Management Communication in US MBA Programs: The State of the Art

Article excerpt

A study of 32 top-ranked MBA programs suggests that management communication is an important part of professional graduate management education. Eighteen of the schools have required core courses in communication, and two other schools follow an integrated model and also offer electives; another nine offer electives only. A total of four schools also have writing proficiency requirements, and all four of those schools have core communication courses as well. Only three schools in the sample do not have any communication course offerings. These results are based on an analysis of official Websites and follow-up contact by email or personal interview.

Keywords: MBA curricula, core courses

SOME TWENTY YEARS AGO, graduate business schools began realizing that training in quantitative skills and methods was not enough to produce managers for the challenges of the late twentieth century. It was absolutely essential to ensure that graduates of MBA programs would have strong communication skills. As a result, top business schools all over the United States began designing communication programs or enhancing already existing courses. Most notable about these efforts was the emphasis on communication strategy, as opposed to linguistic competence or a focus on the mastery of rules and conventions. Thus, the discipline of management communication evolved, and scholars and teachers made distinctions between their practices and those of business communication at the undergraduate level.

While it is now widely accepted that communication skills are critical for success in the workplace, and articles in major business magazines and interviews with leading executives periodically support this assertion, there had been less unanimity about the best ways to deliver training in communication. Currently, however, there seems to be more agreement among program directors and MBA deans, in both standards and curricula. That is one finding from the benchmarking study reported in this article, a detailed picture of the state of the art in management communication programs at top-ranked business schools. Exhibits 1-4 provide the major results. The discussion section examines general trends derived from the data collected. A longer report, "Management Communication at Top-Ranked US MBA Programs: Results of a Benchmarking Study" is available on the BCQ Website: The full report also contains current management communication course descriptions for all schools in the samp le.

The Sample

The success of published ranking schemes greatly simplified the process of selecting a sample of schools to survey. It has been more than a decade since Business Week published its first ranking of the "best business schools," and this biennial event has undoubtedly affected decisions about curricula, marketing, media relations, and overall image of major business schools. Thus, the Business Week rankings were a good starting point for developing a sample. The Business Week survey relies on corporate recruiter and student input, as opposed to more objective data, and then all responses are weighted to account for previous rankings, changes, and other variables. As a result, the order of schools can often vary widely from one set of rankings to the next. In effect, the Business Week survey measures customer satisfaction.

The second important list of top business schools, by U.S. News and World Report, is produced on an annual basis. The U.S. News ranking attempts to assess the overall reputation of each school, based on quantifiable data such as student performance and starting salaries and more qualitative indicators like responses from surveys of corporate recruiters and business school deans. Again, as with the Business Week survey, the order of schools can change dramatically from year to year. Because of these year-to-year variations, I decided early on not to use any single set of rankings to produce a sample for this study, but rather to aggregate the results over a longer period. …