To Prepare Future Leaders for Today’s Corporate World, MBA Programs Need to Shift Focus

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Fifty, thirty, and even fifteen years ago, it was a relatively straight shot up the corporate ladder. That’s not to say there weren’t challenges in rising through the ranks or running a business—of course there were. But the quantitative decision-making and other skills required were a little more uniform and predictable. So MBA programs taught those hard skills and sent graduates out into the world, prepared for successful careers in the corporate world.

Today, however, with a rapidly changing market, heightened consumer expectations, a laser focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, and the introduction of artificial intelligence into the office, the role of an executive is changing significantly.

As a result, traditional MBA programs need to shift their focus in order to prepare today’s students for a new, less predictable business world.

In a recent op-ed for Entrepreneur, Lisa Kay Solomon, faculty chair at the Silicon Valley think tank Singularity University, suggested this change to MBA programs ought to begin by reimagining what the acronym itself stands for:

I believe that instead of “administration,” the “A” should stand for “ambiguity.”

Think about it: The rise of artificial intelligence means that humans will be focusing a lot less on “administering” things and more on coming up with “big picture” strategies and ideas. That means that the core of the MBA — mastery of quantitative decision-making — will become largely redundant in favor of subjects that today are mere electives: entrepreneurship, innovation and business model design.

To reinvent the MBA as the “master’s in business ambiguity” — and I’m completely serious here — business schools should move those competencies to their core programs, emphasizing the new domains of adaptive mastery and practice.

She goes on to suggest several ways these new core domains might look, including discovery as a discipline, network and platform weaving, and growth strategy—all with renewed emphases on the “softer” skills that will help leaders be agile and creative enough to navigate increasingly ambiguous territory. Of course, the domain that stood out most to us was storytelling and engagement:

Finally, entrepreneurs must be master storytellers, engaging their audience of potential customers, investors and talent with the purpose and promise of their organization. This is perhaps the sharpest divergence from the traditional MBA, which prefers the realm of facts and figures over that of creativity and communication.

Here at Quantified, we couldn’t agree more. We know that, today, there’s a huge communication gap in the professional world:

  • A recent report from Bloomberg showed that, while communication is the top skill recruiters look for in new hires, it’s also the hardest to find.
  • Another US survey found that 91 percent of employees say communication issues prevent effective leadership.
  • SIS International Research estimates that businesses as small as 100 employees spend upwards of $500,000 per year clarifying communication.

And we also know that, as workforce requirements continue to evolve due to technological innovations and shifting employee and consumer expectations, that gap is only going to grow. So it stands to reason that today’s MBA programs should shift their focus, in large part, to the soft skills—like communication—that professionals will need for success in a new corporate landscape.

And we believe the very technology that’s disrupting that landscape is the key to ensuring today’s MBA candidates graduate with everything they need.

Improving communication skills for large groups is traditionally a challenge, as individual coaching is price prohibitive and communication workshops tend to be too general to have a lasting effect.

But what if each student could upload a video—of a recent interview or presentation—and receive objective evaluations of their communication skills and personalized recommendations showing exactly what they need to work on? And what if you, as the administrator or program leader, could receive aggregate-level insights that show you the students’ collective strengths and weaknesses and help you identify where to make improvements in group workshops or course curricula?

AI-driven, automated communication analytics programs are a cost-effective, lasting alternative to traditional training methods. This data-driven approach empowers each user to turn generalized feedback into granular insights that drive the lasting communication improvements they need to land plum jobs in the corporate world, and it provides leaders with the aggregate data they need to leverage the program’s overall strengths and weaknesses to create the support systems their students really need.

Today’s business world is all about innovation, evolution, and agility. To prepare students for success, MBA programs need to embrace those characteristics, as well.