12 Mar 2021 21:09 IST

MBA needs to be well-rounded, integrative than specialist

The silo mindset of students and lack of integrative skills negates the purpose of a good MBA education

The Covid pandemic was a blessing in disguise for B-schools to maximise use of technology for delivering education. This is also perhaps the right time to bring about reforms in the architecture of the MBA programme to ensure its continued relevance.

Eliminating the silo mindset

The MBA was visualised as an inter-disciplinary understanding of business and management practices. Consequently, accreditation systems emphasised higher general management content as opposed to specialisation in the curricula. This reflects the nature of a business problem, which is not confined to merely a marketing or financial or HR issue, but calls for an integrated understanding to take a business decision. Post 1990s, globally, the demand for MBA graduates grew manifold. The shortage of good practitioner faculty led to teaching faculty from unitary disciplines and as an eventuality, the emergence of specialisation streams.

In the process, integrative business teaching took a back seat; academic teaching and industry practice exposition became distinct with consolidation of specialisations. It is quite common for faculty to hear second-year MBA students say that they have forgotten finance as they intend to take up marketing or HR specialisation. Since placement is by and large assured in good B-schools, they get away with this. This silo mindset of students and lack of integrative skills negates the very purpose of a good MBA education. It is imperative that the silo mindset be eliminated, graduates be more generalist stretching across functions with strength in at least two to three areas. 

Inculcating the digital mindset

In the business scenario of the future, MBA graduates will need to (a) appreciate the technology landscape of IT infrastructure, hardware, software processes, software development cycle, and technology solutioning built on a technology stack comprising one application layered over another; (b) be involved with ‘productisation of services’; (c) engage with cloud eco-systems that are being built across the world on the India model; (d) use data smartly to take tactical and strategic decisions and (e) help transform companies. The paradigm shifts in organisational working as a result of cloud, analytics, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has therefore ignited interest in digitally nuanced MBA programmes.

Behavioural skills

Interaction is more global than ever. It calls for a sixth sense to deal with colleagues/partners without the luxury of feel, touch and body language. Managers should be able to anticipate reactions and responses from people of diverse cultures and act accordingly. This calls for complex communication skills and expert thinking skills that are better imbibed through social immersion, live projects, and internships.

Sustainability

Sustainability needs to be built into the core curriculum while preparing business leaders of the future. This jells with the United Nations mandate and the objectives of the CSR laws in India. MBAs need to be familiarised with the major societal challenges such as elimination of hunger, poverty alleviation, green supply chain management, healthcare management, water and sanitation, renewable energy management, building sustainable communities, and the role of corporates in this space. This also enables focus on the larger purpose of an organisation to transcend materialistic goals.

Leadership and strategy

Strategy is no more long-term, the new normal clearly is medium term of three years. Market intelligence is available day-to-day enabling managers to effect periodic modifications. Leadership is about effecting change in the short/medium term and developing Authentic Leadership Model (ALM) in the context of oneself and the organisation. It is also about young people becoming CEOs at the age of 25 to 35 with an entrepreneurial mindset. The leadership curriculum needs to be made more experiential and graduates should be put in situations that call for carrying individuals, teams and exposition of leadership qualities. 

Theme-based approach

Based on the foregoing, if the silo mindset has to be eliminated and substituted with integrative perspective, digital mindset inculcated, sustainability ethos inducted and behavioural, leadership and strategising skills imbibed by MBA graduates, the compartmentalised subject-based curricula will need to be dispensed with and a thematic approach adopted comprising the following broad themes.

  • Theme 1-Purpose, Business Models and Economic surplus
  • Theme 2 -Customer acquisition, retention and growth
  • Theme 3 -Managing Production and Services in the digital era
  • Theme 4 –Developing Organisational capabilities
  • Theme 5 –Sustainability Management
  • Theme 6 -Strategy Implementation, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Theme 7 -Managing the Future

Theme 1 is at a holistic/policy level to integrate the purpose of business, business models, the inter-relationship between mission, vision, competition and strategy and the raison d’etere of management to generate economic surplus. Micro and macroeconomic concepts, financial statement analysis, strategy formulation will be the integrative strands of this theme.

Theme 2 should integrate consumer behaviour, marketing finance and digital technology enablers with analytics in the process of market research, customer management and delivering sales both in urban and rural geographies.

Theme 3 should integrate production of manufactured goods and services, employing digital technology from the Industry 4.0 perspective, including cloud, robotics, machine learning and AI and operations and supply chain analytics. The optimising techniques and financial aspects related to cost management and project selection would also be covered in this theme

Theme 4 should integrate individual and organisational behavioural aspects in the backdrop of technology, prevailing laws on employment, gender issues, contracts, companies, disputes. Technology platforms and measurement of people performance through analytics to develop organisational capabilities should also be covered in this theme.

Theme 5 should integrate the economics of sustainability development goals with delivery mechanisms, financing and institutional infrastructure of the government, corporates, private public partnerships and social sector for implementation.

Theme 6 should integrate strategy formulation with the ingredients for implementation including leadership, operational processes and review and the business metrics for measurement to ensure the fructification of formulated strategy.

Theme 7 should visualise the future and integrate building of brands with shareholder value, and other stakeholders in the backdrop of enterprise risks and managing uncertainty.

Each theme should provide adequate scope for critical thinking around social, business and ethical dilemmas, complex communication and problem solving, teamwork and leadership through experiential pedagogies of cases, simulation, live projects, debating, social immersion and internships. Each of these are not stand-alone exercises but woven in the overarching theme.

In a two-year MBA programme in India, synchronous classroom learning hours are typically around 70 per cent, asynchronous classroom learning around 15 per cent and non-classroom asynchronous learning around 15 per cent. Asynchronous non-classroom components that promote, reflection and self- learning and enhance higher order learning outcomes merit increase to around 25 per cent, akin to leading B-schools in the west. If the MBA architecture is redesigned thematically in the above manner it will be truly global, prepare proficient, ethical and socially conscious leaders for the VUCA world.