22 Jul 2015 18:56 IST

How to make good managers out of MBAs

There’s more to it than just top grades; soft skills and attitude matter

While we looked at what was wrong with business education in a historical context last time, the diagnosis/prognosis is by no means complete. There is more to it than what meets the eye.

Apart from the aspects that we looked at as responsible for the current state of affairs with business education, there are more things that business educators need to think and worry about. As was described, business education is and should be aimed at producing practising managers. As Harold Geneen, the iconic CEO of ITT said, management is there to ‘manage.’ Other things are immaterial. As a practising manager you get paid for producing results, not just elegant plans and strategies.

Getting a ‘A+’ in marketing doesn’t make one a great marketing manager and so it is for finance or strategy or HR. It takes more, much more, than just good grades to produce a decent manager. One talks of knowledge, skills and attitude when it comes to practice-oriented education such as MBA. There is some thing more and different required to succeed as a manager. We earlier discussed about IQ not being sufficient. It has to be tempered with EQ to become a good manager and further complemented by SQ (spiritual quotient) to be a good leader.

Now, coming back to making good managers out of MBAs, what does it takes beyond grades/skills/attitude? Certain traits matter.

Can you work without supervision?

It is tough. Particularly for Indians. We need someone to stand with a stick in hand and wave it in front of us once in a while to get us to do things that we promise to do. Just think about it. With all our native abilities we lose out to the Western world on this. This requires self-drive.

Can you influence without power?

Hierarchy gives one power over others in an organisation. Still it is difficult to make people do exactly what and how you want them to. In the context of the evolving business environment, it is more imperative that one learns to influence without power.

Success lies in being able to sell one’s ideas to peers and superiors on whom you don’t have hierarchical power vested because of your organisational position. Your ideas need to be sold if you want to succeed no matter whether you are marketing or operations or finance or HR or whatever. Successful managers/leaders display this trait.

Can you persevere?

Do you give up when you run into a road block, turn tail and walk away? Do you find ways to surmount the obstacle?

Can you pay attention to details?

More intelligent (IQ) one is, more is likely the tendency to gloss over details. Details are tedious, painful but that is where the devil resides.

Can you dirty your hands?

A manager gets paid for getting things done. Are you going to be one of those who will not mind running around to the corner to get an urgent and important courier sent? Or, you would rather wait for the proverbial peon to turn up?

Can you work hard?

Working hard without being smart about it is not a virtue. But how many of the aspiring managers get this right combination?

And there are a few more.

In my more than 25 years of being in the business school circle, I have seen many toppers (in grades) not doing as well as many of their peers who were above average in grades (not toppers) but had many of the above mentioned traits. It just goes to show that managerial success is not just about IQ and knowledge alone.

What do business schools do?

Can you teach these traits to people? How do you teach some one to be persevering, hard working, to pay attention to details? Not as easy as teaching Kotler and Porter. So we don’t even try. We pray and hope that the students will already have it and /or by-the-by figure it out once they start working and get a few knocks in professional life.

Some schools do try to provide outside class room opportunities to enable students to discover and learn some of these traits. SPJIMR Mumbai being the pioneer in this.

Now what else business schools should do?

In top schools you get students who are top drawer material in terms of IQ. They are smart enough to read up on say ‘Weighted Average Cost of Capital’ (WACC) by themselves and understand 95 per cent of the theory/concept. So is the case with frameworks/theories/concepts in operations/ marketing/HR/strategy and so on.

Then why waste classroom hours in teaching them the theory over laborious classroom sessions with boring PPTs? What a collective waste of time. Why can’t schools and teachers have the students read up by themselves, discuss it among peers and come to the classroom only for clarification, applications and discussions to see if there are different perspectives? Flipped Classroom? Maybe.

Use the freed up class room hours for topics/subjects that are ‘soft’ in nature, use them for enabling students to get the ‘Big Picture’ perspective. For those subjects that require developing perspectives through application /discussions. Use the classroom hours for trying out different pedagogical / Androgogical approaches like using movies/literature/drama and theatre for role plays.

This will also go a long way in humanising /sensitising intelligent people. One of the persistent complaints about MBAs are that they are ruthless/lack human emotions and perspectives/have questionable ethics. This could help.

Another issue business schools need to tackle is to find a way to break out of the functional silos that they have locked themselves in. This starts with the very selection of the faculty members themselves. While it is tough to get good faculty and given that the system produces functional experts only, the choices are limited.

However, if business schools resolve to recruit faculty with some amount of industry exposure (even as a consultant/trainer) and see that they have a basic MBA degree prior to their PhD, this problem can be ameliorated to some extend.

The agenda is long and tough. I don’t envy business school leaders.

To read more from the Simply Strategy section, click here .