MBAs prise open door to the board

CIPD qualifications might be the way into the professional but an MBA
enables HR practitioners to play a role in driving the organisation

The article ‘What about the People?’ (Features, 25 June) has certainly
sparked a vigorous debate about MBAs.

HR managers and directors might now be thinking twice about doing an MBA
because they are worried that they don’t deliver leadership and people
management skills. They should not be put off.

I should also point out that business management qualifications for HR
professionals are not confined to an MBA. There are currently 194 higher
education qualifications that include HR as part of the curriculum – from
certificates and diplomas in management studies, through to first degrees, MAs,
MSCs, MBAs and Doctorates.

The crux of the debate appears to be: how useful is the human resources
element of an MBA to an HR professional, and especially one who has already got
the CIPD qualification?

To answer this question, I think it first needs to be turned on its head.
The really interesting thing about HR professionals obtaining a business
management qualification is not how it may or may not enhance their vocational
and professional ability to run an HR department. It should be about how it can
help them achieve a voice in the main decision-making processes of their

Hence the question they should be asking is: how is this MBA going to help
me stop being the head of a function within a business and start being part of
the team that is actually directing the company? They should no longer be
asking: how is this MBA going to help me do my job better and climb up the HR
professional career ladder faster?

The reason why many more HR leaders are knocking on the boardroom door is
that the notion of human capital as balance sheet asset is gaining momentum, as
the realisation finally dawns that organisational effectiveness rests firmly
within in the hands of the workforce.

No longer will HR managers just be required to ‘hire and fire’ (and
occasionally even develop) staff. They will increasingly be expected to deliver
increased value in terms of the organisation’s human capital, including the
tangible value of the company’s people to the shareholders.

What should HR professionals look for in an MBA? I would suggest that
Association of MBAs (AMBA) accreditation is a good starting point. AMBA insists
all courses bearing their accreditation cover issues associated with people,
interpersonal communications and managing change. They are explicit that they
expect to see core courses in organisation theory/behaviour and human resource

The study delivery method is also important. Busy professionals have neither
the time nor money for a full-time MBA, but part-time and distance-learning
options are now widely available. Above all, anyone contemplating an MBA should
carefully consider which business schools have both suitable electives on
offer, and academics with expertise in the intended area of research.

I believe passionately in the role that the MBA has in promoting leadership
and management excellence in UK business and industry – a view shared by the
Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership.

Its recent report Raising our Game says the role of business schools is seen
as vital in contributing to the future health of British industry by
incorporating practical skills combined with more work placements.

‘World Class’ status for UK business schools is to be encouraged – by giving
them more autonomy from their universities, and allowing their business academics
to keep more of their consultancy earnings as personal income.

HR professionals can be at the centre of this drive towards excellence – but
they first have to join the game by overlaying vocational qualifications with a
good MBA.

By Tony Antoniou, director of the University of Durham Business School

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