Imagine the emba as engaging managers beyond administration

5 June 2015

Time to hit the refresh button.

The last two TWOGs (reminder: tweet2blog) discussed some of the worst practices of management today: killing the cultures and obsessing about the numbers. Blame short-sighted stock markets and disconnected leadership, but don’t forget about how we pretend to educate managers.

Management By Analysis

MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences. The people are too inexperienced; the ways are too analytic, the consequences are managers too disconnected. These programs may do fine training people in the business functions, for specialised jobs, but you cannot create a manager in a classroom. Management is a practice, rooted in craft and art, not a science or a profession.1

So how about the EMBA?

EMBA programs train the right people in the wrong ways with potentially wrong consequences. The people may be experienced (if not Executives), but most EMBA programs replicate the regular MBA programs. Take Wharton, for example, which has one of the best-known programs. For years it has claimed on its website that its EMBA students get the “same curriculum” as in its regular MBA. Imagine Wharton boasting that they do no more for managers in their EMBA than for MBAs who have not managed. This, in a nutshell, is the state of “management” education today.

Time for the emba

So how about training the right people in the right ways with the right consequences? How about an emba that engages managers beyond administration? We can do wonderful things in a classroom that draws on managers’ own experience. Real experience, deeply felt. (Cases are other people’s experience, in small, disconnected doses. Harvard has been running ads recently for executive education showing a businesswoman exclaiming: “We studied four companies a day. This isn’t theory, this is experience.” This is nonsense.)

T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems that “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” Management education should be about getting the meaning of experience. A classroom of practicing managers has centuries of experience, good and bad. Imagine giving them the opportunity to reflect on it and share their insights with each other, in the light of the best concepts we have.

Of course, sitting managers in nice neat rows to face some “instructor” hardly encourages this. But if they sit in small groups at round tables, they can engage in such discussions easily: no need to “break out”.

With this as a starting point, a world of possibilities opens up. For example, tables can be dedicated to entrepreneurs, or people from particular industries or companies, who can spend time delving deeply into their concerns. Instead of training people to become consultants, imagine using these tables for “friendly consulting”: the managers bring in issues of major concern which their colleagues help them think through. And they can take their learning back to their organizations, to share it with colleagues in “impact teams” and explore the implications for consequential change.

Of course, it makes no sense to organize all this around the functions of business. Marketing + Finance + HR etc. does not = Management. So imagine organizing it around the mindsets of managing—for example collaboration, action, worldliness.2 The object is not for managers to become cookie-cutter global, but more distinctively worldly. So why not host these mindsets in modules of a week or two each around the world—not to look in from the outside, as business voyeurs, but to share the classroom with colleagues from these places?

Doing it

All of this is not only possible, but natural. This form of “social learning” is a powerful pedagogy, and managers relish it. Finally some respect for their experience; finally a break for managers from listening to the professors or pronouncing on companies they barely understand—four new ones every day.

We know about this because we have been doing all of the above for years, with great success—in our classrooms at least. Outside of them, this is one of the best kept secrets in management education. Congratulate us for our design and execution but not for our marketing.

Now we have decided to change this. We called the program the International Masters in Practicing Management ( to distinguish it from the MBA. Try going up against the MBA “brand”! So if we cannot beat them, we shall join them—after a fashion. We are labelling the IMPM “the managers’ emba”, meaning that we are engaging managers beyond administration.

Here comes the disclosure

As you may have guessed, I am hardly neutral in all this. I co-founded the IMPM and remain active in its classrooms. I care deeply about it. But I must further disclose that in doing this TWOG, I have nothing personal to gain, financially at least. I write it for the same reason that I have written many of the others: to change how management is practiced. Many managers, middle and senior (including CEOs) are at a crossroads: stuck in orthodox practices, if not in their careers. Here is a way forward—for them and for the practice of management.

Refreshment Day: 25 October!

Technology forecaster Paul Saffo claimed that it takes 20 years for a new technology to become an overnight success. The IMPM is an important new technology. Therefore it will have to become an overnight success on October 25th, when my colleagues and I welcome our 20th class. Please join us, here and elsewhere, progressive managers and concerned professors, in changing how management is practiced. Dare to supersede the MBA. Hit this Refresh button!

© Henry Mintzberg 2015


1 See my book Managers not MBAs (2004), also earlier TWOGS on Jack’s Turn, about case studies as a wrong method, and on The Harvard 19, about the wrong consequences from a majority  of the CEOs on one list of Harvard superstars.

2 See Gosling and Mintzberg. (November 2003). The Five Minds of a Manager, Harvard Business Review. See also the TWOG Global? How about worldly?