“What did you do after your MBA?”

February 2, 2015

MBS 2016

MBA Paul Hinks interviewed by LWD editor Tudor Rickards

LWD Editor Tudor Rickards catches up with MBA graduate Paul Hinks and asks about personal development gains since his costly investment

I suppose a declaration of interest is called for from your editor as interviewer. I have been compiling a collection of LWD blog posts about The Manchester Method, an approach to experiential learning of which I have been a long-time advocate. Furthermore, Paul after his MBA became a regular contributor to LWD, so he may be considered a special case (or maybe a convenience sample of one). I may have asked some leading questions, but Paul’s responses have not been edited to obtain the sort of answers I was hoping for.

The interview took place over the period January 30th-31st 2015.

The Manchester Method

TR: Before getting into the wider issues I want to know if there was much mention of the Manchester Method when you did your MBA? I don’t want to claim more than it really is/was. Assuming you heard of it, was it by Tutors? Marketing? Name names.

PH: Before completing my application for the Manchester MBA I attended an information session held at the Manchester campus. I remember ‘The Manchester Method’ was referenced a number of times during the discussion with an emphasis placed on the practical element of the Manchester MBA ‘learning through doing’. At the welcome meeting to launch the programme ‘The Manchester Method’ was referenced again by the Course Director [Professor Elaine Ferneley].

As I worked through the Manchester MBA I began to appreciate that it was more than just words, or some ‘catch-phrase’. The values and ethos are absolutely ingrained in to the personality of the programme.

Reflecting back the Manchester MBA process can be quite a humbling experience. Sure, there’s the academic material, but the practical elements of the programme provoke some deeper questions. It’s really up to the individual to decide how much they want to explore those personal blind spots. If you are willing to step outside your comfort zone the Manchester MBA provides a safe vehicle to reflect and learn more about yourself.

TR:  It would be interesting if you can illustrate drawing on yourself as part of a ‘living case’. Can you draw on a specific example?

PH: Applying MBA material to unstructured, complex ‘wicked problems’ from the workplace has helped to raise my own profile in my organisation.  Earlier this month I delivered a presentation to our International Leadership Team drawing on material from several different MBA modules. The feedback I received was very positive. I felt the academic lens provided credibility to the message I was aiming to communicate.

One week later I used a slightly revised version to deliver the same message in a company-wide all-employee conference call to United Kingdom and Ireland staff. Again the feedback was positive.

I used material from the Manchester programme to highlight how people have different perspectives of the same situation – how they these offer different solutions based on how they understand and perceive their ‘worlds’. Acknowledging this premise, I worked through an academic framework to explain how I saw the problem – the framework I used enabled me to paint a picture of the situation we were all trying to understand and address. My structure helped me to deliver what you would describe as a platform of understanding.

I was pleased with the outcome. As a project team we now have some clear next steps and confirmation of commitment (I believe) from the corporate leadership internationally.

What sort of learning …?

 TR: As you mention the broader MBA I wonder what sorts of learning and change have taken place in your approach at work? And at home Is ‘leading’ a team of young children connected in any way to this?

PH: It’s worth making special reference to ‘The Reflective Manager’ module run by Mark Winters. I felt the material that Mark delivers really challenges individuals to reflect on their actions, and also to reflect in action – the concepts are powerful. It takes time to digest the deeper messages, but there is so much in this module that echo the sentiments laid out in “The Manchester Method” and ultimately helped me question my own raison d’etre.

TR: Mark’s work is much influenced by Peter Checkland, a pioneer in the use of systems theory applied to action research The   MBA was not a process for you that ended with a piece of paper?

PH: Personal growth has always been important to me – it would certainly have been easier to have taken a more reticent view, and overlook the opportunity to pursue Manchester’s MBA. I believe it’s really down to the individual to take ownership of their personal development – it isn’t the responsibility of the firm, or anyone else – it’s down to the individual.

Working through the Manchester MBA started as something of a personal challenge – the process is tough, but it becomes more familiar. You learn to adapt. I started to take time to reflect and examine my own performance. Was it what I expected? Where could I have done better? I learned more about myself and started to measure my own progress in different ways. My personal priorities changed along the way too. my understanding of what a work life balance means to me. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending time relaxing, or going to the gym more. Sure these are important, but I also found researching and reading more deeply into situations was also of greater interest to me than perhaps I’d previously realized.

The challenge is in how best to apply that learning every day in both the workplace and also with my family life.

Linking theory with practice

TR: You like to explore ideas. I notice you refer to new maps such as distributed leadership. Reading and lectures tend to focus on explicit knowledge. Might the MBS approach encourage learning through linking theory with practice. Nonaka and Teguchi have a tacit-to- explicit ‘map’ of this.

PH: I believe our experiences help shape who we are; I see knowledge as the cornerstone to understanding and making sense of those experiences. Nonaka and Teguchi provide insight into knowledge creation which maps back to the discussion about how best to capture and acquire our tacit knowledge and how we can then attempt to codify this knowledge and make it explicit.

‘Learning through doing’ takes concepts and theory and embeds knowledge and learning through practical application. I believe it’s effective. The process is pragmatic. Delegates apply their learning to case material either as an individual or as part of a group. So you are encouraged to read around the subject and more able to challenge and critique everything, before looking ahead to suggest future outcomes.

Since finishing the MBA, I’ve continued to research and read material. I’ve contributed material to the Leaders We Deserve blog. Recently I blogged about Distributed Leadership as one contemporary lens though which we can explore how social media is effective in bringing desperate groups together. I enjoy the process of applying frameworks to real life scenarios.

Personal change

TR: What sort of personal changes might you be aware of?

PH: I believe The Manchester MBA helps you to think more strategically. It provides you with the confidence and insight to defend your point of view robustly and also to be able to challenge others and perhaps build on initial thoughts and ideas in a constructive way. .

I believe I have become conscious of the traits and characteristics that other see in you – and also where your areas of development remain. Conversely you see the other people’s traits, their strengths, how they can contribute. For the record, I do not see the MBA as some guaranteed ticket to a C-level destination or another level of perceived success. It’s an education that provides you with a credible and powerful toolbox which I believe can significantly help your decision-making.

The Manchester MBA also delivered me with a trusted network of friends and colleagues only an email or phone call away. We think in a similar way, I trust and value their opinion and judgement. They’re good contacts and I know they’ll succeed and do well in their chosen careers.

Social media and technology

TR: I know that you think a lot about the emerging world of social media, technological change and so on. Any comments?

PH: I see opportunities for firms to take advantage of social technologies that are prevalent in our social communities and which leverage those technologies more in the workplace.

I’ve found myself reading around the subject and using the MBA material to explore different perspectives around Social Media – where are the gaps in current thinking? Where are the opportunities for change? Mobile Technology is now mature and ubiquitous, supporting developments into ‘big data’ generation. Data privacy is another contentious issue with potential ethical implications. But the associated commercial opportunities are huge.

Those with the ability to mine big data effectively and efficiently will soon know more about our personal preferences than perhaps we might welcome.

These are exciting times – I believe we’ll reflect on this current technology period and see the exploitation of social and mobile technology as a paradigm shift – in the same that we saw computing power move away from the mainframe in the 1970s and early 1980s to the distributed computing model. There’s huge momentum; it’s compounded by a generation that is growing up this social and mobile technologies as their preferred ways of communicating.

Personal development

TR: Looking ahead, are you thinking of more personal development? What issues interest you?

PH: I see technology as continuing to deliver advantage to firms that understand how best to use it for collaboration, team working, the creation and sharing of knowledge. Technology, Business, Leadership, Sport – these are really my main areas of interest. I remember my Managerial Economics module and the emphasis [Course tutor] Xavier placed on ‘interdependence’ – that there isn’t a binary switch that we can flick to provide a clearly defined path or outcome.

 

TR: Paul, thank you very much. I’m sure you will continue to demonstrate ‘what did you do after your MBA’ as an example of learning through doing.

EDITOR’S NOTES

Image of ‘The New MBS’ is an artist’s impression from 2011. The building work is well underway at the start of 2015.

Paul wrote as an MBS graduate, but we both agreed that the basic principles outlined apply to MBAs more generally. The Manchester Method remains a branded version of the experiential components of MBAs under various titles.

Comments are particularly welcomed for this post.


Action learning and leadership

November 30, 2008
MBS Harold Hankins Building

MBS Harold Hankins Building

An inaugural event took place on Nov 26th 2008 at Manchester Business School to celebrate plans for closer links between the regional action learning community and the Reg Revans foundation. The issues discussed show connections between action learning and the processes of creative leadership

Leaders we deserve had an invitation to participate at the event, but managed to miss significant chunks of it. This is therefore in the nature of a personal view. A more detailed commentary can be found on the Revans Academy web-site.

My fragmentary experience suggested a considerable overlap between the processes of creative leadership and action learning.

Power and influence

Kiran Treharn, co-editor of Action Learning: Research and Practice, made a convincing case for the need for a more critical examination of power and influence forces operating within action learning sets. From outside of that community I would extend the point to other types of work group.

For example, research colleagues Susan Moger, Abdullah Al-Bereidi and Ming-Huei Chen have been examining the dynamics of MBA project teams over a period of more than a decade. The research has been reported elsewhere, and I will confine my remarks here to its findings.

Our results suggest that even after a shared training and instructional experience, some groups are more successful than others in avoiding the problems of status and dysfuntional behaviours. This finding challenges a piece of conventional wisdom, namely that teams follow a universal path through the hallowed stages laid down by Bruce Tuckman: form, storm, norm, perform …

Our view, based on a considerable body of evidence, is that a range of factors influence the success of groups we have worked with. We believe that a team’s success is partly determined by supportive (‘creative’) team leadership, and partly by team factors such as willingness to espouse new ideas, and resilience in the face of difficulties.

At the Revans event, Mike Pedler’s contribution suggested that the practice of action learning sets may also be encountering various ‘contingent’ factors influencing success and failure.

The magic number six

Another area which struck me as worthy of a reflective critique, is group size. Action learning practitioners seem to have settled for a standard size of learning set. The reverence for a constant group size across different contexts seems worthy of more challenge than it may be receiving. The mystical significance of the number six may be minimising experience with other sizes of set.

I seem to recall that the quality movement also circled around the magic number six, and Belbin team role enthusiasts favour a rather similar group size to accommodate eight or nine team roles including two leadership styles.

Research on brainstorming suggests that ideational productivity drops off with groups larger than six. Earlier, its pioneer Alex Osborn took a more ‘whatever it takes’ approach, to overcome what he saw at the destructive impact of status differentials in business meetings.

The size of a project team, (and public sector boards) are often far removed from the magic number six.. Size is largely determined by the scale, complexity, and inter-dependencies of the tasks which tend to result in chunking into smaller team units. It should also be noted that even if custom and practice of small-group work points to the benefits to a ‘set’ of a membership of six, we are moving to an era of more virtual teams.

Worker bees have always able to construct marvellous hexagonal structures for their hives, a determined outcome of the geometrics of form. But need we be quite so locked into a neo-Darwinian functionalism in our preference for six as an ideal size for small group activities?


Reg Revans. Lest I forget

November 22, 2008

action-learning-mike-pedler

Some years ago, when giants stalked the land, I tracked Reg Revans down to his lair. I wanted to see whether he could be persuaded of the fact that Action Learning and Manchester Business School might have a shared future. The meeting was not a total success

Reg, with what I now believe to be typical bluntness, explained his beliefs about the irredeemable wrong-headedness of Business Schools in general, and Manchester Business School in particular.

I had been warned that there was a history of missed opportunities for rapprochement from the time of the School’s inception in the 1960s. He did not dwell so much on that, as on the folly of trying to achieve effective management education using traditional pedagogic approaches.

We talked for a few hours. Or, to be more precise, I suspect I listened for most of the time. I can not date the meeting particularly well, but it was most likely to have taken place in the late 1970s or early 1980s. My big idea was that if Reg Revans had not been accepted at Manchester Business School, then he must have been misunderstood. Everything I had heard and read about his action learning approach made it utterly compatible with ideas that were bubbling up in the School at the time. He was spoken of with some reverence by senior figures there, such as John Morris, and also by emerging junior faculty. Surely when I explained, he would see how John’s ideas of joint development activities were close to the work of the burgeoning Action Learning community? And anyway, he would be bound to warm to efforts I was making at the time to introduce creative problem-solving into projects within the MBA curriculum. He would see how the Manchester Experiment (and subsequently The Manchester Method) were far closer to Action Learning than they were to the traditional Business School curriculum.

As far as I could remember, after a frosty start, the emotional climate of the meeting warmed up, but not a great deal. If I had come bearing an olive branch, I seemed to have stuck it right up the nose of the great man. I doubt if he ever set foot in Manchester Business School thereafter.

Time passes

Time passes. Reg Revans completes a fulfilled and long life. With one of those ironic turns, The Revans Institute elects to accept an invitation to make its home at Manchester Business School.

At the introductory event [26th Nov 2008], I was invited to share a concluding session with Mike Pedler. Another irony. Mike had been one of those figures who first enthused me about the potential of Action Learning, all those years ago.