers who reflect on and learn from their own experience. See also The Epidemic of Managing without Soul

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1 M. Kinsley, “A business soap opera”, Fortune, 25 June, 1984

2 B. O’Reilly, “Agee in exile,” Fortune, 29 May 1995

3  H. Mintzberg and J. Lampel, “Do MBAs make better CEOs?”, Fortune, 19 February 2001

4Journal of Management Inquiry, 30 September, 2015

5 Miller, interviewed in the Harvard Business Review (Nicole Torres, “MBAs are more self-serving than other CEOs”, December 2016)

6Journal of Business Ethics, forthcoming in 2017 (for access now: DOI :10.1007/s10551-017-3450-5.)

7 A second unfortunately obvious answer is that many of the graduates are earning fortunes in financial institutions by serving themselves and their MBA CEO clients more than the economy.

 

How about an “emba” that engages managers beyond administration

7 February 2017

There is plenty of business education, but hardly any management education. What, then, are you to do as a manager performing quite well, thank you, only to be repeatedly bypassed by MBAs who screw up? Join them by getting an EMBA and then do damage control?

Do you really want to sit in a nice neat row listening to lectures about action and engagement? Or pronounce on cases in companies that you never hear of before yesterday while your own first-hand experience is being ignored?  Is it just the administration of business that interests you, or the practice of managing?

There is plenty of business education, but hardly any management education. What, then, are you to do as a manager performing quite well, thank you, only to be repeatedly bypassed by MBAs who screw up? Join them by getting an EMBA and then do damage control?

Do you really want to sit in a nice neat row listening to lectures about action and engagement? Or pronounce on cases in companies that you never hear of before yesterday while your own first-hand experience is being ignored?  Is it just the administration of business that interests you, or the practice of managing?

For years, I went around giving talks at business schools about what’s wrong with MBA education for management: that it trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.1 The people are too young: a manager can’t be created in a classroom. This makes the ways too analytical: since the faculty can hardly address the art and craft of managing with these people (let alone by themselves), they have to rely on teaching them technique, or else use the second-hand experience of cases.  And by giving the students the impression that this has taught them to manage everything, whereas in actual fact they have learned to manage nothing, the consequences are often dire: the dirty little secret of even the best business schools is that too many of their graduates fail, even as CEOs. (Some surprising facts on this in an upcoming TWOG.)

Eventually people started asking me the question that should never be asked of an academic.  “What are you doing about it?” (We’re supposed to criticize, not do anything about anything.) Duly embarrassed, I teamed up with colleagues from leading schools around the world to create the International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org). Think of it as another kind of “emba”: engaging managers beyond administration.

While a manager cannot be created in a classroom, people who practice management can benefit enormously in a classroom that encourages them to reflect on their own experience and share their insights with each other. T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems that “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” This program is about managers getting the meaning of their experience.

Accordingly, the managers who participate in the impm (average age in their 40s) stay on the job—this is about doing a better job more than getting a better job—and come into the classroom for five modules of 10 days each over the course of 16 months. These focus, not on the functions of business (marketing, finance, etc.), but on the mindsets of managing: reflection (managing yourself, hosted by Lancaster University in England), analysis (managing organizations, hosted by my university, McGill, in Montreal), worldliness (managing context, hosted by the  Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore), collaboration (managing relationships, hosted by Renmin University in Beijing), and action (managing change, hosted by the FGV school in Rio de Janeiro).2

At the end of our very first module, on reflection, while everyone else was going around saying “It was great meeting you!”, Alan Whelan, a sales manager at BT, was saying: “It was great meeting myself!” We were off to a good start!

We have a 50:50 rule in our five classrooms: half the time it’s over to the managers on their agendas. Hence they sit at round tables in a flat room so they can go in and out of workshops at a moment’s notice. No need to “break out.”

These managers are not lone wolves parachuted into class to sit in selfie-silos, as shown in Model 1. They are colleagues in a community of social learning, engaged in their common development, as shown in Model 2.

This arrangement has opened the door to a variety of novel practices. 

•    “This is the best management book I ever read”, IMPM graduate Silke Lehnhardt told colleagues at Lufthansa who were about to start the program. She was holding up her Insight Book, which was empty when she first received it. Every day begins with morning reflections, first alone as everyone records in that book thoughts about the learning and their managing—on the job, in the business, in their life. Then they share these thoughts with colleagues around their table, followed by discussion in a big circle of the most compelling of their insights. Shouldn’t every manager’s best book be the one that they have written for themselves?  

•    It is intriguing what can happen in friendly consulting, where the concerns of each manager become the focus of attention of a small group of empathetic colleagues. One manager’s boss quit suddenly during the program, and she was struggling with whether to take that position. The hour of friendly consulting proved so helpful that they kept going over lunch.

•    Mayur Vova was running his jam and jelly company in Pune, India, while Françoise LeGoff was number two on the Africa desk at the Red Cross Federation in Geneva. They did the very first managerial exchange together, where the IMPM managers pair up and spend the better part of a week at each other’s workplaces. When the two of them arrived at the next module, they couldn’t wait to talk about their experience. At the start of that week, Mayur saw Françoise typing and asked: “Can’t a secretary do that?” Welcome to the worldly mindset: Geneva is not Pune! (That’s why we call it worldly, not global: the IMPM is not about becoming cookie cutter global, but about getting into other people’s worlds to better understand their own.) On the last day, Mayur told Françoise that he would be happy to meet with any of her staff. All of them lined up to convey through him their impressions of her management style. Better than a 360! Mayur “was like a mirror for me,” Françoise reported.

•    We encourage the managers to form an IMPact team back at work, to carry the learning into the company for sharing and action. In one small company that had run into a serious problem, the manager in the program, who had to pick up the pieces, formed such a team. He told us it saved the company.

The IMPM has been slow to spread to more conventional business schools, perhaps because they are too busy teaching cases about how the established companies missed the new technology. Is this the new technology? You have to see it to believe it.3 (The next IMPM class begins on May 15. Read also about the health care version, at IMHL.org.)

The MBA is fine so long as it is recognized for what it does well, namely train people for certain specialized jobs in business (such as marketing research or financial analysis). But it also has to be recognized for what it does badly, namely prepare people to manage. Beyond the MBA, it’s time for management education.

© 2014, 2017 Henry Mintzberg. This is a revision of a TWOG that first appeared on 19 December 2014. For more on all this, please see “Looking Forward to Development” (Training & Development, 13 February 2011), “From Management Development to Organization Development with Impact”  (OD Practitioner, 2011,Vol. 43 No. 3), and “Developing Naturally: from management to organization to society to selves


1 See Chapters 1-6 of my book Managers not MBAs (Berrett-Koehler, 2004).

2 See Gosling and Mintzberg, “The Five Minds of a Manager”, Harvard Business Review (November 2003).

3 Phil LeNir saw it, and took it in a different direction, out of the university. He was an engineering manager at a high tech company, concerned about developing his young managers, but with no budget for this or help from HR. He asked me what to do and I suggested that he get them together periodically for reflections and the sharing of experience. Over the course of two years, that worked so well—some of these managers started to do the same thing with their people—that we set up CoachingOurselves.com as a kind of do-it-yourself management development program. Now groups of managers in their own workplaces are downloading topics and engaging in social learning to address their common concerns. The IMPact group mentioned above made extensive use of CoachingOurselves in turning around its company.