Getting the most out of your MBA

2014-04-05

Himalayan News Service

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About three years ago, a young graduate asked me what she should aim to get out of an MBA programme. She explained that she was seeking advice from a variety of professionals before committing time and money to enrol in a management school in Kathmandu. I mumbled something vague, and suggested that she could use the degree to get a job as a management trainee at a bank or a company.

But I was dissatisfied by my own answer. And the earnest question stayed with me. Since then, having advised friends to apply to MBA programmes outside of Nepal, having taught economics to MBA students on a part-time basis, and having worked with MBAs in and out of Nepal, I have had time to give the question some additional thought. Assuming that your goal is to build a productive career, what should you get of your MBA studies other than a pricey certificate at the end?

I would now suggest these four major outcomes.

Persuasive writing and speaking skills:
Unless you want to work with machines on a factory floor (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), most of what people in well-paid white-collar professions do boils down to two activities: writing and speaking. Each working day, people write emails, reports and memos. They meet clients, chat with colleagues, ask questions, share ideas, voice their opinions and disagree with others’ ideas.

Given that work today is all about writing and speaking, in one form or another, those who do both persuasively are going to have a significant advantage in a management career over those who don’t. Fortunately, these are skills that anyone with the motivation to spend time practicing can be good at. Spending two years at a business school can be an effective way to sharpen those skills through assignments and extracurricular activities.

Using data to make decisions:
Most top Nepali MBA graduates are good at statistics and accounting to gather and tabulate data. But arranging data is not the same as interpreting it to help make strategic decisions. After all, a firm hires managers not to collect information for the sake of collecting it, but to interpret it to make decisions.

To be sure, most MBA colleges, under pressure from their universities to appear academic, spend much time teaching students the mathematics behind data collection (which, in real life, can often be outsourced to market research companies) and the like. That leaves them almost no time to teach students how to interpret the collected data to make decisions. As a result, MBA graduated enter the work force thinking that databases equal information. And that, to paraphrase the worlds of management guru Peter Ducker, is a classic case of mistaking raw materials for finished products. That is why the eventual aim of MBA students should not be to replace specialists such as statisticians or accountants, but to focus on how to interact with such professionals intelligently and effectively to help firms grow. In times ahead, as information technologies become cheaper and widespread, the torrents of data heading in any manager’s direction will only grow. When that happens, those MBAs who know how to apply relevant data to make decisions are likely to enjoy a more successful management career than those who don’t.

Analysis through established framework:
Business is not rocket science. Today’s business problems, as complex as they are, are not fundamentally different from those of yesterday. Whether you produce potato chips or computer chips, the underlying issues are the same: how to come up with ideas, how to arrange capital, labour, technology and networks to turn those ideas into goods and services, how to market and sell what you produce, and how to plow back the profits to make your business grow.

In an MBA programme, it’s important to learn to view problems and opportunities in terms of frameworks. Some problems are related to marketing. Others, to strategy. Still others, to product development. Sure, a self- taught businessperson, running his own firm with zero exposure to MBA-level jargon, may intuitively know what needs to be done for his success, and will do just that. That’s fine. But, in most cases, what a good MBA education should do is help you formalise mush of your intuition through tested frameworks so that you can persuade colleagues and bosses of your ideas.

In other words, as an employee, your just saying, “Trust me; this will work” will not get you far in any company. But “I am applying the Porter model to tweak our pricing strategy” will get you the attention of your peers to take relevant actions. Yes, as you can accumulate experiences, the limitations of many of these tested frameworks will become obvious to you. At that time, your maturity, creativity and judgement will surely come into play. But at the start of your career, the frameworks remain powerful analytical tools to help you analyse business problems.

Aim for lifelong employability:
In today’s Nepal, unless you are in His Majesty’s civil service, nobody will offer you a secure lifelong job. That’s the reality. You will change jobs more than once for many reasons. It has become urgent to learn how to remain employable at any stage of you life by taking charge of your own career growth.

In this context, a good MBA programme gives you contacts and networks, not to mention credibility, which you can dip into for information and benefits. At the least, such a programme should make you appreciate that learning never ends, and that continuous skill improvement is the only way to market yourself to the top. True, most MBA programmes are concerned only with getting you your first job. But you should let them know that they are shortchanging their reputation if they fail to give you basic tools to help you find your second, third or even sixth job.

Agreed, after paying exorbitant fees that most MBA colleges charge for tuition, one should expect more from them. But for now, these four outcomes can be the starting points to help a prospective student to decide what to demand from an MBA education for success.

(Source: The Boss Magazine)