Janis Forman

Professor of Communication practices and strategy, UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management, Los Angeles, US

“Forman helps EMScom participants link UCLA Anderson topics to their own professional roles”

Each year, EMScom degree candidates travel to the US to take part in an intensive two-week slate of MBA classes at the UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles, California. Helping EMScom participants link the strategic management topics taught at UCLA Anderson to their own experience as communication professionals is Janis Forman, Ph.D., an award-winning and published researcher, a consultant and an acclaimed educator of managers.

Forman, the Director of Management Communication and an Adjunct Professor of Management at UCLA Anderson School of Management, long ago saw the value of integrating core elements of an MBA degree into the training of communication professionals: “The UCLA contribution to the EMScom program grew out of an enormous amount of dialogue and collaboration, over a year’s time, between myself and EMScom Academic Director Francesco Lurati, that began when I was a visiting professor at the Università della Svizzera italiana several years ago.” As Forman emphasized, “My point of view, which was shared by Francesco, was that there are issues addressed in MBA programs that could be useful to corporate communication professionals in giving them credibility and helping them to contribute to the business models of their organizations.”

A seat at the CEO’s table

Based on her research and consulting, Forman believes that corporate communication executivess can have a respected seat at the CEO’s table and be involved in discussions about strategy formulation and implementation. Her co-authored book, The Power of Corporate Communication (written with Professor Paul Argenti of the Tuck School, and recipient of the 2003 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Business Communication) makes the case for the importance of corporate communication to the growth of an organization.

“But to have a seat at the CEO’s table, corporate communication executives need to understand the business model. For me, that was the impetus for the two-week program at UCLA. Would there be components of the MBA program we could bring to corporate communication executives that would provide them with the knowledge required for a seat at the table?”

Since 2003, when UCLA Anderson launched its two-week program in strategic management for EMScom’s European corporate communication professionals, more than EMScom students have completed the program.

Central to UCLA Anderson’s unique two-week program are the collaborative spirit of its faculty and their broad backgrounds not only in teaching but also in research and consulting. Forman said that her Anderson colleagues bring all that and more to the classroom: “From my point of view, my colleagues are the heart of the program. Each brings a wealth of research-based understanding and experience to teaching.” For example, Professor David Lewin, an expert in human resource strategy and human resource management practices and business performances, is completing two books to be published by Stanford University Press: Conflict Management in the Modern Corporation and The Dual Theory of Human Resource Management and Business Performance. Professor Eric Flamholtz whose interests focus on organizational growth and development, is the author of the widely read Growing Pains: Transitioning from an Entrepreneurial to a Professionally Management Firm, and is currently working on a book for Cambridge University Press dealing with the leadership of strategic change in organizations. Professor Uday Karmarkar is the Research Director of UCLA Anderson’s Business and Information Technologies Project, which studies the impacts of new online information and communication technologies on business practices worldwide. (See, for example, his “Will You Survive the Services Revolution?” Harvard Business Review, June, 2004.) Professor Chris Erickson, Senior Asociate Dean for Global Initiatives and Faculty Director of the dual-degree UCLA-National University of Singapore Global Executive MBA, has published extensively on comparative industrial relations systems and on industrial relations and labor market transormation in different regions of the world. (See, for example, his “Not Yet Dead at the Fed: Unions, Worker Bargaining, and Economy-wide Wage Determination,” Industrial Relations, October 2005.)

In light of her colleagues’ expertise, Forman explains: “When Francesco and I designed the program, we wanted my colleagues to focus on their areas of expertise, to provide high-level lectures and discussions of case studies in their areas of expertise. I took responsibility for ‘integration,’ that is, for helping participants bridge between their own experiences as corporate communication professionals, on the one hand, and the discussion, models, and readings for each topic, on the other hand.”

Integration sessions

“At UCLA Anderson, we are dedicated to applied learning. Bridging between classroom topics and the professional experiences of the participants is one of the unique teaching approaches offered by UCLA Anderson.” Forman facilitates discussion in these highly interactive debriefing sessions.

“The integration sessions bring something very important to the UCLA Anderson experience: the application of topics to the participants’ work. Participants bring in their own industry challenges to these integration sessions and that brings a richness to the discussions,” Forman said.

Forman also finds that her research enlivens her teaching by keeping the classroom experience intellectually stimulating; in turn, the teaching helps Forman with her research.

Using the synergy

“There’s a synergy here that’s extremely important,” she said. “All of the faculty are world-class researchers and internationally recognized experts in their fields. My own current interests focus on the role of data-based stories in shaping and communicating organizational strategy, whether on the Web sites of entrepreneurial firms or in the communication campaigns of large organizations. Recent interest in storytelling is promising, but seems to give little attention to the importance of analysis and data in a company’s pitch. I am interested in the interplay between narrative and data-based arguments. Taken together, they represent stories with integrity and transparency.”

These research interests often dovetail into lively discussion topics in Forman’s classroom.

In addition, the UCLA Anderson program expands the participants’ horizons by offering lunch-time discussions with top business leaders in corporate communication. As a premier university, UCLA has a lot of interaction with businesses in the Los Angeles area and beyond. Forman invites representatives of these businesses to speak to the participants. Two good recent examples: the head of the New Zealand Trade Association for the West Coast and the former director of corporate communication for DreamWorks SKG.

First-hand understanding

Along with gaining a high-level educational experience in strategic management topics, EMScom participants contribute valuable perspectives to UCLA Anderson’s faculty. As Forman explains: “The participants provide us with first-hand perspectives on the challenges that corporate communication executives face in Europe. We get a first-hand understanding of what it’s like to operate within a wide range of conditions within Europe, for instance, in a branch of a multinational company in Germany or in a not-for-profit in Switzerland.”

Applied education

By the end of the two-week program, EMScom participants are ready to apply what they’ve learned to their own organizations. “I would like EMScom participants to use what they’ve learned from their experience here to walk from the classroom into the strategic roundtables where decisions are made about the future of their organizations,” Forman said. “I want them to enjoy the status and authority of their counterparts—the CFO, the CIO, the head of human resources—to be fully enfranchised members of those roundtables and to apply what they’ve learned.”

And what of the confidence that so many EMScom graduates say they gained from the UCLA Anderson experience? “It’s a confidence based on a lot of hard work and opportunities for learning,” said Forman.