What's missing at business schools

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In 1984, Mark McCormack wrote “What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School – Notes From A Street Smart Executive.”

In 1989, he wrote “What They Still Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School.”

A quarter-century later, there still are critical elements missing with the MBA education – and there are troubles with newly graduated MBAs. New MBA graduates lack key interpersonal skills, the ability to write and speak clearly and persuasively, team-building skills and an understanding and commitment to business ethics.

There have been some efforts to address gaps in the MBA education.

In 2005, Jack Welsh was a guest lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management and he told the students “just concentrate on networking. Everything else you need to know, you can learn on the job” in response to a question about what the students should learn.

After that lecture, MIT began adding more interpersonal coursework. Other business schools began to follow suit by stressing teamwork and listening skills.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council surveyed recruiters and found that skills employers value most – the ability to write and speak clearly and persuasively – still are missing in new MBAs.

The University of Chicago, in response, required each MBA candidate to take a communications and team-building course and be coached and mentored by second-year students.

In 2005, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania began offering a leadership program with one-on-one coaching from professional coaches. There also was a push for greater focus on business ethics.

And the Yale School of Management started teaching how to plan a career and how to cope with stress.

Today's business world has many critical skill requirements.

One key element for successful occupants of the “C-suite” today is the ability to think beyond the textbook. This means an understanding of multiple disciplinary areas and the ability to perform effectively across departmental boundaries.

Strategic thinking is absolutely critical to success, and that requires a look beyond traditional analytical frameworks.

The business world is in a state of constant change, and the approach to strategy in business must be able to adapt to that change.

It appears today's business schools are still out of touch and out of step with what corporations are demanding in the way of innovative, creative and strategic thinkers. Too many business schools continue to produce masters of analysis instead of masters of strategic thinking and adaptation.

The missing ingredient in the curriculum is thinking skills.

Since Enron, soul searching has occurred in many places, including business schools. Many business schools were shocked to discover how many of their students cheated and, even worse, always had.

Some business schools have added ethics courses and worked to integrate moral concepts into the core curriculum. Some worked to teach a business model that included good corporate citizenship and one that used profit as one benchmark, rather than the benchmark for success.

The consequences for business schools that do not change will be that they become like other obsolete institutions that did not adapt to change.

We now hear that “corporations are people.” Although said primarily in a legal context, we may agree with the statement if we look at it through a lens of an interconnectivity of people through business that is global and very dense.

Our economy's survival requires us to reposition our businesses inside this world, where we are connected to people, consequences, ethics, values and responsibilities. This presents an incredible opportunity for business schools to recognize, understand and adapt to the need to redefine and reposition.

Will they have the wisdom and the courage to change and teach what they need to teach in today's complex business world?

Stay tuned. Glenn Ebersole, Professional Engineer, is strategic vice president, business development/marketing and a member of the strategic leadership team at Hollenbach Construction Inc., an award-winning professional design/build construction management and general contractor organization in Boyertown. He can be reached at 610-367-4200 or gebersole@hollenbach.com.

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