Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

For the professors and staff fromat Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, encountering a classroom full of armed students, all of whom are armed, is a new experience. However, what perhaps comes as more of a surpriseMore surprising, perhaps, is the fact that their employer – the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, for whom Kellogg has designed an executive education programme – is an organisation encountering challenges that have plenty of parallels inwith the corporate world.

The FBI may not be facing falling profits, appeasing angry shareholders or fending off a hostile takeover bid, but the bureauit has recognised that, like many big private sector organisations, it needs to address pressing reputational, cultural and management issues.

For a start, The agency has borne the brunt of the criticism over the US failure to anticipate or prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, largely because the bureauit did not respond to warnings from its own field agents that an attack could be possible.

Since then, Robert Mueller, FBI director, has told Congress that the FBI will broaden its leadership skills. At the same time, The bureau has also been beefing up its own resources, as well as making efforts and striving to communicate better with other intelligence agencies – a strategy that has required the organisation to change its culture and operational practices dramatically.

As well as integrating a large number of new staff – mainly of analysts – into the organisationagency, the FBI has made a significant change toan important shift in the way it operates. Instead of being reactive when it comes to criminal activity, the emphasis now is on getting ahead ofpre-empting the next terrorist incident. Investigations are no longer case specific, but and agents are required to be constantly on the lookout constantly for anything that could be of relevance to the wider intelligence community.

Michael Mason, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington field office, compares the process to harvesting. “It’s like a farm reaper,” he says. “But instead of the thing being 12 foot wide, we now want it to be 60 foot wide. So [agents] are just pulling in whatever they can pull in, and that’s a real change for the FBI.”

As a result, says Mr Mason, the past few years have seen the FBI going through a radical transformation at the FBI. “We’ve been engaged in this since post-9/11 and we’ve made some strides towards becoming the agency we ultimately need to be,” he says. “But it was that transformational change and how to manage it that drove us to the Kellogg school.”

After a selection process that included visiting to the campuses of five top business schools, the FBI chose Kellogg to come up with a series of custom-built programmes, the first of which took place in spring last year. The programmes are expected to continue for several years, with participants ranging from senior staff such as Mr Mason to analysts, supervisors, language analysts and special agents.

Using a mixture of team working, case studies and classroom exercises, the course covers areas such as decision-making, management of strategic change, inter-agency co-ordination, team working and strategic thinking, which is aimed at getting participants not only to understand the constituencies and adversaries they are dealing with but alsoand to anticipate their actions.

Leadership training is another focus of the Kellogg programme. “One of the things that the bureau has been acutely aware of is lack of leadership training that has historically been provided to people before they assume senior positions,” says Mr Mason.

For Kellogg, working with a client focusingfocused onconcepts such as leadership and change management meant that the approach to devising course content was in many ways little different from that of designing an executiveprogramme for a programme for a corporate client. client

“Ask any half-decent business school professor ‘what does this smell like?’ and, well it smells like a strategy change to me,” says Al Isenman, director of custom executive education programmes at Kellogg. “So then you ask what the strategy change impacts, and it’s almost everything – from how you frame your issues and your mission, to the way you measure your success and how your skill sets are deployed.”

Daniel Diermeier, professor of regulation and competitive practice at Kellogg, agrees. “From a design point of view, it’s very similar to working with a company,” he says. “You need to understand their current situation, then identify what are the specific skills and mindsets that you want them to get out of it. Then you find faculty for those needs – and that’s not so different from working with corporations.”

For Kellogg, This is not the first time the school has worked with a public sector organisation. It has run a programme for staff from the Federal Aviation Administration, and the US Navy has been a heavy subscriber to its open enrolment programmes.

Nevertheless,when developing the FBI programme, the school’s executive education team realised it needed to devote time to getting to knowfamiliarise itself with the agency and exploringexplore the ways in which the organisationit differed from other clients. During thethis process, Kellogg faculty met members of the FBI programme design team, as well as six FBI employees that who were potential course participants.

In some respects, teaching FBI agents has proved different from instructing corporate executives. The Kellogg professors have, for example, had to take into account the skills and the knowledge of the participants, who have a far less developed understanding of business concepts than students from the corporate world.

“The other big challenge is that you have to do more translation work to demonstrate to the participants how [the coursework] can be directly applicable to them,” says Prof Diermeier.

In addition, say the Kellogg professors say the FBI participants also approached the course with a different commitment to that of corporate executives.

“There’s much more attention among the corporate participants to reasonable self-interest and career progression,” says Joe Hannigan, associate director of executive education at Northwestern’s School of Law and the programme’s academic director.

“The dedication to mission [of the FBI participants] is such that they make sacrifices that would be hard for a corporate executive to understand.”

However, while Kellogg may have been catering to students whose motives may be different from those of business executives, the programme designers have incorporated a range of case studies into the coursework in which corporate examples dominate.

“We believe you learn better if the case has a deep structural similarity [to the client’s organisation] but does not have surface similarity,” says Prof Diermeier. “We want them to think about their work in a different way and if you take a familiar case, you fall in to the old routines.”

Mr Mason certainly responded to this approach. While initiallyhe found it difficult to see the relevance of some of the case studies to his work, but he soon grasped the broader concepts that they were intended to convey.

“You realise that the relevant points surround leadership, acceptance of change and how to market new ideas. In law enforcement, we don’t like to think about marketing, but we do have to market new ideas,” he says. “And leadership is leadership – what makes a leader in the FBI will make one at Ford Motor Company.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article