Developing reflective practice in managers: Exploring the contribution of management training

Ruth Leggett

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    This paper seeks to further the debate on how management training contributes to the development of reflective practice in managers and the specific learning processes that support the adoption of this practice. It draws on the findings from a qualitative study examining the extent to which managers’ practice has changed as a result of their involvement in a University based management training programme. The paper will illustrate, through the use of participants’ self observations and reflections, a reported increase in their propensity to reflect on their practice and in their feelings of self assurance and confidence as managers. The paper shows managers’ identification with their training cohort and an emergence of an internal support network through engagement in this prototype programme. The paper will explore how this increase in reflective practice emerged. A key question considered is: how does the design of informal processes of learning in a management training programme influence the development of reflective practice in managers? By examining the design of the programme and sharing the findings of this study with other HRD professionals working in an HE setting, it is hoped that this paper will be a useful addition to the debate on how we develop reflective practitioners through our work with managers. In doing so, this may inform the future design of our interventions to ensure that our programmes contribute to managers’ deeper understanding of their practices. To contextualise the findings from this study, the paper firstly seeks to review the extant literature on reflective practice and management learning (Raelin 2001, Reynolds 1998, Cunliffe, 2009). Further, examining previous research on how critical reflection is developed in managers through a variety of formal and informal learning processes (Reynolds and Vince 2004, Gray 2007, Hay and Hodgkinson 2008). Impactful learning processes identified through the analysis of the data are interpreted using the theories of Mezirow(2000) and Boud et al(1985). The paper also draws on the work of Warhurst (2011), Vidaillet and Vignon (2010) and Andersson (2010), to understand the implications for designing management education programmes in the future. The research uses adopts a social constructionist approach to make sense of managers’ constructions of the ways in which their learning from the programme was seen to inform their managerial practice. Data were collected through the use of in-depth semi structured interviews with 24 alumni of the programme. The programme ran from July 2008 to December 2012 with 33 participants; 21 completing the MA in Applied Management. Working within an interpretative framework, participants’ responses to interview questions were analysed using a thematic approach. Key insights from the analysis show that the participants identified that their thinking, feeling and behaving as a manager has changed since the start of the programme and to varying degrees they attribute this to their attendance on the programme. Managers’ comment on their change of practice in terms of thinking before taking action, challenging assumptions and considering alternative courses of action. They remark on their increased confidence in their management role and many refer to a feeling of belonging to a ‘management group’ within the organisation; giving them a sense of an internal ‘network’, a broader understanding of the various functions and sections of the organisation and a heightened awareness of the social and political contexts in which they work. In addition, an analysis of the participants responses to the various learning processes employed on the programme show that managers highlight their involvement in the pre-programme organisational and individual learning needs analysis, working with colleagues in action learning sets, collaboration with senior managers on solving organisational specific issues and being able to immediately apply some of the theoretical frameworks introduced on the programme to a work context. These processes are seen by participants as having the greatest impact in terms of their learning. The paper contributes to current debates on how management training contributes to managers’ deeper understanding of their practice and the extent to which various learning processes encourage reflection on practice. It concludes that management education providers might re-focus on the process rather than the content of learning, take steps to cultivate learning communities, contextualise learning through the use of work based projects and make more explicit the informal learning processes that are part of management training. This is discussed in the context of previous research in this area and the implications for HRD practice are outlined.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2014
    EventUFHRD Conference 2014 - Edinburgh
    Duration: 28 Feb 2014 → …


    ConferenceUFHRD Conference 2014
    Period28/02/14 → …
    Internet address


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