Problems in managing SEDPs
Short-duration, executive development programmes (SEDPs) based particularly on application of the case method are characterized by the following:
(i) Heterogeneity of participants with respect to age, education, maturity level, breadth of experience, exposure to organizational cultures within and across countries, motivation level, work culture in organizations they belong to, etc. These differences could be a source of strength, as they bring to bear a multifaceted view on the issues under consideration. However, they could also be the source of serious weaknesses, because they could lead to slow progress in preparation and in class discussions, particularly in the early part of the programme, as participants would take longer to understanding each other's views.
(ii) Heterogeneity of participant's expectations both in academic and non-academic terms. These range from those who consider such programmes to be 'paid holidays' (thus looking for non-academic satisfactions like stay arrangements, food, etc.), through those who consider themselves merely 'observers' (and thus hardly participate actively) and those who are interested seriously in only some aspect of the programme (demanding far more emphasis on it), to those whose expectations match with what is being offered by the programme.
(iii) Heterogeneity of expectations of the sponsoring organizations and executives, ranging from providing a holiday as a reward, through enabling executives to establish contacts with executives in other organizations, acquiring knowledge, gaining skills, etc., to be able to shoulder current or possible higher responsibilities, to those using the course as a building block in the career development of their executives.
(iv) Lack of understanding about the case method and participant's responsibilities.
(v) Limited time and flexibility available to the programme coordinator and faculty to adjust the programme plan and implementation to suit such diverse expectations, particularly at short notice.
Some participants switch off...
... While others dominate
All face mid-programme blues
Suggestions to the programme coordinator
Suggestions to programme faculty
Suggestions to participants
The special characteristics of SEDPs give rise to some typical problems in planning and implementing the programmes as well as the class sessions. These pertain to some difficulties particularly faced on the first day, extended 'switch off of some participants, domination by a few in class, mid-programme blues faced by participants, chance of total breakdown in some programmes, and non-academic concerns of the participants.
The most typical problem on the first day is that of lack of preparation, even reading, by the participants. This can arise in spite of advance mailing of material and written communication emphasizing prior preparation. The problem arises not merely because of lack of time to go through the material but more because of lack of understanding of requirements of the case method on the part of most participants.
Some participants could switch off for extended periods because of:
· perceived irrelevance of topics and cases, or incomprehensibility of programme pedagogy,
· domination in discussion by only a few (including the faculty),
· difficulty in understanding language and terminologies, or
· a feeling of being out of place for some other reasons.
The resource person and other participants may also inadvertently contribute to this phenomenon. It may be helpful to build a system and learning climate in which attention gets paid to individuals so that the phenomenon is avoided and, even if it occurs, the programme coordinator and resource persons may be able to detect it promptly and take appropriate actions.
Some participants might try to dominate the discussion in particular sessions because of their 'expertise' in the particular situation or decision area, as well as their personal need to show off. Those having significantly greater need to show off might in fact end up dominating the discussion in several sessions. Over time, this might become frustrating to other participants as well as the faculty members. Steps need to be taken by both the participants and the instructor to use the expertise available in the group without allowing domination by some to the detriment of learning by others, as well as the effects on group learning.
Almost all programmes of one to several weeks' duration are found to exhibit what can be termed as 'mid-programme blues.' This phenomenon strikes somewhere around the time when 40 to 60% of the course is over. The primary reason seems to be the nature of the heavy workload in case-based programmes, coupled with a feeling of 'we are over the hump.' As a result, the following day's classes are a washout as the previous evening would go in merry making, general discussion, etc. The programme coordinator should consciously plan for such a contingency and/or forewarn the resource person leading the discussion on such a day.
Once in a while - again, somewhere around the middle of a programme - a strong feeling develops among participants that they are reaching nowhere in terms of their learning vis-a-vis the programme, the methodology, the arrangements and probably even the resource person. While this occurrence in well-managed programmes is rare, it indicates several shortcomings in design and implementation of programmes. A careful programme coordinator can salvage the programme if he or she can sense the feeling in time and if the faculty is cooperative.
In spite of the fact that the primary purpose of any SEDP is academic, sometimes the facilities of food, accommodation, group discussion and classroom become irritants to participants. If the case is genuine and the dissatisfaction justified, the coordinator should try to take ameliorative action. However, more often than not, the dissatisfaction reflects deeper maladies related to individuals, the programme, or both. They need to be noticed early so that they can be diagnosed and appropriate remedial action taken.
Planning the course and teaching material
The first day
On subsequent days
Designing a learning climate
Monitoring and reviewing the programme
The programme coordinator plays a crucial role in planning, implementing and evaluating a management development programme. In this context, the coordinator, together with programme faculty, specifies objectives, decides the target participant profile, and chooses the contents of the programme and its pedagogy. He or she also plans for and obtains feedback from participants in order to assess the programme and to suggesting improvements to the next coordinator and faculty members.
It is the responsibility of the programme coordinator, with help from programme faculty, to screen the participants for their suitability for the programme. Screening is done to check whether the participants have:
· the requisite capabilities to be able to benefit from the programme,
· the required motivation to learn, and
· the possibility to use the learning for their own and their organization's benefit.
Effective screening is likely to reduce the chances of uninterested participants joining the programme, and thereby avoiding or minimizing a variety of problems faced in managing the programme. In fact, the presence of properly screened candidates would go a long way in building the learning climate in the programme.
A series of steps could help in proper screening of applicants:
· proper design of the programme announcement, advertisement or brochure,
· proper design of the programme application form,
· screening by programme faculty on the basis of written communication, and
· if needed and possible, personal interview with the potential candidate and sponsoring executive.
The programme announcement or advertisement should clearly state the objectives, the profile of participants for whom the programme is meant, the content and didactic approach. The programme brochure should have details about these aspects so that the potential applicants and their sponsoring organizations can make up their mind about the suitability of candidates for the programme. The programme application form should be divided into two parts, one for the sponsoring executive and the other for the applicant executive. Specific questions about:
· expectations from the programme,
· how would the participation of the executive benefit the executive and the organization, and
· special aspects supporting the candidature of the executives may be included.
At the time of reviewing the applicant for acceptance by the faculty these details could be useful. In more uncertain cases, additional correspondence or personal discussion could be necessary to assess the participant's capabilities, motivation and likely benefits vis-à-vis the programme.
Planning and scheduling of modules, sessions and teaching material in any programme should be so done as to achieve the programme objectives. At the same time, these should match with the contents and pedagogy. The case method imposes some additional requirements.
The first day, problems may arise because of not setting the stage for the programme. The coordinator should plan to devote part of the first day to clarification of the objectives of the programme, delimiting the coverage of the programme, the case method teaching approach to be used, and emphasizing the participants' role and responsibilities in the case method for getting the best learning results from the programme.
A short but comprehensive case covering most issues to be handled in the programme could be well utilized to achieve all these purposes. This exercise may be taken up over an extended session (or double session, depending on the length of the case and programme).
The programme material of the first day could be sent in advance to participants so as to provide time for reading. However, the coordinator should still expect some of the participants to arrive at the venue without the material or without preparation, or both. The extended session, as proposed above, should be used to provide time for reading (to those who did not do so) and for (further) analysis of the case by those who took time to prepare.
A separate session, whether in or out of class, should be planned for not merely introducing the participants and the faculty to each other but also to break the ice among them. Increased familiarity with each other has been found to go a long way in group and participative learning, through exchange of each other's experiences.
The programme coordinator should also plan a meeting of the programme faculty or resource persons on the day before the beginning of the programme, to take stock of the situation.
As the time required to prepare each case is significant, usually not more than three sessions of 70-90 minutes duration should be scheduled on each of the following days. It may be ideal to have two case sessions and make the third session a lecture and discussion by internal faculty or a practising executive.
As the programme progresses, cases and reading materials for subsequent sessions could be increased in length and complexity. However, they should not become too burdensome, and yet provide enough challenge for motivating the participants to put demonstrate their best. Depending on reading speed, 50 to 100 pages (prepared in 1½ or double spacing on quarto or A4) would probably be appropriate.
For building appropriate interest among the participants, cases could describe recent situations, be well written and pertain to organizations and situations resembling those from which participants are drawn. The programme coordinator's task is catalytic. If required, she or he might initiate efforts to develop some new cases.
The last day of the programme should be planned to provide an opportunity to grapple with a situation which encompasses issues discussed in the programme. Sometimes this could be done through a very complex case. Presentations by participants on such an occasion could provide a serious assessment of participants' learning during the programme.
The programme coordinator must take a lead in providing a proper learning climate for the programme as a whole. To counteract the switching-off phenomenon as well as lack of interest in various topics, the participants should be divided into small groups for purposes of discussion and syndicate work. The membership of such groups should be heterogeneous enough to provide representation of varied views on any specific situation. Group discussions are likely to take place in a free atmosphere, lead to clarifications on the case situation, enhance learning from each other's experiences, help weed out arguments, decisions or action plans which are prima facie irrelevant and, possibly, trigger some introspection about attitudes and values on the part of participants.
Besides diversity in group membership, time and space should be provided for group meetings with at least a chalkboard. If the programme is residential, participants could fix their own timing for group discussions. However, if the programme is non-residential, it may be beneficial to explicitly schedule time for preparation and group discussion.
The programme coordinator could also persuade faculty scheduled to lead classes on a particular day to be available the day before as well, for clarifications in case individual participants or groups need such help. This is seen to go a long way in generating motivation among participants.
As already mentioned, the programme coordinator needs to monitor the teaching and discussion in the classroom, in small groups, and even individual preparation. This could be achieved by attending class sessions, interacting with participants in their syndicate groups, and in informal discussions. Another important mechanism is daily meetings with programme faculty to review the progress of group learning, group behaviour, individual learning and individual behaviour. The coordinator should consciously look for positive and negative signals, both formal and informal, and initiate corrective steps. Interaction with participants would also help in identifying not only participants who are likely to switch off, participants who dominate discussions, or when a total breakdown situation is imminent, but also their possible causes in advance. Initiating corrective steps either on one's own initiative or with the help of programme faculty then becomes much easier.
Another aspect of monitoring and review is the task of obtaining feedback from participants on objectives, content, pedagogy, and support services. The coordinator generally plans to obtain such feedback towards the end of the programme, and both in writing through a questionnaire, and orally in a group session scheduled for feedback and review. The feedback needs to be summarized, circulated to programme faculty and passed on to the next coordinator.
First and last sessions
Planning the programme
The programme faculty help the coordinator in planning and implementing the programme in general. The primary task of faculty, however, is planning and implementing the module sessions assigned to them. Planning of the first and the last case session of the programme has special significance. They also, help the coordinator in planning the programme and other aspects.
In a sense the two sessions are similar. The first session primarily sets the stage for the programme in terms of objectives, coverage of contents, pedagogy and role and responsibility of participants and their behaviour. The last session should focus on a complex situation, providing an opportunity to tackle it and apply the lessons taught during the programme. The faculty member conducting these sessions has additional responsibility, which is best discharged with the involvement of the coordinator and other faculty members of the programme. In fact, the presence and involvement of the entire faculty in these two sessions would demonstrate commitment and involvement of the faculty, as well as result in a more cohesive approach to learning in the programme.
The programme faculty help the coordinator in screening applicants for the programme. However, their prime responsibility is for planning and conducting the module sessions assigned to them. In this respect it is advisable for the programme faculty to discuss - with the coordinator as well as other members of the programme faculty - the objectives of their sessions and modules, the materials to be used, and any interlinkages with other sessions.
The choice of cases and reading material, as suggested earlier, should be guided by the learning objectives of each sessions, the profile of participants attending the programme and the timing of the particular session in the module and the programme. This is a crucial planning decision, as this is likely to significantly influence the level of motivation and preparation during the programme.
Having chosen the material, the programme faculty should take a lead in scheduling double sessions or two sessions for long or complex cases, if needed, as well as in scheduling specific syndicate work or presentations at appropriate points. These aspects should also be discussed with the coordinator as well as the programme faculty in informal and formal meetings.
Helping the coordinator and other faculty members in monitoring the programme by sharing information about learning, group functioning, and any significant unexpected developments, constitute other tasks of faculty members. They could also take care of any negative developments during the course of the programme, in consultation with the programme coordinator.
Participants play a crucial role in enriching the learning of not only individual participants but also of the entire group.
A participant thinking of attending a case-based SEDP should be prepared to spend long hours, day after day, to seriously involve him- or herself in the programme, be open and willing to share and exchange knowledge, skills and experiences with co-participants. The greater the degree to which these elements are present in individual participants, the greater the chances of better learning in a programme.
Participants would benefit greatly by being patient and trying to understanding the point of view of other participants. This helps in assimilating knowledge, skills and attitudes possessed by others. An early assimilation of these would also result in avoiding or reducing the frustration experienced by participants in the early parts of the programme regarding the nature and extent of learning, as well as the process of case discussion. The primary reason for the frustration or switch-off syndrome seems to lie in lack of understanding and appreciation of the views of other participants.
Reaching out to participants as well as faculty, whenever time permits, could help enrich one's experience and knowledge. Each participant probably has a unique fund of knowledge and experience, quite different from others. In general, the participants must put in as much as they can because, in this method, they gain in direct proportion to their input.
Participants should share their discomfort, difficulties and views about any aspect of the programme with the programme coordinator, who is likely to be in the best position to respond positively.
Participants may like to share details of some challenging situations they faced with each other and with faculty. These may not only enrich the learning of the participants but could also be potential case leads.