Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Big fish eat little fish and so on ad infinitum. (About B-Schools and MBA) 01-21

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Big fish eat little fish and so on ad infinitum. (About B-Schools and MBA)

Today’s dynamic, technology-infused world offers limitless opportunities for bringing new ideas to your customers, whether in a for-profit business, non-profit entity or government agency. But even the most forward-thinking leaders with clear strategic visions can fail to see their visions executed successfully. To achieve desired organizational and team results, strategy and execution must be aligned, yet organizations often struggle to effectively identify, resource and manage the project-based work that comprises the strategy.

These industries look up to the B-Schools to provide human resources that could eventually be trained to excel in envisioning the future technological needs of the organization and plan the execution of the same.

How far the present B-Schools are equipped to deliver the same….???

Well the big ones, international ones and the globally relevant ones are to certain extent able to do it. As for others, it is still a far cry, with regard to “the needs and delivery parameters”. And this inability impacts the quantum and quality of intake, student career, and the profitability of the institutions.

When we examine the actual effects of business schools on the two outcomes of most relevance and importance, the careers of their graduates and the knowledge they produce, the picture is reasonably bleak. There is little evidence that mastery of the knowledge acquired in business schools enhances people's careers, or that even attaining the MBA credential itself has much effect on graduates' salaries or career attainment. Similarly, the impact of business school research, judged by a number of different criteria, appears to be quite small, and this is true even when research produced by business school professors is compared with business research conducted by writers not in business schools.

Even in this bleak situation, some of the big schools who have earned an impeccable reputation over a period of time due to various factors garner all the quality admissions and big buck campus recruitments. This is at the expense of numerous small Institutions, which cannot afford the quality in various aspects that these big institutions have. This situation is known as …..

Big fish eat little fish and so on ad infinitum.

Is your B-School in this situation?

Do you feel throttled by the brand image of the big schools?

Are they walking away with the admissions and recruitments from your area?

You can come out of this situation. Yes you can

You too can become an institution with a reputation to reckon with, only if you can build a Brand Equity that takes you everywhere.

How do you build Brand Equity?

You money can buy you things like state of Art Infrastructure. Technically superior labs, high quality course content and even highly qualified teaching staff. You may also be getting local students strength based on the local reputation of the founders. But all this does not amount to brand image. You are having a cozy piggy ride on founding family’s reputation, which again is limited to a part of the district, a district or at the most a state or province of the country. Such dependence is a dangerous thing because your reputation will also have a downward and upward swing in accordance with the fluctuations in the reputation of the founding family. The fluctuations are more, if the family is in politics. It is best advised to push the founder name to back ground and try to gradually bring the institution to foreground and reach a stage when the founder is identified by the reputation of the institution.

A good example of this is the well known Harvard University

Almost four hundred years ago, when one John Harvard established a University and gave it his family name, people might have initially remembered the University by its founder’s family name. But today, while Harvard University is almost a household name throughout the world, not many outside the United States (or even in United States) know about the existence of one John Harvard and his statue inside the University Campus.
Even Harvard Business School, which was founded more than Two hundred years ago, drew its reputation from that of the University and then built its own in the subsequent years. These institutions worked so hard to build their reputation that they automatically sent the reputation of the founders into obliviousness. It does not mean that it takes that many years to build brand equity. Institutions like Insead & IESE and a few others which have their origin outside USA have built their brand equity in much shorter time.

You need to build a reputation and brand image independent of the founder and it should be so strong that even a loss in reputation for the founders should leave the brand image of the institution unscathed. Building brand equity is a painful process and It needs to be built brick by brick. You are supposed to have a brand image, when you stop talking about your institution and others start talking even when you are not around.


People think they can instantly build brand by collaborating with an institution or a organization having brand. Any organization that collaborates with an institution that doesn’t have a brand image does so for its self gains. Such institutions may not actually have the brand power that they actually pretend to have. You may ultimately lose out on both your money and the reputation and by the time you realize it, you would have wasted valuable time and money. Quality collaborations do not materialize unless the collaborators have the confidence that the institution will implement the required norms strictly and invest in quality of admissions, imparting, content, workshops, and case studies.


Recognition by Government institutions (like AICTE in India) is good and mandatory in some countries, but it does not give you any mileage because almost all the institutions in the region/country have it. Alignment if any has to be with an institution that is a global brand.

Campus Recruitment:

100% campus recruitment does not mean the Institution has a brand image. There are factors that determine the brand factor in Campus recruitment like the reputation of the recruiter. The package offered, the job title, the job profile. How long the people selected stick with the company. The professional and the financial growth chart of the students that get recruited in the next three to five years. These are some of the parameters on which the institutions are ranked by most the globally relevant ranking agencies. Higher the ranking better is the visibility for the Institution.

Learning and Teaching

There are certain issues that can help us understand the limited effects of MBA education. The first is that many programs operate on the basis of some incorrect assumptions about learning, thereby doing things that contribute to poorer learning outcomes. One such assumption is that good teaching equals more learning, and that good teaching is best assessed by the students in end-of-quarter (or mid-quarter) evaluations. Partly in response to the ratings game and the accompanying emphasis on student satisfaction with MBA programs, and partly because for many business schools, attracting students is an issue, most schools have made courses more "student friendly." Students now routinely expect summaries of course readings and materials. For instance, at Stanford and many other business schools, it is now customary to pass out copies of overheads at the end of each class session summarizing the main points and ideas of the class, in response to student demands for "structure" and "take-aways."

The problem is that when students are relieved of any sense of responsibility for their learning and much involvement in the learning process, the evidence is that they learn much less. Tough (1982), studying self-reported learning by adults, found that few learning experiences occurred in groups with a teacher. Armstrong maintained that "when teachers direct and evaluate learning, students feel less responsibility" (1995: 102). Interestingly, the evidence shows there is little relationship between students' satisfaction with their teachers and what they learn (Attiyeh & Lumsden, 1972), calling into question the emphasis on course ratings. Teaching and learning are fundamentally different in their orientations: "The focus on teaching incorporates an input orientation. A focus on learning requires an output orientation" (Boyatzis, Cowen, & Kolb, 1995a: 9).

The second incorrect assumption is that external incentives are important and that by grading students' performance, the motivation problems previously enumerated can be overcome, either by providing positive recognition or by threatening academic difficulty. There are two problems with this assumption. First, as already noted, few sanctions are actually administered for poor performance in classes. Moreover, although schools can offer various forms of recognition for academic achievement, in the business schools, unlike law schools, where class standing has a real effect on job prospects, there is little evidence that course grades or class standing, even when available, are given much weight by employers in their applicant screening. Second, as reviewed extensively by Kohn (1993), the evidence, particularly in education, is that the use of external incentives, such as grading, impedes, rather than enhances, learning outcomes.

The final issue is the method of instruction. Some schools lecture, others teach by the case method, some use a combination. But in relatively few instances in established business schools is there much clinical training or learning by doing--experiential learning where "concrete experience is the basis for observation and reflection" (Kolb, 1976: 21). Students learn to talk about business, but it is not clear they learn business. "Unfortunately you cannot replicate true managing in the classroom. The case study is a case in point: Students with little or no management experience are presented with 20 pages on a company they do not know and told to pronounce on its strategy the next day" (Mintzberg & Lampel, 2001: 244). As Bailey and Ford argued, although a scientific approach may be useful for the study of management, it is not at all clear that it helps in teaching management: "The practice of management is best taught as a craft, rich in lessons derived from experience and oriented toward taking and responding to action" (1996: 9). But as Leavitt noted, "business schools have been designed without practice fields" (1989: 40).


Curriculum is the most important aspect in building a B-School. How close your curriculum is to the industrial needs, decides how much of quality campus recruitment you get which again decides the quantum and quality of admissions you get. You may not have the resources to design an industry friendly curriculum and modify it frequently as per the changing market situations. Following a university curriculum may leave you behind in the race as these curricula are not updated as frequently as required. Aligning with people or institutions that have mastered the dynamics of designing the curriculum that not only meets the current needs of the industry, but also identifies future industry needs is beneficial for an Institution.

Curriculum is not only about the topics to be imparted but it more importantly about the intensity & depth with which different topics have to be imparted. An ideal curriculum should also detail the methodology to be adopted like the discourse, case study, Investigative, exploratory methods and various auxiliary methods of imparting which are different and specific for each subject. The present trend is of course the Data science. Dynamic Curricula are now either embedding this subject in to their streams with various intensities or offering a certificate or diploma in Business Analytics. Next Year this will change. Already we are seeing more industry interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Wearable internet (IOT) and many others.  You need to be sensitive to the changing needs of the industry from time to time.

A dynamic curriculum not only helps you get the best quality of students, an intellectual omnibus helps you spread the geographic reach of the institution. A universally applicable curriculum attracts the best among the corporates from diverse domains, which in turn attracts the best among the students. While it is correct that such an alignment is a costly affair in the initial stages, long term benefits and financial gains grossly over-weigh & justify the initial investments.

Streams of learning:

Streams of learning could be one step ahead and one step beyond the normally considered streams of Management Education. One of the important reasons for the world class B-Schools being world class is their ability to create uniqueness in the streams of management learning they are able to offer. For example, if you are offering Finance streams you could go one step ahead and offer specialization in finance related to Sustainability, Social Business, Crowd Sourcing, Inclusive Business and so many other unique fields. Similarly Marketing can have unique specialization like Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Cloud Storage/Date Storage marketing, similarly there are unique streams in other domains HR, Supply Chain, Production Processes and other. In fact a school can have two levels of streams. The primary or the specialized one which would help in building the brand equity and the secondary ones that can bring in supplementary income to Institution.

Finally you need to ask yourself the question, does my curriculum just cater to business education or it also has an end user empathy factor, which could eventually lead to design innovation. The simple question is…..

Are you inculcating entrepreneurship in to your students or are just preparing them for entry level jobs?????

The Faculty

The general misconception among the institutions is that, imparting standards can be improved by recruiting faculty having a Ph.D.  Nothing is more removed from truth than that. It may be true with other domains but not with Management domain. Classroom is just one among the many arenas of learning for the management student. A faculty who has experienced learning, in all the arenas will only be able to impart to the expected standards. It is essential that the faculty has strong industry experience to support his academic credentials. It doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t have a Ph.D.  At least the head of department for each subject should have exposure to these diverse arenas.

Guest Faculty

It is a well known fact that constraints of budget often come in the way of or hiring or engaging quality faculty. However engaging visiting faculty works out much economical for the institution. A beginning can be made by inviting renowned in each domain in a semester. The schools do invite people from industry for guest lectures, but the purpose is to garner some campus recruitments from them. The management more often than not has to be convinced about the tangible returns in terms of recruitments before they agree to spend on these programs.

The healthy practice would be to delink the recruitment process from the imparting process. Only academicians with entrepreneurial background, or entrepreneurs doing at least occasional teaching should be engaged for this purpose. These people are more current with modern academics and student comprehension levels. Other entrepreneurs usually have the habit of narrating their past experiences which may or may not be relevant to the current times. There may not be much of learning for the students from these lectures.

The Arenas of learning

The arenas of learning extend far beyond the classroom & the curriculum. The other arenas include the Entrepreneurship labs, incubators, hands on working experience at various organizations as diverse as possible, collaborating on management research projects with organization, field study of the customer behavioral pattern towards the products and the related segment and most importantly case study related to the success or failure of an organizations in various domains. Working for projects in collaboration with governmental & non-governmental organizations for formulation of domestic and international policies, projects and programs also helps considerably in improving the management capabilities of the students.
It may not be possible to create all the arenas of learning for some schools. However the endeavor should be to have as many arenas as possible and make learning as diverse and close to reality as possible.

Marketing and the promotion of the institution.

All the factors mentioned above can be useful in creating an Avant Garde institution, but it cannot make it a sustainable proposition. Spreading the good word about the institution is necessary, which is not easy. Creating visibility locally, nationally and globally is required. First and foremost thing is to position your institution appropriately in terms of the competition. Then you have to design need based organization specific marketing and promotional policies. You need have specific marketing policies for physical, virtual, social media, inbound & outbound marketing. You need to create effective customer reach & conversion channels and funnels.

For all these you need to engage an expert, place complete trust in him, and follow his advice in terms of budget and policies. Most importantly you need to be patient and give sufficient time for the policies to bear fruit. Initially even small gains should be celebrated as big achievement, and big achievement should be treated as a stepping stone for a bigger ones to follow. This should be considered as a continuous process and every success should make the institution hungry and greedy for more.

I know there is much more to creating a great institution than what I have written. My knowledge is this domain has come mainly because of the opportunity I had of contributing to the research of the great institutions like Mckinsey & Co (From 2011) Harvard Business Review (From 2012), MIT (from 2013) and some other organizations. Studying about and exploring the working of great institutions like Kellogg, Wharton, Stanford and others has also helped. I have also gained considerable knowledge by doing online courses from IESE Spain, Harvard and others. In spite of all these I recognize that there is tremendous scope for adding to the content and improvement of the existing content. I request my friends to feel free to contribute their insights to this topic.

Best wishes,


Please also read the article

147 B-schools shut shop during 2013-14

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