Six thoughts for the fresh MBA

D. Shivakumar
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The MBA degree is under scrutiny. The MBA was the first among the masters’ degrees for the last 20 years. Today, the degree in theory and the holder in practice are both being challenged.

What can young MBAs do?

Most MBAs tend to trip on attitude and behaviour in the first year at work. After that, they get branded and the recovery process stalls, hurting their ego and confidence. From my experience of coaching more than 200 MBAs I signal six thoughts for the fresh MBA.

The MBA is a width degree; one learns concepts of many disciplines in B-school, but one does not go in-depth into any one discipline. The width gives you fertile jargon that is understood by other MBAs. This poses a challenge in communicating with fellow workers.

The workplace is the exact opposite; it is not about jargon, it is about depth. A successful job needs detail orientation.

In some cases the detail boringly repeats and can be seen by the young MBA as drudgery. A company wins because it out-executes its rivals and that cannot be replicated easily by competition. Execution is about detail. Be excited about detail, as it is needed for you to succeed in your career.

‘We’ over ‘Me’

In the MBA course, one competes individually for grades, projects and jobs. B-school project teams end up in bitter arguments and are not about collaborative learning. The workplace is the exact opposite. Barring a few individual-led sectors such as people in advertising or investment banking, the ‘we’ is more important than the ‘me’ at work. You cannot win at work by being a solo star. Learn to be a team player and contribute to the team success wholeheartedly. You cannot lose when you are a team player.

Compare Wisely

MBAs compare companies based on their classmates’ view and narrow experience at work. The Pizza Tuesday at one company will be compared with the Friday Fisco at another. Each company has a different employee value proposition. The better thing to learn from a classmate in another company is about the values of the company, what makes it tick and its winning recipe.

Money is a big yardstick of comparison and is wrongly equated with success. Money is important and convenient, not so important that you take short cuts for your career. A fresh MBA should focus more on the learning a job offers and not the money. Money is never an indicator of how good you are. If you are good, money will follow. If you have money, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are good. In a 25-year career, savings happen in senior roles, so have the patience to achieve financial stability and success. Whatever you do, please don’t mortgage your career with high EMIs. It will corner you into the wrong career lanes.

MBAs get into some bad habits when they start working. They stop reading, they put on weight and their schedule goes awry, robbing them of that morning freshness at work. In B-school, you can sleep through classes, mug up the subject before the exam and score marks. The company you work for will be challenged every day and if you are not up to date with the latest concepts and thinking; you will become a bystander. As students, one has a hobby or something one is passionate about. Somehow, when one starts working passions and hobbies take a back seat. That’s not good; pursue a hobby! A good career is a marathon, not a sprint. One cannot win a marathon without the physical and mental strength. So stay in shape.

Work-Life Balance

At B-school, the school or professors cannot give you work-life balance. The same is true at work. Your boss or the company cannot give you that either. Pick a company not because they don’t work on a Saturday, but because the learning is great and work is a hobby.

The most productive employees succeed because they don’t see work as a chore. You have to decide what’s important in your life and the script will follow your decision. To be good at work-life, one needs ‘learning’ in between work and life. That is be a life-long learner. Concepts in business change fast. In the last 50 years, we have seen 63 new management concepts; that’s almost one every year. So, if one is not up to date, one will be living and talking in the past tense. Reinvention is key to all MBAs!

The world is changing fast and to be successful, young MBAs will need to adapt and change faster. They will need to lead us into the future.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 21, 2013)
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