SEMINARS LEAVE FIRMS DIVIDED

Ray Clancy, The London Times, July 23, 1992

Management training or mind bending? Ray Clancy continues her series on New Age courses


The confusion surrounding the techniques used in management training courses is illustrated by recent conflicting statements by senior executives of Guinness, one of the largest companies to provide such programmes for its staff.

Colin George, group personnel director, said at a recent conference that the company's Breakthrough programme was derived from Est, the training philosophy put forward by Werner Erhard, the Californian guru whose methods have been widely criticised in the United States. ''All employees are being exposed to concepts which provide a language for constructive communication,'' he said.

Officially, Guinness is still evaluating the programme, but in a company magazine, Michael Cunnah, director of financial control, indicated that some staff had experienced difficulties with the concepts of the course. ''The approach is not structured, so it is hard to understand the flow. The language is odd and difficult.''

When asked to supply details of the course, Bill Spears, director of public affairs at Guinness Brewing GB, said that it did not use Est techniques. ''No Est methods or programmes are used in any of our management development training. Selected phrases are similar to those in Est. It is the phrases that are the same, not the rest.''

He described the Breakthrough programme as ''a form of management development'' that emphasised communication between people and departments. Asked to give details, he said: ''I don't like attaching names to things. I would prefer to call it common sense management. It frees some of the old autocratic management techniques which have become embedded in some levels of industrial thinking.''

The course currently used by Guinness is provided by outside consultants based in Canada. Mr. Spears said that a great deal of thought had gone into the programme, but he was unable to tell The Times the name of the company that acted as consultant. ''The programme has been implemented on the full authority of Guinness,'' he said. ''It is not some strange cult. Our management development people are not stupid. They are professionals, they know what they are doing.''

However, academics and medical therapists believe that professionals may not know what they are doing. They say that there is a thin line between motivating staff and a form of brain-washing. Businessmen in Britain are concerned that, without guidelines, companies and managers find it difficult to define what is acceptable and what is not.

''There is a huge hole in management training which appears to have been plugged for the moment by a wave of New Age thinking,'' said Bob Cumber, of the Association for Management Education and Development, which is drawing up a code of practice for its 2,000 members. ''It is easy for an employer to say that a course is mandatory. The employee should be aware of the broad structure of the programme, its methodology and its input.''

Mr Cumber, and many others, are aware that most courses run in-house or by consultants are perfectly acceptable and, although they may be pressured, they do not use deception or coercion. ''We would advise employers to test a programme put forward to them by asking the trainers to detail their agenda, to give a clear synopsis and to state the origins of the methodology used,'' he said.

Ian Howarth, who founded the Cult Information Centre, a London-based help group, believes that the number of unacceptable courses is growing. ''They are poised to go through the corporate structure of Britain like a cancer. I would be concerned about any company using Est-based techniques or methods. Est can be described as a therapy cult.''

Mr Howarth, who spent several years in a cult, says that the number of enquiries from people who have been sent on courses at work has increased.

''Companies should be wary of courses using mind control techniques. They should carefully examine any programme that is offered. If they don't investigate these training programmes, they are playing Russian roulette with their employees.''

copyright 1992 The London Times


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