What MBA Schools Must De­liver

Do not nar­row­cast an MBA into a polytech­nic; fo­cus on prob­lem­solv­ing skills and aug­ment with spe­cialised pro­grammes.

Business Today - - INDIA'S BEST B-SCHOOL - Col­umn by Rama Bi­japurkar The writer is an in­de­pen­dent Man­age­ment Con­sul­tant and Vis­it­ing Fac­ulty at IIM-Ahmed­abad

TO­DAY’S WORLD of busi­ness fre­quently throws never-be­fore prob­lems at peo­ple at all lev­els. That is why we call it VUCA and ob­sess with dis­rup­tion. But there seems to be a de­mand from HR man­agers for MBA schools to turn out peo­ple with nar­row skill-based spec­i­fi­ca­tions. If MBA schools pay at­ten­tion to their cus­tomers and not to their dharma (which is to de­velop com­pe­tent men and women who can di­ag­nose and solve busi­ness prob­lems, de­sign and de­liver busi­ness as­pi­ra­tions, and build sus­tain­able, valu­able com­pa­nies), they will be cre­at­ing gen­er­a­tions of busi­ness man­agers and fu­ture lead­ers who can­not sur­vive and thrive in this new en­vi­ron­ment.

The abil­ity to di­ag­nose and solve prob­lems, to learn and ap­ply the learn­ing is what MBA schools must teach. Ravi Matthai, the first di­rec­tor of IIM-A, is known to have said, “We teach you how to learn so that you can learn for the rest of your life.” Skills re­quired for any job will change rapidly. So, be­ing a life­long learner and know­ing how to ap­ply the learn­ing across ap­par­ently un­re­lated con­texts is the key. Man­agers need to know where and why to use and how to adapt the skills they have. But to do so, they have to be con­cep­tu­ally grounded.

Learn­ing dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing does not make any sense. What does is learn­ing how to mar­ket to con­sumers who in­habit the dig­i­tal (and the phys­i­cal) world. Has the con­cept of brand­ing changed be­cause the world has gone dig­i­tal or is it merely the way brand build­ing is oc­cur­ring that is dif­fer­ent be­tween the two worlds? What hap­pens when con­sumers in­habit and trans­act in mul­ti­ple worlds? Is it an op­por­tu­nity rather than a prob­lem? What is the con­cept of brand loy­alty or com­pe­ti­tion in the dig­i­tal con­sumer world? Will they ap­ply to the phys­i­cal world? To build a con­sumer be­hav­iour model for, say, au­to­mo­biles or banks in the dig­i­tal con­sumer con­text, one must un­der­stand the con­cept of such a model (not the tem­plate but the frame­work on which such mod­els are built). These are the is­sues that MBAs have to be ca­pa­ble of think­ing through and ex­e­cut­ing. Man­agers must learn to in­te­grate across si­los. Garvin and Datar of Har­vard Busi­ness School, in their work on the new MBA, em­pha­sise gen­eral man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion and ad­vo­cate a fo­cus on prob­lem-solv­ing that com­bines dis­ci­plines.

Every MBA school must con­sciously do a con­text re­fresh and push tech­nol­ogy-cen­tric think­ing as an en­abler of busi­ness prob­lem­solv­ing. Yes, many of the old teach­ings must be dis­carded now – manag­ing a fac­tory of ro­bots is dif­fer­ent from manag­ing a fac­tory of semi-skilled peo­ple; mar­ket re­search in a data-cap­ture world is dif­fer­ent from the stone age way of ask­ing con­sumers ques­tions on what they did. And what is big about Big Data is the seam­less 360-de­gree cap­ture from mul­ti­ple sources. But one must know how to use it well for de­ci­sion-mak­ing/prob­lem­solv­ing/de­sign­ing new so­lu­tions.

HR man­agers still have re­cruit­ment is­sues

– how to get peo­ple who can work spe­cific as­pects of tech­nol­ogy and bring it to day-to­day busi­ness? The so­lu­tion does not come from nar­row­cast­ing the MBA as a polytech­nic churn­ing out the short­age skills of the day. It will come from think­ing in­no­va­tively about or­gan­i­sa­tion de­sign, team com­po­si­tions, open-source work­ing and en­cour­ag­ing the new IIMs to not blindly ape their old­est sib­lings but to of­fer gen­uine MBA learn­ing to peo­ple with spe­cial­ist skills – ‘man­u­fac­tur­ing MBA’ with deep roots in new tech­nolo­gies or ‘an­a­lyt­ics MBA’ for use across sec­tors. It has be­gun to take root in other coun­tries.

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