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Choosing a management development programme


David Towler, CEO of Cambridge Online Learning offers some advice on making the right management training choice for your business.

The changing face of business

The pressure is on for business. Increasing legislation, calls for transparency and the growing need for compliance with governmental bodies, lead to increasingly complex and busy lives for business leaders across industry.

As CEOs and directors become time poor, managerial responsibilities are shifting. Leaders, overloaded with demands from external bodies, rely increasingly on the strength of their management team to move business forward.

Development and fulfilment

Whilst this business evolution offers scope for ambitious managers, it must be remembered that training in wider business understanding and team problem solving is essential. Financial managers, for instance, are experts in finance, and will not be conversant in HR or sales. This is where business frequently falls down – leaders can be forgiven for thinking that expertise in one function can be easily transferred to wider management issues. In reality, functional management is a different ball game to business strategy, so without sufficient training, critical business skills lie undeveloped.

Research conducted by Cambridge Online Learning (COL) reveals that only one tenth of businesses spend 50 per cent or more of their training budget on management skills, whilst many businesses tend to avoid training of any kind due to expense, perceived lack of business benefits and irrelevance. A word of warning is needed here for the SME sector in particular. The raft of small business legislation seen in recent months has introduced a whole new facet to ‘doing business’ for the SME community. If you cannot support increased managerial responsibility with relevant training, you risk losing out to bigger competitors who can offer the support you are lacking.

Recognition of the need for management training is only the first hurdle to jump. Facing a saturated training market, the question then is ‘what type of training and learning provider can fulfil my specific needs?’

Deciding which trainer and course is best for you

The range of courses, delivery methods and providers is so extensive that choosing the right course for your business can be daunting. This 10-point guide can help you make the right choice:

1. Is the course accredited by a recognised, professional body?

2. Is it directly relevant to my business goals and challenges?

3. How far do the learning processes suit the requirements of my managers?

4. How much candidate support and guidance is provided?

5. Does it involve team learning and problem solving?

6. Does the content cover all management functions?

7. Would the training be suitable for all levels of managers within my size / type of organisation?

8. Does the course offer good value for money? – beware of hidden costs

9. Is the delivery mechanism suitable / flexible?

10. Will candidates enjoy their learning?

    Questions to ask

Accreditation and recognition

The first task is simple, but crucial. Check that the training provider is accredited by an established body and that the qualification awarded is recognised. The market is seeing a proliferation in bogus MBAs – so make sure you are not caught out.


Once you have established the provider’s credentials you need to ascertain whether the course is right for your business. COL research reveals that 30 per cent of training buyers don’t know what their current training packages are aiming to deliver - seriously consider your aims and make sure these objectives will be fulfilled.

This also gives the perfect excuse to reassess your management style. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, many organisations put their performance at risk because their management practice is misaligned with business priorities. Remember that the needs of an SME will be far removed from those of the large corporation. Seeking out the right course is probably the hardest task, particularly for SMEs, as only four per cent of traditional business schools offer courses specifically for the small firm (see Small Firms and Business Schools: Facilitating Enterprise Performance and Management Practice Through Management Education: DfEE and The Association of Business Schools April 2000).

Programme Delivery and Content

Assess how far the supplier can accommodate candidates’ experience and learning styles, then check these against the motivations of your managers.

Don’t forget to assess whether the delivery mechanism offers the level of flexibility your managers need. Whilst some prefer to learn at set times and in allocated venues, others prefer the freedom that online delivery can provide.

Look at the ratio of theory to practice. Research shows that practical elements such as project work and Action Learning (solving problems in the workplace) are the most effective and popular approaches to management learning (Research conducted separately by CIPD and COL).

Weigh up the course criteria against the improvements you want to see as a result of training. Some 86 per cent of senior managers see the integration of management development with organisational goals as a key priority (CIPD research) – so ensure learning incorporates business critical elements such as strategy and change management.


Adequate support and guidance is a critical resource for any training course. Remember that your managers will be learning new skills, and the availability of support and a guiding hand, will aid progress and confidence. Ask when and how tutors can be contacted and to what extent guidance and discussion with fellow candidates is encouraged.

Getting to the core of ‘management’

The importance of ‘management’ as opposed to ‘business’ education is often forgotten. COL research highlights just one aspect of this, with three quarters of training buyers admitting that not enough is being spent on people management. When choosing a supplier check to see whether their courses offer critical management modules such as strategy and managing change. Also consider whether they offer delivery methods such as Action Learning, which provide real opportunities for your managers to put learning into practice.


High cost does not guarantee quality and relevance. Don’t be afraid to ask suppliers what you get for the money - and consider hidden costs such as travel and course text books. Stick to your budget and shop for alternatives if traditional training doesn’t suit your needs. New methods of learning are becoming popular as 99 per cent of organisations in the UK are put off traditional business schools because their fees are too high (Research by Business Schools Small Firms Advisory Group).

The fun factor

An enjoyable learning environment is essential. Remember your managers already have hectic schedules so seek a course that offers the flexibility, accessibility and interaction they need. Studying alongside other candidates can remove the isolation and slog of learning and provides a network of colleagues to bounce ideas off and draw support from.

What principles do you rely on when choosing management development? Post your comments below or email us.


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