There have been many surveys conducted among recruiters, including a few by our organization, to identify the competencies that they value most in a business school graduate.
The ability to work in a team, knowledge of subject and its effective application, analytical skills, leadership skills, creativity, performance focus, communication and presentation skills, customer orientation, ability to withstand work pressure, risk-taking ability, dealing with ambiguity and ability to prioritize are the key competencies expected of a B-school graduate.
Of these, the ability to work in a team has often been voted as the most desired competency. In my opinion, this is also the competency that B-schools, including the top ones, have failed to cultivate enough among their students.
In fact, the gap between what recruiters desire and what they get is the highest when it comes to team building, followed by leadership skills. This is one of the findings of an ambitious, four-year study conducted by Asha Bhandarkar, the Raman Munjal Chair professor of leadership studies at Management Development Institute (MDI) in Gurgaon.
She conducted psychometric tests among 1,000 students of nine top B-schools: The Indian Institutes of Management in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata and Lucknow, MDI, Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamnalal Bajaj, S.P. Jain and Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. The first test was conducted just after their admission and the second test was done in the same group after about two years, just before they finished school. In addition, at least 300 alumni and about 100 recruiters were interviewed for the study.
The findings are published in her new book, Shaping Business Leaders: What B-schools Don’t Do. Says Bhandarkar: “Most of our B-schools do a bad job in enhancing the teamworking ability among their students. At the entry level, too, students score poorly against this competency.”
One reason for students being bad team players could be the increasingly competitive Indian environment that they are growing up in. Admission to a good institute from nursery school onward is more a process of rejection than selection. Entrance to top B-schools, where at least 300,000 compete for about 1,500 seats, forces students to be very competitive. There is a negative correlation between competition and collaboration. Success for an Indian student often means the other person has to fail, so pulling others down for one’s own ascent is then not considered abnormal.
Meanwhile, the evaluation process in most of our schools, which promote the rat race, further reinforces this mindset. The truth that each person in the team can individually achieve more by working together with other members, that everybody can be a winner is still not assimilated by the majority of students. Says Bhandarkar: “I tell my students what helped you get inside MDI will not help you in your future career. It takes a lot of effort to change the mindset of students who don’t listen to others and don’t believe that they can learn from others.”
For its part, MDI says it has designed various outbound activities to promote team spirit among students. The institute also shows students various management films. Students are first made aware of their mindset (knowing), which they accept and own (owning) and then the change process is initiated (changing).
Developing leadership skills is another area where B-schools do a bad job, suggests the Bhandarkar study. Ideally, a good leader should have a clear vision, make every person in the organization internalize it, motivate and enable everyone to work as a team towards the vision. For this, the leader has to overcome his or her insecurities. But a policy of divide and rule is still followed in many organizations.
In the Bhandarkar study, four aspects of leadership were explored: managing self, influencing others, managing complexity and managing diversity. These aspects are important for business leaders to operate in a global arena. The Bhandarkar study shows that B-school graduates fare poorly in influencing others.
To enhance leadership skills, Bhandarkar is of the view that students need to be provided opportunities to understand their emotive and inner psychic space. Exposure to theatre, outbound programmes, experiential labs and to some extent, gaming, will help them. They should also be given a liberal dose of literature and philosophy. She advocates that B-schools should identify classical works by social thinkers and philosophers, autobiographies and biographies of leaders such as M.K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Charles de Gaulle. They should also select classic films and use the interaction with great minds to broaden the perspective of students. This is important as most students come from technical, commerce as well as economics streams where they don’t get a chance to engage with the arts, philosophy, history, literature and political science.
Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting and Research (C fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools.