03 January 2022 07:22:34 IST

How workplace trends will impact B-school learning


Changing employee behaviour and an integrated digital mindset will deeply influence management education.

As I write this article, I am reflecting upon the challenges humanity, the business world and management education have encountered over the last two years. To appreciate what the future holds for management education, we need to recognise the transformation organisations are undergoing and the changing psychology of a typical corporate employee. This is important as today’s students are tomorrow’s corporate employees.

The pandemic brought in sweeping changes to human behaviour. With the threat still lingering, uncertainty is in the air and longer-term plans are taking a back seat. Employees want to live by the day! The employee is now more anxious in taking decisions in terms of where to live and work, planning holidays and investing.

Changing behaviour

Companies need to deepen trust to enhance engagement. The virtual work environment with regards to monitoring employee performance, to a certain extent, has diminished the differentiation between ‘high performing’ employees and others. This makes all employees look ‘undifferentiated’. Given that frequent bursts of the pandemic could be the norm, a hybrid work model is here to stay. However, the HR departments are yet to fine tune and perfect tools that can assess such performance differences in a virtual or blended world of work.

This, along with opening up of the job market for employees at a ‘national level’, has given confidence and a higher ‘risk taking’ capability for an employee to switch jobs, especially given the aggressive growth plans companies have. Such employee behaviour and attrition are also aggravated by today’s leadership’s inability to focus on ‘short run’ employee engagement and retention, given other pressing priorities.

No wonder attrition is historically at the highest level, not only in India, but even globally and companies are sinking billions of dollars to set up ‘employee retention’ funds. Apart from the pandemic and its impact on employee behaviour, the corporate world is reeling under a bigger transformation, driven by digital and data science! The ‘digital onslaught’ and datadriven businesses are no more ‘mega trends’. They are now very much a reality.

The implementation phase is where many companies are in today, which is the most painful part! Sweeping skill set changes are required and the business world is grappling to hold strong. Hence, employee upskilling — acquiring technology skills, problem solving and integrative mindset — is the top priority for corporates; such an agenda is not only for tech companies, but is slowly engulfing other traditional industries as well.

In spite of the changes in employee behaviour and psychology driven by the pandemic, the priority for ‘knowledge expansion and upskilling’ within the mind of the ‘employee’, at all levels, is high. This is possibly more than ever before; somewhere within the top three of their personal goals. More importantly, the reconciliation to ‘lifelong’ learning is sinking in, clearly and loudly!

This in effect means companies will look for employees who are constantly upgrading their knowledge and skill, are digitally capable, are industry ready and have the ability to hit the ground running paired with a problemsolving and integrative thinking mindset.

Educator response

The question then boils down as to how management educators will respond to an ‘average employee’ in meeting his ‘knowledge and skill’ aspirations within the constraints driven by the pandemic. The challenge for management educators will be to preserve academic rigour and at the same time deliver programmes that are highly relevant to the industry under transformation. Does the mental reconciliation to ‘lifelong’ learning reduce the charm of a ‘one-time’ MBA?

Not really! Fresh students and executives seeking to upgrade skills in a physical campus for a ‘one-time’ MBA will continue to remain and possibly even grow. But other segments where students prefer imbibing knowledge and skills ‘on the go’ is already emerging. Skill upgradation in smaller bouts with shortterm programmes will be important for this segment. There will be other segments that would want a blended experience, with varying levels of customisation in terms of duration and medium. Then how should management educators respond?

The question is should institutions focus on being in one of the two formats, physical or virtual, or acquire both the capabilities? Although, given the large size and growth of all these segments in India, one can argue that a focus will provide superior capabilities to differentiate from the competition. However, the synergies between these two models are highly compelling for institutions to take a position in both, physical and virtual, including the third model being ‘blended’. Hence, for management educators, ‘multichannel presence’ will be the future!

Core skills

As these multiple formats require multiple frontend infrastructure, technologies and platforms, the ‘core capability’ would be content creation (research), faculty quality with high teaching abilities, technology investment and an agile mindset; institutions need to leverage such ‘core’ skills to deliver quality student experience across channels.

While faculty needs to hone both research and teaching capabilities, they simultaneously need to master teaching effectively across mediums to deliver value. The biggest challenge for the management educator is that they will not be getting undivided attention and focus from the students towards academics; the student would be hopping between academics, personal losses, health problems, job uncertainties and locational issues in the midst of lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.

Evaluations, examinations, certifications and class participation need to be effectively managed in such situations, without losing academic rigour. How management educators will align technology and soft capabilities to deliver the most effective learning outcomes, will determine their success. All of these require not only access to resources but also a mindset change in both academics and administrators, both at the leadership and grassroot levels.

(The writer is Distinguished Professor of Accounting and Strategy, Great Lakes Institute of Management)