Arming employees with the skills to manage change within companies should be one of the main responses of management education courses to the quickening pace of change in the wider business environment, according to George Bain, principal of London Business School.
Speaking at an international workshop at the school to help lecturers meet the challenges the global economy poses for business education, Professor Bain said that management education and development is increasingly being used to create and accelerate organisational change: "It is becoming a catalytic device for changing attitudes, behaviour and cultures and thereby transforming organisations."
Management development programmes are consequently moving away from "open" programmes of a general nature towards customised schemes designed to meet an organisation's perception of its specific needs.
Professor Bain said that the flattening of management structures worldwide means that managerial roles are becoming less hierarchical and more related to the skills and capabilities required to perform specific tasks. As a result notions of junior, middle and senior ranks are becoming less and less useful to the development of management education. And since some generalist skills are universally required, the distinction between functional and general managers is being eroded.
"Programmes whether they be open, company specific or consortia need to be designed around the development of definable skills and capabilities. Their effectiveness must then be measured by the extent to which participants are subsequently able to deploy these skills and capabilities," he said.
The traditional customer-supplier model of management development is being replaced by "learning partnerships" that involve a mixture of learning, consultancy and research.
Professor Bain said that these partnerships are designed to help companies become "learning organisations" skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge and in changing their behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insight. "The reason for becoming a learning organisation is simple: ultimately a company's only sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to learn faster than its competitors," he said.
He also highlighted changes in the business environment in recent decades that are forcing a rethink in management education and development. These include the globalisation of business, increasing competition and economic growth patterns that show a marked slowdown in major industrial countries contrasting with higher growth rates enjoyed by emerging economies such as the "Asian Tigers".
He concluded that competition, change and uncertainty have never been greater and are likely to increase further.