Business leaders in all industries across the globe are challenged daily to stay competitive, develop a sustainable business, and update their business skills to keep up with the constantly changing market.
A survey conducted by the The Conference Board among more than 800 American CEOs about the biggest business challenges they expect to face in 2019 showed that the ability to attract and retain quality workers is their top internal concern. With the digital economy continuing to upend every industry, CEOs understandably pointed to the need to create new business models as their second biggest concern. Among the investments that CEOs should at least consider is enhancing a physical product with complementary services to make it “smart”.
The CEOs cited the challenge of developing leaders for the next generation as their third biggest priority. The survey showed that executives recognise the need to invest in succession planning for future achievement. CEOs must invest in continuous learning for their employees, as successful businesses navigating through these uncharted waters focus on modernising their employees’ skills. Education that builds an understanding of digitisation and technology needs to extend to the top of the house.
Business leadership education in a changing context
Business schools, with their knowledge and expertise, may be holding the key to solving these challenges that companies are facing today. Schools keep a close eye on market trends and aim to anticipate market demands. Thus, they update their curriculum and review core subjects every four to five years, while electives are typically examined every year.
As an example, IE Business School (Spain), which reviews its core MBA programme in line with market demand every four or five years, has reduced the number of core courses to 14 from 22 and increased the number of electives offered on its MBA to 85 from 70.
INSEAD (France) has also upgraded its 10-month MBA course with curriculum changes geared around a concept called “Business as a Force for Good”, which is aimed at aligning the goals of business with the goals of society and at teaching students how business can prosper and produce positive outcomes for society. Three new courses, on ethics, politics, and policy, have been combined into one “super-course”. “The challenges of today cannot be solved with yesterday’s thinking. Meeting our common challenges requires ingenuity of bold leaders who can champion business as a force for good,” said the school’s dean Ilian Mihov during the Force for Good conference held in October 2018. The school has also expanded its array of elective courses, adding new classes on digital initiatives as well as business ethics. Another development has been the new Personal Leadership Development Programme, including personal coaching from professionals and peers around the globe to enhance the learning experience.
MBA programmes embrace the digital disruption
The digital era, with its regular technological breakthroughs, has been reshaping every part of our lives. Companies need tech-savvy business leaders to take them through this disrupted world. “It’s no longer okay for students to say: ‘I’m not tech savvy; I’m not a digital person,“ Keith Bevans, global head of Consultant Recruiting at Bain & Company, told The Economist. The company expected to hire 500 MBA graduates worldwide in 2019.
Now more than ever before, business schools are expected to deliver an understanding of technology and develop their curricula to meet the growing demand to view technology in a business context. A survey of more than 1,200 MBA aspirants conducted in 2018 by CarringtonCrisp shows that 18% of students say they are interested in studying a technology-management module in their MBA programme, which makes it second only to leadership skills. Lacking basic knowledge of a core digital component can have an impact on career development, says Andrew Crisp, one of the co-founders of CarringtonCrisp.
Business schools have indeed started to incorporate digital technology courses in their MBA curricula. Some schools, such as Stanford Graduate School of Business (US) and Georgetown University McDonough School of Business (US), plan to introduce FinTech courses. MIT Sloan School of Management (US) is just one that has developed interdisciplinary programmes to integrate highly innovative technical elements such as big data and machine learning into their curriculum.
The school’s MBA participants are able to take classes together with students from across the campus in the MIT Media Lab or MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science programme if they want to gain deep technical expertise, says Laura Herson, director of the MBA programme. And some institutions such as the Amsterdam Business School (Netherlands) go a step further by offering MBA programmes focused on big data and business analytics.
Evolving teaching methods personalise the learning experience
Apart from constantly upgrading their curricula, schools are expanding the range of teaching methods they use to provide the quality education needed today. More traditional teaching methods like class lectures, group discussions, written exercises, and written and oral presentations are used together with more innovative methods like case studies, research projects, and experiential learning simulations.
Another feature is that most graduate business programmes strive for a balance between research productivity and teaching quality. “What makes you a great researcher also makes you very effective in the classroom…Our faculty bring that style of inquiry — pushing, asking questions, and the back and forth — into the classroom along with their research,” Chicago Booth School of Business (US) deputy dean for Alumni, Corporate Relations and the Full-time MBA programme Stacey Kole, was quoted by Poets&Quants.
Adding flexibility by enabling MBA participants to choose a teaching style is a next level of personalising the learning experience. “You can take a more case-based version of a course or a more theoretic version,” Kole was quoted as saying. “You can take ones with faculty members who are inclined to facilitate more active discussions. You can take another one from someone who’s known for giving amazing lectures. The student can match his or her preference for style. We really customise the experience in a way that makes it fundamentally different for the student.”
Embracing the disrupted world, business schools today are transforming aspiring managers into the next generation of business leaders. Educators should be leaders of change based in research, but should also invest their talent to teach and guide their students to grow and live up to the requirements of the new reality.