Bertram Shlensky.

Management education: socialization for what? online

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Bertram Shlensky and Edgar H. Schein

MAY 14 1968
May, 1968 ^EWEY LIBRARY // 325-68


MAY 21 1968



Bertram Shlensky and Edgar H. Schein

Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Overview of the Study

The management education research project has attempted to examine the
processes and outcomes of management education. First, we have explored the
content and methodology of management education at MIT in order to determine
precisely its dynamics and effects. Secondly, we have focused on changes in
attitudes and values during the educational experience in order to determine
how the student is socialized toward the managerial role. Finally, we have
examined the managerial career after graduation to explore problems of the
utilization of management education.

We have relied on a variety of research instruments, techniques, and

populations. First, whenever possible, we have gathered longitudinal data

on students, starting with their educational experience and following them
into their early career years.

We make the assumption that the educational institution is only one of
a series of organizations which influences the individual during his emerging
career. Longitudinal studies enable us to measure the changes and effects
which occur during and after the educational experience, and to infer the origin
of such changes. Measuring change also enables us to evaluate the congruence
between the norms and values during management education, and subsequently
after graduation.


Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association
Chicago, Illinois, February 10, 1968. The research on which this paper is
based was supported by the Office of Naval Research under Contract NONR 1841(83)
and by the Sloan Research Fund, MIT.


Second, our emphasis is on the study of values and attitudes rather than the
study of cognitive development. It is our assumption that many of the important
changes which occur in school concern attitudes and values toward oneself, one's
career, and how one uses one's knowledge and skills. While it is a simple task
to define the technical skills one learns, it is quite difficult to determine
how those skills are utilized and what role they play in the managerial career.

Our study also attempts to cover the entire managerial career, using our
various student populations — undergraduates, graduate students, middle managers,
and senior managers — as equally relevant target groups for research. In study-
ing attitude and value change it is then possible to use the faculty positions
on certain issues as one of the reference points and the senior managers as
another. It also enables us to determine whether there are certain key atti-
tudes which characterize the various stages of the management career.

The specific instruments in our study vary depending on our objectives.
We have used open ended interviews and questionnaires in order to isolate
significant variables and develop a complete picture of the individual. We
have used various scaled instruments in order to measure changes that have
occurred through time. We have utilized closed ended questionnaires in order
to acquire relevant objective data. By using a combination of instruments
and techniques we have been able to examine a wide range of variables.

The Ambiguity of the Managerial Role

While our research is far from complete, we see an emerging major theme
in our findings. For purposes of this paper let us put this theme as a hypo-
thesis for which we have some evidence but which is by no means definitely
supported as yet. It can be stated as follows:


For most students, faculty, and even managers who employ our graduates, the
managerial role and the career path into it are highly ambiguous . Therefore, the
student is unclear about the functions of his training, he has a vague image of
his future, and he does not see a clear set of career goals to pursue following

Several kinds of data support this bold assertion.

1. Both faculty and students find it extremely difficult to arrive at any
consensus on educational goals . We have interviewed a wide range of our faculty
concerning their goals and find that faculty members not only differ markedly
from each other, but also that their goals are very general.*

"I want to show students how to consider more and different
variables in analyzing a business problem."

"I want to show students that decisions should be made on the
basis of quantitative techniques and models."

"My goal is to humanize students and make them able to tolerate
ambiguity. "

The faculty did not, however, have any clear concept of where or how such an
analytical skill is ever likely to be used by the student. One can also note
that the three examples illustrate quite different goals. One stresses cogni-
tive knowledge, another quantitative competence, and the third personal
tolerance. While all these goals may be relevant, it is interesting to note
that any given faculty member will stress only one of them. This tendency
leads to a rather confused image in the mind of the student concerning precisely
what skills are relevant for management and to what extent.

Data reported in this section are based in part upon interviews conducted by
Donald Besser.


2. Students are even more vague about their educational goals . Rather than
citing positive goals most undergraduates interviewed cited negative reactions as
their purpose in entering management study. In twenty-eight out of thirty-five
interviews, disinterest or poor performance in mathematics, science or engineer-
ing was cited as the main reason for entering management study. In choosing
their particular majors within management, students frequently cited problems
with the other majors in management rather than positive aspects of their particular

Among the masters students one finds a very wide range as well as very broad
goals. In a questionnaire administered at the beginning of the program, over 50%
mentioned the desire to gain a general understanding of business, its techniques,
and its environment as one of their goals. One can speculate that for many this
goal is stimulated by a general lack of awareness of precisely what the management
role really implies. In addition, almost 20% mentioned that their goal was to
determine their precise type of career and field of specialization.

The remainder of responses were spread over a wide range of areas. Some

wanted to acquire skill in functional areas such as marketing, finance, and pro-

duction. Others wanted a better understanding of the basic disciplines such as

economics, quantitative methods, and behavioral science. Students also frequently

mentioned goals such as learning to make decisions and analyze problems. Finally,

many mentioned behavioral goals such as maturing, learning to express himself

better, and learning proper attitudes. The following examples illustrate the

breadth and generality of the responses.

"Strengthen my memory on the subjects I have taken in my under-
graduate school. Learn a little more about life."


"I would like to obtain as much business exposure as possible,
both to help me reach a career decision and decide whether
I want to (or could I) work for an employer."

"In the next two years I hope to learn exactly what the fields
of business are and where my ability would best be put. In
other words, hope to be able to find myself in business."

"Acquire general knowledge and specific skills and techniques
needed for corporate management of the production function."

"My objectives are to acquaint myself with the management and
business facets of industry."

"I hope to become familiar with the role of a manager in my
specific field of study."

3. Students are also unable to articulate career goals . They can pick

generalized values like income, success, independence, authority, and challenge,

but they do not have any clear concept of how these objectives can be achieved.

Among the undergraduates, over one-third responded that they were lost as far

as choosing a profession. Some of their comments were:

"I am confused about pursuing an interesting career in
teaching or working for my father which would be
financially rewarding."

"I am in the process of deciding whether to work for a big
company and make money or withdraw."

"I am waiting to be hit on the head with some goals."
Even those who are definitely committed to management have only vague ideas
about the nature of their careers. Many undergraduates commented that they
were searching to find their particular area of interest. Others seemed con-
cerned with the problem of determining what type of company they wanted to
work for.

While the master's students were more committed to management, they were
also unsure about the nature of their career even after they had accepted their


first job. Students were generally unable to describe any aspiration level.

Many were torn between developing their own companies or attempting to succeed

In a large corporation. Most of the students talked about very general goals

such as "proving I can accept responsibility." Some of the students admitted

that they were generally unsure of their long-run goals — "The question of goals

is one I am still wrestling with."

"The fact of the matter is I have no ideas about career goals."

"I've been asked about goals before and I've always had trouble.
I hope possibly to be in business on my own, although I have
no idea what type of business it would be."

"I am highly unclear. It might be that I will be striving to
run my own business successfully or just aiming toward a
position of responsibility."

One finds that one of the reasons for this apparent ambiguity is that the

commitment to management occurred just prior to entering management school.

As stated earlier, the undergraduates generally chose business only after

engineering or science. Thirty-four out of the forty-five students in the

master's panel majored in engineering and science. Several of the panel members

had worked as engineers, become dissatisfied and then entered management study.

Many of those who did come directly from an undergraduate management program

made their decision late in their college career and only after they had

become disillusioned with another career. The following comments typify the

timing of the decision to enter management study:

"After practicing mechanical engineering, I found I had no

control over my destiny which I expect to have in management."

"Business never came into the picture until my senior year."

"I had not thought of graduate management education until I
became dissatisfied with my engineering job."


4. Our final point which emphasizes the ambiguity of the managerial role is
that even employers cannot specify any likely career path for the graduate. While
employers emphasize the opportunities in their company, very few can clearly define
the attitudes or skills required for advancement, and the steps in a management
career. During interviews they will discuss the first assignment, social advantages,
and economic incentives, but give the student little idea about his future in five
years. As one student stated, "they can't tell you what you will be doing when you
start work, let along in the future." This statement is verified by the fact that
many companies' training programs consist of working in various departments. After
broad exposure to different departments, the graduate is finally placed in a
position. Even many of the Sloan Fellows, middle managers who spend a year study-
ing at MIT, are unsure of what positions they will be assigned when they return
to their company.*

Employers are also unable to specify any criteria for success . Interviews
with graduates indicate they are very vague about the relevance of technical
competence, social and communication skills, and fitting into the company.
Graduates also seem very frustrated by the absence of any cues about their
potential. First, they generally receive very little feedback or appraisal
during their first year. Second, many feel that they have had very few oppor-
tunities to prove or test their productive capabilities. Finally, students
find themselves confused about the importance of politics and personal sacrifice
in getting ahead (Schein, 1962.)

Why is the Managerial Role Ambiguous ?

While the data tend to support our hypothesis, one can only speculate about
the causes of the ambiguity of the managerial role. However, if one applies to

Based on interviews conducted by Paul Hagan and a questionnaire survey by

William Springer.


the profession of management some of the same criteria as have been applied to
other professions like medicine and law, he can find some theoretical reasons
explaining the ambiguity of the managerial role. First, we find there is no
clear concept of who the client is (Schein, 1966). Unlike medicine or law
where one is concerned with a well defined client, subject only to the constraints
of a professional society, the manager operates in a multi-client system where he
has to balance the interests of stockholders, superiors, subordinates, customers,
and society. It is our hypothesis that managers in different locations of the
organization have different basic concepts of their managerial role above and
beyond the technical differences between the jobs. For example, the sales manager
is mostly concerned with the customer as a client, while the production manager
who is more concerned with employees and the organization itself as a client.

Management as a profession is also characterized by relatively little
isomorphism between junior and senior managerial roles. The nature of the job
and the skills and attitudes required to perform it change as one moves from
first level supervision to senior vice president. Whether considering movement
from staff to line, or sales manager to vice president, the young manager is
faced with the problem of transferring specialist skills into generalist roles,
requiring the learning of new attitudes and perspectives as well as new skills.
The medical resident can get a much better feel for what the senior surgeon
does than the management trainee can get a feel for what the vice president does.
It has been difficult to generate good managerial apprenticeship programs in
industry because of the wide variations in what managers at different levels do.

Finally, some of the ambiguity of the managerial role is reflected in the
inability of both practicing managers and scientists studying management to
specify the core content which a person must learn to perform the role.


Management programs are extremely broad, general, and diverse. There is no clear
body of management theory comparable to anatomy and physiology. There are no
clearly defined basic skills which could be utilized to define professional
standards through tests, licensing, or other devices.

One might question why students are willing to tolerate all of this ambiguity.
It appears that while the precise career paths are indefinite, the student has
tremendous confidence in both himself and the school. First, students are aware
of the sellers market for good managers. Second, they perceive that the prestige
of the degree, particularly from a high status institution, provides them with
significant security and initial reputation. As one dissatisfied undergraduate
put it, his reason for remaining at MIT is that "you just don't leave the best."
Finally, students feel that their education provides them with advanced knowledge.

Some Consequences

What are some identifiable consequences of the ambiguity of the managerial
role? First, over 50% of the master's graduates have left at least one company
in the past five years and several have been with three or four. In citing their
motivations for leaving, graduates most often cited, "lack of challenge," "lack of
opportunity for advancement," "low standards," etc. This phenomenon indicates
the discrepancy between the graduates' self image and expectations and the
actual conditions which exist within the company. One could also argue that
the inherent ambiguity of the managerial roles makes it difficult both for
graduates and employers to evaluate whether their mutual needs will be satisfied
(Schein, 1964; 1967).

One also finds that the graduate is finally forced to make decisions about
his career goals, values, and life goals. In discussing the most significant
changes that occurred after graduation, students most often mentioned establishing


relative weights for income, status, challenge, involvement, authority, and home
life in attaining personal satisfaction.

Graduates were also frequently faced with the problems of establishing ethical

frameworks and coping with the political and social factors of organizations.

Finally, students find themselves discovering their potential in more realistic

terms and determining the most effective means to achieve their potential. The

following statements illustrate the need of the graduate to establish more concrete

expectations and make decisions about his future career:

"Earning more money has become increasingly important to me
primarily for the material comforts that it brings but
partially for status reasons.

"I am less concerned with money and am willing to slow down
my rate of business advancement to enjoy personal life —
but discovered it too late to prevent my obtaining a
divorce. "

"less idealistic — changed from '1 want to make it on my own
attitude' and went into family business"

"my aspirations for a sense of accomplishment through my
work are greatly diminished.

The final consequence of the ambiguity of the managerial role is the strenuous
nature of the transition from school into work organizations. At school students
are taught rational decision making, shown the ideal solutions and influenced to
believe that one's job should be interesting, challenging, and rewarding. Students
are also taught to analyze problems from the position of a top executive. Un-
fortunately the first job is frequently the antithesis of their instruction.
Graduates frequently become frustrated at the unwillingness of companies to pursue
optimum solutions. One student commented "I became frustrated in attempts to
implement proven concepts and ideas." Another was instructed absolutely not to
use his slide rule at work. Graduates found problems in accepting the political


implications of working for large companies — "what the boss says goes without
question." Graduates were also bothered by the lack of challenge and involvement
in their work. Over one-third cited the need for challenging work as one of
their main reasons for leaving a job.

Students experienced difficulty in the transition because of their inability
to identify with the company. They were frequently perceived as "fair haired
boys" which made many coworkers resentful. The graduates resented many of the
company norms regarding aspects such as clothes, drinking, and social life.
Frequently students found quite a wide variance in their own and company attitudes.
For example one student commented, "I find my views more liberal than my business
associates and the difference seems to be increasing." Also, the frustration of
the job accompanied by the sense of pride in a professional education caused the
graduates to identify more with their school peers than their company associates.
In particular several Sloan Fellows commented that they felt more identification
with their classmates than their companies.


While our research is far from complete and only at the hypothesis formula-
tion stage, we feel there is very strong evidence which supports our statement
about the amibiguity of the managerial role. First, our limited evidence in-
dicates that students, faculty, and employers have a difficult time describing
the content and career pattern of the managerial role. Second, the nature of
management as a profession provides a theoretical rationale to explain the
described phenomenon. Finally, the observed consequences are consistent with
the original observations. Hopefully, as we enlarge our data base to other
institutions and thoroughly analyze the data from our own institution, our
tentative formulations will be confirmed.


Schein, E. H. "Problems of the first year at work: report of the first career
panel reunion, M. I. T. School of Management Working Paper No. 03-62, 1962.

Schein, E. H. "How to break in the college graduate," Harvard Business Review
42, 1964.

Schein, E. H. "The problem of moral education for the business manager,"
Industrial Management Review (M.I.T.), 1966, 8, 3-14.

Schein, E, H. The wall of misunderstanding on the first job, Journal of College
Placement , February /March, 1967.

Shlensky, B. "Factors affecting undergraduate motivation in management educa-
tion," M.I.T. School of Management Master's thesis, 1968.




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Online LibraryBertram ShlenskyManagement education: socialization for what? → online text (page 1 of 1)