Best B Schools - How We Train Managers To Cope With The Unknown
THE WEEK|November 08, 2020
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Best B Schools - How We Train Managers To Cope With The Unknown
B-Schools have a key mandate: Create future-proof managers who can oversee our foray into the unknown
Karthik Ravindranath And Abhinav Singh

VUCA. It is a popular acronym used in b-schools and in management in general. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Till now, students could not really be blamed if they had failed to grasp the gravitas of those four simple words. After all, if you had secured admission in a top b-school, what was really so VUCA about this world? Work hard and you are almost guaranteed the ‘good life’.

So, the Covid-19 batch is perhaps lucky that it got to experience VUCA while still in b-school. The pandemic is not going to be the last “unprecedented event”. In fact, the World Health Organization is preparing for the next pandemic; its health emergencies programme believes the most likely cause will be influenza. And, an economic crisis is never far away; as we now know, the big banks are not ‘too big to fail’.

Not to forget disruptive technology. While disruptive innovation is likely to improve our standard of living, in the short term it would spell doom for businesses which are not agile enough, leading to job losses and the resultant social impact. As we can see, it is not just global crises that can lead to a sea change. And history has taught us that decisions taken in the present can reverberate for years to come.

It is clear then that managers will have a key role to play in the battles to come. But, how do they learn to tackle the unknown? Management students are always taught using case studies that simulate ambiguous or uncertain decision dilemmas, says Prof Venkat Raman, Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi. “The pandemic has only provided a wider canvas for them to learn to cope with uncertainties,” he says. He adds that the faculty quickly learned about the convulsions taking place in corporate strategies—to be quoted as examples in class discussions.

Venkat Raman, who focuses on human resource development and health policy, says that in recent years, management curriculum has adopted lessons from startups and, therefore, it prepares students to respond to complex business scenarios. “Exploring the implications of the pandemic and the uncertainties of the future on work, employment, leadership, business strategies (supply chain, patterns of consumption), risk mitigation, financial health and modelling the organisational responses to crisis are issues that constitute the core of our [virtual] classroom discussion these days,” he says.

Adaptability, the ability to learn quickly, out-of-the-box thinking and conscientiousness are critical competencies for a manager, says Venkat Raman. “Managers of tomorrow also need to be multi-skilled and multi-dimensional,” he says. “Learning management techniques from (American) textbooks is not sufficient. B-schools must make future managers understand their role in the social and economic milieu.”

Prof P.C. Biswal, dean (research and accreditations), Management Development Institute, Gurugram, says that there could not be a more appropriate disruptive force than Covid-19. “B-schools the world over have been teaching how businesses are to be prepared for the changing times, changing environment and economic disruptions,” he says. Now, he says, they can incorporate learnings and experiences of managers during a pandemic in their curricula to teach students how businesses stay relevant during economic disruptions.

“This pandemic has shown us how businesses are killed in such uncertain and black swan type of events,” he says. “At the same time, it is also evident that some other businesses, such as Amazon, Byju’s, Zoom and Unacademy, performed well. B-schools should incorporate changing business strategies of the above businesses to make their courses relevant.”

Sunil Varughese, chief brand and sustainability officer, XLRI, Jamshedpur, says that b-schools must look at the adverse impact of the pandemic on business. “More importantly, the community at large and organisations, in particular, need resilience-building measures to withstand and overcome the adverse effects of black swan-like events,” he says. He adds that future business leaders should develop holistic skill-sets to enhance their “resilience quotient”, which also includes factors like fitness and immunity.

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November 08, 2020