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How to manage your boss
Nishchae Suri |
April 06, 2005
There are several gaps between what is taught at a B-school and what it really takes to be successful in the corporate world.
One, management students are not taught how to be good team players. Right from the start, their focus is on outdoing one another.
Unfortunately, there are few rewards for teams at B-schools -- instead, there is more external competition. This one-upmanship is not necessarily conducive to good results and the approach does not always work in the corporate world.
Also, when you are in a management school, you develop a tendency to stick with like-minded people. In the corporate world, on the other hand, you don't have that liberty. You have to communicate with various people at different levels. More often than not, you have to work with people with whom you may not get along, and people with whom you may have to agree to disagree.
Two, with a management education, there is a tendency to becoming process-driven rather than being outcome-driven. In the real world, you need to be more focused on the results of your actions. But what you end up with is a templated behaviour: if you succeed with a certain method, you keep repeating it.
But in today's day and age, the success of such a strategy may be short-lived since the competition is sure to catch on, sooner rather than later. What B-schools often forget to teach is that it is the ability to change faster than your competition that keeps you afloat in the corporate world.
Then there is the issue of dealing with ambiguity and learning to live with it. In a B-school, your goal and boundaries are more or less defined. You have a definite programme to work around -- the syllabus, the projects, the lectures and so on. The working world is, naturally, very different. There you need to work on your own, despite the ambiguity.
For instance, there may be times when your boss may not have the time to brief you on your duties. At such times, you need to have the ability to achieve goals that have not been clearly defined.
Using the right words is also a skill that is not emphasised enough. While B-schools teach you to make presentations, use PowerPoint and so on, those techniques have limited value -- they work only at the B-school level, and only to a point.
While dealing with people in the corporate world, you need to develop a knack for knowing when to pull back, when to present your point of view, when to assert yourself and so on. I also wish management schools taught you how to manage your boss. As they say, you don't get to pick either your budget or your boss. You have to learn to adapt to your boss's style of functioning -- and B-schools don't teach you that.
Another critical issue for fresh executives is the move from a function focus to a business focus. Management graduates tend to focus too much on their area of specialisation, their function. They ignore the larger picture.
Granted, the first year of the MBA programme does provide an overview of other managerial functions, but the emphasis on specialisation is so pointed that students don't really pay attention. They're concentrating too much on the area in which they intend to specialise. But in today's corporate world, no function is really isolated.
One function's actions have repercussions on the other functions, too. For instance, finance should know what is happening in sales and marketing.
Also, B-schools don't really teach you how to filter the knowledge that you are bombarded with everyday. That's particularly relevant given the information revolution and the consequent avalanche of information everyday.
Then, B-schools concentrate more on getting the numbers right. There is an overemphasis on the quantitative data rather than understanding what it means. The students are not taught to synthesise information.
I believe that management students should get some work experience under their belts before they join an MBA programme.
I joined Symbiosis straight out of college and so had only a superficial understanding of industry, of what goes on within an organisation, the multi-tasking efforts that are required of you, the undercurrents you have to sense and so on. Work experience helps you understand all this better -- even the case studies look more realistic.
That said, it is also important to recognise that the case study approach is no substitute for the real corporate environment. Even the mandatory two months of summer training is not as constructive. The solution perhaps lies with corporate India: ensure that the projects given to trainees are meaningful.
Nishchae Suri is business leader, consulting, Asia Pacific, Hewitt Associates. He graduated in 1997 from the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune
As told to Prerna Raturi