Top Business Schools See Value of Communication Skills

By Williams, John | Communication World, October-November 1996 | Go to article overview

Top Business Schools See Value of Communication Skills


Williams, John, Communication World


What's this? Listening skills, communication strategy, corporate identity, media training and even writing skills being taught by top MBA schools, right along side quantitative analysis, production theory and finance?

In their efforts to better reflect the needs of industry, leading business schools are now incorporating the "soft" management skills of communication.

Although none of the nine leading MBA schools I contacted offers a communication major, many are including some form of management communication in their programs. These programs include workshops on presentation skill-building, course segments on crisis communication management and entire courses devoted to corporate communication.

Dartmouth's Tuck School of Management offers one of the more comprehensive communication programs among business schools. During the first year of the two-year MBA program, Tuck students learn about corporate communication as a component of a management communication class. In their second year, students wishing to learn more about the field can take a corporate communication elective.

The second-year course covers the functional areas of corporate communication, presents case studies, brings in outside speakers, and requires students to complete projects that analyze specific companies' corporate communication. As a result, Tuck's communication department was named the best among business schools by U.S. News and World Report (March 21, 1994). "The only challenge is finding jobs for our corporate communication students," says Paul Argenti, a communication professor at Tuck. About six to 10 graduating students (out of a class of 180) go into corporate communication.

Harvard University exposes its MBAs to communication skill-building before classes even start. During orientation, new students participate in a written and oral communication skills workshop to help them in writing and speaking, says Stephen A. Greyser, professor of marketing and communications.

During their second year, MBAs can take a corporate communication elective, which focuses on crisis communication, corporate identity and image, investor relations, advertising and other similar subjects. The course addresses broad strategic issues that involve positioning the corporation from the perspective of the board of directors or senior executives. "The course is rooted in a basic, underlying communication theory, similar to what you would have in a journalism school," says Greyser.

Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management offers three management communication electives for second-year MBAs. Each course teaches students about persuasion techniques in a business setting, including internal and external communication. One course focuses on writing skills, another on oral presentations, and the third on crisis communication. Karen VanCamp, who teaches the oral presentation course, says the challenge is "getting the students to think critically and understand their audiences."

For the writing skills course, Professor Judy Messick focuses on employee communication that goes up, down and across the organization. Her students act as managers and learn how to write effective memos and E-mails by fitting the message to the audience. Each course uses a variety of teaching methods, with an emphasis on application.

At the University of Michigan School of Business, incoming MBAs must take a strategic writing course (or test out of the requirement through a writing assessment). The communication department also offers electives in strategic oral communication based on persuasion principles and a class that focuses on communicating with the media during crisis situations. The media course teaches students a variety of communication skills, ranging from preparing press releases to talking in front of a television camera, says Herbert Hildebrandt, chair of law, history and communication. …

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