This week’s letters

MBAs lay down level of abilities

I thought the MBA article was rotten. While it is important to stimulate
debate about the value of MBAs, its argument was based on a false premise.

It assumed that MBA graduates are sought after because they provide
organisations with competitive advantage. In fact, the MBA is – like most
qualifications – more a marker of general competence and ability, than a
demonstration of expertise in a particular field.

There is a good argument that MBA studies should include HR, but I expect
that other professions, such as law and accountancy, could make equally strong
claims for their fields. I’d be surprised if firms employ MBA graduates, or
sponsor their training, simply because they expect to make additional profit
from their investment.

Imagine the management team of the firm you work for has the choice between
an MBA graduate whose studies focused heavily on accountancy, or one that
overloaded on HR. Which one will provide greater competitive advantage? I would
defy anyone to provide a definitive answer. However, if you asked people on the
shopfloor, they would probably say that managers need is to understand the
business better.

Incidentally, I work in the not-for-profit sector, paid for my own MBA and
landed a great job when I graduated.

Martin Hone
Director of resources, Broxbourne Borough Council

Stress control starts at the top

The survey on stress management by the Industrial Society Learning and
Development Council (News, 25 June) raises some fundamental issues.

The inability of managers to help employees cope with stress only tells part
of the story. The management of stress should start at the very top of the
organisation. Without high-level support, middle managers are left exposed and
will struggle to manage their own stress levels let alone be able to develop
structures to support their staff.

There is an assumption in this survey that an organisation’s only
responsibility is to equip managers and employees with better coping skills.
But what about the root organisational causes of stress?

Organisations should look in the mirror and examine their approach to
work-life balance, internal communications, career development opportunities
and workplace harassment or bullying, to name just a few potential areas of

It is virtually impossible to completely eliminate stress from a workplace,
but organisations need to treat stress management more strategically.

Laurence Collins
Consulting manager, Ceridian Centrefile

Ignore people at your peril

There has been a fundamental misreading of my article on MBAs
‘What about the people?’ by many of your correspondents (Features, 25 June).

The alarming finding of my research that there is little
teaching of how to manage and lead people in the typical MBA seems to have been
interpreted as my arguing that there should be more modules on conventional HR

This is only one aspect. It is an imbalance that there is too
little teaching on career planning, recruitment and talent retention, but my
research also highlighted the lack of personal and leadership development.

The courses remain obsessed with accountancy and strategic
positioning. It’s like teaching football on a blackboard while never actually
kicking a ball.

What does a manager actually do in practice? All of their day
is spent dealing with people – negotiating, delegating, instructing, coaching
and motivating.

For nearly all of the training and development to focus on tactics,
strategy and accountancy is lopsided.

In a year that thousands of Enron workers have lost their
pensions and investors, the shirts off their backs, apologists for the MBA
ought to exercise a little more modesty.

As for the point that 20 courses represent a small sample –
this is nearly a fifth of the total, which is high in statistical terms. Care
was taken to ensure a spread of types of institution, to ensure
internationally-known universities, redbrick institutions and further education
colleges were all included.

Since reading your letters, I am even more alarmed by all these
people with an MBA who can’t get to the end of an article and remember the main

Philip Whitely
Author of the research on MBAs

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