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Tailoring courses to take managers to the next level

Tailoring courses to take managers to the next level
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First Published: Tue, Feb 24 2009. 01 05 AM IST

Step forward: Students at IIM Lucknow’s Noida campus, adjacent to Delhi. The location was chosen to cater to working executives. Rajkumar/Mint
Step forward: Students at IIM Lucknow’s Noida campus, adjacent to Delhi. The location was chosen to cater to working executives. Rajkumar/Mint
Updated: Tue, Feb 24 2009. 01 05 AM IST
New Delhi: As the economy transits through a painful downturn, it’s not just businesses that are learning to adapt. B-schools are adapting, too, in tailoring programmes for company executives.
Deepak Chandra, associate dean of the Centre for Executive Education at the Indian School of Business, or ISB, in Hyderabad, says, “We started focusing on those industries and sectors which are more serious investors in learning and where the impact of the economy may not be so high, and on programmes that focus on (the) particular issues they are facing in that period”.
Step forward: Students at IIM Lucknow’s Noida campus, adjacent to Delhi. The location was chosen to cater to working executives. Rajkumar/Mint
For a telecom firm exploring additional markets to tap in the slowdown, for instance, Chandra says ISB designed a programme to work out strategies that would help expand its individual customer base to one that includes large businesses. And for an information technology company that wants to expand the high-end services for which it can charge more, ISB created a co-branded academy to train different levels of managers. Such an academy, Chandra says, not only builds skills, but also works as a retention tool because employees stay on to finish the course.
Executive education in India isn’t a new concept—Faculty of Management Studies, in New Delhi, started a part-time programme in 1954, and Management Development Institute, or MDI, in Gurgaon, began its short-term courses in 1973— but it’s a field that has gone through major changes to keep up with the country’s demand for skilled, trained managers.
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Programmes come in many durations—from the two-year master of business administration programme squeezed into a one-year course for students with more work experience, to six-month crash courses in marketing, finance or project management, or intensive two-week workshops on business strategy to three-year, part-time courses for working executives. If Indian managers 10 years ago were older, more experienced and knew their roles and industries well, today’s managers are young and enthusiastic, but lack experience.
“The amount of change (the country has seen) in the last 10 years, the country hasn’t seen in the last 50,” says Raj Bowen, managing director in India of leadership development firm Personnel Decisions International Corp. The older generation of executives tends to stick to old habits. For example, Bowen says, there are still thousands of senior managers at Indian companies who get emails, print them, write comments on them, and then give them to someone to type. Adaptability is key, he adds.
In order to cater to new demands, executive education programmes are focusing on teaching skills that companies are looking for their managers to acquire.
One common story in India is of an engineering company that has grown faster than its people and needs to quickly convert the technically skilled employees who head its projects into business leaders.
MDI, for example, has created such programmes for Jaiprakash Associates Ltd, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd and Punj Lloyd Ltd, according to C.P. Shrimali, dean of continuing education. “They approach us (saying) ‘we have great technocrats but we are not really having great competency in the field of money management or marketing management or human resources and we want those gaps to be filled’,” says Shrimali.
Aspects of the programme are tailor-made to suit the needs of companies after a process such as the one MDI conducted for Bharat Electronics Ltd. The company was interested in expanding into markets abroad for its night vision equipment, but its engineers didn’t have experience in understanding new customers or setting prices. MDI’s faculty studied how the company did costing and pricing, and developed a programme demonstrating how different ways of procuring raw materials and setting prices would affect margins, says Shrimali.
Upgrading skills: Students in a classroom at the Noida campus of IIM Lucknow. Punam Sahgal, who heads the international programme in management for executives, says that around 20% of the institute’s programmes are customized to cater to the profile of a group of executives. Rajkumar/Mint
At IIM Lucknow’s international programme in management for executives at its Noida centre, around 20% of the customized programmes are tailored to fit the profile of a group of executives, according to Punam Sahgal, who heads the programme. “Team-building in an IT company versus one in public sector manufacturing (is different), you need to understand what it means for them,” she says. In manufacturing, for example, systems tend to be routine and work flow systematic, she says, but in tech firms, where teams work with clients, interpersonal relationships and managing anxieties become key.
Among programmes open for all, skill-specific courses also see higher enrolment. IIM Lucknow’s most popular programmes include those that tackle soft skills, including managerial effectiveness, communication and team-building. “There is definitely a market for that,” says Sahgal.
The school’s general executive education programmes are also tailored to meet specific needs—a course for employees at outsourcing firm Genpact Ltd, for example, focuses on students with two-three years’ work experience and introduces them to the basics of management. Even the location of the IIM-L campus—Noida—was selected to cater to working corporate executives.
International Management Institute, or IMI, in New Delhi developed a six-month certificate programme in marketing because several public sector companies asked for it, says Arvind Chaturvedi, who heads executive programmes at IMI.
The school will also add a health care lecture series to its regular programme this year to respond to the rise in applications from doctors and other health care professionals. MDI has also created specialized executive MBA programmes for managers in the energy industry and for Indian policymakers based on applicant demand. And both MDI and IIM-L created an executive education programme specifically for military veterans to help them transition from the army style of management to a corporate one.
Executive education is moving away from topic-specific open courses to these kinds of customized programmes. While 80% of MDI’s courses were open to any student 10 years ago, says Shrimali, the numbers have flipped and around 80% of MDI’s executive education is now tailor-made for an individual client.
U21Global, an online management education company that offers courses which students can take in their free time, says it has seen an uptick in requests for single-subject crash courses. Many firms have cut training budgets this year, says Prem Das Maheshwari, a regional director for U21, and instead are focusing on getting managers to hone up on skills such as finance for non-finance managers, or project management.
All this focus on being precise with training and executive education needs means that companies are also assessing their “return” on such investments in measurable ways. “Earlier, companies thought once you did it, the deed is done,” says PDI’s Bowen, but now participants are being asked to bring what they learn to the workplace and implement it in a way that makes financial sense for the organization.
For instance, he says, a mid-level manager from an engineering company attended a communication skills workshop and reported three months later that he brought down the attrition rate in his team by half owing to the skills he picked up at the workshop.
Software giant HCL Technologies Ltd conducts pre- and post-course evaluations by polling the subordinates, bosses and peers of an individual to gauge the effectiveness of any educational programme, says Anand Pillai, a senior vice-president at HCL, who heads training at the firm.
HCL is also implementing a separate “employee passion” assessment later in February to figure out what interests individual employees most in order to make training programmes more targeted and effective. “We would be myopic if we only measured training (effectiveness) immediately afterwards,” says Pillai.
Communications technology company Alcatel-Lucent SA says it often assesses the effectiveness of training programmes through measuring basic metrics such as cost and turnaround time. After managers went through a project management course, says Ronald D’Souza, the company’s vice-president for human resources in India, they were able to bring down costs on their respective projects—worth at least $20 millon (about Rs100 crore)—by 3-7%. “We see (an) impact on the savings they deliver; they understand costs better and can reduce delivery time,” he says.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
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First Published: Tue, Feb 24 2009. 01 05 AM IST