Management Design: The “designs” we have now: MBA graduates and Consultants

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The Manager by Design blog advocates for a new field called Management Design. The idea is that the creation of great and effective managers in organizations should not occur by accident, but by design. Currently, the creation of great managers falls under diverse, mostly organic methods, which create mixed results at best and disasters at worst. This is the first of a series that explores the existing “designs” that create managers in organizations. Today I’ll start with a traditional way of finding managers: The education and prestige route.

Many organizations attempt to purchase managerial expertise by hiring MBAs or sending them for MBAs or other external education. In this model, you have managers obtain MBAs or learn management from other curricula at the university level. Frequently, candidates of this sort come from the management consulting ranks, and not just directly out of school. Armed with the expertise gained, you put the MBA/consultant in charge of a team of technical experts or larger divisions. The content learned at the MBA/other curricula/via consulting is then expected to be applied and implemented into the organization by the manager. An offshoot of this model is to take an existing technical expert, and fund the management education.

There are many upsides to this design, however partial it is — primarily surrounding the broad expertise in business strategy that comes with the MBA/Consultant. But there are downsides of bringing in the MBA/Consultant, and since we’re exploring the design flaws of current management design, let me go through them. Here are the potential pitfalls of the MBA/Consultant “design:”

a) It is costly—an MBA or external education costs a lot of money. If it’s paid for by the company, then that’s a direct cost. If it’s paid for by the employee, it’s an indirect cost, in the form of higher salaries. If you’re hiring a consultant, that consultant is likely to demand a higher salary.

b) It is slow. An MBA, for example, takes two years. That’s a lot of time to develop a manager.

c) Its focus is primarily on business strategy, not people or team management. Management curricula in the US focus on marketing, finance and other business strategies, and not on the nuts and bolts of team management. If there is a people management component in a curriculum, it is a minor part. As such, managers will tend to avoid people management issues, and focus on business strategy. This significantly risks harming operational capability, and ignores the impact of how managers interact with individual contributors.

d) It not aligned to an organization’s managerial expectations. By definition, what is discussed in school or at the consulting firm cannot be the same as what is happening in the organization. When you have multiple managers who are the products of multiple inputs on how to manage, you will create unnecessary confusion on the “best” way to manage in that organization. As a result, each manager picks and chooses what they feel a manager does. This will cause inconsistencies at best, and chaos at worst.

e) Managers have to push to instill practices. If a manager learns an outstanding practice in school or from their consulting practice, the manager has to overcome the challenge to implement the practice into the organization’s environment. This is no easy feat, and the most likely result is that the manager will abandon this effort. The best case is that the individual manager excels in managing, and it gradually gets across the organization’s ecosystem. This has a low likelihood.

f) It omits “entry-level” managers. Consultants, MBAs or other education-based efforts to develop managers are typically higher up the managerial tree, say Director-level or above. This risks leaving 1-2 or more levels of managers in larger organizations that essentially have no management expertise, but are managers. There is likely to be a clash between the “haves” and “have-nots” of management education.

Please note that I’m not saying that MBAs and consultants make for bad managers, or that people should not get education in management. These are great resources for identifying and recruiting talent! I am saying that overreliance on MBAs and consulting expertise as your proxy for management design is substantially incomplete, and that any great management that occurs from this design is by accident, and not by design.

In future blog posts, I will explore some other current “designs” that organizations have for the creation of managers, such as the “Individual Contributor Promotion” design, and the “Hire someone who has managed a team” design. What other “designs” for creating and launching managers into organizations have you observed or experienced?

Does your organization tend to seek MBAs or utilize consultants to fill the management ranks? What are the benefits and drawbacks have you observed?

The Cost of Low Quality Management

Management Design: The designs we have now – Promote the one who asks for it

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Make the loudest person the manager

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Recruit someone from a successful comparable organization

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: You can manage only if you’re from here

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Hire the premier technical expert

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Promote the top performer

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: You’ve managed a team before? We need you!

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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