The Future MBA, week 4: Communication is key

For 100 days I am posting 100 ways that we could rethink and reimagine the MBA, to transform it into a tool for creating the sustainable leaders that our organizations and the planet need.

I’ll explore all aspects of the MBA, ranging from curriculum and research to partnerships and campus activities. Some ideas could be put into practice tomorrow while others would require a complete rethinking of the way we view the MBA.

This brainstorming of ideas is meant to encourage discussion, so please share your thoughts and comments and elaborate on the ideas you find the most interesting.

Day 22: Communication 101

One of the most important skills for managers and leaders is communication. Communication skills differentiate good managers from simple MBA graduates. Despite this, business schools are taking out many opportunities for students to further develop and explore these skills.

Communication 101 is a communication-focused class that the Future MBA could include. Rather than assume these are lessons that students learn during their time in the program, this course deals with the topic explicitly. This course will focus on how to present an idea simply and effectively to a wide range of audiences. This can be communicating with employees above, at your own level or your direct reports; and communicating to business partners, a local community or the general public. How to communicate with the media, whether sharing news of a success or managing a negative situation. A large part of the class will focus on how to communicate across culture. The class also explores how to present an idea or message through various presentation techniques with a focus on getting the audience engaged and involved.

Day 23: A series of experiences

The MBA of the future would not be made up of a series of classes as it is today. Instead, in order to graduate with an MBA, students would be required to complete a series of projects, some of short duration and others longer. Each project would focus on teaching students a particular set of skills, giving them first-hand experience and the ability to work in a variety of situations.

First, the projects would be divided by the student’s responsibility within the project. For one, they would be the leader and would have to find other students to work with them. On another, they would need to be part of someone else’s team. They would have an independent project and one done with a partner. They also would have a research project to be completed with a faculty member.

The projects would have to be completed with a range of stakeholder groups including government, NGOs, international organizations and various types of business, both small/local and large/international. This will give students a better understanding of the stakeholders that affect and are affected by the business sector. Where possible, they also will take place around the world.

Lastly, projects would focus on a variety of themes. In one, the student would need to start a new business or create a new product or service. In other projects, students would work on ongoing teams. The school would have a list of projects that students could get engaged in. This would be based on real challenges that individual businesses, the business sector as a whole or even the international community faces.

Faculty would act as advisors, available to help students with skills they need to help complete their projects, whether finance, team management or communication skills. Short workshops would be regularly scheduled to help prepare students who are about to start new projects or interested in developing certain skills.

Students would be graded based on the work they do on their projects, how they are completed, reviews from their peers, their ability to learn, take risks and adapt. Students would graduate once they have completed the full set of projects (within a pre-determined time period). By the time students have completed the list of required projects, they should have all the skills necessary, and a lot of first-hand experience, to work in any organization. In that time, they will have made interesting and meaningful contributions to their communities.

Day 24: Adopting local businesses

A Business School campus sits within a community filled with small business owners. How can the schools further develop relationships between their students and the local environment?

In the Future MBA, students will be paired with local businesses. The businesses — the corner store, a local pub, an artist, a hotel, a day care center, a small business owner or a community group — would apply to be part of the program. Students would spend some time within their paired business during the school year, learning more about how it operates but also providing advice and help as needed. A series of events also will take place on campus to facilitate the interaction of students with their and other students' adopted businesses.

Day 25: Subscription service

Walk through the halls of most MBA programs and you will see piles of today’s Financial Times or this week's Economist waiting to be picked up by student subscribers. The Future MBA will introduce students to a range of other interesting publications, books, magazines, articles and blogs to encourage them to think about topics of interest in different ways.

For example, students will have the opportunity, through the school's revamped library, to use a special subscription service where every week they will be sent a series of virtual and physical publications. Based on preferences set into the system, the subscription service will not send them publications that they likely already have heard of or are already subscribed to. Rather, it will introduce them to new publications which deal with their topics of interest from different perspectives. This way, students will be exposed to a range of new ideas and publications that they never might have found on their own. The service also would be available to alumni.

Day 26: Flexible spaces

The Future MBA campus will be made up of a range of flexible spaces. Walls can be put up and taken down in minutes, tables and chairs can be rearranged or taken away to create a large open space. Parking lots can be turned into reception spaces or athletic grounds in the evening. A lounge for socializing can be turned into a classroom once the break is over. Walls can be transformed from decorative spaces to collaborative brainstorming white boards with a flip of a switch. Furniture can be rearranged to go from a group setting to a quiet corner for an individual to study or work, have a one-on-one meeting or make a call. All spaces will have multiple purposes. Individual desks can be moved around so that employees can work together (with all of their things) or even set up on the terrace to enjoy a nice day.

Day 27: Ranking value

When it comes to choosing an MBA, rankings rule. But what do these rankings really tell you about a school? They may say a lot about how you will be viewed post-graduation for future jobs, but do they really say anything about the quality of education that you will receive or the position an education institution has in society? How do we create a ranking that rewards creativity, transformation and the ability to prepare future leaders rather than the status quo or post-MBA salary?

Future rankings will be generated based on the value that a business school provides to society. This value will be created based on research, community engagement, quality of education and training programs, among other things. The measure of value will not be quantitative, so more research will not necessarily give you a better ranking. It will be based on the value of that research to society in the short, medium and long term. Values for the rankings will be generated by society, including students (recent and long-ago graduates), peers, business partners and the community.

Day 28: A powerful alumni network

One benefit of pursuing an MBA is the alumni network. Schools are proud of their alumni's individual accomplishments, but how could schools connect alumni so that they become a powerful force together?

The MBA alumni network of the future will facilitate connections between alumni on multiple levels. It will continue to enable alumni to search for each other and connect, but in a much more active way. If alumni are travelling or free between meetings, they will be able to connect with alumni who are close by and free, connections which ultimately could turn into new opportunities. Alumni working on a product or project can tap into a subset of alumni to help online or in person for impromptu brainstorming sessions or meetings. The alumni network becomes a support system for small or big projects on a day-to-day basis, providing a range of viewpoints on topics and helping to move ideas forward.

Top illustration by Diego Schtutman via Shutterstock.