The roots of effective management are far deeper than the curricular boundaries
Pursuing any education solely based on external motivations may give you a degree but not greatness
We work in a world that is best described as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). With accelerating pace of change, our corporations today need excellent managers and leaders at all levels to effectively respond to internal and external changes. To hire bright and young talent with leadership potential, companies look at business schools who equip young students with a higher level of understanding about complex aspects of business. On the other hand, students invest their own (or parents’) hard-earned money to pursue management education with hopes to have a glorious take-off on the runway of their careers.
A few years back, I was invited by a business school to deliver a talk to their graduating students on what it takes to go from class room to board room. When I looked back at the overall experience and the kind of naïve questions that I encountered, I figured out one thing – the road from class room to board room for these students was a long one, and for no fault of their own.
Cut to last week when I woke up in the morning to read a news item in The Times of India titled ‘45% Dip in MBA degree registrations in 4 years’ and I recollected several experiences I had with fresh management graduates in the past. Further research revealed that about 180 business schools were shut down in 2012 and about 147 business schools in India were shut down in the year 2013-14. According to an ASSOCHAM report in early 2013, the recruitments at the campus went down by 40 per cent in 2012 and that trend seemingly continues. Beyond the top 20 business schools, only 10 per cent graduates get a job right after completing their management education, reports ASSOCHAM.
Experts are quick to attribute this decline to economic slowdown but there are several other forces at play. First is the problem of demand and supply. In the last five years, the number of business schools in India tripled, leading to commoditization of both management education and management graduates. The quality of learning in most of these middle-tier institutes is mediocre and focused on off-the-shelf curriculum that is far away from the realities of a contemporary business. With lack of real-world corporate experience and old ways of imparting learning, faculty fail to bring real-world perspectives to the class room. While the business of starting business schools flourished, real education took a backseat.
The need to resolve these systemic issues is almost urgent. We need to think beyond routine remedies like accreditation of business schools for improving quality or improving the curricular infrastructure. We need to address the mindset of management education.
The roots of effective management are far deeper than the curricular boundaries. If we have seen some of the greatest leaders who never pursued formal management education, it is clear that pursuit of effective management stems from an individual’s passion about the purpose. Here is the thing – people who are really passionate about learning the art of management will anyway learn it from various other high-quality sources even without going to any business school. Conversely, if people are not passionate enough, they will still not be able to acquire the required skills even after going to business schools. If purpose drives passion, it is critical to be driven by a larger purpose – whether you are a student or business school.
Business schools will continue to remain mediocre if they only try to impart knowledge. Internet has commoditized knowledge too and almost everything is available online. In this world, business schools have to develop more learners, not just more managers. When the context is constantly changing, the content of learning has to change too. And when that happens, self-directed and self-initiated learning is an invaluable life skill that business schools need to cultivate among students. I have seen a few business schools which expose students to thought leaders via newer platforms like Twitter and facilitate learning via MOOCs, blogging and other social media-based learning networks. In the connected world, established leaders and influencers are far more generous with their insights and, with the right approach, it is easy to access them.
When our business context is constantly changing and evolving, how can our curriculum be static? While pre-fixed curriculum may be a good base to start, students need exposure to a wide variety of other things that may not be a part of curriculum but are vital. Students need to be enlightened about practicing empathy, creative problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and a broad understanding how human beings operate. People work with other people and the understanding of core human motivations is vital for succeeding in this new world.
Business schools need faculty who are on a mission, not just academic employees who teach the prescribed content. We need faculty who have a rich and diverse experience in the corporate or consulting world. They are an important link between business and business school and they need a constant connection with the dynamically changing world of business. The faculty can inspire students like no one else because they have the power to open up a world of possibilities to their students. If they teach with narrow goals of completing the curriculum or ensuring placements of their students, they breed a constrained mindset. When they open up possibilities to their students, they breed the kind of mindset which is at the core of success.
Finally, students need to get into a business school for the right reasons. It is easy to get lured by admission advertisements that promise assured placements, student exchange programs with foreign universities and state-of-the-art infrastructure. Pursuing any education solely based on external motivations may give you a degree but not greatness. Let passion drive the purpose and purpose drive the actions. Opting for further management education is an inside-out approach driven by one’s own passion and motivations.
There is no straightforward answer to the challenges that the current management education system faces. But I do believe, and strongly, that change happen one step at a time. One student, one passionate faculty and one conversation at a time.
It is time to raise the bar for business schools and empower future generations of managers and leaders within our organizations. We badly need them as we go into an uncertain future that is full of exciting possibilities.