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I have just joined a Fortune 500 company in the human resources department and realise that the company spends huge amounts of money sending managers to business school, effectively as a very expensive perk. There is no attempt to justify the cost or measure the impact of the courses on the way the company operates. What, if anything, can I do to change this?

First, you need to understand how the company views HR. If you are seen as a tiresome meddler by the top brass, then I suggest you lie low. Questioning perks handed out to senior people is going to do no good at all and will only harm you.

There will come a time when the company will probably decide to send people on online courses instead. That won’t come from a careful weighing of pros and cons but from a cost-cutting edict. Until such a time, I suggest you devote your efforts to asking to be sent on such a course yourself — and then you’ll be better placed to judge what value, if any, they really have.


I have just been promoted and given additional line responsibility in my company. Traditionally, those who were promoted to this position were sent on a two-week business school programme in the US. Instead, I have been offered access to the same programme from the same university, but in an online format. I feel short-changed. Am I right to do so?

I feel your pain. The online version is the worst of all worlds — you have to do all the boring work without any of the fun and without getting any contacts at the end of it.

Unfortunately, I doubt whether there’s much you can do about it, assuming this is a general change of policy that applies to everyone. Your company has noticed the difference to its bottom line and acted accordingly — which makes perfect sense.

However, if it turns out to be only you who has been short-changed in this way, then there is no harm in kicking up rough. Tell them about all the wonderful contacts you would make for the business and how you love learning from others. And tell them it’s not fair. In my experience people who make a huge fuss tend to get their way.


I enrolled in a short programme thinking it would enhance teamwork and networking. However, quite a few participants are from the same company and do not seem interested in the rest of us. What can we do to make sure they do not ruin it for everybody else?

You need to enlist all the others who don’t work for that company. Together you are much more powerful than you are on your own. Either form a splinter group or, as a group, challenge the others. Tell them this isn’t working for you — and can’t be working for them either, as they might as well still be in the office. Even if they continue in their exclusive ways, comfort yourself with the thought that you are still learning something valuable that can be widely applied in almost all corporate situations: how to interact with people who aren’t interested in you.


There is much talk of online courses replacing campus-based executive education. I am annoyed. In the past I have enjoyed immersing myself in study away from the office and mixing and networking with the other participants. Can it ever be possible to replace face-to-face contact effectively on an online course?

It depends what you think is the purpose of these courses. If it is to learn basic accountancy or to whip through a few case studies, online learning is just as good — and probably better as it’s faster and considerably cheaper.

But that is hardly ever the point of such courses. The point is that they are a perk and a reward. They are a badge that shows your employer rates you and is giving you permission to strut your stuff among others who have been equally favoured. So no, this contact can never be replaced. Whether that means these courses survive long-term is not certain, although it is likely, as those who control the purse-strings tend to be the same people who have benefited from such courses themselves.


Other participants on my course do not seem to like working with those who are junior to themselves. I am starting to feel like a second-class participant. What should I do?

You could try telling yourself that anyone who is so status-conscious is unlikely to be worth bothering with. But I doubt if you’ll convince yourself.

Corporate life is hierarchical, no matter how hard it pretends not to be. One of the most important things is learning how to survive on the lower rungs of the ladder. Alas, it means you simply have to try harder than those above you, who are taken seriously by dint of their seniority. By contrast, you have to perform, and perform visibly.

You have to learn to think of things that are intelligent, original or funny to say. You have to earn respect — they get it handed to them as a matter of course. It’s not fair or nice, but it is how it works. Good luck.

Lucy Kellaway is an FT associate editor and management columnist, and writes the weekly Dear Lucy advice column

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