The Value of MBAs from a Corporate Perspective

The business world is changing at a rate that would have been unimaginable in the past. Rapid advancements in technology, changes in customer behaviour, higher expectations from financial investors and a general sense of impatience are placing tremendous and often paradoxical demands on the top management of corporations. Dealing with such change is requiring them to modify the way they organise themselves.

In today's world, trained resources have become increasingly important. MBA graduates have traditionally been looked at as one such trained resource: trained in the art of analytical thinking, trained in dealing with complex issues in a structured manner, and trained to think like leaders. The first firms to think along these lines were the consulting firms, followed by those in the financial services world. This trend has now caught up with other industries - to the level that even small start-up firms recruit some MBAs to add a bit of new thinking to their operations. The results have been mixed, ranging from excellent performances to the downright mediocre. Why is that? Are MBAs not living up to their expectations in some areas, or is it that some environments aren't suitable for MBAs? In fact, the truth lies somewhere in between these two explanations.

Firms that indicate their happiness with the whole MBA recruitment plan have many things in common. All of them, without doubt, offer extremely challenging yet relatively risk-free environments to their new recruits, providing a culture that fosters creativity and acknowledges individual initiative. Most have a clear idea of the growth path planned for the recruits, have ambitious growth plans themselves, and value new ideas that they see as a constant source of innovation. Firms that express dissatisfaction with their MBA recruitment programme, on the other hand, do at times have working environments that are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Such firms have extremely hierarchical organisation structures, with set ways of conducting business. MBAs find themselves wasted in such environments, and either choose to leave for better pastures or stay and perform in an uninspired manner. MBAs, too, should be blamed for some of the concerns expressed with regard to their suitability. Many come into their working environments with extremely rigid ideas about what a good career looks like, about the kind of responsibilities that they should be handling, and about the kind of learning that they should get along the way. Many exhibit poor man-management skills at the beginning, and at times show a distinct dislike for anything that deals with the emotional angle of effective decision-making.

So where then does the solution lie? In a two-pronged approach, which starts by creating an environment that nurtures creativity and team spirit, as well as training MBAs on their emotional intellect to ensure that the chances of an MBA misfire are minimised. Care must be taken to ensure the individual fits with the organisation, and firms that take care to ensure this fit end up as winners with the right team. For example, consulting firms prefer recruits with a certain profile, a profile which could be totally irrelevant in a merchant banking environment or a manufacturing industry. However, MBAs themselves have to start articulating which environments give wings to their potential too, and then go ahead to choose careers in those environments.

The real question that should be asked by companies is 'How best do I attract and utilise MBAs to fit in with our culture?' At the same time, MBAs should be asking themselves questions about which environment will be best suited to the development of their full potential. For both employers and recruits, asking these questions would ensure that there is a meeting of like minds. Issues related to changes in mindset or retaining talent then seem irrelevant. The best way to deal with a problem is to first avoid its creation in the first place - prevention is better and less painful than cure!

AUTHOR: Carmen Bouverat, Business School Recruitment Executive, KPMG Consulting

 

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