Third-Generation Management Development: Managers Are Not Created in a Classroom, but Practicing Managers in a Classroom Can Step Back from Work Pressures and Learn Profoundly from Their Own Experience. the International Master's Program in Practicing Management at McGill University in Canada and around the World Is Truly In-Practice Learning and an Alternative to the MBA

By Mintzberg, Henry | T&D, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Third-Generation Management Development: Managers Are Not Created in a Classroom, but Practicing Managers in a Classroom Can Step Back from Work Pressures and Learn Profoundly from Their Own Experience. the International Master's Program in Practicing Management at McGill University in Canada and around the World Is Truly In-Practice Learning and an Alternative to the MBA


Mintzberg, Henry, T&D


Managers can't be created in a classroom. Instead they should be engaged actively in their learning, which means it should relate to their personal experience. Unfortunately, most degree programs for such people rely on the first generation of other people's experience and the second generation of artificial experience, while mostly ignoring the managers' own natural experience.

In 1996, Mintzberg and a group of colleagues started the International Master's Program in Practicing Management at McGill University. They wanted participants to stay on the job while having significant time to learn, by going back and forth in order to carry their workplace experience into the classroom and their newfound learning back to the workplace.

They also had to rethink their approach to the classroom--to bring this third generation of learning alive by encouraging managers to learn from experience. Classroom activities had to be reinforced by activities on the job. That extends the learning not only to the participating managers, but also into their organizations.

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Management development programs have long relied on lecture and discussion of cases--in other words, on learning from other people's experience. We can call that first-generation management development. It has been fine, as far as it went; it just didn't go far enough. Learners aren't vessels into which knowledge can simply be poured--or, perhaps closer to the case study method, horses led to water in the hope they drink. People must be actively engaged in their learning, which means it should relate to their personal experience.

Accordingly, a second-generation of programs arose to create experiences for learning, dating back to Reg Revans's early work in Europe on action learning. This has had a resurgence in the United States in recent years--stimulated by General Electric's Work-Out programs. Managers have come into programs to be sent promptly back to their workplace, or to that of others, to engage in projects to improve things and thereby to learn. That seems fine too, though there have been problems. One, many of those programs have involved more action than learning; in other words, they have become organization development in the name of management development. T.S. Elliot wrote a poem about having the experience but missing the meaning. Management development is about getting the meaning.

Two, managers are busy people, busier than ever. Do they need programs that create more work for them back at work? Do they need artificial experiences when they're already overwhelmed with natural experience?

It is time for a third generation of management development. What managers need now, above all else, is to slow down, step back, and reflect thoughtfully on their natural experience. A motto for Work-Out at GE is, "Need to do, not nice to do." The motto for third-generation management development is, "Use work, don't make work."

A new approach

In 1996, a group of colleagues and I brought this idea to life in the International Master's Program in Practicing Management. I'd long been a critic of conventional MBA education, which I argued is business education that leaves a distorted impression of management, as too analytic, too removed from context--theories, cases, and techniques in mid air, so to speak. In fact, I wrote a book about this and its consequences for management, Mangers Not MBAs, being published by Berrett-Koehler in April.

You can't create a manager in a classroom, Management is a practice that has to combine a good deal of craft, namely experience, with a certain amount of art, as vision and insight, and some science, particularly in the form of analysis and technique. But students without managerial experience lack the craft and have little basis for the art, and so programs to train them have relied on the science, and that's what leaves a distorted impression of management. …

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Third-Generation Management Development: Managers Are Not Created in a Classroom, but Practicing Managers in a Classroom Can Step Back from Work Pressures and Learn Profoundly from Their Own Experience. the International Master's Program in Practicing Management at McGill University in Canada and around the World Is Truly In-Practice Learning and an Alternative to the MBA
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