October 09, 2013

An alumni's view of MBE

I post this reflection on his time in MBE with permission from the author. If you have any comments or questions that arise after reading this piece, please ask them here and I will respond.

Hello everyone,

My name is Jan from Germany and I am a former student of the WMG at the University of Warwick in 2010/2011.

I am writing this reflection more than one and a half years after I finished my studies in Management for Business Excellence (MBE). I am still in contact with several people of WMG, especially Paul Roberts (Course Leader) and one of his doctoral students. My reason for keeping the contact is that I am convinced that WMG and especially Paul are doing a great job and staying in contact with academics always gives you new input.

This continuing contact actually gave me the motivation to write this blog. I think, and Paul agrees, that it is important to know what you can do with this degree—what is the benefit of MBE. After my studies I got in contact with some people and they asked what was the biggest benefit, what kind of job did I get afterwards, etc. Indeed these are very important questions and so I decided to write a few lines with the aim to share my experiences and thoughts regarding this topic.

I am aiming to support this course and its underlying philosophy, so that finally people have more motivation to decide on this course and to give them more belief in what they are doing during this one year of studying MBE.

Just to summarize it in advance—it was the most mind-opening year that I’ve ever had and it was worth every minute. In my opinion, every job on this world would benefit from these experiences and the conveyed message. So let's have a look at it in more detail:

First of all I should mention that directly after my studies I got employed by a big German company. For 20 months now, I have been working as a project engineer. Even though it is a technically-oriented job and on the first sight it doesn’t have that much to do with MBE, it is a challenging position and MBE steps in every day.

One thing that should be born in mind is, that most of the times you won’t enter a company and be the boss. There are competencies and experiences that must be gained. It is hard to manage and lead if you have no idea how a company works, how people behave and how the work is carried out. Besides getting the respect you need when you come directly from university, respect is easier to get if people see that you have a clue what you are talking about.

However, let me tell you a bit about my business life: I am responsible for a production site that produces a component for automobile paint. It is a chemical process that I didn't know much about. But actually that was not important for me because I do the engineering for this site, and this goes in the direction of what I knew from my previous studies. But being honest, I must admit that my technical knowledge is very basic and I had no clue about the technical component of my job at the beginning. In addition, and mostly forgotten: you work in a company, there are procedures, rules, responsibilities, actually it is real life and not comparable with the university life, even though university tries quite successfully to come close to it.

So at the beginning I had to deal with two main totally new areas. This is why I was also happy about not getting a management position right from the beginning. Even though I see myself capable of doing such a job (this applies to everyone from MBE), I would have been overloaded. Having responsibility for others right from scratch would have been a third main area, probably too much to make for me to be good at my job from the start. Besides without work experience I think it is hard to get the acceptance of your colleagues. It may work out but it would be tough.

But why is this course so beneficial for professional life afterwards?

On the one hand you have the concept of the course and on the other hand the content of the modules and the masters’ thesis.

With regard to the mentioned two main new knowledge areas I would like to kick off with the first one:

The concept, the idea behind MBE and its organization already forms one major benefit. It is about learning how to learn. And this, as simple as it is, is a great and future-building competence, which will help you in every situation. Previously, I studied in Germany, sitting in a class with hundreds of other students and listening to one professor, making notes and I finally proved in a final test that I am capable of learning something by heart. But the real world is different. You do not sit in an office in the basement; alone, no colleagues around you, no computer and you have to write from memory something on paper that you have learned quite a while ago. You do have experienced colleagues; you do have Internet, books, documentation, etc. Finally, your task is to take this basic knowledge and apply it to a new situation, task, project, whatsoever. Otherwise you would need ages for a little task. And this is what the course work but even more the PMAs are about. Like in real life, identify your aim and solve your task with existing knowledge that is available in various sources, while enriching it with your own thoughts and thus developing the solution. Getting used to this and seeing it as normal way to obtain knowledge, becoming confident to work in unfamiliar areas, is of great benefit.

I am quite certain that during your masters’ you will find yourself concerned about time at some point or even frequently. The pressure is high, you have PMAs, you have the dissertation, modules and the time will come when you want to apply for jobs. So it might seem that there is no time for fun and the workload is not manageable. But it is, thousands of people have proven it and it brings its own benefits. At the end of my year, indeed all concentration was on the thesis and the last PMAs, the weekly and daily workload was massive. To be honest, most of the stress was made by myself: how often did I postpone something or wasn't really working when my timetable actually said: Study. But from time to time you learn to cope with it. And this pays back in professional life. In my job it is normal to have about 15-20 projects at the same time. Some are smaller and actually no big deal, but some are quite comprehensive and you have due dates. So it is about keeping every ball in the air. Actually like during the masters’ and specifically when there are the mini projects, if I got it right in mind it was about 5. Having gone through these lessons the job that I am in now was nothing new. It was different, and it was serious, but I had my patterns from the studies at Warwick that I adapted. Of course a university won't be able to mirror professional life for a 100% but WMG has done a great job. Compared to other colleagues who started working at the same time as me, I saw myself more comfortable with the given new situation and all the side effects. It was just like a new module. Besides, all that I have written in this paragraph is also true for diverse Assessment Centers. I have gone through three and the hardest part was nothing other than course work.

So what about content of these studies? Well it also depends on how you understand them and how you apply them to your professional life. Let's take the Six Sigma modules. I wouldn't expect to go into a company and start implementing Six Sigma and optimize processes and products. Nonetheless, you have the idea of DMAIC in mind and this already is worth a lot. You know something different than others do and thus can push, e.g. a project group in the direction to try it. Thinking this further leads you to other modules like Leadership. How do I lead people towards a new initiative, how can I influence? You might not be the boss but you can lead and show the aim, the vision. Ok, that might happen in a smaller circle of influence than when you have learnt it, but it is a beginning and it is a great opportunity to try out several approaches. And this is what I meant about your own understanding and usage of the content. If you keep it in mind you can work with it and try out what works for you. Apart from leadership, change management is vital to implement something new in a sustainable way. Understand why people do not want to change and indeed cope with it. I don’t know if you are surprised to hear that, but I see that as the biggest challenge in a business and there are only a few people out there that are good at it. I am not saying that you are an expert in each of these fields, modules, and this is not the aim, but you definitely have a basic toolbox you can work with. The rest comes from experience and further education.

Let me give you a real life example: I started together with 6 other people in the same department; it was decided to form a newcomer group that was supposed to work on an undefined project. So it was up to us to define it. With everyone having a different background and position we ended up working on something that was concerned with the entrance of new employees. How do they get known to the company, where can they find answers to explicit questions and how could they gain technical knowledge and expertise? After a while the question came up on how knowledge in general was transferred. Therefore, I suggested calling the project knowledge management. That enabled me to contribute the knowledge I gained during MBE, and finally I ended up as the elected leader for a group of 12 people. Following the basic knowledge about change management proved to be absolutely valuable in order to persuade the older colleagues that our project is a positive thing and everyone could benefit from it. Although my experience was mostly theoretical, the knowledge about leadership allowed me to try out several things and finally find my way to lead the team to a successful project completion. In the end the project benefited from 3 WMG modules and my thesis, which I think is a good result.

The Masters’ thesis is a good opportunity to get deeper into a topic. There you really start becoming an expert in this field of knowledge and this is why you can apply it even better to your future job. So choose it wisely ;)

What more is to say? I know Deming is a big topic in MBE and this is a must. When you start working you quickly see Deming with his deadly diseases and 14 points of management everywhere. It is incredible to see that it looks like nothing has really changed for nearly 30 years now. During the studies I always thought: This is common sense, of course you are not doing it like this, you are doing it the other way; you are a nice guy and act like a human being. Who the hell behaves like that described by the seven deadly diseases? Therefore, I was shocked entering the business world and I can feel that it is of great importance to keep the words of this wise man in mind! It hopefully prevents you becoming and a****. In business it works differently, it is not a safe environment and it is vital to get grounded and remember what you have learnt.

In my eyes business ethics is a vital component of professional life and MBE provides the right direction. Paul once said that for him it was important to have his own values, set up his own mindset and stick to them. Although I am not in a leading position, this proved to be great advice and good support for decision-making. It doesn’t let you doubt. An example: should I go to my boss and tell him what I think? Sure, no excuse! I promised myself to always be open and honest as well as having my say. So I went there and in the end it was the right decision.

I am convinced that I actually could write some more pages, but I think this gives you a first insight on how you can benefit from the MBE course. But again it really depends on how you approach the course and use the given input for your benefit. It is not just about taking; it is also about developing it continuously.

If you have got any questions regarding MBE, etc. just drop me an email:

Jan.ruecker@ymail.com

Finally I want to wish you all good luck with your studies but never forget:

Have fun and enjoy your life.

Jan


October 08, 2012

Welcome to MBE 2012

A warm welcome to everyone in the new Management for Business Excellence (MBE) intake--32 students of 14 nationalities. Today saw the start of the Creating Business Excellence module, the first of six MBE-specific modules. Everyone was engaged and lots of questions were asked in the introductory sessions. So, a good start for what promises to be a challenging year. I look forward to working with you.

October 22, 2010

Angry and ashamed

On Wednesday 20 October a student on the Management for Business Excellence masters was attacked by thugs on his return to his accommodation in Coventry after a day studying on campus. He was severely injured and had to go to hospital.

Words cannot adequately express the anger that I feel about a situation in which a supposedly civilised country spawns mindless thugs who prey on young people motivated to extend their education. An unprovoked attack by cowardly bullies against a foreign national fills me with shame. I have travelled throughout Europe, South-East Asia, North America, Africa, Australia and have always been met with courtesy, hospitality and friendship. Not once have I felt a threat to me personally, and yet here in Coventry, two weeks after his arrival in Britain our colleague is savaged by two of the poorest examples of humanity.

I take it upon myself on behalf of all the decent people in this country to offer you and your family my sincere apologies for what has happened to you. I hope that you get better soon and I trust that you will return to your studies with the enthusiasm and motivation that brought you to the University of Warwick in the first place.


October 17, 2010

The start of a new academic year

A new academic year has started and there are 45 students on the Management for Business Excellence (MBE) masters programme. There were 47 originally, but two left, one after the first 90 minutes of MBE induction and the second after a couple of days. Although I was sorry to see them go, they decided that the style of learning on MBE was not for them and they chose to move to another course. I wish them well in their studies this year.

21 nationalities are represented on MBE - wonderful - so many opportunities to learn from others who have different experiences and perceptions. However, this is not without its problems. Given the learning style in CBE which is largely team-based problem solving, one student wondered how they were ever going to come to an agreement on anything because of the diversity of views.

I think that the answer at least in part, will come from consideration of one of Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people: Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. In a group with diverse views there is the temptation to makes one's own views heard and be accepted by the group. What Covey proposes is to spend time listening empathetically to truly understand the views of others. If each team member does this there is a far greater chance that they will be able to understand their common ground. And it is on this common ground that they can build their responses to the projects that they are working on, always working towards win-win outcomes. This process of sharing views, analysing and discussing them will inevitably lead to better understanding of others, help everyone to express themselves more clearly and bond the team in the process of working on the mini-projects, learning through practice the true meaning of collaborative working.

I am sure that Vineet Nayar would be happy to employ every graduate of MBE next year:-)


March 18, 2009

Obsession with targets

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7948162.stm

When will organizations and (especially) governments learn that the use of arbitrary targets is a fundamentally flawed practice? There is much condemnation at present of the tragic loss of life at Stafford Hospital and no doubt someone will be found to blame and appropriate action taken. Job done. Problem solved. Or is it? I suggest that a scapegoat or scapegoats will be deemed to be the cause of a badly run organization and the underlying root cause will continue to remain unexamined, far less eliminated.

The outcome at Stafford Hospital is an extreme case of what happens when organizations or individuals foist arbitrary targets on other organizations or individuals. When failure to meet these targets is likely to be career limiting or have other undesirable effects on one's employability, they become the focus of daily life rather than the purpose of the organization.

An organization is a system and a system should have an aim. To achieve that aim processes are developed. Processes have an inherent capability arising from their design. Their actual capability is dependent on the quality of materials, equipment and people that are used to create and run the process. All of these processes should work together to achieve the aim of the system. If the system is not achieving its aim it is necessary to understand the root causes of under performance and take corrective action that improves its capability. The changes implemented should be monitored for efficacy and further improvement action taken as required until the system is achieving its aim.

Now let us imagine an organization that is not achieving the required level of performance, or is costing too much to run. Let us apply targets to focus the people in the organization and get them to perform better! How to reduce the cost of running the organization? Well, let's not recruit to replace staff who have left; cut back on training; don't replace aging equipment; reduce maintenance effort; outsource to a lowest cost bidder. I am sure that with a little imagination we could find myriad ways of reducing the cost of running an organization. And don't forget that these cost savings are not usually done in one fell swoop. No, this is death by 1000 cuts. No single action to delay recruitment, purchase equipment and so on causes catastrophe, but collectively over time the capability of the organization degrades until it is operating so far from its design capability that it fails to meet its primary aims.

So, instead of introducing arbitrary targets, institute leadership. Put in place leaders who understand the nature of a system; who understand that the output of all processes is subject to variation; who understand that working hard without knowledge can never lead to improved performance; who understand that to get the most out of a process, the people in the process have to feel valued and enabled to contribute to the improved performance of their process.

To setters of arbitrary targets I recommend that you get out of the library or preferably purchase copies of a couple of books which, if you spend sufficient time to understand, will help you to realize that setting arbitrary targets is a poor substitute for leadership. When you understand that you will start to know what is really required to help organizations and individuals to improve their performance.



October 10, 2008

When have you researched enough?

Writing about When do you know you have researched enough? from Lila's blog

Lila raises some interesting points about when have you done enough research. My thoughts on this for the Management for Business Excellence students follows.

For the team study phase of the Creating Business Excellence module you have a number of projects to complete. Each of those projects could be studied for many hours, let’s say several hundred hours for a reasonably in-depth literature review. Each team member only has 30 hours to spend on pre-module work and this has to be split between the projects appropriately. If you refer to the learning objectives for the module, by now you will hopefully feel that these objectives will be achieved by working for a total of 100 hours. Your question indicates to me that you are in the process of making your own learning decisions, a key element of critical autonomy in which you go beyond the learning objectives set and start reflecting on your progress.

What all this leads to is study to the depth and breadth that time allows, recognizing that you will not be able to cover everything, and make objective choices on what to place emphasis.

Please do not be tempted to spend longer than the total time allocated for each phase of your study. As wonderful as it is to enjoy researching a topic of interest, your degree comprises many elements and focusing on a few to the exclusion of the others is a recipe for disaster from a qualification viewpoint.


October 08, 2008

What is leadership?

The Management for Business Excellence course started last week with registration and induction and the intake of 24 started the first module, Creating Business Excellence on Monday. Organized into 4 teams, the module starts with 30 hours team study on 6 mini-projects.

I suggested that there was an opportunity for everyone to lead a project; everyone could take a turn in monitoring the use of time, managing the paperwork etc. No instruction was given on how any of this could best be achieved and it appears from recent blog posts that there are different ideas about leadership and there exists in some teams frustration and perhaps a little tension. So perhaps the question that arises is “What is leadership?”

Bernard Bass, a respected scholar on leadership, has written that there are as many definitions of leadership as there have been attempts to define it, and so it is perhaps to be expected that ideas about leadership differ when people join a course from different parts of the world and are placed in a team that ensures the widest cultural mix.

I have analyzed 20 definitions of leadership that have been published in journals over the last 50 years and conclude that my definition of non-coercive leadership captures the essence of all of these definitions. Leadership is the process of influencing the thoughts and activities of followers toward achievement of shared goals. This definition implies that the leadership is non-coercive, otherwise the goals would not be shared. They may be agreed due to the use of power or fear, but not necessarily agreed and I think that this is most relevant to the team situation in the Management for Business Excellence course.

There is a great difference between personal power and positional power. If someone assumes leadership of one of the Creating Business Excellence projects, the other team members may go along with that person. But he or she has not been granted positional power by the group, and I think that is unlikely to ever happen in this scenario in which teams are made up of future leaders in whatever career they choose.

Thus, unable to rely on positional power to coerce team members to follow, the leader in this situation has to use personal power to influence and this must surely start with identification of goals for the task that all share. That’s all very well, but have we got time for this? Wouldn’t it be simpler to give the leader the positional authority and let him/her get on with the task? We could do that but this would not be leadership (in my opinion), it would be headship. Headship, through positional power, can influence the activities of followers, but will their thoughts be influenced in the ‘right’ direction? Will the goals be shared? Without hearts and minds working towards achievement of shared goals, how can headship compete with effective leadership?

If as I do, you find it useful to look at extremes, take a look at any one of a number of 20th century dictators and compare their accomplishments to a thought leader such as Gandhi. I know whom I would prefer to follow.


October 05, 2008

Good wet weather gear

I went walking today in the pouring rain, taking my two dogs on a forest track. After about two hours I returned home and apart from spots of rain on my glasses, I was completely dry. So I thought that I’d share what I was wearing in case anyone would like some recommendations on good gear that works in wet weather.

Firstly, I start with my walking boots. I’ve recently returned from a holiday in the Lake District where they were first put to the test. I have to say that these are the most comfortable boots that I’ve ever worn. They are like putting on a pair of slippers. Check out the website at http://www.ecco.com/gb/en/collection/men/outdoor/68074/51052/detail.do. Made of Yak leather, with a great inner lining that cushions and protects, giving great support but being very light and completely waterproof.

I bought a pair of Sprayway all day rainpants at the start of my holiday in Cumbria because the weather this summer had been so ppor, I was convinced that we’d be walking in the rain in the hills. Webpage http://www.sprayway.com/view/mens_pants-and-shorts_waterproof/product/all%20day%20rainpant refers. As luck would have it, we had the best two weeks that Cumbria had experienced since May and the rainpants stayed in the cupboard. So it was this morning that I wore them for the first time, and they kept me completely dry without feeling like waterproof trousers. Although it rained really hard at times it felt that I was wearing a normal pair of trousers without getting soggy.

A year ago I bought a Montane Velocity DT jacket, http://www.montane.co.uk/productdetails.php, because I need a highly breathable waterproof shell when I am walking in wet weather otherwise I just turn the inside of the jacket into a sauna. This jacket kept me completely dry this morning and did a pretty good job of breathing too, especially as I was completely zipped up with cuffs closed tightly and the hood drawn quite tightly around my face.

My outdoor clothing was finished off with a pair of SealSkinz waterproof activity gloves http://www.sealskinz.com/cgi-bin/psProdDet.cgi/KJ461||@c@b|0|user|1,0,0,1|26|. These are truly great because there is nothing worse in my book than keeping dry and warm in wet, windy weather except for your hands. With the Montane jacket cuffs close securely over the wrist of the gloves, my hands stayed dry and warm throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed my walk today despite the weather thanks to some excellent gear. I’m not so sure that my dogs were impressed with the walk, but they enjoyed being rubbed down, having a meal and a sleep by the gas fire.


MBE class of 2008

This week saw the start of a new postgrad academic year with enrollment on Monday and induction starting on Tuesday. So far there are 24 students enrolled on Management for Business Excellence (MBE) and there may be three more joining the course on Monday. It is a pity that these three will miss the induction sessions, but I am sure that their colleagues will help them get up to speed quickly. Why do I think this? Well, although it is early days, it looks as though this group is already working well as a team. There have been lots of good questions and discussions and the team working shown on Friday’s Teambuild exercise was excellent. I am sure that the newcomers will be welcomed and will integrate quickly.

This is the first year that the course is called MBE and it is also the first year that the numbers on the course have exceeded 10. This in turn means that a greater number of nationalities and hence cultures are represented and if the group continues to go from its excellent start, this year promises to be very exciting because of the high levels of motivation that will lead to a very rich learning environment.

Welcome to MBE. I look forward to working with you all.


October 14, 2007

Developing reflective practice

This entry follows on from my last in which I considered whether I should make blog entries part of the summative assessment for my modules. I have decided to do so.

Thus, in their first module, the EEE students will be awarded up to 17 marks for the number and quality of their use of blogs and forums. A third of in-course marks (10 out of 30) will be awarded for these contributions. Ten percent of the post module assignment (7 out of 70) will be allocated according to the development of their reflective practice using blogs during the post module period of 6 weeks.

Although it is a little early to discuss results, some EEE members are taking up the challenge and some have yet to do so. I know that doing this is a huge leap for many people, but it is possible to restrict the readership to a group of people with whom they are reasonably comfortable to share their reflective thoughts.

I agree with the comment on my last post that there are other ways in which people can develop their reflective practice. However, the blog is surely the best way in which I as a tutor can follow an individual’s development and add value through supportive, constructive comment.


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