Developing top managers: the
impact of interpersonal skills
John W. Hunt
London Business School, London, UK, and
School of Management, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
Keywords Management training, Interpersonal skills, Competences, Training evaluation
Abstract Some organizations invest a great deal of time and effort in elaborate training
programmes designed to improve the so-called “soft” skills of managing. Yet assessing the
effectiveness of such initiatives has been rare. Indeed, some trainers have argued that such
assessments are misleading. Recent developments in the use of survey feedback have provided a
technique for pre- and post-training assessments. A study, at a leading business school, was
designed to assess the impact of interpersonal skills training on top managers. The evaluation of
the training was based on subordinate feedback of 252 executives from 48 organizations,
conducted before, and six months after, the training programme took place. The results indicate
signiﬁcant impact on some, but not all, of the competencies and skills under study.
Every individual is a marvel of unknown and unrealized possibilities (Goethe).
Count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make
measurable (Galileo Galilei).
Executive training and development – lessons from the literature
Proponents of management training and development (T&D) claim clients
become more effective managers. Their techniques impact on inherent abilities,
competencies and skills. Some (e.g. Hall, 1995; Wade-Benzoni and Fulmer, 1994)
suggest that although they concentrate on the individual manager, the impact
of their training programmes adds value to the strategic functioning of the
organization. Others argue T&D is one of the best and most cost-effective ways
to change a corporate culture (Zenger, 1996), and to increase industry
competitiveness (Department of Trade and Industry, 1995).
With claims like these, it is not surprising to ﬁnd that the value of T&D has
become one of the central beliefs of managers at both national and international
levels (ABS, 1997; BIM, 1987; NEDO, 1987; Vicere, 1998). Whether the
development is narrowly deﬁned as training (in speciﬁc skills) or broadly
perceived as education (lifting awareness), a belief in the value of this
investment is rarely questioned.
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Received March 2002
Revised January 2003
Accepted January 2003
Journal of Management Development
Vol. 22 No. 8, 2003
q MCB UP Limited