Medium 9781576753514

Managers Not MBAs

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In his new book, Henry Mintzberg offers a sweeping critique of how managers are educated and how management, as a result, is practiced, and makes thoughtful-and controversial-recommendations for reforming both. Management, Mintzberg writes, is a practice that blends a great deal of craft (experience) with a certain amount of art (insight) and some science (analysis). Because conventional MBA programs are designed almost exclusively for young people with little if any managerial experience, and hence little art and no craft to draw upon, the programs overemphasize science, in the form of analysis and technique. Graduates leave with a distorted impression that management consists entirely of applying formulas to situations, which has had a corrupting, dehumanizing effect not just on the practice of management, but also on our organizations and our social institutions. Turning to how managers should be developed, Mintzberg describes in detail a set of innovative programs designed to address these shortcomings that he and a group of colleagues have put into practice: the International Masters in Practicing Management (IMPM). Finally, he outlines how business schools can transform themselves to become true schools of management. Managers Not MBAs presents the kind of bold, iconoclastic thinking readers have come to expect from the man Fast Company magazine called "one of the most original minds in management."

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15 Chapters

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Chapter 1: Wrong People


It’s never too late to learn, but sometimes too early.

There are no natural surgeons, no natural accountants. These are specialized jobs that require formal training, initially in a classroom. The students must, of course, be able to handle a scalpel or a keyboard, but first they have to be specially educated. Then they can be foisted on a suspecting public, at least for internship or articling, before being allowed to practice on their own.

Leadership is different. There are natural leaders. Indeed, no society can afford anything but natural leaders. Leadership and management are life itself, not some body of technique abstracted from the doing and the being. Education cannot pour life experience into a vessel of native intelligence, not even into a vessel of leadership potential. But it can help shape a vessel already brimming with the experiences of leadership and life.

Put differently, trying to teach management to someone who has never managed is like trying to teach psychology to someone who has never met another human being. Organizations are complex phenomena. Managing them is a difficult, nuanced business, requiring all sorts of tacit understanding that can only be gained in context. Trying to teach it to people who have never practiced is worse than a waste of time—it demeans management.


Chapter 2: Wrong Ways


The secondhandedness of the learned world
is the secret to its mediocrity.

There are no right ways to develop the wrong people. We could, therefore, stop here and have a really short chapter. But the problem goes much deeper; and so does this chapter and those that follow. The MBA programs not only fail to develop managers but give their students a false impression of managing that, when put into practice, is undermining our organizations and our societies. Indeed, the ways of the MBA—the contents of the programs and the methods by which they are taught—are so entrenched that they are regularly used, with similar consequences, for the right people—namely, practicing managers in so-called Executive MBA and shorter management development programs.

In this chapter, I will discuss how MBAs are educated, first the content of these programs and then the methods used. I will consider the dysfunctional consequences of this education on management practice in the next chapters. But first a brief review of the history of business education, which will help explain why business schools today use the content and methods they do.


Chapter 3: Wrong Consequences I: Corruption of the Educational Process


Education , n. That which discloses to the wise and
disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.


There was some good news in the last chapter: that recognized as education for specialists in the functions of business, MBA programs can train some of the right people in some of the right ways. The bad news now is that because these programs are rarely so recognized, they create all kinds of negative consequences. These extend beyond the graduates who become managers into the organizations they manage and out to a world shaped by these organizations. We simply cannot afford to have a society of elitist leaders trained in analysis and promoted on “fast tracks” beside the daily work of making products and providing services. All of this undermines our organizations and our social fabric as well as our educational institutions.

This may sound like an awfully broad condemnation of a rather innocent degree. I think not, and I set out now to demonstrate why. Indeed, I hope to demonstrate that the consequences of MBA education are far more influential and disturbing than most people realize. David Ewing (1990) opened his book with the claim that “The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world” (30). It would be easy to dismiss this as the overblown rhetoric of an insider. The worrisome thing is that Ewing may have been right.


Chapter 4: Wrong Consequences II: Corruption of Managerial Practice


“Unhappy is the land that has no heroes.”
“No, unhappy is the land that needs heroes.”


With so many people receiving the MBA these days and so many of them making it to senior positions, the influence of the degree on the practice of managing has become enormous. Yet it has hardly been investigated.

In this chapter, we look first at how the graduates enter the workplace, their leap to the real world, most notably into consulting and investment banking, or else to what is “hot” (often just as it cools down). Then we consider how increasing numbers of MBAs get into managing— by going around most of it, straight into executive positions. The next section addresses what I believe to be the key consequence of MBA training in general—putting the practice of management out of balance, in favor of calculating and heroic styles. That leads to the final section, which presents results on the performance of some of the most prominent MBAs who made it to CEO. To the claims that so many of them get there, I counter with data on how the supposedly best of them perform there. Not very well, according to some startling evidence.


Chapter 5: Wrong Consequences III: Corruption of Established Organizations


The trouble with being in a rat race is that
if you win, you are still a rat.


Ok, that calculating manager might continue, the MBA is not trained for management, and many MBAs fail as CEOs. So what. Look at the American economy, enamored as it is with MBAs. It hasn’t exactly been doing badly, has it?

It had been doing rather well when I first wrote this (around 2000). It is doing less well now, as I revise this for about the fifth time, in April 2003. The question is the extent to which this economic success, and failure, is influenced by the prevailing style of management in America, which is influenced by the prevalence of MBA training.

Clearly this is a difficult question to answer with any precision, certainly here and perhaps anywhere. Many factors contribute to the performance of an economy. Economic ones, such as productivity, have received a good deal of attention, because economists usually discuss such issues. Management factors have not.

This chapter takes a look at two concepts, exploration and exploitation, and how MBA-educated managers tend to tilt them out of balance. It is not two economies that is at issue here so much as two cultures of managing, and the exploiting one may be undermining the long-term health of the economy.


Chapter 6: Wrong Consequences IV: Corruption of Social Institutions


Perfection of means and confusion of goals sees in my
opinion to characterize our age.


Ihave been developing a central point in a series of steps: This seemingly innocent degree, to prepare people for the practice of management, actually does no such thing and in fact has a corrupting effect where it does have influence. This begins in the educational process and passes into the practice of managing and the organizations where that happens. Now I shall discuss where it ends and where these effects may be the most destructive: in society at large.

Here the discussion shifts from the economic consequences to the social ones, which I believe significantly influence the economic. Certainly economic development facilitates social progress. But it also depends on social progress: Those societies most able to engage their citizens have tended to generate the greatest economic wealth. How a society selects and develops its leaders, and how these leaders exercise their leadership, figure prominently in the engagement of all its citizens. How we have been doing this in recent years has worked to disengage our citizens. The social costs are obvious, but we may also be experiencing a decline in economic development without even realizing it.


Chapter 7: New MBAs?


Change the environment; do not try to change man.


There are certainly people in business schools aware of many of the consequences discussed in the last four chapters. And they have promoted changes in MBA programs in recent years to deal with them. Have these changes made major differences? That is the issue to which we now turn.

The automobile you drive has had many improvements over the years, probably hundreds in the last year alone. Yet it is fundamentally a Model T, the vehicle built by the Ford Motor Company starting in 1908. It does more or less the same thing in more or less the same way, carrying a few people on rubber tires propelled by a four-cycle internal combustion engine (or else a diesel engine, which is even older). Compare this with the development of computers over the past decade or two.

Products and services that take over a marketplace and stabilize like that are called dominant designs (after Abernathy and Utterback 1978). And there are few designs more dominant than the MBA of business education. Since the 1960s, and in certain ways long before, it has done much the same thing in much the same way with much the same consequences. A rather standardized composition of courses based on an established philosophy can be found from school to school and from country to country. (An article in the Guardian called the MBA “the world’s first universally-recognized qualification” ([Williams 2002].) I looked at the textbooks used in one prominent European MBA program a few years ago. I found the fourth edition in finance, the sixth edition in financial accounting, the seventh edition in marketing, and the ninth edition in managerial accounting.


Chapter 8: Management Development in Practice


We all want mass customized action learning
for the individual.


From management education, we turn here to management development— something quite different, unfortunately. While the organizations that employ the managers rarely get involved in their education, beyond hiring and sometimes sponsoring them as students, they do take the lead in their development. This has resulted in more variety, and so more experimentation, also more practicality, and so more superficiality, too. But there is a great deal of thoughtful practice in management development, and the best of it should be informing management education more than it has.

Figure 8.1 provides a map to locate the various components of management education and development, as well as the various actors. Out of the left, from the business schools, comes the push of management education, with its theories, concepts, and so forth, offered to those who enroll. Mostly, therefore, people are educated outside the practice they are subsequently hired into, or return back to. This even applies to many of the shorter programs for managers, which are often designed as miniature replicas of degree programs—less intense, but not much more connected. Even the best-known business schools—or perhaps I should say especially the best-known ones—tend to tone down their academic materials rather than rethinking them for a different audience, offering them generically to whoever enrolls. Many schools certainly make claims about customization, but all too often that means the selection of components from a generic pool.1


Chapter 9: Developing Management Education


It’s all so simple, Anjin-san. Just change
your concept of the world.

The conclusions reached in the previous chapters suggest a wholly different approach to developing managers, at least in intensive educational programs. This is the subject to which we now turn.

The ideas presented in this chapter may be very different from prevailing educational practice. But our own experience with them (discussed in the following chapters) suggests that they can be rather easily realized, once we get back to fundamental notions of learning. These notions are wonderfully well illustrated in the best article I have seen on education for management development, even if it was written about children in grade school. Excerpts from it are worth the space and time taken by the following box. Change the learners in the story to managers, and you need change hardly another word to appreciate precisely what is needed in management education.

As the article suggests, in the spirit of the quotation that opens this chapter, it is really all so simple: We just need to change our concept of the world of management education.


Chapter 10: Developing Managers I: The IMPM Program


Do not go where the path may lead; go instead
where there is no path and leave a trail.


What should Vlade?na do? She has a good education—a bachelors degree in philosophy from a reputable Czech university and a masters in international affairs from a well-known American one. She has excellent experience, having worked for an international consulting firm and then an Internet startup before becoming a manager with a Czech telecom company. There she practices management using her experience and her wits. That is all she has, beside the mentoring of an experienced colleague. Vlade?na is smart and personable. She wants to go to business school.

What will it do to her? Increase her bargaining power in the international job market, to be sure. Give her a better understanding of business, too, including the vocabulary to face other managers with MBAs.

But will it make her a better manager?

Through several chapters, I have argued no, quite the opposite. Now I would like to describe perhaps not what Vlade?na is able to do right now but what I hope all Vlade?nas will be able to do in the near future.


Chapter 11: Developing Managers II: Five Mindsets


This is the course in advanced physics. That means
the instructor finds the subject confusing. If he didn’t,
the course would be called elementary physics.


Let us turn now to the core of the IMPM, the classroom activities built around the five mindsets. The distinctive nature of each, combined with our particular pedagogy, posed quite a challenge to each of the module teams, forcing them to think afresh. In this chapter, I describe the five results, after introducing the basic issues we had to face in designing all of the modules. Our intention has been to create five unique experiences that blend into a single integrated program.

Our modules had to be designed but not overdesigned; in other words, they had to be designed for flexibility in the classroom. This is a bit like cooking: Get the right pot, drop in good ingredients, heat carefully, stir periodically, and then let the process take over.

Four goals have driven us in the design of each of the modules:


Chapter 12: Developing Managers III: Learning on the Job


Experience is not what happens to you.
It is what you do with what happens to you.


Agreat deal can be done in the classroom, as I hope has been demonstrated in the preceding chapter. But the essential philosophy of the IMPM—the very notion of learning connected to experience—means that much of it has to happen back on the job, albeit stimulated by what took place in that classroom. The participants may lack free, or at least uninterrupted, time on the job, but that is where their experience occurs, so that is where many of the connections have to be made. Accordingly, we sought, and continue to seek, ways to encourage this in accord as much as possible with our credo of using work rather than making work—to design the activities between modules to connect to the work already being done. A tall order perhaps, but we believe we have made considerable progress.

As can be seen back in Figure 10.1, these intermodular activities include Reflection Papers written after the modules, Self-Study between Modules I and II, the Managerial Exchanges between Modules II and IV, the Ventures that run throughout the program, and the Major Paper after the last module. Each is discussed here in turn.


Chapter 13: Developing Managers IV: Impact of the Learning


You see things as they are, and you ask “Why?” But
I dream things that never were, and I ask “Why not?”


We turn now to the impact of this new kind of management education, in various respects. We begin by considering the costs—in particular, does the IMPM pay? Then we look at IMPact, our label for the influence of IMPM learning back at work. This leads us into a broader discussion of results—does the IMPM benefit? The answer, discussed last, really lies in the assessments of those who have been involved in the program—participants, especially, but also company people, faculty, and observers.

There seems little doubt that the IMPM offers something special for the development of managers. But it costs the companies in terms of money and the participant in terms of time, since so much of it is based on personal, face-to-face contact. If, however, as I have argued, there are no shortcuts to true management development, then the question becomes: Who will pay for it?

SHOULD THE COMPANIES PAY?     MBA programs can cost a small fortune. But this is usually paid by individuals who expect to enhance their earnings. In the IMPM, however, almost all the participants are sent by their employers, who pay.


Chapter 14: Developing Managers V: Diffusing the Innovation


Most technologies take twenty years
to become an overnight success.


What exactly is the IMPM? A program? A process? A laboratory? A template?

It certainly is a program, the term I have been using all along. And as I quoted Michael Heuser at Lufthansa in the prior chapter, it has certainly been a process, too. But it is more than either of these.

The IMPM has been our laboratory, to develop, test, and integrate a number of innovations in management education. Some we created ourselves; some we borrowed from others; the most important one combines them all: The IMPM may be made up of innovations, but we see it as an innovation.

I believe I speak for my colleagues in claiming that this innovation is now solid—clearly defined in concept and successfully executed in practice. Into our eighth year, together with related initiatives (described in this chapter), the innovation works, consistently. So it is time for its own impact, beyond its own activities. It is time, in other words, to change management education—or perhaps to begin it in earnest.


Chapter 15: Developing True Schools of Management


All change seems impossible. But once accomplished, it is
the state you are no longer in that seems impossible.


It is time to renew the business schools—time for the agents of change to change. They may be at the height of their success, attracting high-paying students who in turn have been getting high-paying jobs. And business schools produce enormous quantities of research. Yet they are failing in their fundamental purpose, which is to enhance the quality of leadership in society.

In a number of respects, the business schools have lost their way. They claim to develop managers, yet turn out staff specialists who promote dysfunctional styles of managing. They are meant to be institutions of thoughtful scholarship yet are increasingly drawn to promotional hype. They should be prized for their mindfulness yet often copy each other mindlessly. Many cannot make up their collective minds whether to tone down their material for “relevance” or ratchet it up for “rigor,” when they should be repudiating both. Those areas in which the business schools do excel—the business functions, particularly in research—are embedded in educational programs that treat these as management, which just marginalizes management. To use March’s terms, there is too much exploiting going on in the business schools and not enough exploring.



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