March 2013 | 

A Quick-Start for Business Basics

Business Basics

Gerald has been a successful technical engineer for a software company for more than a decade. Recently, his company promoted him to a technical manager position. Now, in addition to being in charge of his small team of engineers, Gerald is also responsible for non-technical issues such as project timelines, budgets and communicating with a host of non-engineers. He is excited about the new promotion, but it’s not going as well as he’d hoped. Gerald thought he was ready for the new role, but at weekly meetings his colleagues talk in mysterious acronyms and discuss processes he’s never dealt with before. Though he’s a technical expert, Gerald is feeling lost in his new position.

The story of Gerald is hypothetical, but it’s not unrealistic.

Jack Hershey, Wharton professor of management science, says there are a lot of Geralds out there. They are professionals — often specialists in their field — who transition into a new role or are given greater responsibility in a current position and then suddenly find themselves in over their head, feeling as if their new colleagues are speaking a language they do not fully comprehend.

“It’s not that the person isn’t capable, it’s about the person finding themselves at a point that they need to make a change,” says Hershey.

Hershey is the faculty director of Wharton’s new Advancing Business Acumen program, which is designed to introduce the Gerald’s of the world to essential business concepts; including marketing, operations, finance, strategy, negotiations and leadership; and to provide the vocabulary and confidence needed to help make that change and level the playing field.

While many of Wharton’s programs are aimed at high-level business executives, Advancing Business Acumen is unique in that it has been specifically created for managers across all industries who have never been to business school and want to learn the basics from the ground up.

When you want to learn a new software program, you get the quick-start. This is like that,” says Hershey. “The MBA is the whole manual. Wharton is opening up to people who may not have ever envisioned themselves at the school.”

The six-day, intensive program uses a mix of interactive lectures, case studies, simulations, group discussions, and faculty and peer dialogue to bring participants up to speed on the core concepts of business, building their knowledge, and laying a foundation for future learning. Each day is broken down into several sessions, which include topics such as Essentials of Finance, Strategic Management, Operations Strategy, The Relationship between Finance and Strategy, Managerial Accounting, Managing Across Boundaries, Market Segmenting, Positioning, and Executive Negotiation. Another component of the program focuses on effective communication skills, specifically communicating with staff, the public, and other stakeholders as it relates to managing across boundaries.

“Taking a hard look at oneself is critical to growth,” says Hershey, “so self-assessments are also part of the program, giving participants an opportunity to evaluate their leadership style, their approach to negotiation, and more.”

After the business essentials, Advancing Business Acumen shifts to how to bring the learning back home. Participants are prepped on how to apply their learning to their real work world, and armed with references, books, and pathways so the learning doesn’t stop once they leave Wharton.

“Now more than ever there is a need for strong leadership,” says Hershey. “We provide a continued foundation for growth. It’s the basics.”