Management Communication in Non-U.S. MBA Programs: Current Trends and Practices
Knight, Melinda, Business Communication Quarterly
A study of top-ranked, full-time, global MBA programs suggests that management communication is indeed both an important focus and component in the curriculum. The methods of delivery, however, do not seem to follow any particular model, such as the common U.S. practice of a separate program or department. Required courses are found at 10 of the 24 schools, including two at 2 schools. Elective communication courses are offered at 8 schools, and related courses, those with a communication component, appear at all but 1 school. Communication is perceived as being an integral part of overall management development and global leadership, as opposed to a skill that could be assessed via testing or other assessment.
Keywords: MBA curriculum; management communication instruction; global survey
MANAGEMENT COMMUNICATION instruction reflects both local demands and global imperatives. As ABC becomes more international in scope, with conferences drawing members to sites around the world, we need increasingly to be aware of trends and practices in communication instruction in this global context. As one step toward that goal, I conducted a survey of highly rated, non-U.S.-based MBA programs that paralleled my earlier survey of such programs in the United States (Knight, 1999). This article reports on the results of that survey.
To select the sample programs, I consulted ratings compiled by four leading business publications: the 2004 Business Week "International Top Ten"; the 2004 Wall Street Journal list of 21 top international schools; the Forbes 2003 top 18 non-U.S, schools; and the top 50 of the 100 schools ranked by the 2005 Financial Times survey. Rating criteria have often been transparent for U.S. business schools but less so for international programs. For instance, Business Week, which started the whole ratings race almost 2 decades ago, relies on recruiter and student input, whereas the Wall Street Journal rankings are based on recruiter input as well as conversations with deans, career-services professionals, and business school associations. Only schools that attract a global mix of recruiters (from four or more countries) were included in the Wall Street Journal survey, which ranked international schools for the first time in 2004. Thus both Business Week and Wall Street Journal rankings primarily measure customer satisfaction, either student and recruiter or only recruiter.
Another major player in the ratings game, U.S. News & World Report (which rates only U.S. schools), uses ostensibly more quantifiable data, such as student performance and starting salaries, along with input from deans; the goal of this survey is primarily to measure a school's reputation. In a novel approach, Forbes looks at salaries and stock options for alumni in their first 5 years of work to calculate their return on investment. The Financial Times, which has been rating global MBA programs for 7 years, uses salary data from alumni 3 years after finishing their degree, diversity information obtained from the schools, and an assessment of faculty publications. Diversity is measured by such factors as international mobility of graduates and the demographics of students and faculty. Table 1 lists the 24 schools in the sample and the sources for their selection. It also notes, where appropriate, membership in the Community of European Management Schools and International Companies (CEMS), a prestigious consortium of 17 schools, mostly in Europe, and 50 multinational companies.
For consistency, I surveyed management communication instruction only in full-time programs, not executive, regionally specific, specialized, or part-time ones, and only in programs offering an MBA. A school's reputation, and thus its ranking, seems largely to depend on its full-time programs. Executive and regional programs offer great variety, along with very interesting institutional and corporate partnerships, and they probably contribute more revenue to the school, but these programs appeal to specialized audiences and are, in general, much smaller than full-time MBA programs. Using the four publication ratings and the full-time MBA criterion forced me to exclude quite a number of superb programs, including ones with excellent communication departments. For example, CEMS offers an international management degree, with an innovative curriculum including communication components, but because it is not an MBA degree, I reluctantly excluded it for this research. Fortunately, other contributions to this special issue discuss innovative management communication practices that fell outside the limited range of this survey.
KEY SURVEY QUESTIONS
For each program in this sample, the study aimed to answer the following questions:
1. What kinds of communication courses are required?
2. What elective communication offerings are available?
3. What is the place of language instruction or competence?
4. What courses have significant communication content, even if not specifically designated as communication courses?
5. What delivery methods are used?
6. How prominent is instruction in written communication?
7. Is there a communication proficiency requirement?
8. Did the new AACSB International standards for accreditation play a role in curricular development?
Other potentially attractive issues were outside the scope of this study. For example, it would be interesting to know about communication faculty--their status, rank, and reward structure. I also did not include the departmental home of courses. Although institutional home is an important concept in U.S. schools, it is less significant--and harder to identify--in non-U.S. programs.
For data about the schools themselves and about their communication instruction, I relied primarily on school Web sites, a major and robust resource. I confirmed Web data with program brochures, the marketing materials sent to prospective students; in almost all cases, information online was consistent with print materials. Any inconsistencies usually reflected electives, which vary from year to year depending on faculty resources, rather than requirements. I confirmed AACSB International accreditation against the organization's own Web site. Although not a perfect measure, I used course titles and descriptions to determine communication content. In doing so, I tried to distinguish between instruction with a specific academic purpose and instruction that was more strictly vocational or focused on career development and excluded courses or modules in the latter category. Any course that included a project, with a required report or presentation or both, was considered a "related course," even if communication was not part of the title. The appendix includes course descriptions for all required, elective, and related courses, where available either on a Web site or in a marketing brochure. All information in this article is current as of March 2005.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The programs in this survey show rich diversity in their approach to management education in general and to management communication instruction in particular. As Table 1 indicates, however, such programs tend to be shorter than in U.S.-based institutions, which may impact communication offerings.
Required and Elective Communication Courses
Table 2 lists, by institution, those required courses that have an exclusive or significant communication focus as well as elective communication courses. Required courses were found at 10 of the 24 schools, although the course title of management or managerial communication(s) is used only at 4. The Australian Graduate School of Management and Cranfield each require 2 courses. Elective communication courses are listed at 8 schools, 4 of which also require a communication course: IESE, Instituto de Empresa, Manchester, and Western Ontario.
Related courses are those that include a significant communication component--a deliverable, an expected outcome, or an application (Table 3). These courses encompass a wide range of topics and methodologies. Included in this group are leadership, cross-cultural management, corporate communication, practicum/project courses, interpersonal skills and marketing communication. I excluded, however, courses or programs that have career development as the primary focus, although included are those with career management as one aspect. All the leadership courses, which are required at 8 schools and are offered as electives at 11 schools (some schools have both elective and required courses), have a communication component. Marketing communication courses, offered at 13 schools, deal with communication strategy as well as with the actual media needed. Seven schools listed electives in some aspect of cross-cultural management, and 4 schools featured electives in the area of corporate communication and reputation management. But neither of these topics seemed as prominent as I had anticipated, given the research activity, especially in European universities, on corporate communication. The international awareness of all these schools probably means that cross-cultural issues are dealt with throughout the curriculum.
Projects are featured at all but seven schools (Table 3), and in some schools more than one is required (three at Cambridge and Manchester; two at IMD, London, and Oxford). Some projects offer unique experiences--for instance, the Shadowing Project required at London, where students observe a manager in a challenging situation and analyze various behaviors and outcomes. The appendix provides information on the complexity and engagement of many of these projects, which do seem to be a distinguishing characteristic of global MBA education in this sample.
Language Instruction and Competence
English has continued its dominance as the language of business; all programs require proficiency in English as a condition of admission, and English is the dominant language of instruction (Table 2). Seven schools also require proficiency in a second language, a marked difference from U.S.-based programs, which repeatedly promote the benefits of managers who can function in global markets but do not require proficiency in a language.
In predominantly English-speaking England, for example, two schools (Lancaster and London) require proficiency in a second language. INSEAD requires proficiency in two languages in addition to English (the language of instruction), one of which must be "commercially useful." Language courses are offered at several schools and may even count toward total degree credits. Many programs encourage or even require students to be able to conduct business in a language other than English. Where students can begin courses in English or another language (in Italian, for example, at SDA Bocconi), more advanced courses are taught in English.
Alternative Delivery Methods
The stand-alone communication course, a dominant model in the 1999 survey of U.S. programs, is not as prevalent in this survey. Instead, these programs seem to challenge conventional disciplinary boundaries and departmental constraints. For instance, the faculty responsible for supervising projects are often charged with helping students develop and produce sophisticated communication products, yet they are from different functional areas, not necessarily communication, and they work in cross-disciplinary teams in the same way that their students confront and propose solutions for complex and cross-functional problems.
Partnerships between schools in different countries and with different cultures seemed like an attractive delivery method for communication instruction, so I collected data on those. Details about partnerships, including those that offer double-degrees or regional degrees or joint capstone projects, are available in Table 1. The CEMS, as mentioned earlier, provides a regional consortium for innovative cross-institutional instruction, as does the AEA (America, Europe, Asia) Alliance, Cross-Regional Business School. Partnerships, however, were not as common as expected, appearing in only 6 of the 24 schools.
Exchange programs, both incoming and outgoing, were more prominent, found at all but four schools in the sample. Often, students can choose from a wide list of schools where they can enhance their global experiences through extended stays at another site. Such diversity in the classroom contributes to better intercultural communication as students work on projects and discuss course content.
Prominence of Writing
Unlike management communication programs in the United States, the teaching of writing does not seem to play a prominent role in the programs in this sample. The word writing appears in only two required course titles and paper in one elective course. Nevertheless, it is assumed that future managers will do a lot of writing, as evidenced by the written report requirements in almost all the projects. So to put this in perspective, written communication seems to be important, but not necessarily the teaching of writing. Writing seems to be used as a form of assessment rather than content area of instruction.
When I began my research, I reserved a column in the tables for proficiency requirements, but it remained blank. Either communication proficiency is considered an entry standard or instruction is so well integrated in the curriculum that a separate benchmark is not needed.
AACSB International Accreditation
AACSB International, as its name change several years ago indicates, has been branding itself as a global organization. Its new standards, adopted in 2003, represent a radical revision of its approach to accreditation, focusing on outcomes rather than on specific requirements (including courses). Many researchers believe that one factor driving the change was the need to accommodate and interpret differing educational paradigms outside the United States. Thus, the standards no longer prescribe courses, but rather describe the ways in which business schools can realize their own goals and objectives. A fundamental part of that process is developing a coherent and realistic mission statement, by which schools can be judged in terms of internally driven assessment measures.
At the MBA level, communication is not mentioned specifically in the new AACSB International standards, but communication appears throughout the interpretative guidelines as an example of how outcomes can be developed and assessed. ABC tried to make communication instruction more explicit in the standards, but without success. For a description of the new standards, see http://www.aacsb.edu, and for ABC's response, see www.businesscommunication.org. Although the survey did not track curricular changes that could be attributed specifically to the new standards, mission statements of these programs tend to stress strong communication and interpersonal skills. It is interesting to note, too, that an implication of these standards may be more stress on communication skills as an entry requirement, including demonstration of those skills in personal interviews. Fifteen schools in the survey were accredited by AACSB International (Table 1). It may or may not be significant that four of those not so accredited (Cambridge, McGill, Oxford, SDA Bocconi) had no communication requirements or electives, but then Western Ontario, which is also in that group, has a strong communication program, as does IESE.
One question I raised in my earlier study of U.S. programs was the extent to which management communication could be perceived as being a viable discipline. The answer then was that indeed management communication "has a permanent home in professional graduate management education" (Knight, 1999, p. 22). Non-U.S.-based programs in the current study also value communication, but the concept of a "permanent home" may not be appropriate to the way they approach communication instruction. Certainly, a separate program or department of faculty who focus exclusively on communication is rare in this sample. But the integration of communication components in so many parts of the curriculum, the citing of communication and leadership skills in mission statements, and the emphasis on communication in entry standards suggest that these programs recognize the importance of management communication skills to success in the global economy.
Course Descriptions From MBA Programs in the Study
Descriptions of required or elective communication courses and related courses are reproduced from program Web sites or brochures, where available, and are current as of March 2005. Web addresses for programs are included in Table 1.
Australian Graduate School of Management
Management Communication--Presentation Skills: The presentation skills component of the Management Communication Program focuses on the skills needed to develop and deliver clear, persuasive and engaging business presentations. This one-day intensive program is highly interactive, offering you the opportunity to learn new skills, gain personal insight and receive constructive feedback from both your peers and a professional facilitator.
Management Communication--Strategic Thinking and Writing: The Writing Skills component of the Management Communication Program focuses on the skills needed to develop logical analysis and clear and effective writing. Based on models of structured thinking, the course develops your ability to write clearly and persuasively in both business and academic contexts.
Integrated Marketing Communications: This course is designed from the perspective of managers who will need to make decisions about marketing communication programs. Contemporary cases are used to illustrate the key issues in developing effective advertising. The perspective that I take in this class is that the goal of marketing communications is to convey appropriate meaning to the relevant customer audience in order to build a strong brand. The more specific objectives of this course are: to help you apply the appropriate theories and tools to plan and evaluate marketing communication; to increase your understanding of advertising's strategic role in the development of markets; to develop your awareness of marketing and communication problems faced by a variety of organizations and to stimulate your thinking about ethical and social issues related to advertising.
Interpersonal Skills: Experiential exercises, feedback from others, in-depth self reflection and analysis, and action learning methodologies are used to provide opportunities for students to extend their self understanding and self confidence and to broaden their repertoire of intra inter-personal skills needed for managerial competence.
Leadership: Concepts and Skills: The course will cover theories of leadership as well as group dynamics within a multi-cultural context. It also incorporates a strong practical and experiential component based on the recognition that leadership qualities and skills are linked to self-awareness, the ability to manage oneself in different situations, and a high level of interpersonal skills. In this context, participants will have the opportunity to assess and explore their leadership experiences and styles of communication, with the aim to define areas of strength as well as areas that need further development.
Management Project: This is an eight unit of credit course. Management Projects offer MBA candidates who have completed their core courses real opportunities in businesses. Teams collaborate with corporate managers and AGSM Academics to apply conceptual frame works and global best practice to management challenges, finding practical solutions for companies. Students are supported in the completion of their project by an Academic Supervisor and the Management Projects Co-ordinator.
Practicum: CEIBS considers a practicum an integral part of its MBA Programme. The practicum is mainly in the forms of a Group Consulting Project, exposing the student to an international business environment by placing them in companies in China or overseas. Practicum involves tackling a significant and clearly defined business problem using teamwork over a short period. Each group of students will provide the company with a professional analysis of the problem and assist it in examining potential solutions. It allows students to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in classroom to practical management problems. It also provides opportunities of mutual understanding between students and "host company" for job placement and recruitment respectively.
Developing Interpersonal and Managerial Skills: Developing Interpersonal and Managerial Skills is designed to further develop core competencies required by MBA graduates. The course will be structured as a series of seminars. The specific competencies to be addressed will be based upon the needs of the students and will be determined in the first session of the course. The competencies shall draw upon the following: Team Development, Conflict Resolution, Presentation Techniques, Time Management, Negotiations, Creative Thinking, Delegating, Coaching, Goal Setting, Supportive Communications and Interviewing. The course builds upon the research in each of the areas included. However, the course is designed to increase skills and competencies. It is a practical and application oriented course and not research or theoretically focused. This is a highly experientially based course, requiring considerable interaction and participation. To facilitate personal and professional development the class size is limited to twenty students per section.
Integrated Marketing Communications: The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the principles and practices of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) including the strategies and tactics involved in developing and executing IMC programs. Emphasis will be placed on the notion of aligning marketing communications tools: advertising, sales promotion, publicity, direct marketing, sponsorship and personal selling--to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communications impact.
Practicum Project: The objective of the practicum project is to provide students with an opportunity to carry out an in-depth investigation of a complex business problem within a corporation or other economic entity. The project is intended to enhance students' diagnostic skills, their ability to develop innovative and practical responses to complex interdisciplinary problems or entrepreneurial opportunities, their ability to work effectively with executives and with other group members, and their communication skills. Students work together in small groups within the framework of a course which extends over two terms and which includes lectures and readings on appropriate research skills as well as presentations and discussions with executives and with other participants in the course. The number of sections offered in a given year will be limited.
Business Research Project: The objective of the research paper is to provide each student with an opportunity to carry out an in-depth investigation of a selected business problem working on a one-to-one basis with a faculty member. Research papers may concentrate in a specialized area or they may be interdisciplinary in scope. The investigation will normally extend over two terms.
Written Analyses of Case Studies: During the first two terms you are also required to undertake four Written Analyses of Case Studies--in Cranfield parlance WACS. The purpose of these is to provide practice in decision making under pressure, and to enable you to acquire confidence in producing persuasive and well-written business reports.
LEAD (Required): The Leadership Assessment and Development Programme (LEAD) is personalized and provides each student with the tools he needs to improve his leadership abilities and to incorporate new competencies during his career.
The programme detects those skills that individual students particularly need to enhance. After completing the training and evaluating the results through group activities, coaching sessions, and teamwork, participants are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, helping them develop the skills that will be vital in their chosen careers. Keeping an open mind is the key to getting the most out of the LEAD programme.
Integrated Marketing Communication: Allow participants to integrate and put into practice the concepts underlying the contemporary management of integrated marketing communications (advertising, promotion, public relations, sponsorship, ...); initiate participants to key elements of the integrated marketing communication decision making process; and provide an understanding of the advertising industry and of the agency's role and responsibilities.
Leadership: Around the globe, every year billions of dollars are spent on leadership training. Is there a difference between managing and leading or between leadership and entrepreneurship? Do they differ in different contexts--small and large firms, more or less technologically intense firms, stable versus turbulent environments? What is the relationship between leadership and innovation? What is the role of leaders versus leadership teams? These are some of the many questions raised in the seminar based on real-world cases such as Sun Microsystems, Nortel and Lucent.
Supervised Team Project (Required): The objective of this project is to allow students to carry a mandate within a business or organisation wanting to take advantage of the training provided by HEC. The achievement of the consulting mandate by a team of students is necessary in order to pursue the MBA program.
Furthermore, it gives students the opportunity to put their acquired knowledge and skills into practice while learning how to introduce and manage change within an organisation.
Managerial Communication: Improves communication skills with the focus on five critical areas: active listening, productive meetings, professional interviewing, high-impact presentations and effective writing. Uses group work, simulations and role-play.
Managerial Problem Solving (Required): First core course to hone skills in problem-solving, case analysis and presentation, team-building and leadership. Includes dynamics of group decision-making and provides personal insights through assessment of leadership style and experiential learning.
Managerial Communications: This course is designed to reinforce students' existing communication skills. Students analyze cases, deliver presentations and speeches, write reports, and explore the issues businesses face in communicating internally with employees and externally with the diverse public. It places strong emphasis on presentation and interpersonal skills and introduces a general theoretical framework for business communications.
Communication and Interpersonal Relations: Explores the psychological process of communication and the dynamics of interpersonal and group relations within organizations. More specifically, the course examines interpersonal communication, relations and conflicts, relations with superiors, group dynamics and group decision making, and the manager as a counselor.
Brands and Brand Communications: Understanding the relationship between consumers and the brands is crucial to differentiation in a world of parity products and services as well as to communicate effectively with them. This course is devoted to analyse what a brand means to consumers through different cases and lectures, including consulting models that give clues on issues as investment needs and communication disciplines better suited to reach effectively marketing targets. Finally it covers the communication process and discussions on the effectiveness of different approaches.
Cross Cultural Management
Inter-cultural: The course presents a problem solving, decision-making approach to international business, in the light of actual management situations where an appreciation of the impact of cultural differences on behavior can make a difference to performance.
Multi-disciplinary: The course builds on the functional management disciplines. Specific sessions will be held on cross-cultural marketing, finance, control, personnel, strategy, organizational behavior and negotiation.
Following topics are covered (one or two sessions per topic, approximately): The managerial concept of culture, Time and space across cultures, Cross-cultural accounting and control, Cross-cultural finance, Cross-cultural marketing, Cross-cultural organization design, Cross-cultural strategy formulation, Cross-cultural strategy implementation, Cross-cultural communication, Cross-cultural human resource management, Cross-cultural social responsibility and decision making, Successful international careers.
Leadership and Organizational Change: This course has as its primary objective the evaluation of change strategies in terms of the role of leadership. The course demonstrates the inadequacy of existing leadership models in their ability to prescribe sustainable strategies, and proposes different ways of addressing the leadership issue. While drawing on a firm theoretical base the course is firmly bedded in the practical issues of change and how to bring about effective change in business organizations. Because of its focus on the leadership element of change the course revolves around a central issue of change strategies being ineffective if not driven by individuals. During the course participants will be challenged in an outdoor environment that they have the ability to lead a team.
Leading Organizations (Required): El curso esta enfocado los procesos de liderazgo de las organizaciones, sus claves y mecanismos. Como realizar procesos de camhio tanto personalmente como en la estructura y cuales son las responsabilidades economicas y sociales de los dirigentes y las empresas.
Project Presentations: The last week of the program includes an overview of the four projects completed during the program. This is an ideal opportunity to share your individual and group learning with the rest of the class, and the faculty too. It allows you to synthesize everything you have learned over the year and to relive the significant experiences that you have shared.
Entrepreneurship Projects (Required): Leaders in the 21st century must have an understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship. A successful CEO knows what it takes to grow a new business, even within very large corporations.
The most effective way for participants to gain intimate knowledge about entrepreneurial processes is to 'live the startup experience.' The key purpose of the IMD Entrepreneurship Projects is for our MBAs to understand the specific needs of entrepreneurs and to generate a pragmatic understanding of the issues surrounding the entrepreneurial phenomenon.
Teams of about 6 participants support one of fifteen start-up companies in developing their business plans for specific next steps: analyzing business models, entry strategies, marketing approaches, etc. Although the start-ups may not actually enter the market, the experience develops the ability to act as an entrepreneurial booster in the company they will one day lead.
International Consulting Projects (Required): Unique in its structure and setup, IMD's International Consulting Projects have a history of over 20 years of leading successful projects in some of the world's most global companies:
We get a commitment from the client that the MBA project team will work closely with its top management.
Each project is carried out by a team of five or six people, supervised by faculty members who have extensive experience in consulting or line management.
The projects are carefully structured in four stages, each involving a presentation to the client:
1. Industry analysis
Determining what it takes to compete successfully in the client's industry.
2. Company analysis
Creating an overview of the company's competitive position and identifying priority issues.
3. Issue analysis
Examining the chosen problem and producing proposals for addressing it.
4. Implementation & feedback
Presenting specific recommendations with guidelines for implementation to client executives.
Leadership Experience (Required, January-May): A one-week leadership course in the first month of the program includes case studies, leadership and teambuilding exercises, and personal development coaching to help participants begin to understand what leadership means.
The personal coaching continues through the year to help participants understand their own leadership styles, how they interact with others and in what situations their strengths are most effective in their organization. The course consists of personal coaching with a counselor, performing an in-depth self-analysis, group exploration of what make effective leaders and their impact on their organizations, team-building exercises and structured study group feedback on how you can build on your leadership style.
Organizational Behavior and Organizational Leadership are two other key elements that are developed through the year. Participants focus on understanding individuals and social systems and on how to structure and steer these systems to achieve high organizational performance. They then explore the decisions and trade-offs leaders make when faced with challenging dilemmas and conflicting objectives.
Leadership Experience (Required, June) : One