Wednesday 25 March 2015 8:49 pm

Considered a mini MBA? Growing numbers of courses are offering a wealth of opportunity

Despite being around for several decades, advanced leadership programmes have proliferated widely in the last few years. These “mini MBAs” go beyond teaching the business basics. They are designed to furnish students with the self-awareness and discipline to improve decision-making within their company, helping them to cope with the challenges and opportunities of working in a global marketplace. Sabine Vinck, associate dean at London Business School (LBS), says “we design our programmes to help managers grapple with the very latest challenges facing business, from digital disruption to operating in ambiguous and volatile markets”.

So who are these courses designed for, and what do they offer? For many, taking an intensive course is now an accepted – and expected – rite of career passage. “The days when learning stopped in your 20s, 30s or even 40s are a thing of the past,” says Vinck. Cambridge’s General Management Programme, a two-week intensive course that costs £12,000 plus VAT (a year-long MBA costs around £50,000), has an average student age of 34, with 8.6 years’ experience apiece. These high-flying professionals typically come from organisations with over 16,000 employees, and sales of £1.45bn. Mike Davies, head of Open Programmes at Henley Business School, says most individuals joining its latest course, the three week-long Advanced Management Practice programme, have considerable experience in a management role and may be moving from functional to general management, or stepping into a senior management or board level position. 


Mini MBAs should never be seen as a replacement for the full thing, but as Dave Weinstein, associate dean at Stanford Graduate School of Business, points out, these intensive short courses offer “a great alternative for those who may not have time to attend a full-time degree programme”. 
The fact a mini MBA or advanced course is so short can be a virtue. Isabelle Portier of Birkbeck, University of London – which offers a four-day mini MBA – says that the time-poor manager can walk away with a skill set that could take years to develop otherwise. Topics can span from strategic management, organisational change and negotiation skills, to accounting and marketing. 
Another clear benefit for students is the flexible access to the resources and networks that business schools have, without the time or cash commitment of a full-blown MBA. As Vinck says, “a network of 39,000 alumni worldwide [at LBS] and quicker career acceleration are an investment for life”. 


But with the sheer range of programmes available in the UK alone stretching into the hundreds, it’s important to choose the one that’s most suited to your goals. This will also make it far more likely that you’ll mentally commit to the programme, says Davies. “Today, the development needs of executives and managers are not usually technical, but are often concerned with the complexities and uncertainties of delivering with and through others”. The Advanced Management Practice programme focuses specifically on helping senior management deal with complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty while also having to make decisions and deliver results. Meanwhile, Stanford’s LEAD Certificate in Corporate Innovation, launching this May, offers managers and leaders an interactive, online course spread out over a year. And its part-time Ignite programme, launching in London this year, is specifically tailored for technical professionals, Stem graduates and entrepreneurs.


But if you’re investing your time and energy – and, therefore, some of your employer’s time and, most likely, money too – what do you need to consider in terms of return on investment? For a business school, creating courses that meet the needs of both individual and organisation is crucial. Davies stresses that, while businesses usually want to support their managers in developing their careers, it’s always going to be even more vital that they return “not just able or wanting to make a difference by applying what they learned – but that they actually do make a difference”. 


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