Preparing MBAs for the Future of Business

Last week I described an article I read that illustrated how the American work environment is changing, and specifically how these changes relate to MBA students.  I discussed how work that can be automated or outsourced is taking jobs from the U.S., leaving workers with the remaining complex roles and responsibilities.  In my opinion, MBA programs now have an excellent opportunity to ensure their students are best prepared to thrive in this new business environment.  I have compiled a list of suggestions that could help graduate programs produce business leaders ready to tackle an increasingly complex and challenging world, while attracting the best and the brightest prospective students to their MBA programs.

  • Focus on international experience.  Granted, it seems as if all MBA programs either offer or require some international business component in their curriculum.  CSUF offers International Business Seminars which allow students opportunities to meet and be exposed to international business practices outside the U.S.  But I am not advocating simple exposure to international business – I am suggesting MBA students need immersion into other cultures.  Globalization and advancements in technology continuously shrink our world, and the U.S. is not the only country on this planet.  Developing nations are taking a larger role in international business, and countries will need to work together to provide customers with worldwide solutions to complex problems.  An international immersion experience would force MBA students to learn a new culture, adapt to new surrounding, speak a new language, and look at business problems from a new perspective.  Students’ networks and business opportunities will grow, and the skills they learn adapting to a new environment will be invaluable in our rapidly changing world.

 

  • Learn to execute strategy.  Learning how to develop an effective business strategy is a dramatically important skill for any executive.  To quote Winston Churchill: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  A good strategy is only as good as the men and women who execute it.  A football coach could draw up a play that is a guaranteed touchdown.  However, if he cannot transfer the play effectively to his players and they cannot execute it, the play will never lead to a single point.  It will simply remain a great play on a whiteboard.  Business schools need to produce graduates that can execute strategy – those individuals will bring greater value to a company than an employee who simply creates fantastic ideas that never leave the paper they are written on.

 

  • Practice management skills.  MBA programs and their students must work together on this recommendation.  Business schools must provide their students with the skills and techniques required to be effective managers: the ability to listen, criticize constructively, and motivate employees.  These soft skills are immensely important for managers who deal with human beings on a daily basis.  Everyone is wired differently, and managers must learn what makes each person tick.  And the best way to develop these skills is through practice.  Not going-through-the-motions practice, but genuine, challenging practice that puts these theories and techniques to use in real business situations.  In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell explains that individuals who become experts in their field practice their craft for an average of 10,000 hours in their lifetime.  Why can’t MBA programs be a place for future managers and executives to accumulate their first hundred plus hours of deliberate management practice?

Granted, these suggestions are not earth shattering ideas.  And I am only five weeks into my first semester of graduate school.  But I believe that the changing nature of business will force MBA programs to reevaluate their curriculums and these suggestions could serve as a starting point for adapting business programs to this new environment.

Here is an article I read this week that I feel fits nicely with this week’s post:

“Why MBA Programs Don’t Produce Leaders” – Drew Hansen’s article focuses on leadership in MBA programs, and illustrates some of the same issues this post covered.  Do you feel MBA programs have a responsibility to produce leaders, or should they simply be producing effective business managers?

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