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Soft skills necessary for B-school students

This is a theme that has been around for some time, and yet seems unlikely to go away. In the early days of the MBA education, the emphasis was more on quickly transferring considerable knowledge, with a secondary emphasis on application-led skill building. Possibly, the Case Study method was the most important skill building pedagogy, for a couple of reasons. First, the competition to get admission to an MBA programme was quite stiff and then, the number of B-Schools was in hundreds and not in thousands. Consequently, the belief was that since the student has competed with thousands of applicants to secure the admission, the emphasis was laid  on further enhancing IQ sharpness – with a little bit of soft skills.

Second, in the early ’70s when Indian management graduates entered the job market, the business environment was not so competitive, as the Licence Raj-led economy had ensured that the competition was very restricted. Hence, the MBA students who were selected by companies had less pressure to continuously perform and excel.

Obviously, with reference to the above industry and business context, even then, there were exceptional B-schools that provided application and assimilation opportunities, in addition to acquisition of knowledge, to the young MBA students and accorded equal attention to fortifying their hard/ domain skills, along with soft skills.

As times changed, markets became globally integrated and the all-pervasive internet arrived, the competition has increased manifold. In order to succeed, companies and management graduates have to reinvent themselves not only to face existing competition, but more from ‘disruptive innovators.’ For instance, one can consider a web-based organisation like Amazon killing the brick and mortar retail format; or the mobile phone killing the camera as a product.

What has hence become most important for corporate success – and crucial for the MBA professional too – is the ability to identify early trends in societal and consumer behaviour, spot opportunities to get the right product-service offerings first to the market, along with the capability to build scale, continuous innovation and providing competitive value propositions to the discerning or ‘reluctant- to-spend consumers’.

In order to be able to make the above shifts happen, B-schools have and would continue to review the coverage, focus, contents, pedagogy mix, assessment criteria, besides enabling students to master industry/ sectoral domains. It is also becoming more important for B-school students to be comfortable in ‘intersection spaces’ between two functions and/ or two industries/ business models.

The young trainee, upon joining the industry, would be expected to have a 30,000 foot perspective, along with the 1,000 foot view of the business. This has become vital as many a robust strategy is getting no traction, due to poor execution discipline. Hence, managing change is also becoming very important, as a competency, to be mastered early by the MBA professional.

  • School students are increasingly also expected to be extremely ethical and governance sensitive. All ‘means’ are not justified, even if the ‘end’ is achieved. The world has seen many a corporate biting dust, due to lack of ethics/ governance/ compliance deviations in recent times. In today’s times, a single deviation from the expected/ even the un-enforceable is enough for a manager and/ or an organisation to lose trust with stakeholders and go down under.
  • School students have to dramatically improve their communication abilities too. Increasingly, they have to be more persuasive, engaging and able to tell stories to capture the attention of the relevant stakeholders. Imagery, audio are all becoming increasingly a key differentiator between ‘also ran’ and ‘being sustainably successful’.
  • School students are increasingly also expected to be able to manage huge volume and variety of data and information, when they join the world of work. The ability to look for a variety of information sources, checking for validity and reliability, balancing qualitative with the numbers, besides having the ability to draw meaningful inferences, that could influence the strategy itself and/ or the execution elements of the given strategy has become extremely important. It is in this context, we are seeing a surge of interest in Data Sciences, Big Data and Analytics.

Big data requires team leaders who can translate the benefits to clients and business heads. A manager is required to communicate with management who may or may not have a technical background. The ability to bridge business needs with technical knowledge is imperative.

At the same time, it must be borne in mind that one may come up with creative solutions for a product or market situation. Selling ideas in the right context can make or break the proposed design. The right step to elevate soft skills begins with practice. Communication skills in form of persuasive communication enables transferring knowledge from acquisition phase to application form creating a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

In closing, it seems that the ‘compartmentalisa-tion’ between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills would have to be replaced with integrative competencies (soft and hard) . Possibly, one could conceptualise the above using a continuum to place roles/ disciplines that require ‘relatively harder skills’ as against others which may need ‘relatively softer skills.’

Prof. Dr. Uday Salunkhe is the Group Director, WeSchool

Original: http://www.freepressjournal.in/education/soft-skills-necessary-for-b-school-students/1073424
By: Dr. Uday Salunkhe
Posted: May 24, 2017, 11:23 am