A few days ago we interviewed seven candidates with MBAs for a senior leadership position. Most of them we concluded could not even manage or lead their way out of a paper bag – but think they’re there, because they have an MBA.
Having an MBA doesn’t predict whether you’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned to the real world and – most important – it seems to have very little bearing on whether or not you’ll be able to continue to learn, to keep acquiring the skills and knowledge you’ll need along the way. To add to this list, today there are some MBA degrees out there that are barely worth the paper they’re written on.
For a start, an MBA does not really make you a ‘Master’ of anything? Also, accredited business schools are churning out MBAs like factories and it is high time the authorities set high-quality assurance standards that are reviewed annually, in addition to the quality of teaching.
Having an MBA is no guaranteed path for business leaders, but to be a successful business leader you need to know the basics of business, finance, human resources, supply chain, marketing, technology and sales. The MBA degree helps managers learn these skills so they can succeed as leaders.
A good MBA programme should incorporate real-life experiences, such as real-impact projects with companies, rather than having them as standalone courses or worse, electives. The curriculum should include many such experiences, structured to cover a spectrum of company sizes, stages, industries and economic and cultural contexts.
Students should be taught to compare and contrast different work experiences, enabling them to develop the ability to read situations and draw from a repertoire of responses. A good MBA therefore, is expected to provide on-the-job leadership training.
Selecting a College
In general, students before they select a college should, consider the institute’s history, brand name, faculty, accreditations, infrastructure, industry and international affiliations and other such indications of its true standing. One can get insight by interacting with the institute’s alumni, current students, faculty and administration. There is a lot of information on websites and online forums as well, although not all of it is verifiable or can be authenticated. Work experience helps the applicant firstly to get accepted and the work experience can help the student to connect the principles and concepts learned during the MBA programme with the day-to-day work.
Without experience, the student may not grasp the relevance of the ideas being taught. That would however depend to a large extent on the quality of the work experience the student has had in a company. Generally, in two or three years, the applicant who has had leadership responsibility can recognize the importance of strategy, organisation, finance, marketing and other topics.
If the applicant works in a narrow area, e.g., engineering or sales, the experience will have less meaning. Part-time MBA programmes are helpful for students who must work to cover the tuition fees or not willing to leave full-time employment.
Because classes are scheduled outside of normal business hours, it is therefore possible to earn a degree while you work full-time. On the other hand, doing a part-time MBA could put enormous pressure on personal life and the time demands of the degree may put enormous pressure on work output.
Business as we all know is comprised of many parts, finance, marketing, technology, supply chain, human resources, etc. The first few years of anyone’s career often require an individual to work in a silo. A specialist MBA can be very handy for functional experts sitting in shared service or in an expert centre to move their career to the next level in the function.
Also, a specialist MBA programme would provide training that goes beyond general business management to provide functional expertise in areas like HR, finance or marketing. Specialist MBAs are now a very popular branch for graduate students looking to become functional experts.
The one to watch is generally the accredited MBA. These MBA degrees have mushroomed all over the globe, including in Sri Lanka. Do these programmes deliver real value to MBA aspirants? The market test says, ‘yes’ because demand (applications) exceeds supply (spaces available). The real test is whether the MBA programme one follows and completes can boost one’s career opportunities and help the person to excel in the current job. Therefore, before jumping into an accredited programme, studying the external ratings of the programme and talking to past and current students of the institute can be very useful. This would ensure that you are in good hands and your education investment would finally, pay off. In a knowledge economy, those who have more insight and knowledge have an edge over the rest. Education is a source of knowledge and it differentiates employees, so it will continue to be a valuable commodity. The top programmes will continue to have more and more demand and they will keep increasing the fees. The lesser-recognized programmes will probably filter out or price their product to attract the candidates they can hope to attract.
The one takeaway you should get from this piece: if you do decide to go for B-School or you are hiring a MBA for a leadership position, do your research, find out which schools and programmes are considered to be reputable and relevant to your chosen field or business.
(Dinesh Weerakkody is a thought leader in HR)