General Management: Processes & Action - Harvard Business School MBA Program

General Management: Processes & Action

Course Number 1556

Baker Foundation Professor Len Schlesinger
Professor David A. Garvin
Senior Lecturer Kevin W. Sharer
Fall and Winter; Q1Q2 and Q3Q4; 3 credits
28 Sessions
Exam

Career Focus

This course is intended primarily for students with a career interest in general management. It is also appropriate for students interested in starting their own companies, and those who expect to work closely with general managers or entrepreneurs as consultants, venture capitalists, or in corporate management roles such as strategy or business development.

Educational Objectives

The course is designed to prepare students for a general management role sometime during their careers. It examines general managers of many different types, in widely diverse settings and circumstances, in order to acquaint students with the distinctive challenges of the general manager's job. The course also provides a range of concepts for thinking about the general manager's roles and responsibilities, as well as a set of frameworks and tools for getting the job done. Its primary goal is help students think systematically about the practice of general management - how general managers translate ideas into action, coordinate the work of large numbers of people, and deliver organizational performance.

Content and Organization

The course focuses on implementation, and the way that general managers get things done. Typically, they rely on processes-sequences of tasks and activities that unfold over time, like strategic planning, business development, or budgeting-to move their organizations forward and achieve results. Skill at influencing the design, direction, and functioning of processes is therefore essential to effective general management, and the aim of the course is to develop in students a deeper understanding of these activities and their links to performance. They will learn to think in terms of processes rather than organizational structures or discrete tasks, and will develop a sense for the levers general managers use to shape individual and organizational behavior.

After a brief introductory module, the course is divided into five parts. Each corresponds to an essential task of general management and the associated processes for carrying it out.

  • Strategic processes: how leaders set strategy, develop vision and mission, create a sense of common purpose, and establish and communicate goals; how companies create and develop new businesses; and how organizations allocate resources in support of new and ongoing initiatives
  • Decision making processes: how individuals and groups generate alternatives, manage conflict and debate, and reach agreement in both routine and high-stakes situations
  • Learning and improvement processes: how individuals and organizations create and experiment with new approaches, learn from their past successes and failures, identify and transfer best practices, and retain and share both tacit and explicit knowledge
  • Learning and improvement processes: how individuals and organizations create and experiment with new approaches, learn from their past successes and failures, identify and transfer best practices, and retain and share both tacit and explicit knowledge
  • Coordination and control processes: how managers orchestrate, delegate, and monitor the work of subordinates in order to ensure that critical tasks are completed and implementation proceeds as planned
  • Change processes: how managers initiate and lead change, take charge of their organizations, and build momentum for change, especially when faced with turnarounds, competitive threats, and emerging technologies

In all classes, the underlying processes are described explicitly so that they become a focus for discussion. Classes also devote considerable time to understanding the practical details of general management and the requirements for effective action.

A distinctive feature of the course is the wide variety of teaching materials that we will be using, including experiential exercises, simulations, multimedia websites, videos, and visits from case protagonists, in addition to the usual written cases. Settings are varied as well. They include a wide variety of businesses and industries, ranging from small startups to large multinationals and from software development to financial services, retailing, and manufacturing, but also feature many non-business protagonists and situations, including presidential taskforces, mountaineering expeditions, wildland firefighters, hospital administrators, and engineers involved in the space program.