A spoonful for B-school success
I understand experience cannot be fast-tracked, but practical implications can be built in from campus
Inch wide and mile deep’ is a terrific strategy. Focus on a few specializations that your school will be known for
Good is not good till I am better than the one next door and not better till I get on the ranking list. Phew! So much pressure for a degree that doesn’t add value!
What if you believed all this brouhaha, but it doesn’t mean a thing? The way I see it, two industries will go out of business and since that means less jobs, that’s not good for the economy.
Let’s just play along and see how we can make the best out of this nothing business. For, whether we like it or not, what a good business degree does is, first, it adds to your sheen. Then it helps you land decent jobs and, last but not the least (perhaps most important) it gives you a powerful network to tap into. B-schools have become an integral part of our business environment and can be powerful partners in progress for companies and therefore the economy. Ever heard of the song, ‘Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way?’ Inspired by that, let me play the gyaan guru and add my spoonful of thoughts on how B-schools can go out there and crack the success code.
Design an experience, not a curriculum
As the CHRO, when I hire I would like people who can hit the ground running or maybe sprinting, even. Kind of like Usain Bolt in a corporate context. I don’t want an ‘all read up and nowhere to go, so here I am, a kind of warm body with an added MBA stamp irrespective of the B-school ranking’.
I would like somebody who knows the theory and also understands the practical implications. I understand experience cannot be fast-tracked, but practical implications can be built in from campus. For example, knowing behavioral economic theory is good for a fresh graduate, but it would be great if she understands what this means while designing an incentive or a compensation-related policy. I would love it if they brought that point of view to the organization. It brings in the fresh thinking which large companies sorely lack today.
The need of the hour is continual innovation as far as curriculum is concerned. Curriculum that attempts to look forward is what B-schools should invest towards designing. Specifically, I mean curriculum that includes experiences, not just theory. While designing curriculum, offer action learning projects, mock consulting projects and case discussions moderated for the students by practitioners, not professors. What’s better than getting a great mentoring experience from someone who’s living it right? So it is like killing two birds with one stone.
An E for an E: Create an environment for entrepreneurship
Ever heard of the saying an eye for an eye. Well this one’s slightly different. What I am getting at is the business school should provide a great environment nourishing entrepreneurship — an E for and E! Initiatives like the business incubator that exists in London Business School provide a means for new businesses to get off the ground from the campus. Get the students to run the services of the B-school. Running those services will give them invaluable hands-on experience. If you get them to solve problems that matter on campus, you will be teaching them how to think as entrepreneurs. Remember, entrepreneurship is not about cool startups. It’s about mindset and attitude. Can you create an environment that helps nurture that from the word go?
Invest in faculty
A good business school will have professors who are experts in their field and are accessible to students. If this means you pay a premium to get them on board, invest in them, as your potential students of today are going to research the people who are teaching classes by googling them or talking to mentors and fellow students. They are going to spend time seeing what they have published and accomplished before they choose the school.
Get your faculty to publish a body of work in the public domain. Hire professionals who want a break. I personally know of a former HR head who is the dean of a B-school in Cochin. I am positive the experience he creates in his campus will produce more work-ready graduates. And for the record, this is not his retirement option but an active career choice. Can we get more folks like this in B-schools? I love to hire from schools where I can reach out to faculty as sounding boards, consultants and experts. Sadly, I meet very few of these folks.
Invest in social media
When you have designed a hands-on curriculum, invested in faculty and created a culture of entrepreneurship it’s time to get online and brag about it. Jokes apart, social media is a way for schools to engage with audiences.
Don’t use social media as a check in the box or a marketing tool but a way to collaborate, extend your network and share learning. A well-organized tweet chat, efficiently curated blog platform and knowledgeable presence on sites such as Quora that connects you to everything you want to know about will lend credence and allow your students and hirers to experience your school.
On campus, faculty should ensure discussions don’t stop when class is over. Extend the conversation beyond the classroom. Use hashtags to talk about things from the class to keep the dialogue going — the present generation thrives on such connect.
Don’t be a jack of all trades
‘Inch wide and mile deep’ is a terrific strategy. A general MBA is good, but if you want to stand out, focus on a few specializations that your school will be known for. Build a few of them so you don’t get washed away by changing market conditions. Be known for a few and be the best in them. You could choose to be the pipeline for banks, insurance, analytics, HR, finance, supply chain, whatever. Pick a few, build your faculty, your library, your brand and everything around this. You will become the mainstay for recruiters, your students will command a premium and you will attract the right students, all leading to a virtuous cycle. Just remember to keep updating so you stay relevant.
This is by no means an exhaustive or the only ‘to-do for guaranteed success’ list. Think through your B-school using the Playing to Win framework articulated by Lafley and Martin in their book of the same name. This framework suggests that, while formulating a strategy, management should look at a combination of tactics around where-to-play and how-to-win. These two decisions on where to compete and on what basis you will do so will be the source of your strategic advantage.
In a nutshell, rankings are incidental — successful graduates and loyal corporates are the ultimate goals! When you get there, everything else will follow.
Good luck and I would love to talk to schools that are looking to build on my column to create success.