Eric Mason

Eric Matson on Management Organizations Courses:

Recently, Eric Matson (MBA 1999, now at McKinsey) updated his reflections on what courses at the Kellogg School were particularly useful for learning how to manage people and navigate successfully in organizations. At the time of his graduation, Eric did not want to leave Kellogg without sharing his reflections with future Kellogg students on what courses he found especially important for developing his managerial skills. Here are his words as they were initially published in the Kellogg alumni magazine:

Ask the nearest business school graduate a simple question: If you could return to school, which subjects would you study most? The answer inevitably includes management and organizations. Why? Because "people" issues are becoming critical in today's economy and continue to confound seasoned executives long after they've mastered more quantitative subjects such as accounting and statistics.

Unfortunately, many Kellogg students don't realize this. They rush off to major in Finance and Marketing, often leaving some Management and Organizations and Human Resources courses under-attended. I'm going to do future students a favor by nominating three 'touchy-feely' classes as new Kellogg core courses.

The first is “Managing People for Competitive Advantage” (MORS 441). Why study such an unglamorous subject? As human capital replaces financial capital as the most critical resource in the economy, companies must start attending to their people functions as rigorously as the other parts of their business. This means that in addition to functional strategies for marketing, operations and finance, companies need a people strategy.

What is a people strategy? Consider Idealab (www.idealab.com), a Pasadena, Calif.-based think tank that has started more than 20 Web-based businesses. Founder Bill Gross realized that for new Web sites, talent is more important than money. Instead of providing millions of dollars to its start-ups, Idealab provides them with the ideas and people to get moving fast. For example, Idealab designer Tom Hughes, who created the Macintosh logo, designs logos for each new Idealab Web site. By sharing Hughes and other resources, Idealab allows its Web businesses to develop at a much faster rate than if they were on their own. By studying how to deal with people issues such as this, Kellogg students would be able to develop their management skills much more quickly as well.

A second critical course is "Leading and Managing Teams” (MORS 460), offered by the Management and Organizations Department. We've reached the point where six people at Sony PlayStation can create a product that generates as much as $200 million in revenue. As Fast Company founding editor Bill Taylor noted in a recent talk for Kellogg's Organizational Effectiveness Club, the Sony example shows it’s no longer preferable for a company to have a huge staff. With a large staff, managers must worry about hiring, firing, promoting, mentoring and all the other responsibilities of managing a lot of employees. Managers can get a lot more done as the leader of a small, flexible team.

Unfortunately, many people are promoted directly from technical positions to team leader without the slightest idea of how to manage a team. As a result, they may do everything themselves instead of delegating work, managing too much content and not enough process. They may struggle with leadership style, bouncing from being too authoritarian to too consensus-oriented. They may view the team as a single unit instead of a collection of individuals. Teaching Kellogg students these ideas up front could save them from a lot of pain later.

And finally, we must prepare students for the incredible rate of change in the economy. Companies are dealing with this in different ways: Levi Strauss and Motorola reorganized to become more customer-focused. IBM allowed a grass-roots "get connected" team to lead it into the age of the Internet. Harley-Davidson is trying to double production without losing its mix of individuality and participation. They all have one thing in common: change. Students should prepare for it by taking "Leading the Strategic Change Process," also from the Management & Organizations Department (MORS 452).

Five years later, Eric is a Practice Manager in McKinsey’s Knowledge Services group. He has written about his work on knowledge management in the American Management Association’s journal, Organizational Dynamics (Winter 2002 Issue and August 2003 Issue). When we invited Eric to reflect on and expand his recommendations for MORS classes has added three more as important for a practicing manager and future consultant to organizations. These are: MORS 453 (Power in Organizations), MORS 451 (Designing Organizational Systems, and MORS 455 (Strategy Implementation).

Updating his reflections on the value of learning about the issues Management & Organizations classes focus on the most, Eric adds:

Four years after graduating, I'm even more convinced that MORS courses are critical to professional success. In my recent efforts to develop new client offerings at a consulting firm, I've found the key to be understanding the underlying social dynamics and networks within both my own firm and within clients--the best ideas go nowhere without the right support. Some say this is more of an inborn art than a teachable science, but that's precisely where they're wrong: new techniques like social network analysis bring rigor to what was previously a mysterious skill.

Eric Matson '99 Manager at McKinsey & Co.

Eric Matson (MBA 1999)