Posts Tagged 'FIELD'

A Brave, New MBA World

Every year, employers receive surveys from various organizations asking questions about the companies’ MBA employees they have and those they will be recruiting.  And I am always fascinated to read what skills employers feel their MBA new hires are lacking.  In 2011, the University of North Carolina partnered with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and conducted one of these surveys.  One section of the survey listed skills employers had identified as most valuable in MBA’s, but the firms were reporting the lowest satisfaction with these same skills in their MBA’s.  Those skills included:

  • Ability to adapt/change to new situations
  • Creative problem-solving skills
  • Oral communication skills
  • Written communication skills
  • Ability to think strategically
  • Ability to make decisions with imperfect information
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership skills

Business schools have a difficult challenge finding ways to teach these skills to their MBA students.  But Harvard Business School is attempting to implement a new graduate business curriculum that could do exactly that.

Harvard Business School recently undertook a bold revamp of its MBA curriculum.  Instead of focusing the majority of its course-work on case studies, the school has developed a program titled FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) for first year MBA students which exposes them to the trials and tribulations of creating a start-up.  First-years formed approximately 150 teams that were provided impressive resources to launch their start-ups: $5,000 in seed money and help from lawyers (for drafting legal documents) and professional programmers (for app and software development).  Students created their company and pitched their idea to fellow classmates.  Then, those classmates were provided with $100,000 in “monopoly money” to buy and sell shares in the start-ups using a software program developed for the course.  The idea behind this being that the market (in this case, the students) will determine whether a team’s business has the chops to succeed based on how well it is trader by the market.  After the initial trading occurs, teams then revamped their pitches or repositioned their start-ups before presenting one last time to their classmates.

Some of the ideas were hits, and could potentially spin-off into brand new businesses.  Others start-ups that weren’t so successful were relegated to the “failed business track” and their teams analyzed why their ideas didn’t completely pan out.  Everything in the program is a learning experience, according to Professor Alan MacCormack: “The going-to-market track is about selling and going to customers and proving your idea.  And the other is understanding that failure is a very natural outcome of entrepreneurship.”

So how does this course relate to the employer survey mentioned earlier?  This bold revamp of Harvard’s curriculum dramatically addresses the skills employers feel MBA graduates lack when they enter the workforce.  The students must leverage their creative problem-solving abilities and work together as a team to create a business from scratch.  They have little time to waste, and must act using limited information and their experiences each brings to their team.  Interpersonal skills and leadership become extremely important if the students wish to develop an effective team that can implement the group’s vision and business strategy.  Oral and written presentation skills are honed in the pitches to the student “investors.”  And the teams must adjust on the fly to the reactions of the market to ensure their start-up remains viable and competitive.

I personally find this new approach to the MBA curriculum extremely exciting!  I love the idea of taking the information learned in the classroom (P&L statements, marketing strategies, production scheduling, etc.) and augmenting it with the communication and soft skills needed to sell an idea to an investor.  This program gives students the opportunity to fully utilize the skills and knowledge they’ve been taught in their MBA program in order to better experience what the business world is really like.  Now, I realize this program cannot be implemented by every last MBA program – the cost alone is a huge roadblock for most schools.  But the skills these students learn and develop in a program like this will go a long way towards helping them grow into effective MBA graduates.  Creative MBA program modifications like Harvard’s start-up course should dramatically help bring MBA programs graduate students who are skilled and experienced in 21st century business strategies.

What do you think of Harvard’s new start-up course?  Do you think it will help mold MBA graduates into employees that firms will want to hire?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below or tweet me at @orangecountymba.