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A Review of a Management Programme

M.J. Arul

1.0 Introduction

The Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) was established in 1979, initially in response to a major problem faced by the cooperative dairy industry of India. The industry was finding it very difficult to attract qualified managers to work for its several organisations in the country. As the institute was on its way to meet the managerial manpower needs of the cooperative dairy and oilseeds sectors, more and more organisations, engaged in other forms of rural development, too, began to demand the services of the institute. Consequently, the latter's clientele widened.

The central purpose of IRMA is to foster and fortify organisations that are engaged in rural development in India. The strategy chosen by the institute for the purpose has been to upgrade and enhance the managerial competencies in these organisations. In implementing the strategy, the institute has had recourse to several instruments such as a two-year postgraduate programme in rural management (the PRM), a one-year programme in rural development management (the OYP), a three-month general management programme (the erstwhile GMP) and many short-duration programmes focussing on various specific functional areas of management, in addition to its ongoing programme of research and consultancy.

To ensure the efficacy of the instruments, the related programmes must needs be monitored and, if need be, modified in accordance with the ensuing feedback from time to time. In response to this imperative, a review of the one-year programme (the OYP) was commissioned. The proximate stimulus for the review came from some of the student reports, submitted by the participants of Management of Change (MOC), a full credit course the author had taught at the institute./P>

While the two-year post-graduate programme in rural management (PRM) is primarily for fresh graduates from the open market, the one-year programme (OYP) was exclusively meant for graduates who were already working in any of the client organisations for over three years. The employees must qualify in a written test and personal interview, both conducted by and at the institute, to be admitted to the OYP -- as is the case for the PRM.

2.0 Methodology -- How the review was gone about

A review committee was set up with members from the institute's faculty, oyp alumni and NDDB, with the author as its coordinator. The NDDB (National Dairy Development Board), besides being IRMA's progenitor and a major employer of the institute's graduates, is also the nodal agency for promotion and revitalisation of cooperatives in the country.

In its first meeting, the committee brainstormed on the various aspects of the OYP that a review task could possibly address itself to and, then, identified the major areas of focus for the review to be undertaken presently. The three broad areas so identified were: recruitment and selection to the programme, the programme content, and rehabilitation of the alumni by their sponsors. Operationalisation of these parameters was committed as homework to be done individually by every member of the committee before they met again, eight days from then.

In the second meeting, checklists and other forms of homework done by the members were shared and discussed. The committe saw the need for two sets of feedback forms to be constructed -- one for the alumni and the other for the sponsors. The task was then set on the back-burner for three months, owing to the coordinator's teaching and consultancy commitments at the time.

In the beginning of November, 1994, the coordinator resumed the task, prepared the two sets of feedback forms and had them sent to three of the committee members and the OYP Convener for their comments and suggestions. Two of the four referees offered negative feedback, which helped debug and improve the instruments. The other two of the referees gave a global positive feedback, adding little value. The instruments were finalised with the help of the negative feedback.

The feedback blanks were dispatched on November 15. A copy of the appropriate form was sent to every alumnus/alumna and every sponsoring organisation. The post-dispatch experience, however, evidenced that the addresses of the alumni, maintained at the Institute, were outdated, necessitating an extension of the deadline for the report. The rate of return of the filled-in forms, as on December 23, was as follows:

Questionnaire blanks sent and received
Blank forms
mailed
Completed forms
received
Response
%
Batch 1
30
10
33.33
Batch 2
40
17
42.50
Batch 3
58
33
56.90
Total Alumni1286046.87%
Sponsors381026.32%

3.0 Analysis of data

The responses were of thee types: dichotomous, multiple choice and open-ended. A simple relative-frequency (percentage) analysis of all the responses was done, after a content analysis of the open-ended answers. Averages were computed, wherever possible. The analysis is presented here in two parts: Alumni responses are taken up first under section 3-A, followed by sponsor responses in section 3-S.

3-A: Analysis of Alumni Responses

3-A.1 Overall attitude toward OYP

The alumni were asked whether they were happy to have done the OYP and how far IRMA had met their overall expectations within the programme.

Fifty-eight of the 60 respondents reported that they were happy to have undergone the OYP. Their overall expectations from the programme (which, according to them, comprised conceptual knowledge, related to various aspects of management, and analytical skills) were said to have been met to the extent of 67 per cent, on average. Table 3.1, below, presents the distribution of these responses.

Table 3.1: Extent of expectations met in the programme
ExtentRespondents% of respondents
Up to 50%1931.67
51 to 75%2643.33
Above 75%1525.00
Total60100.00
Mean percentage of expectations met in the course = 66.94
Percentage of respondents happy to have done the OYP = 96.67

3-A.2 Issues related to entry

Who starts the process of participation in the OYP? Thirty-two respondents (53.33% of the sample) said they themselves took the initiative for being sponsored. In the remaining cases, the organisation was said to have consulted the potential candidates first. One alumnus of the latter category said the organisation had forced it on him, but he was in the end happy to have undergone the programme. Of the two respondents who reported as being unhappy to have done the OYP, one had approached the organisation for permission to do the programme and the other had been asked by the organisation to do it.

Do the aspirants make any preparation for the admissions test? Forty-six respondents (76.67% of the sample) reported that they had indeed prepared for the written test by taking "model" papers, mostly from the GMAT/GRE books and, in some cases, from bank exam papers. As regards preparation for the personal interview, 50 per cent of the respondents said they made no preparation at all, while the others reported preparations such as: talking to prm students and/or oypseniors; (re)reading the news papers of the preceding month; brushing up their knowledge of the subject at college; reflecting on why one should do the OYP; and reading the Competition Success Review magazine.

For effective preparation, some of the respondents suggested that oyp aspirants must start the habit of reading something (books, newspapers, etc) regularly, far in advance of entering the programme; "many of us are out of touch with regular reading, but continuing to be so is a hinderance at all stages of the programme; some home-work with GMAT helps brush up and gain speed, which is necessary for the test as well as the courses". There were suggestions that the oyp entrance test be the same as or similar to the prm admissions test, "to ensure quality in the OYP".

In response to the question of what difficulties, if any, they had faced in reporting at the institute on time for the programme, thirty-three of the respondents (55%) said that they had not had to face any particular difficulty. Twenty respondents (33%) reported that they had faced several avoidable difficulties, arising from the employer's "delayed clearance" and IRMA's "short notice", resulting in a hurried and unsatisfactory handover of charge in the office and failure to pay adequate attention to the needs of the family before leaving town for a year. Separation (from the family) itself was cited as a difficulty by seven (12%) of the respondents.

Why do people join the OYP? According to the modal response (46%), it is "to have a management degree". The next frequent reason given (27%) was "to have a break" or "better prospects". Another reason with the same frequency (27%) was "to upgrade one's managerial skills" or "to learn a scientific way of problem solving".

The three reasons may not be very different from one another; the first two may indeed connote one and the same concern. If so, at least 73% of the respondents may be said to have joined the programme primarily to acquire the title (a management diploma) it offers.

What had the participants wanted or expected from the programme itself? The modal response (44%) was that the programme should help them learn "all the subjects related to management". The next most frequently stated expectations were three: "a quality education from a good faculty" (13.6%); "opportunity to rise in the future" (13.6%); and "get groomed to become a good manager" (13.6%). The programme was expected to "help avert one's intellectual stagnation", as mentioned by 8.5 per cent of the sample. Some of the respondents (6.8%) said they had had "no specific expectations" at all.

Do the alumni have any suggestions on how the first three days at IRMA could be made more conducive to effective settling down and learning? Of the several suggestions made, the following had a relatively high frequency:

  • Allot rooms as soon as the participants arrive at IRMA;
  • Do not drill the fear of grades into our heads;
  • Avoid classes on those days and conduct small-group discussions with faculty and seniors;
  • Involve all the staff of IRMA in the induction.

3-A.3 Specific issues within the programme

The alumni were asked to classify, on the basis of their experience at work, all the courses they had taken in the OYP into three categories: very useful, somewhat useful and hardly useful. A complete summary of the responses is presented in the Master Table. The numerical entries in the last three columns of the table refer to the percentage of respondents who assigned the particular subject on the row to the respective category (VU=very useful; SU=somewhat useful; and HU=hardly useful).

Since the Master Table is rather too long with 85 subjects, it may be more useful to break it down by some appropriate (though arbitrary) criterion. Would it, for instance, be a desirable aim to ensure that the courses on the syllabus be such that they are felt very useful in the field at least by two-thirds of those who took them? Would it be a good idea not to offer courses which are found to be hardly useful in the field by 50 per cent or more of the participants? Subject to the appropriateness of these questions, the following extracts from the Master Table may be relevant:

Nine courses have been reported to be very useful in the field by more than 65% of the respondents. The names of these courses are presented in Table 3.2.

Fourteen courses have been reported as hardly useful by 50 per cent or more of the respondents. The names of these courses are given in Table 3.3.

Courses that have been reported as very useful by less than two-thirds of the respondents and as hardly useful by less than thirty per cent are the majority (41 in number). Their command area (width of utility) may need to be enhanced. The list of these courses, with particulars of their reported relevance on the job, is presented in Table 3.4.

Twenty-one courses have been reported by less than two-thirds of the respondents as very useful and as hardly useful by 30-49 per cent of the respondents (see Table 3.5). The courses in this category (except, perhaps, for course #24, namely, Energy Conservation), could be suffering from a low content validity.

Could the low content validity be related to the present functional area of the respondent? A few selected courses were subjected to such an analysis and the results are as follows:

Relevance of courses in job areas: percentage of respondents
MFO course

VU SU HU
RD course

VU SU HU
RE course

VU SU HU
URO course

VU SU HU
Finance job
00 00 100
00 67 33
25 75 00
00 33 67
MIS job
00 33 67
00 100 00
00 100 00
00 00 100
Marketing
10 20 70
22 45 33
10 45 45
00 50 50
Proc. & Input
08 42 50
08 67 25
24 38 38
08 54 38
Production
08 33 59
08 15 77
00 24 76
00 42 58
Qlty control
22 56 22
12 50 38
25 12 63
25 38 37
VU=very useful; SU=somewhat useful; HU=hardly useful.

The table above shows that the reported utility of a course does have a relationship to the functional area the respondents are working in. All the same, if the raison detre of these courses in the programme is to sensitise all participants, then these courses must needs be imbued with greater appeal than at present.

The alumni have suggested condensing and merging of certain courses. A summary of their suggestions is given below:

Course titleShorten by
(mean %)
Merge with
(course title)
Mgmt of Farmers' Orgns (MFO).
54.05
Rural Devmt/Understanding
Rural Orgns/ Mgmt of Rural coop Institutions.
Mktg Mgmt & Research (MMR)
43.33
Mkt Research & Mkt Devmt.
Environment Management (EM).
60.00
Common Property Resource Mgmt.
Rural Environment . . . . . . (RE).
52.83
URO/RD/MFO/MRCI

These recommendations or suggestions for mergers must be viewed in the light of what was said above in the context of the reported utility of courses across functional areas in the field. It would very much be in order if one paid special attention to those courses which ought to have a cherished affiliation with the mission of IRMA, but have earned the label of hardly useful. Courses such as MFO and RE are cases in point. The institute would do well to reposition these courses with all the necessary investment.

Some of the respondents suggested that ISO-900 be introduced as an optional course; they also recommended that Quality Management and Advertising for Rural Markets be offered as compulsory subjects. There were also recommendations that MPC and DAQM be dealt with in greater detail than was done for them.

The alumni were asked two questions about the Project Work Module (PWM) of the programme: Where should it be done and what should be its duration? The answers are summarised below:

ResponseFrequency (%)
One's own organisation
41
A different organisation
59
Shorten the duration
28

As regards the "merger" of the OYP with the PRM from the third module onwards, 54 of the 60 respondents (90%) recommended continuance of the current practice. (For the sake of those who may not be familiar with the current practice: The oyp participants do their first two terms of foundation courses, conducted exclusively for them. From the third term onwards they join the two-year prm participants and complete the remainder of the programme together.)

With regard to hostel accommodation, 81 per cent of the respondents recommended common hostels with the prm students; the remaining 19 per cent expressed a preference for exclusive hostels.

3-A.4 Post-OYP issues:

What happens to the executives on the job when they return to their organisations after the completion of the OYP? Data on this aspect are presented in this section.

Responses to whether the programme had helped the alumni in doing their jobs better in any way are summarised below:

ResponseRespondents
OYP has helped me recognise my
responsibilities and limitations better:
21
It has helped me in preparing project
reports, accounts and MIS:
18
It has not helped me much, for
I've been assigned tasks that
do not require what I learned in the OYP:
20
I do not know; it's too early to comment:
01
Total number of respondents:
60

"How different is your present job in comparison to what it was before you did the OYP?" The responses to this question are summarised below:

Sr.No.ResponseFrequency
i.Shifted to a different functional area,
at the same level of responsibility.
15
ii.The same old job; no change whatsoever.
13
iii.The same job and position, but more
discretionary power than before.
08
iv.Given a newly created job, though
no promotion.
05
v.Promoted, with change of function.
04
vi.Promoted to handle a newly created job.
03
vii.Transferred, with no other change.
03
viii.Deputed, with no promotion.
02
ix.Promoted on the same job.
01
x.Promoted and transferred.
01
xi.My job is worse off than before.
05
Total number of respondents:.....(100%).....
= 60

How are the executives, on their return from the OYP, refitted in their organisations? Twenty-seven of the 60 respondents said they were just asked to resume their earlier jobs; thirteen were consulted for their interests and preferences (though the final placements were not in favour of the expressed interests in all cases); eleven were asked to fill vacancies, created by people who had left the organisations; five were assigned to jobs on the basis of the subjects (specially the optionals) they had taken in the OYP. Four respondents said that their post-OYP assignments were ad hoc, all-and-sundry, and without any responsibility.

Twenty-five of the respondents (42%) stated that they faced problems of prejudicial treatment and lack of cooperation from the senior colleagues, bosses and/or higher management in the organisation, besides improper assignments. The major source of these problems, they said, was the organisation's ignorance of "what OYP does to us and what we can do". The respondents suggested that the chief executives and top managements be "educated" about the readiness of the OPYians to handle higher responsibilities. This educative role, said the respondents, must be played both by IRMA and the NDDB.

Among the overall concerns expressed by the respondents, the following two were predominant: i. Make the OYP visibly as important as the PRM (by a comparable selection test and commensurable faculty commitment) and ii. Monitor the re-entry of the participants into their respective organisations.

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