Posted April 1998
Special: Managing Agricultural Research
Planning and management of short-duration, executive development
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Short-duration, executive development programmes (SEDPs) based particularly
on application of the case method are characterized by the following:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lack of understanding about the case method and participant's responsibilities.
- 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.
Problems in managing SEDPs
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 switch off...
Some participants could switch off for extended periods because of:
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.
- perceived irrelevance of topics and cases, or incomprehensibility of
- 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.
...while others dominate
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.
All face mid-programme blues
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--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.
Suggestions to the programme coordinator
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:
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:
- 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
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
- 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,
- if needed and possible, personal interview with the potential candidate
and sponsoring executive.
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.
- 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
Planning the course and teaching material
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
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.
On Subsequent Days
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
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 1.5 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.
Designing a learning climate
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.
Monitoring and reviewing the programme
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
Suggestions to programme faculty
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.
First and last sessions
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.
Planning 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.
Suggestions to participants
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.
References cited and sources for further reading
Arnon, I. 1968. Organization and Administration of Agricultural Research.
Christensen, C.R. 1987. Teaching and the Case Method (rev. ed.) Boston:
Harvard Business School.
Copeland, M.T. 1964. And Mark an Era: The Story of the Harvard Business
School. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Culliton, J.W. 1973. Handbook on Case Writing. Makati, the Philippines:
Asian Institute of Management.
Dixit, M.R., & Jain, A.K. 1985. "Experiences with the case method
in short duration executive development programmes". in: Proceedings
of the Third International Conference: Case Method Research and Case Method
Application. London: City University.
McNair, M.P., & Hersu, A.C. (eds) 1954. The Case Method at the Harvard
Business School. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Reynolds, J.I. 1980. Case Method in Management Development: Guide for
Effective Use. Geneva: ILO.
Rao, S.S. 1989. The Case Method: An overview. Indian Institute of
Management, Ahmedabad (mimeo).
ILO. 1986. Teaching and Training Methods for Management Development.