Can the Skill of Management be Taught?


  • Jay T. Knippen


" The teaching of management in the colleges of business has followed a fairly set pattern: some type of introductory “Principles of Management” or “Introduction to Management” course, followed by some intermediate “Organizational Theory,” “Organizational Behavior” course, a few elective management courses, and at least a portion of the capstone “Business Policy” course devoted to the aspect of management. POOF: “You’re A Manager.” Yet, upon meeting a graduate of business or management school, one is unimpressed with her/his ability to perform as one would expect a manager. True, they can recite the five functions of a manager. They know all about Father Fred Taylor and immediately after “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep...“ they can recite Henry Fayol’s principles. Furthermore, with an 85% accuracy they can tell whether a given statement is true or false, and with an 80% rate they can pick the correct multiple guess answer. They even can regurgitate textual and lecture material for an hour, sometimes even two hours. In fact, there’s only me thing they can’t do. They can’t manage. They can’t give positive reinforcement, coach, lead, handle conflicts, discipline, delegate, accept responsibility, motivate, take initiative, communicate, listen, interview, plan, set goals, appraise performance or solve problems. In short, they can’t manage. Why? They’ve not been taught to manage, they’ve been taught how to recognize and define management. Whetton and Cameron state that “up to now, students have been taught more about management than how to manage,” (Whetton 1983, p. 15). The literature is replete with studies showing no correlation between college grades and managers’ salaries. (Pfeffer, 1977; Weinstein and Srinivasan, 1974; Williams and Harrell, 1964) So, what is needed to rectify this situation? Students need to learn the “skill” of managing. Numerous articles have been written on the art versus skill topic of management (Green, Knippen and Vincelette, 1985). It is widely accepted that management is in fact a skill, but how does one learn such a skill? The colleges of business have maintained that if a person reads a few books on management, listens to a number of lectures on management, writes a few term papers, takes some tests, then POOF, “They Are A Manager.” The colleges of business across the country for years have been blind to a system that has worked very well in other colleges. Our sisters and brothers in education say, “That’s fine to read, listen to lectures, write papers, and take tests, but it’s only the first step. After the formal learning one needs to practice and be critiqued for me semester under the guidance of a qualified and certified teacher in a program of practice teaching. Only then can they truly obtain the teaching skill, be certified as a teacher, and begin their teaching career among the youth of our nation and the adults of tomorrow. Likewise, our sisters and brothers in the College of Medicine give “the doctor-to-be” formal classroom education followed by a residency program in a hospital where they are supervised by practicing doctors and coached in the skills of medicine on actual patients. Those of us fortunate enough to live near a college of medicine (where the latest cures and technologies are discovered) often loose sight of the “guinea pig” role we sometimes play in the name of advanced medicine. If the colleges of education can practice on the adults of tomorrow and our future doctors can experiment on citizens in the community, shouldn’t future managers have the same opportunity? Most certainly. One need only to look to the coaches of many fine athletic teams for a functional model. Coaches at all levels (high school, college, professional) begin with the basics. Football coaches start with the stance, blocking, and tackling. These basic skills are “taught” in the traditional lecture style. After “teaching” the players how to successfully perform, they “demonstrate” each skill by showing how the skill is done either by themselves or another player, or showing a film demonstrating the skill being performed successfully. After the teaching and demonstrating steps, the players “hit the field.” For hours they practice, receive feedback, practice, receive feedback, practice.....“until they reach the final step of...receiving positive reinforcement.” After the basic skills (stance, blocking, and tackling) come the intermediate skills (ball handling, running, passing, pursuit, defending, zone, and man-to-man coverage) and finally the integrative skills: (offense, defense, and team work). Herein lies a basic model which could be well applied to teaching management skills: teaching, demonstrating, practice, and feedback. How can this model be applied to teaching management? An application of a model to management skills may be utilized. In the teaching segment, the instructor spends 30 minutes teaching students the content part of a particular skill. This is the typical lecture style of instruction. Content is always divided into four parts: What is the skill?, Why do managers need to know how to use the skill?, When should the skill be used?, and How, specifically, should the skill be used? The “How To” part has a detailed set of steps to be followed when using the skill. In addition, each of these steps can be clearly seen and identified a videotape. Following the presentation on content, students view videotapes of the skill being used correctly and effectively in a number of business situations. The steps under the “How To” part of the teaching segment form the outline or construct of the videotape script. The instructor leads a short discussion after each tape to make sure the students understand the steps from the “how to” portion of the teaching segment, know the reasons for the steps, and are confident that they can apply these steps to their own life. The first hour of the teaching and demonstration segments use the teaching and presentation style found in most traditional lecture classes. It is the next three hours of practicing and feedback that make the knowledge relevant and usable to the student. Each student must practice the skill for effective learning to take place. Groups should be no larger than 15 students per instructor/video setup. To help transfer the newly learned skill to the students own world, each student chooses an actual situation from his or her own work or personal environment. This is truly “skills development, based on learning from "