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Management Development and Life-Long Learning in the UK:

Developing and Testing an Open Systems Model

Paul Iles

Liverpool John Moores University, UK

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999

Longitudinal data on changes in UK management and career development (MCD) since 1987 are presented, and an open systems model of MCD in the UK discussed. The determinants of the amount of in-company management training, its impact on the organization, and the degree to which it has achieved its objectives are identified as well as the determinants of the priority given to MCD. Evidence is also presented of the changing roles and responsibilities in managerial career development.

Introduction and Purpose

In 1986 and 1987, three influential reports into the education, training and development of British managers were published, each identifying major weaknesses in the system of management development in the UK, especially in comparison with its major competitors (Mangham and Silver 1986, Constable and McCormick 1987, Handy 1987). Implications for Britain’s economic efficiency and relative economic decline in the 20th Century were noted, and an ambitious agenda for improving the management development system in the UK developed. However, despite a plethora of Government reports and initiatives (eg National Training Targets, National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications, Investors in People) and several small - scale studies, we lack a picture of the current state of play in management and career development (MCD) in the UK a decade on from these reports, and whether the quantity and quality of MCD has improved. We also lack a theoretical framework, based on empirical research, as to the organizational processes by which MCD takes place in organizations. This paper seeks to remedy this deficiency by providing useful longitudinal data on changes in British MCD in the last 10 years, and by developing a model of organizational MCD which seeks to identify causal relationships among the elements of the MCD system. This paper presents an ‘open systems’ model of MCD (Fig 1) identifying inputs (eg structure), processes (eg policy), outputs (eg quantity of training) and outcomes (eg impact on organization).

Significance for VET

There are a number of questions which need to be asked about MCD in the UK, including:

1) How has MCD in the UK changed since 1986/1987?

2) What is the relative significance of the various ‘drivers’ of MCD in the UK?

3) Is there evidence that organizations in the UK have abandoned responsibility for managerial career development, making it an entirely individual responsibility?

4) To what extent has a culture of life long learning and continuous professional development become embedded in UK managerial life?

Figure 1. A Model of Management and Career Development.

Procedures and Methods

A series of large scale surveys of MCD in the UK have been conducted in 1996 and 1997, summarised in Thomson et al (1999). Here we will only report on:

(a) A 1996 telephone survey of 501 people responsible for MCD in their organization, structured for sector and size, lasting around 45 minutes and covering around 50 questions, employing many of the same questions used in Constable and McCormick (1987) and so providing valuable longitudinal data over a 10 year period.

(b) A 1997 postal questionnaire survey of c. 8000 MBA graduates drawn from membership of the Association of MBAs, using a structured sample of 500 drawn from a 17.4% response rate (n = 1398).

The primary data have already been published as research reports by the sponsoring bodies (the Association of MBAs 1998 and the Institute of Management 1997). This paper will present further analyses of these data, and also focus on their implications for career development in particular. (Iles 1999)

Findings and Conclusions

Respondents to the AMBA study (Association of MBAs 1997) in general reported low levels of satisfaction with organizational MCD, but much on-going personal MCD at all levels. Much was outside employer provision, using a wide range of learning methods, with external courses and experiential learning both rated more highly than internal courses. A great determination to pursue MCD at all levels was reported, with respondents anticipating a variety of modes and sources, both structured and unstructured and primarily driven by the individual; MCD was seen as necessary to keep up to date in a changing environment and to broaden skills, and respondents were willing to make considerable personal investments in time and money. There was a substantial demand for further MCD to be recognised, and widespread access was reported to personal development facilities, but with only limited reading of managerial journals. Only a limited personal role in MCD vis - a - vis other managers was envisaged, but a considerable degree of personal mobility was reported. In terms of organizational MCD, respondents reported that considerable MCD was being undertaken even without a policy framework, as many organizations only offered weak policy frameworks (no written statement and a low priority given to MCD, with a low assumption of responsibility for it by the organization). Differences in MCD seemed more related to policy than structural circumstances, but MCD did not seem to fully reflect business strategy, though company strategy was however perceived to be the primary driver of MCD, and was associated with the presence of ‘strong’ MCD policies. MCD generally was seen to have failed to meet its objectives or to have a positive impact on the organization.

Company survey respondents took a more positive view of MCD in organizations than individual managers, reporting that priority given to MCD had increased significantly compared to 10 years ago, and was expected to increase still more. Most companies were now involved in MCD, with only 4% doing no training, compared to 50% in 1987, whilst the amount of formal training carried out averaged c. 5.5 days per manager per year, compared to the 3.1 days estimated for 1987, and the 7.3 days anticipated in the foreseeable future. The balance of responsibility for MCD was now seen as involving a partnership between the individual and the company, not as the responsibility of either party alone. The main drivers of MCD were perceived to be strategic, not operational or external, but appraisal was seen to be the main trigger for individual development, and much MCD seemed tactical and short - term. MCD activity appeared to range across all levels of management, was not just reserved for high - fliers, but was most emphasised at junior managerial levels. A reasonably equal balance was reported between formal and informal training activity, as was a considerable move forward in the language of managerial competence as compared to 1987, with better defined objectives for MCD. However, few major changes in training methods were anticipated, and post - experience education and training was now ranked higher than pre - experience education in terms of what makes a good manager compared to 1987, though inherent ability and job experience were still ranked higher, as they were in 1987. In general, MCD was judged to be achieving its objectives and having a positive impact on the organization.

The picture of MCD in the UK that emerges from these two studies seems more positive than it was in 1987, and MCD appears to be growing in significance, addressing research question 1. In order to address research questions 2 and 3, and to test the model of MCD presented in Figure 1, further analyses have been carried out on the primary data collected from the company telephone survey (Thomson et al 1998). The main dependent variable analysed here is the output variable of amount of training, as measured in days per manager per year. Each variable was tested separately, and the clusters of variables were also tested for their collective impact. Table 1 presents results from the clusters of variables only.

Table 1

Determinants of the outputs of training from external, internal, policy and career clusters

R2

0.201

adjusted R2

0.174

DF

14

Listing of variables

Beta (sig B)

 

Beta

Regressor set: external

0.15***

Regressor set: internal

0.107*

Regressor set: policy

0.412***

Regressor set: career

0.047

* p < 0.05 **p < 0.01 ***p < 0.001 (Adapted from Thomson et al 1998, p. 98)

Regression analysis shows that the policy variables (existence of a policy statement, priority given to MCD, organizational responsibility for MCD, and views on what contributes to the development of a good manager) contribute much more strongly than external or internal structural variables or career variables to explaining variance, in that order. Of the policy variables, priority given to MCD emerged most strongly, and policy variables also most strongly predicted amount of training anticipated in the future. Priority given to MCD again emerged as the most important single variable here, along with internal variables. Satisfaction with the amount of training provided was even more strongly predicted by the policy variables, along with the internal variables. Only three perceived drivers of MCD, out of fifteen variables selected from suggestions of a panel of experts and rated by respondents in terms of importance on a 1 - 10 scale (National Vocational Qualifications, competitive activity and demand from managers), predicted the amount of training undertaken (Table 2).

Table 2

Amount of training related to perceived drivers

R2 0.168    
Adjusted R2 0.135    
DF 16    
Listing of Variables

Beta

Mean (S.E.)

   

1 - 10 scale

Strategies

0.097

7.21 (0.09)

Structural Change

0.063

6.25 (0.10)

Cost of MCD

- 0.087

5.07 (0.10)

Support of Board

- 0.088

6.84 (0.10)

Management demand

- 0.113*

5.89 (0.08)

Company Culture

- 0.017

6.38 (0.09)

Individual ability to do job

0.063

6.60 (0.08)

Individual potential to progress

- 0.038

6.36 (0.09)

Staff retention

0.038

5.58 (0.10)

Career development

0.119

5.98 (0.09)

Staff motivation

0.060

6.02 (0.09)

Business efficiency

0.070

7.23 (0.08)

Competitive activity

0.129*

5.40 (0.12)

Customers

- 0.030

6.36 (0.11)

Vocational Qualifications

0.130*

3.49 (0.11)

Investors in People

0.010

4.54 (0.14)

* p < 0.05 ** p < 0.01 *** p < 0.001 (Adapted from Thomson et al 1998, p99).

Priority given to MCD also emerged as the dominant variable in terms of predicting the extent to which MCD objectives were achieved and the perceived impact of MCD, the outcome variables in figure 1 (both rated on a 1 - 10 scale, Table 3).

Table 3

Influencing variables on achievement of objectives and impact on organization (outcome variables)

 

Achievement of

Objectives

Impact on Organization

R2

0.255

0.308

adjusted R2

0.249

0.302

DF

4

4

Listing of variables

Beta

Beta

Amount of Training

0.156***

0.099*

Formal/ informal balance

- 0.009

- 0.027

Priority given to MCD

0.379***

0.436***

Responsibility for career

0.123**

0.184***

* p < 0.05 ** p < 0.01 *** p < 0.001 (Adapted from Thomson et al 1998, p101)

Company responsibility for career development was however interestingly also strongly predictive of positive impact and achievement. The amount of training carried out predicted both whether MCD achieved its objectives and whether it had a strong impact on the organisation. A further set of analyses was undertaken to explore what predicted the policy variables, including priority given to MCD. Priority given to MCD as a dependent variable was predicted by the career variables in particular (career structure, upward progress, and existence of fast - track, Table 4).

Table 4

Priority given to MCD in relation to external, internal and career clusters of variables.

R2

0.155

adjusted R2

0.149

DF

12

Listing of variables

Beta

Regressor set: internal

0.146***

Regressor set: external

0.190***

Regressor set: career

0.255***

* p < 0.05 **p < 0.01 ***p < 0.001 (Adapted from Thomson et al 1998, p102)

However, the strongest predictors in terms of individual variables were the existence of a separate budget for MCD and non - British ownership of the company. The existence of a policy statement for MCD was strongly associated with the drivers of Investors in People, staff retention, support of the Board, and the importance of strategic considerations (Table 5).

Table 5

Existence of policy statement related to perceived drivers

R2

0.158

Adjusted R2

0.126

DF

16

Listing of variables

Beta

Strategy

- 0.201***

Structural Change

0.049

Cost of MCD

- 0.009

Support of Board

- 0.163**

Management demand

- 0.030

Company culture

- 0.057

Individual ability to do job

- 0.013

Individual potential to progress

0.059

Staff retention

0.134*

Career development

- 0.126

Staff motivation

0.020

Business efficiency

0.089

Competitive activity

0.004

Customers

- 0.048

Vocational Qualifications

- 0.017

Investors in People

- 0.192

* p < 0.05 ** p < 0.01 *** p < 0.001 (Adapted from Thomson et al 1998, p103)

In order to address research questions 3 and 4, whether a culture of life long learning and continuous professional development was becoming embedded in British managerial life, data from the two studies is next analysed, beginning with the AMBA study.

With the usual caveats over representativeness, this study does seem to show some evidence of ‘resilient’ behaviours and the use of career planning techniques by AMBA members - perhaps not surprising, given the nature of a sample highly committed to education, qualifications and personal and career development, and one in which we might expect to detect the first glimmerings of ‘cellular’ behaviour (Allred et al 1996). Respondents seem clearly focussed in their commitment to continuous professional development; they seem clearly networked and connected in their membership of professional associations; and above all perhaps career resilient in their commitment to life - long learning, as indicated by their responses to what makes a good manager and their aspirations to continuous development. However, there is some indication that they have not turned their backs entirely on organizational support in a purely ‘cellular’ or ‘transactional’ way. They still see the value of in-company training, albeit with a low opinion of what they have experienced. There is some indication that they see career development as moving towards a middle position, where responsibility for career development is shared between employee and employer. We might characterise this position as a ‘partnership’ model, and infer that the psychological contract of the AMBA respondents includes the provision of in-company training. However, this is in many cases either an unfulfilled promise, or respondents are often disappointed in the quality or relevance of what they are receiving.

Other indications of ‘boundaryless,’ if not ‘cellular,’ careers are the findings that only a minority of respondents report being appointed for a ‘career’ (perhaps evidence of short-term transactional contracts?), and that respondents had on average worked in 4.2 previous organizations, crossing various categories of size, sector, and employment status. In addition, they anticipated moving frequently in the future. Their overwhelming intention to pursue more MCD, driven primarily by the individual as a means of keeping up-to-date and to develop broader skills and supported by a willingness to make substantial personal commitments of time and money, is almost a text-book definition of the flexible, life-long learning, committed, career-resilient manager.

On the other hand, many managers, (especially those in large companies with a clear policy statement on MCD, where the company takes responsibility for it and where MCD is perceived to have a positive impact and to be experienced as satisfying by recipients) reported the existence of planned career structures and succession planning practices. This indicates some continuing company responsibility for career development, perhaps characteristic of a ‘partnership’ model as a matter of strategic choice by the company.

The company study gives further support to the widespread emergence of a ‘partnership’ model of MCD in the face of the emergence of strong ‘transactional’ or ‘resilient’ behaviours and attitudes. Some company respondents indicated a strongly transactional, specific, short-term view of MCD. For example, many companies did not expect managers to stay with them, and appointed them for a job rather than a career. However, other responses reveal a longer-term, even ‘relational’ focus, such as the operation of internal, rather than external labour markets, the widespread use of succession planning, the commitment to development of all managers whatever their age or grade, the linking of development with appraisal, the expectation that many managers will spend their entire careers in the organization, and the acceptance that responsibility for MCD is to be shared equally between the individual and the organization.

In terms of the model depicted in Figure 1, it appears as if company responsibility for career development is highly predictive of MCD having a positive impact on the organization. Career variables also predicted whether the organization gave priority to MCD, especially the presence of career structures, upward progress, and the existence of fast-track career management systems. Thus it appears that if UK companies do take responsibility for managerial careers, then this taking responsibility is associated both with relatively high priority given to MCD and with MCD having a positive impact on the organization. Priority given to MCD is in turn associated with the amount of training actually carried out by companies and with the amount of training anticipated to be carried out in the future, as well as with satisfaction with the training carried out and with judgements of whether training had achieved its objectives. It appears that though many UK managers are taking responsibility for their own career development in ways resonant of ‘transactional’, ‘cellular’ and ‘resilient’ managers, especially in their commitment to career planning and to continuous professional development and networking, this has not meant that organizations have simply abandoned responsibility for career development. Rather than seeing a move from purely ‘relational’ to purely ‘transactional’ contracts, we may see the emergence of a diversity of contracts, mixing elements of ‘transactional’ contracts such as high pay for high performance and the assessment of goals and the achievement of targets alongside aspects of ‘relational’ contracts, such as a commitment to internal labour markets and to the long-term development of managers.

References

Allred B, Snow C and Miles R (1996) Characteristics of Managerial Careers in the 21st Century Academy of Management Executive 10, 4, pp 17 – 27.

Association of MBAs (1998) Management Development: the views of the membership of the Association of MBAs London: AMBA.

Constable J and McCormick R (1987) The making of British Managers London:1988

Handy C (1987) The making of Managers London: NEDO.

Iles P A (1997) Sustainable career development: a resource based view Career Development International 2, 7, pp 347 –353.

Iles P A (1999) Managerial career development in Thomson, A. (ed.) Management Development in Theory and Practice Oxford: Blackwells (in publication).

Institute of Management (1997) A portrait of Management Development London Institute of Management.

Mangham IL and Silver D (1986) Management Training: Context and Practice School of Management, University of Bath ESRC/ DT/ Report 1986 Nicholson N (1997).

Thomson A (1999) Management Development in Theory and Practice Oxford: Blackwells (in publication)

Thomson A, Mabey C, Storey J (1998) The determinants of Managerial development: choice or circumstance? International Studies of Management and Organization 28, 1, Spring pp 91-113.

This document was added to the Education-line database 23 September 1999