Managing Disruption: The New Age Formula
Change is constant. And lately, very frequent. A look at how companies and B-schools are gearing up to manage disruptions
Anyone who was born before the ‘80s witnessed an era where things changed every two to three years. After 1990, however, India saw change like never before. And in the past 10 years, with the advent of technological disruptions, the changes in the business environments have been at a rapid pace.
What hasn’t changed much, however, is the traditional, two-year full-time MBA that still comes with a fixed curriculum, loads of assignments and a promise to make students ‘industry-ready’. While regular workshops, live projects and seminars are also organised under the garb of ‘industry-academia interface’, these short-term steps aren’t helping. The industry is constantly complaining about how management students lack awareness and understanding of the real world.
Anand David, director at SEEK and founder director of Manford, asks a pertinent question that most corporates have, “Do the professors at B-schools have the slightest clue of what their graduates go through in the first few years of corporate life? If yes, why is there a huge difference between what is taught and what it practiced in the corporate world? There is an urgent need to make management education more relevant. There should be deeper research on what organisations need, the pain areas, challenges, etc.” Though it’s a bold point of view that may rub a few people the wrong way, David is simply stating what corporates are facing with respect to new joinees.
Instead of taking on the B-schools heads, Tushar Khakhar, founder, AGENCY09 speaks of how there is a lack of mentorship that young business leaders face today. “Today, young business leaders are the early adopters of the technology revolution. Either, they are first to enter this territory and hence not aware of what’s next, or are first-generation entrepreneurs who are struggling to combine existing business with technology upgradation. Both need someone who could give them a holistic perspective. How many of such people do we have today?”
In the volatile business scenario of today, where companies are constantly innovating, how can B-schools rise to the occasion? Martha Desmond, chief human resource officer at Apollo Tyres, says, “Young leaders are required to adapt and react to situations that didn’t exist five to ten years ago. Management education should help future leaders in developing a creative mind to be able to design innovative solutions instead of searching for solutions from the past.” Her view is supported by B.V.R. Mohan Reddy, founder and executive chairman of Cyient, who says, “B-schools should create business leaders and not just employees. There is a need for leaders who can create businesses and manage their complexity. Students need to be trained to first become employable and then entrepreneurs.
Our interactions show that academicians seem fully aware of the challenges that young business leaders are facing today. “Apart from the dynamic marketplace, demanding and highly-aware customers, and growth and proliferation of technology requiring constant change, some of the critical challenges that young business leaders face today are related to expectation management of stakeholders. Business models are increasingly getting derailed due to misplaced expectations from stakeholders — be it the shareholder/investors, vendors, distributors, customers, promoters or employees” says Vijayan Pankajakshan, dean HR, WeSchool.
“Every industry is facing disruption due to the twin forces of technology and globalisation. If you look at large industries like transportation, changes like on-demand, electric and driverless are being introduced. Commerce and trade is becoming online, on-demand and increasingly personalised. Healthcare is witnessing artificial intelligence-assisted diagnosis among other changes. These changes are dismantling the existing business structure and allowing new entrants to take the existing businesses head on. Globalisation has led to an evolved HR function where the challenge is to manage a digital and remote workforce,” highlights Subrata Ghosh, founder & CEO, Redstone Learning. Prominent educationist and chartered accountant Sunil G. Karve adds, “A sector like finance that was far from technological innovations is now facing disruption. Financial analysts are using business analytics and artificial intelligence to make crucial business decisions. By the time a student learns a tool during his MBA course, there is a newer and better tool in the market. It is the responsibility of B-schools to prepare students mentally and academically to face this disruption.”
Vardhman Jain, vice-chairman, Access Healthcare Services, highlights the industry expectations from a new joinee, “We expect management graduates to not just use but build platforms that automate work processes, and generate value in a hyper-connected world. The winning formula revolves around agility, technology and value.” Vardhaman’s views are echoed by Samartha Nagabhushanam, CEO of 5BARz India, who says, “Management education should be focused on training business leaders on how to identify value and refine it as a business. Further, teams are becoming very geographically dispersed. Leadership across boundaries needs to be instilled at college-level so leaders learn to lead teams that may not be in their vicinity.” Sumit Chowdhary, former president, Reliance Jio and founder & CEO of Gaia Smart Cities, speaks about the mindset of the gen-next, “Young workers today are extremely fickle and want to move on very quickly. We need to teach extreme and agile decision making and managing and cherishing ambiguity.” Akshay Munjal, president of BML Munjal University, says, “Leaders should know how to operate in different countries and with multi-cultural teams.” Jain of Access Healthcare Services shares a unique training process that he believes in, “When we hire a leader to join our team, we ensure that he/she gets an opportunity to connect with our global team members in person. For instance, a week is given to know the India team and obtain access to our tools, and the next week, is for meeting our on-site leaders and customers. Each leader brings a set of new capabilities, and we need to effectively balance his/her aspirations with the environment we create for them.”
Sudhir Dhar, head HR & Admin, MOFSL, further adds, “B-schools need to understand that one-dimensional leaders are passé. This is the era of leaders who can work with different teams and yet add value in their operations and processes.” Sujit Jain, founder & managing director of Netsurf Communications, agrees. He says, “Going outside the purview of theory and case studies, management institutes need to impart education that gives real-life experience to students.” Adding to it Munjal says, “Various studies have shown that some of the highest paying jobs today didn’t exist a decade ago; therefore, management education needs to prepare students to be able to spot and capitalise on opportunities quickly.
While the business scenario is volatile, students face the challenge of being part of a rudimentary system of education where rules and regulations restrict inclusion of the latest modules in the curriculum. “Young professionals are increasingly realising that their 18 years of formal education has left them grossly unprepared for the reality of today’s business. Every standard business model has been challenged, and the profit-motive has long given way to a drive for valuation and market share at all costs. How does an entrepreneur build a business model that puts customer acquisition and revenue traction above profitability, when his education has taught him the opposite? Management education is frankly a dinosaur in this context. We’ve been trying to create well-rounded employees, when every job in the market now needs specialists with sharp toolsets” confesses Nitin Putcha, CEO, ITM Group of Institutions.
Sapna Rakesh from IMS Ghaziabad agrees, “Young managers are joining a VUCA environment where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are part and parcel of everyday life. The challenge is to crack the code and impart a balanced management education where specialisation and general management are given equal weightage.” Nitin Joshi, director at Dr V.N. Bedekar Institute of Management Studies, sees an opportunity in the chaos. He says, “Management education has a big opportunity to create leaders who can marry ideas with technology. Instead of one solution to a problem in mathematics, business does not have a single solution. Students should learn the art of changing their lenses with situation. Students need to be groomed to be part of uncertainties. Adaptability, flexibility and richness of content is more important than past concepts.”
Karve suggests a unique solution, “The limitation of university programmes is a fixed number of subjects that operate within a set curriculum. Any changes in the same would attract regulatory action. However, if B-schools want to survive, they must equip their students with the latest knowledge. B-schools must set aside a budget to create a department that constantly monitors industry changes, turns them into modules and dispenses the knowledge to students. This initiative calls for a parallel fluid curriculum structure that should be offered as an add-on to students. This will ensure that students don’t receive a shock when they enter the industry and invest lesser money in training.” Rakesh from IMS Ghaziabad agrees that a blended curriculum with equal focus on leadership and management skills could be of immense value. Khakhar suggests another solution that may bridge this gap, “By introducing campus lectures at companies, the right mentors will probably get more time to spend with students than what they get when they go to college and speak.”
Since B-school students are not equipped to handle business scenarios, corporations invest a lot of money in training. David emphasises, “Both the curriculum in management schools as well its application in huge organic and inorganic growth needs a complete shake up. Right now, the way corporates deal with graduates even from best schools is: ‘ok, you have come from a great institution, now let’s start from the very beginning’. And their learning starts all over again.”
Does disruption in the business environment call for reinvention of the traditional model of education followed by B-schools? “B-schools have always talked about the industry-academia interface. We all know that corporates are too busy to spend adequate time at B-schools. The industry input is thus restricted to guest lectures, seminars and workshops. This is definitely not sufficient for a student to get a real-life perspective of the industry” highlights Karve. Pankajakshan feels the problem can be solved by accommodating a six-month industry internship for students. But Joshi believes that the level at which students are inducted should focus more on gauging industry awareness. He also believes that academicians should act as coaches and nurture talent, encourage questions and focus on learning rather than teaching. Endorsing his views Rakesh says, “In India, we recruit management graduates even if they don’t have work experience. Thus, making education relevant is of paramount importance. We should strive to integrate projects and internships and give additional weightage to industry-academia interface.”
Deependra Jha, vice-chancellor at GD Goenka University, strongly believes that the way management education is dispensed must be changed. According to him, “B-schools definitely need to re-invent the management education process for a sustainable future. New-age subjects with qualified faculty must be introduced as part of the curriculum. Incase, a programme restricts addition of subjects, new courses can be offered as executive certificate programmes. Overall, B-schools must change the way they grade students. The focus should be more on what students can do than on the memory. Industry-academia collaboration is possible through internship exchange programmes.” Sandip Jha, chairman of Sandip University, supporting reinvention of management education, says, “B-schools must introduce a system of intelligent accountability at the administration and academic level. We need high-performing systems that build professional knowledge and capacity. This will create a culture of continuous improvement and high expectations.” Instead of overhauling management education, Ghosh believes it must adapt to the disruptive scenarios. He emphasises on taking positive steps to stay ahead of the curve. Nagabhushanam believes that educational content needs to be fast paced, and the curriculum should echo the needs in the next five years. Vardhaman suggests reinvention of pedagogical methods followed by B-schools, “The style of delivery of management education should shift to creative brainstorming to enable learners to understand current trends and develop new business models on the run. There is an urgent need to open minds to alternate ways of doing business.” Kaustubh Nande, country marketing head of ANSYS Software, agrees and suggests that management education should be more case-based with contemporary challenges around recent business issues. Desmond calls for a balance in the delivery systems and curriculum offered by B-schools. “I feel there is room within management education to have a broader offering that acknowledges the new but maintains the relevant elements of the old. Many renowned schools are already running highly creative leadership programmes that recognise the changes in the business context.” She further adds that it would be a mistake to move away from traditional management education too quickly as many of its concepts are still relevant today.
We found that the industry believes that the curriculum and delivery of management education need change. According to Chowdhury, “Today’s management education relies on yesterday’s idea of organisational hierarchies and careers. Today, every company is part of a network that makes all policies and processes of a hierarchy irrelevant. Students need to learn how to manage in networked workforce across organisational boundaries.” Understanding team structures, developing a high emotional quotient, remaining calm and sharpening observation skills are most important. This calls for attitudinal training that needs to be woven into a curriculum structure. Swapna Reddy, co-founder and director at O2 Spa, on the other hand, speaks of a change in the programme framework where the focus shifts to new-age consumers, global perspectives and understanding of market scenarios. Jain of Netsurf believes, “Management education needs to be reoriented and a lot of skills such as humanities, strategy, environmental impact and digital media should be an integral part of the education irrespective of the discipline chosen.” Given that the curriculum and delivery systems followed by B-schools need to undergo a change. What does the industry feel about the age-old models? Is there a need to modify or discard traditional models? We found diverse views from the industry leaders on this.
Khakhar says, “Age-old business models have always worked. However, the scenarios have changed. Business owners have easy access to information. It helps in quick decision making backed with historic data and analysis.” Nagabhushanam agrees and adds, “Concepts of business have refined over centuries, however, they still work. It is their re-application in new scenarios that needs to be addressed. For example, equity requires business leaders to create avenues for employees. Now, in a connected world, the new definition for equity reads ‘stakeholders’ as employees have become stakeholders and flag-bearers of a company. The way business is looked at has changed, so decisions have to be win-win for all.”
Nande agrees to this view, but Desmond has a different opinion. “I have always been wary of signing up for business models simply because I don’t believe that one size fits all. Age-old business models can be a very useful reference point, but in today’s fast changing scenario, it is possible that no business model will truly capture the requirements of today’s fast-changing world.
Reddy of Cyient supports the view that traditional business models have given way to newer models owing to technology disruptions. Like Desmond, he also believes that there is no ‘one-size-fits all’ formula. Reddy says, “Companies like Airbnb and Uber are fantastic examples of a disruptive business model created through technology. The future lies with those who can innovate to add value and integrate technology in some aspect of their business model.”
Tushar Vashisht, co-founder & CEO of HealthifyMe speaks of how certain frameworks such as incentive planning still hold relevant. Like Nagabhushanam, he also believes that their applications are changing. “A classic example of changes can be seen in the incentive planning system. Older approaches for incentives were largely applied to sales, whereas today’s incentive planning is more relevant for growth hacking approaches such as referrals for app users.”
Dhar of MOFSL expresses that most of the yesteryear models are outdated. “One needs to understand that age-old business models were perfected in times of near oligopoly. Holding on to them is not a good idea. Today, the entry barriers are low and getting funding for your business is easy. Almost anyone with an idea can disrupt your business.”
Netsurf’s Jain, on the other hand, believes that age-old mantras like low debts and mixed portfolios always work and so does focus and core competency. He supports his views with examples, “Look at Oberoi Realty, even in the worst time the company is doing exceptionally well due to disciplined debt management. The fact that companies like Reliance are divesting into other businesses is a proof that all eggs can’t be in one basket. But a new model that is coming up which will also work is disruptive innovation and quick to market strategy. Ola cabs is one of the best examples for the same.”
Reddy agrees and says that several age-old businesses are defunct because they failed to adapt to change. Relying on old ways to do business can lead to complete failure. “Only 60-odd companies from the original Fortune 500 list remain. Nokia and Apple are classic examples. Nokia failed because it didn’t adapt to the change whereas Apple came up with the blue ocean strategy and introduced smart phones that have changed the mobile phone market.”
Chowdhury prefers to maintain a balanced view, “Some age-old models work and some don’t. Basic and core human values have not changed. Ethics and integrity of the soul and of the organisation have not changed. What has changed is the fact that organisations must decide what they are good at and not try to own the entire value chain. Vertical integration works only when there is abundance of cash, else we have shifted to specialised economy or the shared economy. You work with your supply chain that you don’t necessarily control.”
We found that academicians largely agreed that the age-old business models need to be viewed keeping in mind the current context.
While management institutes are responsible for training students, most agree that the training is not adequate. How do companies bridge this gap? Academicians call for a change in the internal systems of organisations by appealing to them to be more employee focused.
Jha of GD Goenka highlights, “For businesses to thrive and compete successfully, it is imperative to invest in employee training and development. Focus on increasing employee satisfaction helps employees in moving up the learning curve and working more diligently.”
Jha of Sandip University says, “The idea that the bright management graduates may have something unique and positive to offer is gaining traction in the corporate world. Would you retain the services of such individuals for their visionary foresight and ambition or, would you rather not risk the dynamics of the team and cut them loose? Answer must be yes.”
Putcha agrees and adds, “The more HR heads I meet, the more I am convinced that companies just do not have the time or resources to adequately train and induct employees. I have met companies that have scaled from 0 to 1,000 employees in 30 days, without a single HR policy in place, let alone training and induction. I think it’s the job of management institutions to understand the training and induction needs and fulfil them as part of the training they impart, creating graduates who know the basic rules and have the core skills to start working the moment they are hired.”
Vashisht says, “As a startup, we live and breathe disruptive thinking. There is no formal training provided. However, we ensure that none of us get comfortable at any time. We like to keep high targets and benchmarks and keep trying to improve our product, processes, by both incorporating the best innovations in the world and by innovating on our own.” Karve also believes that the ultimate responsibility for training lies with B-schools, “We have seen times when large corporations who had sufficient budgets, set up their own training institutions. Over time, many realised that this was a deviation from their core business. It started to be viewed as a cost centre and several were shut down thus. Management institutes must rise to this challenge and ensure that they build training mechanisms to sharpen students and corporates to face the disruptive scenario.”
All of us know that the disruptive times are bringing in changes that we have never seen before. There is no historical example that can be followed. However, if academicians and corporates work hand-in-hand the results will be phenomenal and long-lasting. While the responsibility of training surely lies with the B-schools, the content, delivery and pedagogy can always be influenced through corporate intervention. If industry involvement can be formalised using a time-value formula, corporations would surely be more involved in the training process at B-schools. And we will all march towards a better India.
The author is media and business strategist, and a consultant to several companies
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.