It is common for many in business schools to succumb to inertia, as if going by the unstated assumption, ‘It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.’ But this time, the need for reform is urgent, say Srikant M. Datar, David A. Garvin, and Patrick G. Cullen in ‘Rethinking the MBA: Business education at a crossroads’ (Harvard).
Employers are hiring undergraduates and promoting from within, and then suggesting that their best young people stick around rather than return to school for additional business training, the authors note. “The more deeply that executives feel that business schools are not providing students with the necessary preparation in knowledge, skills, and attitudes, the more likely it is that they will invest in providing the training themselves.”
The authors find a change in the criticisms from within the academia, too. Initially, the concern was that programmes favoured rigour over relevance; today, that concern has broadened to a growing recognition that a number of critical management and leadership skills are simply not being taught fully or effectively, they add.
Need for rebalancing
The second theme in the book is the need for rebalancing so as to enrich MBA degrees with offerings in the areas of globalisation, leadership development, integration, organisational realities, creativity and innovative thinking, critical thinking, oral and written communication, and understanding the limits of models and markets.
An insight of value in the book is that the economic crisis exposed significant knowledge gaps in our understanding of risk management, the design of incentive systems, regulatory oversight, the degree of interconnectedness of the global economy, and the limitations of mathematical models.
Business schools should, therefore, value the cultivation of skills and inspire students to develop a sense of purpose and identity as much as they value the teaching of practical and useful concepts and frameworks, the authors advise. They instruct that remedying the deficiencies will require a substantial shift in pedagogy away from lectures and towards greater use of reflective discussions, practical exercise, personal coaching, and experiential learning.
Reshape the curriculum
The third theme – ‘reshaping the curriculum’ – is where the authors suggest that MBA programmes devote far more attention to teaching thinking and reasoning skills. “These skills all involve cognitive processes of some sort that serve as the input or foundation for reaching better judgments and making more effective decisions.” Examples include problem finding, problem framing, and project scoping.
Importantly, the book urges MBA programmes to pay greater attention to issues of accountability, ethics, and social responsibility, because these are no longer frills or window dressing! “Management decisions are increasingly subject to public inspection and evaluation. As the public’s expectations of business leaders have risen, so too have the accompanying calls for broadening the scope of business training. All too many MBA programmes are still falling short.”
‘Challenges ahead’ form the final theme that the authors take up, in three broad categories, viz. expanding and diversifying the faculty, attracting new students and recruiters, and revising the business model.
Among the alternatives models proposed by the authors are ‘compelling mixes of part-time and executive programmes to complement the full-time MBA degrees,’ and ‘opportunities for lifelong learning…with short bursts of education for all MBA graduates spaced every five to ten years and linked to the stages of their careers.’
One other option they discuss is annual industry-based programme aimed at ‘executives from a single sector, such as advertising, agribusiness, biotechnology, or venture capital, and devoted to collective reflection on the latest developments in the field.’