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Is there a scope of improvement in management education? If so, how do we enrich it further?

I confess that management education is not my forte. The only exposure I have had to this exalted field was when I was at the receiving end, so to say – that is, as a MBA student myself! But, over the years, interaction with the younger managers has provided me with valuable clues as to the challenges being faced by the current crop of MBAs. This alone emboldens me to endeavor to propose what I believe could be done to enrich the process further. Of course, I do so with utmost humility at my command!

·         A 360-degree CEO View

Management education opens up one’s mind to various facets of an enterprise. However, it does so through the bifocals of a top honcho’s perspective. Upon entering the industry, a befuddled greenhorn could get a thermal shock. Most of the concepts covered in a typical MBA course appear to be irrelevant at that stage of one’s career. Depending upon an incumbent’s innate strengths and the type of opportunities one gets in one’s career, it could take around 15-20 years for one to reach a level where the first whiff of real business strategy and corporate planning etc comes one’s way.

What we need perhaps is a better emphasis on the dilemmas faced by middle level managers. This can possibly be achieved by structured interactions with management experts in the middle rung of large organizations. Case studies which are designed to showcase the types of challenges faced by middle management could also help.

A 360-degree view is absolutely fine, as long as the gondola takes us not only to a mountain top at 3,500 m in the Swiss Alps, but also delights us with the panoramic views at 1,500 m and 2,500 levels.

·         Business History

The way Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis grew up, adapting to times which ranged from British governance to the license and permit-raj days, followed by the phase of economic reforms in India, is fascinating.

If one group focused on weaving ethical values into its business operations, the other capitalized on the pent-up demand in the market. Even their approach to philanthropy was different – one ploughed back its resources by focusing on the fine arts, fundamental sciences and medical facilities, the other earned the public’s respect by constructing a string of temples and related facilities for the common man.

Dhirubhai Ambani became a darling of the masses and popularized the concept of equity investments amongst the teeming millions of India. Post economic reforms, entrants like Infosys delivered good value to shareholders and employees in the newly emerging knowledge economy of India.

Examples abound from the international business arena as well. One is not talking merely of legends like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs here. Alfred D. Chandler’s ‘The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business’, and Charles Wilson’s ‘History of Unilever’ offer great insights into the field of business history.

While pursuing business history, one comes across entrepreneurial heroes as well as exploitative villains and empire builders as well as corporate raiders. A truly enriching exposure for a wannabe entrepreneur and/or an intra-preneur!

·         Lessons from Scriptures

Whether it is Ramayana, Mahabharat, Thirukkural or Chanakya’s Artha Shastra, there is a rich repertoire of management strategy as well as tactics enshrined in our scriptures. Each one contains gems of wisdom which can be put to effective use by management institutes which are already waking up to utilizing the wealth of wisdom available in literature to drive home some key management concepts.

The story of Lord Rama teaches us about waging a war with very limited resources. It also tells us about succession planning, ideal management practices based on fair and impartial conduct of those in power, humility, besides covering several other concepts.

Mahabharat can teach us about the perils of attachment to one’s near and dear ones in life/career, merit taking precedence over pedigree in promotions, tactical retreats in the face of imminent disaster and the risks of hasty decision making sans careful thought, to name only a few. Bhagavat Gita is full of practical wisdom for those aspiring to become professional managers.

Thirukkural tells us about the duties of a king and so does Chanakya Neeti.

For grooming business leaders who have a strong sense of values embedded in their thought processes, our scriptures are an invaluable resource.

·         Finishing

For those who are aspiring for a global career, the main cultural differences between different continents of the world can improve the value-add of management education. Dining habits, etiquette and manners followed by diverse cultures across the globe can also be incorporated in consultation with institutes of learning in the field of hospitality and tourism management.

Observing and following the organization’s culture when kick-starting one’s career, protocols of behaving with seniors, peers and subordinates and do’s and don’ts of e-manners to be followed while handling e-mails, etc. can also be driven home.

Some of the above could be immensely useful to students who step into management education with socially disadvantaged sections of our society. Covering such areas would tend to make this field more inclusive in nature.

·         A Focus on Follower-ship As Well

‘Leadership’ is a favorite topic in management. We have a rich literature providing invaluable insights into various aspects of leadership. Somehow, the traits of ‘Follower-ship’ have not merited much attention at the hands of management gurus and academics. As a discipline, does management education not need to create good followers as well? After all, a leader without a gang of followers could end up being pretty clueless!

The harsh reality is that an overwhelming majority of MBAs would turn out to be followers. If a leader is expected to have charisma, a follower needs to have common sense. If a leader leads by example, the follower realizes that blind faith could mislead the team. If a leader is supposed to be adept at resolving inter-personal conflicts, a follower is expected to work harmoniously with other team members.

Most business leaders today concur that planning is relatively easy; their real challenge lies in flawless implementation. Now, if a leader lays out a strategic vision backed by meticulous planning, smooth   implementation can only come through a bevy of hard-working followers.

·         Yoga and Meditation

Physical and mental fitness is a sine qua non to do well in one’s career. Institutions training the managers for tomorrow can figure out innovative ways to bring in these elements as well into the management education curriculum.

It appears that we would do well to beef up conceptual knowledge imparted in management courses with skills and values that would make MBAs more competitive and more balanced in their approach to real issues in the industry.

The managers of management education (in India, as also elsewhere) may find some merit in the above propositions.  

 

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PACKAGES

Negotiable only at the entry stage, and may not remain so thereafter! Also, the rate of growth of packages outside the company would always be better than the jumps you get in-house! Bear in mind that packages are worked out in relation to the company’s corporate ego (read brand value), and also the comfort levels offered. If you are willing to challenge yourself and move out of your present comfort zone, don’t grumble for long; find another exciting opportunity and move on!

As postulated by the Motivation-Hygiene Theory of Herzberg, packages fall in the Hygiene category of rewards. In other words, to use a medical analogy, their presence does not necessarily make a person healthier; on the contrary, their absence can cause deterioration in health. To put it simply, when it comes to individual motivation levels, packages have a rather short shelf life!

PEOPLE

They are not spares of a machine, to be replaced once their utility is exhausted. Grooming them for higher responsibilities is the management’s prerogative.

The Two Factor theory established long time back that money is a poor motivator, boosting people’s morale only in the short run. Money is connected to material acquisitions and the mind. Intangibles appeal to the heart and make much better sense. A surprising word of praise from an unexpected quarter can cheer up an employee no end. A birthday greeting which goes out-of-the-way to enable an employee to spend quality time with his family may be far more effective. The intangibles build an emotional bond with the company.

PERFORMANCE

At times, first impressions of performance are wrong. Some slow starters may become star performers; some could well be flashes in the pan who eventually fumble and attain a state of clueless bliss. Most jobs would need consistent performance, whereas some require short-term bursts of energy and attention.

Assess performance of people over a period of time, against the backdrop of the nature of the assignment handled.

PLANNING

Good planning needs to be exhaustive, but also flexible. Business environment is always in a flux, and a plan always has to be reviewed to ensure not only its own relevance but also the enthusiasm of the team which would be burning the proverbial midnight oil to implement it.

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