Former CEO, Dalal Street Investment Journal
As technology continues to advance at a frenetic pace, and the world becomes increasingly unpredictable there is change everywhere, and not just the change mandated by the AI and IT but change that Mother Nature keeps challenging us with: Floods, droughts, tsunamis, sleeping glaciers melting with thunderous roars and wiping out all in its wake, the deadly COVID-19, and as if these were not enough the changes we humans inflict on ourselves, i.e. Ukraine.
However all this has no meaningful impact on us for as a country we are a complacent lot, happy in our old tried (now tired) and tested ways and with the firm confidence that “this too will pass” and life will once again be the same as always. But this time this is not to be!! For apart from AI and Robotics, it is COVID-19 that mandates that change is imminent! For two full years businesses and industry came to a standstill; there was virtually no retail. Schools and colleges were shut for long durations, and work from home and learn from home became the new age mantras, and yet we managers looked for things to be as they once were. And once the onset of infections abated, business and industry were scampering to open shop and go back to the good old days. Entrepreneurs spruced up their long closed offices (at high cost), overhauled their idle machinery, made arrangements to start production, energized the supply chain, contacted the workers that had stayed away and arranged for bank funding for working expenses. They did not factor in the reluctance of the migrant worker to return to cities, ergo, no production, no income but new loans.
In Mumbai BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex) the new commercial center with planned roads and modern infrastructure, was home to over 100 top of the line fine dining restaurants that had to close down during the two years of COVID. Here too once the virus seemed to have peaked, restaurateurs keen to restart, quickly refurbished their outlets, added more appealing décor, arranged for food supplies and few of them in their enthusiasm to quickly reopen and try and recoup some of the losses incurred during the two year of idle time, even invited Michelin chefs (at high costs), from abroad to announce their new openings. Here too in haste they did not factor in that trained staff both kitchen and service were still in their villages, Suppliers too, were also not equipped to handle new orders and their wishful thinking that things were as good as old, was at best foolhardy, and very expensive.
Prior to Covid, it was enough to harp on “location, location, location” for any new marketing enterprise. Today, location is not just brick and mortar it is also not just on the web, today it is even in the clouds! Does our budding manager have the skill to access the webs and clouds? With so many social media platforms like Facebook/Whatsapp/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube each have their own efficacy, audience, type and length of suitable messages, apart from individual accessibility norms. The managers of yesterday have to now first learn the new skills to adapt to the new environment.
ADAPT, a new skill?
Not only Geography is history, but even history is passé as precedents are seldom relevant since change today is happening at mach speed.
During the two years of standstill of Covid, the vacuum cleaner salesman had no sales. He could not visit his prospects nor give them a demo. He could feed them with promo clips on whatsapp but conviction was not being built. He analyzed his problem and worked out a plan: He quickly contacted his earlier buyers, interacted with them on facetime, and based on the trust relationship he had established with them, sought their experiences and with their permission shared these facetime conversations with his prospects, who now had testimonials and references they could contact. He needed new skills: mobile skills / tact / networking and confidence of his earlier customers. Skills not taught in the MBA programme for they are not found in any sales guide.
Similar is the case of HR practitioners. Largely focused on sourcing talent /training / working out salaries and grades, the aspiring manager of today has a different bag of requirements that were revealed in a recent McKinsey survey: esoteric values like workplace Flexibility / Creating an environment where there is perceptible work-life balance / Equality/ Diversity / Governance and Inclusivity/ along with the traditional rewards and growth opportunities.
Google, Cisco Systems, offer employees benefits such as on-site childcare, physical therapy, and subsidized housecleaning services.
Standard question like “where do you see yourself five years from now?” is today a no-brainer. A more apt question could be “how do you see the market scenario changing in the next five days.” A test of the candidate’s AWARENESS of the possibilities, his ALERTNESS to the opportunities and his skill to ADAPT in the new circumstances. Quite a different tune from the one the HR maestro used to play? Till now HR was testing the IQ Quotient and the Emotional Quotient, today outranking these two is the Adaptability Quotient, a skill lacking in both, the interviewee and the interviewer.
More and more employers are they’re moving beyond degrees and job titles to focus more on the skills the changing business environment needs. IBM, Walmart have modified their recruitment parameters from degrees to skills. Hunter & Hunter in their survey on parameters affecting job performance concluded, in their recent article that hiring based on on skills leads to better performance, than recruitment based on education!
Different times need different measures to be effective. Just as the Industrial revolution in the 19th. Century created an emphasis for knowledge and education so also the present IT explosion is shifting the goal post to acquiring of skills.
So perhaps this is the time to redress this shortcoming with a new look at our B School environment, and how to incorporate knowledge based education with the practice of ‘Skills’.
Let’s start with the admission process:
Since the 1960s when Business Education first came to India admissions have been mainly decided on the basis of scores achieved at the highly quantitative CAT written tests. A process that is clearly biased in favor of maths and engineering students at the cost of those from the humanities. However experience from all over the world has shown that performers have come equally from both streams. Obviously our admission process is flawed, one-dimensional and woefully inadequate, an antithesis to the real nature of business today which requires a well-founded balanced personality in a manager.
Again the nature of this outdated system breeds gender inequality, favoring males, who outnumber females in maths and engineering studies. Such a paradox, for hasn’t life shown that the best role model of a Manager is a “she”, the mother of the house, a singular role that dons both caps of manager and leader with aplomb, naturally and instinctively without any MBA!
Secondly, and this anomaly really pains. For all other Post graduate programmes there is a minimum eligibility: for M.Sc. you must be a science graduate, for M.com a Commerce student for law and journalism an Arts. But for MBA? Any faculty will do, no background is specified, just an outdated CAT entrance exam. Which is why during the two year MBA programme, the first year is devoted to basic knowledge of marketing/ organization/ finance/ production etc. all from books! It is only in the second year that expert teaching becomes necessary for specialization.
A simple remedy: make only BBM or BMA graduates (and today almost all degree colleges offer these programmes), eligible for the MBA programme. We can continue with the CAT in some form or the other but the basic graduation must be in management! And herein lies the solution. The book learnings of Kotlers / Samuelsons and Katz and Kahn, the Kotter’s and the Porters business models, et al can be nicely covered in the two years of BBM programmes, so that when the student goes for PG programme he spends one year in specialization and the other 12 months learning skills!!
As already enunciated above, there are many skills a manager must acquire and practice to be able to perform effectively in this volatile scenario. Let’s look at the skill “to ACCEPT”. No longer can be rely on things remaining more or less the same, the change today is multi- dimensional and without precedent, the only way to manage in this situation and try and find a way forward is to first ACCEPT that there is a change, more wide and deeper than before and past solutions will not work. It is then important to accept that this is a new situation that requires new solutions and a new mindset, forget history, and forge ahead with a new thinking.
Being AWARE and being ALERT in this scenario will help identify newer directions, and how to put them to work. Where to source new and right talent and being aware that the time line we are working on is anything but stable. There is so much new learning that is now available on platforms like Linkedin, Coursera, etc., and the need is to be discerning on what to take and what to retain.
There are eight identified skills that need to be in the modern manager’s armor, starting with learning to ACCEPT, to be AWARE and ALERT, and using the above skills learning to ADAPT.
To be ASSERTIVE, APPRECIATIVE, ATTENTIVE and importantly to be ACCOUNTABLE, are others that help create a rounded personality open to new thinking, aware of the environment, alert to the opportunities and ready to adapt to face the future..
There are many workshops offering training and practice of skills by role play, case study and primarily INTERACTIVE participation.
In the second part of this article, I will attempt to share a few.