Most management education and professional development programmes largely overlook mid-level managers, says Ray Carvey, executive vice-president of corporate learning at Harvard Business Publishing (HBP).
“They’re the ones who get all the work done,” he says. “Because of the recession, and companies making do with less, there is tremendous pressure on these folks.”
To ease their burden, the company has introduced a new programme called Breakthrough Leadership, based on the research of Linda Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Kent Lineback, the business author. The programme involves online material, live case discussions, online study-group discussions and videos of expert commentary. “It is aimed at the sweet spot in the market place of middle managers,” says Carvey.
Indeed, the programme also represents the sweet spot of HBP: education products that blend online course material – much of it based on research by the school – with live, classroom-style workshops and discussions on common business issues. In the last financial year, HBP contributed $135m to Harvard Business School’s coffers.
“Harvard Business School provides an extremely high-touch [offering] and we try to be a high-tech complement,” says Carvey, adding that participants who take a class at HBS expect a certain kind of community and day-to-day interaction with faculty.
“We’re never going to replicate the classroom. But we can take a little bit of it, and help companies leverage their dollars and get the same kind of learning. It’s a different level of experience.”
The company’s flagship product, Harvard ManageMentor, is a learning tool targeted at general managers who need a quick brush-up on, for example, budgeting, time management or giving a performance review. It includes videos, social media tools, expert commentary and other interactive elements. The lessons last between eight minutes and two hours depending on the amount of time the manager has to spare.
Harvard ManageMentor is used by hundreds of companies around the world. “Companies were telling us how they wanted to learn, so we went from an academic perspective to a real customer-focused one,” says Carvey. “We go in and help them solve their problems using the best content and means to support that. It is a tailored continuous learning environment.”
Another product, Leadership Direct, is designed to cultivate the management skills of high-potential leaders. The classes focus on topics such as “global mindset” and “leading teams”. Many of the courses are delivered virtually by HBS faculty via Telepresence or WebEx. Programmes typically involve 50 participants per cohort, and cost $3,000-$6,000 a person.
HBP customises the course material for the company and the specific objectives it wants to achieve, says Carvey. “A company comes to us because it has some sort of strategic initiative it wants to execute from top to bottom. This is an effective method to scale learning,” he says. “I don’t think it’s meant to, nor does it, replicate the kind of experience you would expect on campus.”