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2010-06-25 MBA : Master of Business Arts? Understanding the fundamentals


I've often wondered why we prefer to call it 'Management' over 'Administration'. I didn't get sufficiently acceptable answers from those who I've discussed till date. 'That's how most people like it and hence it sells well' came closest. :)

While one doesn't have the luxury to pontificate often through our humdrum work lives, given that everyone always wants everything done yesterday. [I also wonder why everyone continues to always want everything done yesterday, especially considering that nobody has ever delivered it yet - but that's a subject of different post I suppose.] Things or events strong enough to trigger these thoughts come once in a while, even less frequently than the occurrence of the twitter whale. One such, is this tweet from HBR : "The MBA debate isn't over yet. Professor Richard Barker says no, management is not a profession. Free article: http://s.hbr.org/aKibVK".

He makes some very good points (that I consider pearls of wisdom) and I will quote and/or rephrase:

"True professions have codes of conduct, and the meaning and consequences of those codes are taught as part of the formal education of their members."

We seek advice and services from people in professions because they have knowledge and skills that we do not. Often we cannot judge the quality of the advice we receive. There is an asymmetry of knowledge.

No professional body is granted control, no formal entry or certification is required, no ethical standards are enforced, and no mechanism can exclude someone from practice. In short, management is not a profession.

The real issue is whether what the schools do teach qualifies students to manage, in the way that an MD qualifies someone to practice medicine.

" ... online delivery is a teaching mechanism, not a learning environment."

" ... we should not be surprised that an academic grading system cannot reliably predict managerial ability."

Business schools do not uniquely certify managers, enabling them to practice. Nor do they regulate the conduct of those managers according to a professional code of practice. Business schools are not professional schools. They are incubators for business leadership.

" the manager is a jack-of-all-trades and master of noneā€”the antithesis of the professional. ... The role of the manager is inherently general, variable, and indefinable."

"business education is typically post-experience ... no given candidate can be effectively evaluated independent of all the other candidates."

" ...business education is not about mastering a body of knowledge. ... the environment within which people learn can be more powerful than the specific material taught."

"The skill of integration distinguishes managers and is at the heart of why business education should differ from professional education. The key here is to recognize that integration is not taught but learned."

Overall, for me, an excellently articulated read on the fundamentals of management in a long time.

Please read the article in its entirety - you may conclude differently. There are also many interesting perspectives in the comments. If you or someone you know, have taken or are planning to undertake education in management, you will have insight into what kind of learning environment you should opt for. If you or someone you know, runs a B-school, or are planning to open one, you will have insight into what kind of learning environment you should aim to create.

Perhaps we will live in a better world if we figure out a way to increase the degree of accountability generally associated with managers and 'management'. And to help ourselves remember that we need to do this, may we perceive an MBA as Master of Business Arts till then ?


Tags: management harvard profession accountability MBA twitter


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2010-06-25 Jitendra Very well said, Sir!

Few thoughts from me:

Good Business Schools walk a fine line (or rather try to), between creating managers and polishing leaders. Business Managers are taught general management principles, specific domain knowledge, tools and techniques, presentation and communication skills, law of the land, to be applied in controlled and regulated environment, to achieve moderate success. Mostly 'Administration' and rarely 'Management' is what Business managers do.

Leaders operate in chaos. Leadership can only be polished, it's inherently there or not there! Leaders are required for better than moderate results! Leaders have no time for 'Administration'. They instigate, inspire and leave you to do the rest :) Often moderately successful business managers are better than 'failed' leaders - but this world is a better place because of leaders!

I believe, in recent years, most good colleges and universities have 'code of conduct', 'code of ethics' or 'how to operate honestly' kind of courses in main stream subjects. Most successful and well known organizations have their stringent 'code of conduct / ethics' / rules - regulations and they work in 'Trust but Verify' model.

I believe, MBA is still very much a profession and meant to create 'business managers', rarely you also see leader getting born in the robes of business managers and they take their organizations to celestial heights, I recall John F Welch as one example.

Finally Leaders and Managers are two wheels of a cart, we need both of them to run properly.

Best regards,
Jitendra

Atul: Thanks for the comments Jitubhai :)
-- Atul
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