MBA as ‘Mind Before Action’

Monday, 15 December 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It was indeed memorable to organise an inauguration of another MBA batch at the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM). It was even special for me as I had the first opportunity of carefully selecting 240 candidates for the MBA 2015 batch after taking over the reins of PIM. Today’s column is all about it.   Overview It was last Friday that we had the MBA 2015 inauguration. Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawarathne, Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education was the chief guest whist Udena Wickremasuriya, Senior Director, Brandix was the key note speaker. Dr. Navarathne spoke of the role of an MBA graduate towards national prosperity. Wickemasuriya spoke on MBAs as innovators. From the process point of view, outcomes and outputs are good only when the inputs are good. That’s why I am happy that I sat for more than three hundred interviews of candidates who passed the admission test to get selected for PIM’s MBA. Being the pioneering MBA in Sri Lanka and hailed as the best consistently, PIM has a challenge to continuously improve. With rapid technological advancements, the need to have blended learning with the use of ICT tools is on the rise. Also, greater flexibility from the students as well the high standards from the institutions need to be maintained with proper balancing. We have realised the need to ensure quality and relevance at all times.   MBAs as prosumers It was Dr. Travis Perera, Senior Consultant, PIM who shared his thoughts on the dual aspects of MBAs. They are, in a way, consumers of PIM, receiving the education from us. At the same time they are co-producers of knowledge and skills. Hence the term borrowed from the marketing echelons, prosumer aptly demonstrates their nature. The increasingly competitive challenge is to enhance our prosumers. As Mr. Udena Wickremasuriya vividly demonstrated, they need to follow an exponential curve of growth, and not just a bell curve. It aptly fits to the K-SAM model of Dir. Navarathne, (Knowledge, Skills, Attitude and Mindset) where, for one to grow exponentially, you need a different mindset.   MBA as a transformational experience The PIM’s MBA inauguration last Friday, prompted me to move down the memory lane. I indeed went through that transformational experience. As I started off as an Engineer and then switched over to management, I realised that MBA would train the learner with a holistic view of a situation. In brief, the learner will be able to enhance the functional knowledge through a cylindrical view to broad business knowledge through a conical view. This interconnectedness” transforms the learner to appreciate other functions with a broader prospective or holistic view of the business. A good MBA curriculum should consist of business realities, challenges, new ways of looking at issues and produce out of the box solutions. From my own experience at PIM in talking to the alumni of MBA holders their single biggest factor in what makes them stand out among fellow peers is the “self-confidence” they have gained in experimenting, creating, innovating new pathways and questioning the traditional way of doing things. As a result MBA inculcates a mindset to tackle issues in an innovative and integrated manner. Simultaneously, being an MBA will enhance the market value of a person. As for the entrepreneurs, they will have professionals producing value for their organisations in a sustainable manner at the end of the day. The ultimate outcome is the birth of a powerful social network sharing calibre and leading to dynamic forces within organisations and of course pursuing higher benchmarks in professionalism.   The contents and the conduct The curriculum of a MBA is critical in producing professionals. Thus the success of a MBA programme depends on the aspects such as “the knowledge factor”, the “skills factor”, “attitude transformation” and the “time dimension”. To elaborate under the knowledge factor an MBA curriculum should be up to date with the cutting edge knowledge and the seminal or the essential body of knowledge. Secondly under the skills factor an MBA must inculcate or enhance skills in analysis, application, documentation, presentation, problem solving, relations building, negotiation and leading which are few of the essential skills in bringing professionalism to work. Thirdly the most critical aspect as for me is the “attitudinal dimension”. Speaking from my own experience becoming an MBA is changing a person’s own attitude to fundamentally challenge and stretch one’s self. In other words enhancing one’s capacity to cope with many fronts and priorities and thus maintain work-life balance. This aspect reiterates or complements the aspect of enhanced self confidence in an MBA holder. Finally the time dimension is as important and must cater for strategic and operational aspects of the business for sustainability in the long term. Equally as the educational thresholds are ever going up, the Accreditation system and Quality assurance are of paramount importance in offering a standard MBA. I tend to think that the success of an MBA programme reflects essentially on its Alumni. It gives me pride in stating that PIM being the pioneering MBA offering institution in Sri Lanka, has so far produced over forty CEOs. It highlights the value of MBA with its quality and relevance, locally as well as globally.   Criticisms on MBAs There is a wave of criticisms on MBAs around the world. Especially after the global credit crunch and the collapse of giants led by MBAs, this negativity has gathered momentum. I myself have heard from CEOs lamenting that some of their MBAs know a lot of theory but sadly lack the practical approach in applying them into real issues. Taking this issue into a broader perspective, an ongoing debate in the USA has even reach a point to say that MBA awarding business schools have an identity crisis. I am confident that we will not allow that to happen to us. Yet, it is better to be proactive than being reactive. According to Forbes magazine, Business schools have always juggled two missions: educating practitioners and creating knowledge through research. Fifty years ago, as explained in the 2005 HBR article How Business Schools Lost Their Way, business schools shifted their focus from the former to the latter. Management became a science rather than a profession. This shift had profound implications. Business schools rewarded professors for publishing their research in academic journals, and their curriculum began to reflect the narrow focus of the faculty. Business school professors became increasingly disconnected from practicing managers and leaders. By the mid-2000s, it became clear that business schools had swung too far in one direction. Being conscious of these developments have prompted us to strengthen our practical approach with necessary frameworks. It is not only “know what” but “Know why” and “know how”. For an example, every research our students do, it is mandatory to elaborate on managerial implications and practical applications.   From knowing to doing I would like to quote the famous author Aldous Huxley here: “At the end of the day what matters is not how much you know but how much you have done”. Simply, the MBA should not be limited to a paper qualification. The purpose of the MBA is to produce professionals not theoreticians. This is exactly where “having an MBA” differs to “being a MBA”. Being a MBA will bring out professionals who will possess a holistic view of a situation and hence will innovate new ways of thinking through the ability to think on feet and apply knowledge more systematically. An MBA will always bring new ways of doing things to the table and deliver results for long-term sustainability of an organisation. Thus, MBA is essentially employability and what is best, professionalism.   Way forward MBAs should never be ‘Mentally Below Average’. It should always be ‘Mind Before Action’. It reminds me of what Asian wisdom has taught us, the Seeing-Doing nexus. “Samma Ditti” (right seeing) should lead to “Samma Vayama” (right action). A good MBA helps the learner to see things clearly and do things cleverly. That’s what we require in a turbulent world with chaotic competition all over. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is the Acting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA.)