In Truth about Management Education, we talk about the problems faced by MBA students. The problem is real and solutions are not easy. But, for whatever they are worth, here are some suggestions for making management education more relevant to the concerns of real-world managers.
a) Course structure
In the MBA course, let's bring in more areas related to what the new MBAs would be doing in their first few years. This means - more exposure to aspects of law as it applies to business (statutory legal frameworks, maybe of several neighboring countries, contract laws and so forth) as well as a composite course called "commercial management". This would include all the nitty-gritty of daily business that gets swept aside in the MBA programme - how does one open a letter of credit? How do you start a business - what permissions are required? What are the ways in which an organization deals with its suppliers and customers? What does an invoice in a typical manufacturing organization look like? What does a typical agreement in a service industry e.g. a bank, look like? Obviously, given the great variety of commercial situations, everything cannot be simulated in the classroom, but one can be given a close look at the day-to-day reality of the business, which the MBA would be immersed in, once he/she joins an organization.
The insistence of PhDs as Faculty by many institutions has severely impacted the real-world experience profile of faculty in the classroom. In areas such as economics, such academic background is definitely a huge benefit, but, applied to areas such as marketing, one is almost certain of getting a faculty who is intimately involved in quantitative models and statistical analysis, but who has probably never sold or marketed anything in his or her career. The same considerations apply to areas such as human resources, operations and finance. Visiting faculty can close the gap to some extent, but only partially. The solution is to have full-time faculty with significant managerial experience (who are adequately compensated). After all, would you like to be taught surgery by a medical professor who has never conducted a surgery oneself? Yet, we think nothing of being taught strategic management by professors who have never developed and executed a strategy for an organization (typically a senior management or board responsibility).
c) Interaction with industry
Summer internships and projects, while extremely useful; rarely provide the kind of real-world environment with capabilities and responsibilities, the MBA students require. This is a complicated question, which various forward-thinking schools are trying to address in different ways. Some are proposing breaking up the programme into two parts: the first year followed by a one-year internship in an organization, followed by a second year, by which time the young MBA has a much better appreciation of the real dilemmas and issues of the real world. Others are proposing taking practicing managers out of their assigned roles for two years and immersing them in various learning environments. This approach has been taken by Henry Mintzberg, who firmly believes that management cannot be taught, only experienced and learned, and in his management development programme, only takes in practicing managers. These are exposed to various learning situations in different countries relevant to their working experience and then revert to their original employer.
Whatever be the structure of industry-academic interaction, it is clear that the quantity and quality of real-world exposure of the MBA student has to go up - a lot.
If we study professions such as law, medicine and accounting, it is clear that management theory and practice still has some distance to go before it can be called a profession. Even so, an appreciation of the issues involved in management education would ensure that we are moving in the desired direction - towards a meeting of the real world, where risks are taken, decisions are made and consequences suffered or enjoyed, and the academic world, where such situations are dissected and analyzed.