Super MBA Expectations
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
While surfing around CIO Magazine, I found Edward Cone's article titled Management: IT Education and The Modern-Day MBA
Employers--whether they are looking to place fresh talent on the IT management track, or find business-line executives with technology savvy--need to understand that not all MBAs are created equal. Business schools vary widely when it comes to teaching about technology and technology management in their master's degree programs, though all must provide a minimum level of exposure to technology-related subjects in order to receive accreditation. But while you can assume that any MBA graduate will possess a basic understanding of accounting, organizational behaviour and business operations, there is no fixed standard on what graduates will know about IT when they enter the job market.
That means employers have to know what they're looking for--beyond the degree itself--and they are not always happy with what they find.
As a hiring manager, you need to look beyond the MBA designation, but that is obvious, I think, and one word can summarize the whole article: interview.
When it comes to looking for a specific type of manager, a company cannot (and rarely does) just employ the first MBA graduate that shows up at the door. Behind the three letters there is always a story and a successful career of core competencies in many different fields.
Most MBA programs are part theory, part practice, and try to teach the basics or running large scale enterprises. But they do not teach everything--IT or Finance or Accounting included.
Moreover, Information Technology is too broad of a term and covers a large number of permutations. For example, IT in a purely Software shop does not mean the same as in a Nuclear plant setting--they clearly have different requirements. However, there will always be strategic and managerial issues that an MBA graduate is likely to have different tools to draw from.
Problems in business settings are unlikely to have right or wrong answers, and no class I have taken so far (undergraduate and graduate level) taught me that "X" is the only answer to a particular issue. In a commercial setting, as a manager, you either create value (ethically and lawfully) or you do not--which in the end is the measure of most, if not all, for-profit companies. Weather you have an MBA or not makes little difference--delivery of results is the key.
Because of the type of business schools offer, MBA graduates can probably do any type of managerial job, specially overseeing large scale businesses. However, when there is a specific technical requirement, I would think a one hour interview would tell you if a particular MBA is what you are really looking for.
For example, a
Software Developer or Engineer with an MBA is probably a better choice for managing or directing software companies, or be better at driving the IT requirements of any company. But this same Software Engineer with an MBA will not be a good fit to run an HR department, even if this person has taken OB courses while in school.
So I have a bit of an issue (and a personal opinion) when I hear that MBA programs are failing to teach "X" or "Y" skills. It is probably the same as saying that Computer Science Schools are failing to teach "X" or "Y" skills. I think we have been saying this since specialized training or University education was invented. It matters little which school or program we are referring to, if we look hard enough, something will be missing.
Finally, if we expect any type of school to train our future employees, we better do our homework and make sure that we are hiring the right person for any job. Mr. Cone quotes an anonymous "veteran executive" as saying:
While they [MBA graduates] were all focused on the big picture and growing top-line revenues, no one understood the need to apply tried-and-true IT management disciplines to ensure the success of their development and integration efforts. Clearly, they either missed the MBA class that covered these core disciplines, as applied to IT, or it wasn't a class that was offered. The result was a $40 million write-off by the parent company, and a major restructuring of the company's MBA hiring and on-the-job training/apprenticeship programs.
So, with this particular example, who failed whom? Was it the MBA school or the hiring process that allowed $40 million to be wasted?
In the end, what is important is not to point fingers, but to remedy the problem, which apparently they did by revamping "the company's MBA hiring and on-the-job training/apprenticeship programs."
Note that this executive did not say her or his company "fixed" the schools where these "bunch of smart MBA grads" attended. Likely, there was nothing wrong with the schools.
These programs vary in shapes and sizes, and I am certain that some MBA graduates (even from the less prestigious business schools) will need no apprenticeship program to be very successful leaders. I would argue that it is their past professional experiences that will drive their success and not a comprehensive list of MBA courses
taken during graduate school.
After all, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein
, a school is a school is a school, and it is up to each individual to take in as much or as little as desired.
It is too easy to say that Universities failed to teach a particular skill employers were looking for. In the same token, it is illogical to place someone to create nuclear reactors without having studied, at least, basic physics; or, similarly, giving the reins of a whole IT department to someone who does not know what TCP/IP stands for. In both cases, is a bit of a mismatch of expertise and expectations. Moreover, blaming schools for not providing proper training is a bit of a stretch, I think.
(This example has OB case written all over it--too bad, I already took that course