MBA or a postgraduate business program

Have you ever wondered why an MBA degree continues to be in demand and an attractive qualification despite occasional headlines such as ‘MBA is dead’ or ‘Why do an MBA’? Unlike other professional qualifications, MBA education has had its fair share of criticism and loyal supporters, with both sides arguing and promoting their perspectives. One may say that you can either hate MBA or love it, but for sure, you cannot ignore it!

Why has MBA education reached this stage, and what is its future? To answer these questions, it is interesting to understand the criticism levied against the MBA program in general and the MBA graduates in particular. Since its inception over 115 years ago, the MBA qualification has faced an uphill task of establishing its legitimacy as a profession owing to continuous comparison with other professional degrees such as medicine and law. Henry Mintzberg, an educator and management guru, in his famous book ‘Managers not MBAs’ asserts that the biggest challenge MBAs face is over-emphasizing management as a science, mainly based on analysis and technique. However, in real life, successful business leaders need to exercise both management techniques and intuition, and balance the science and art of managing in an increasingly complex business environment.

What are some of the reasons to do an MBA or Post graduate program in Management? Over the past two years, the world has transformed owing to the pandemic and its aftermath. Pre-pandemic, most businesses had started experiencing a shift towards digital, and the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of these disruptions via digital transformation, demanding a new way of managing and leading, one that calls for new skills and competencies. How have the leading MBA programs responded to these challenges and adapted their curriculum and student experiences in the light of remote or blended learning environments to create future-ready MBA graduates?

The greatest value of an MBA degree is the ‘business acumen’ and ‘leadership mindset’ that the program instils amongst its graduates. These values are supplemented by a range of management concepts, theories and soft skills that are essential in today’s complex workplaces. As the world moves towards the new normal, business managers require four distinct competencies – business literacy, digital & data literacy, people literacy and social literacy. A well-crafted MBA program gives immersive learning experiences to the participants in these four critical areas and equips them to make a radical impact on business and people.

Business literacy: In the VUCA world, businesses are operating amidst constant disruptions. Two perennial challenges faced by business leaders are to survive and thrive! Striking a balance between these two calls for business leaders who are sense makers, understand their customers and stakeholders, are able to predict changes and have an appetite to take an informed risk. Leaders who drive innovation are passionate about excellence, embrace ambiguity, and nurture their people to deal with the dynamics and fragility of markets. An MBA program develops participants to appreciate these complexities and equips them to lead by example.

Digital & data literacy: Gone are the days when digital issues were confined to the enterprise technology team within an organisation! Digital literacy is fast becoming a prerequisite, with business leaders having to constantly adapt to disruptions in technology and changing customer preferences. The ability to understand the impact of emerging technologies such as AI, ML, cloud and tech tools on their businesses determines the success or failure of a leader. This coupled with data literacy, is a must to predict and enhance customer experience. Big data, data analytics are taking centre stage. Increasingly, MBA programs are adapting their curriculum to equip students with relevant digital and data analytics skills. This enables participants to bring unique value to their firms.

People literacy: The future of work calls for business leaders and managers to be able to influence and motivate employees who choose to work from anywhere and at any time! The challenge for business leaders will be to create and nurture an organisational culture without possibly having a large physical organisation or teams that are co-located. In a virtual or blended workplace, creating an innovative and dynamic environment based on trust and mutual respect will be the next big leadership and management crisis. An MBA program pushes participants to discover their own leadership DNA, hone their capabilities to lead change and organisational transformation.

Social literacy: The pandemic has accelerated the need for businesses and leaders to become socially responsive by embracing ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). Sustainability, climate change and ethical practices are viewed seriously not just by regulators, but also by customers, business partners and investors and employees. A good grounding in areas of ethics, sustainability and organisational governance are part of MBA programs. These inputs empower MBA graduates to make informed decisions when facing dilemmas, addressing a long-standing criticism that MBAs are merely profit driven.

In summary, the persona of an effective business leader in the post-pandemic era is that of an agile, nimble, life-long learner equipped with essential management tools and techniques and MBA programs have proven to accelerate this transformation!

Dr Veena Jadhav, Associate Dean (MGB), Associate Prof. (Leadership & HRM) at S P Jain School of Global Management.

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