If change really is the only certainty in life and business, then the current pandemic can be seen as an extreme example of the constant uncertainty of the world in which we live. This is an unprecedented time and disruption and we pay tribute to the medical staff and others on the frontlines around the world, as they help protect us and win us the time to consider how business will eventually restart in the near future, as we all hope.
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With large-scale staff reductions, paid or unpaid leave programmes, and furloughs across many countries – especially keen in some industries across the Middle East, from travel and tourism to hospitality, leisure and fitness – companies will now need new thinking and new business models in order to survive this “force majeure”.
For working professionals, these are also uncertain times and dynamic disruptions continue across whole industries. It’s a time when people wonder what to do and how to respond, how to plan for career and family, not just to survive the extremes of the current pandemic but also to thrive in the business world that will eventually emerge.
Many companies have shown remarkable adaptability and agility, as they try to ensure some form of continuity while keeping people safe, through remote working and a reliance on digital tools and platforms to stabilise business and continue to serve customers in some way. We have learned a lot about the future of work in just weeks of this new world, and we will learn more with the anticipated economic recession – or even depression – that awaits.
But what can individuals do to help stabilise their careers, build a foundation for the future and the resilience needed to withstand the inevitable uncertainties that will always arise?
Thrive in uncertainty
Musician John Lennon, a member of The Beatles, made famous a quote: “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
We are all driven to plan ahead and this includes personal and professional development, even in times of extreme uncertainty. But life still “happens”.
One key reason is that we rely on knowledge, experience, skills and networks to help plan and manage our careers, and just as importantly, we need the confidence to meet the future head-on, for ourselves and our families.
As in all periods of uncertainty, there is also opportunity – for example, to consider personal and professional development and prepare for the economic recovery and potentially a very different regional and global economy. In difficult economic times, MBA applications generally rise as candidates seek to accelerate their career, change industry or move to a more entrepreneurial path.
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Financial Times (FT) for the FT’s annual report on the world’s best MBAs, published in January and focusing on the rise of the “sustainable MBA”. They published my quote: “…employers want our graduates to be more global, versatile, able to navigate uncertainty, and trustworthy – responsible business is good business too.”
This was before the pandemic of course but the sentiment of the quote applies even more strongly now, as companies and organisations of every kind and size face the greatest healthcare crisis and economic uncertainty in our lifetimes.
The need now is for what I call “versatility” and it’s a vital attribute.
This is where the MBA comes in because it provides students with a unique big picture overview and insights into all the key functions of business, from operations to HR. These are then brought together through an over-arching strategy course.
This general management qualification is constantly evolving of course and is one way of acquiring the skills not only to survive but to thrive in the future.
Your career differentiator
Every applicant has a personal career reason to join. Your career may have reached a plateau or you want to move from a technical to a managerial role and you need some training to get out of the groove and into higher management. Many candidates want to switch sectors or even countries, and then the MBA provides a reflective juncture to consider this, as well as building a professional network for life. For other more experienced students, it’s a great way to formalise years of experience.
We are also welcoming more entrepreneurs who want to explore and test new venture ideas and insights in how to go to market and how to finance the venture. So, it’s no surprise that Venture Capital & Private Equity and Entrepreneurship & Innovation Management are two of the most popular elective courses (among a choice of more than 25 electives to personalise the programme) for our MBAs.
Whatever your motivation, the MBA is a career differentiator. Once you decide to pursue an MBA, it’s all about finding the right fit for your personal interest, ambitions and circumstances – but you only do an MBA once, so select the best you can find to meet your objectives.
Develop your soft skills: the five Cs
Business leaders need a distinctive set of skills with a global outlook. I see five key skills for the MBA student to develop – communications, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and confidence.
Communicating is about building skills not just in presenting and speaking in different formats and context, face to face or virtually but to develop soft networking skills, social skills, elevator pitches, and the ability to negotiate. Collaboration means building mutual trust and increasing efficiency through teamwork. Creativity is a skill that algorithms don’t have – ideas and thinking about strategy. Critical thinking – different perspectives add value and since AMBS students come from various backgrounds, gender, countries, and industries, they enrich the experience. Confidence is the most important of the five skills, not just self-assurance but the trust in others that builds confidence about the future. MBA students and graduates tell us that one of the key benefits is the confidence to pursue and achieve their career objectives.
The blended learning MBA is a very demanding and transformational academic programme supported by networking events, online careers seminars, employability sessions, speaker events, and alumni networking.
In these uncertain times, there’s no better time to start an MBA.
Xavier Duran is Director of MBA Programmes at Alliance Manchester Business School.