Monday, 11 May 2009

The Obsolete Manager

How obsolete are we ? If I were to judge myself, pretty obsolete.

This week I am posting on Education, as the theme. Starting with an outrageous statement - the manager is obsolete the minute he steps out of business school (or whatever school) and then it is a long road to utter obsolescence until he retires.

Management science is a pretty dynamic science. The body of knowledge is expanding at a terrific pace and we rarely keep up with it. Company training programmes are meant to missed, citing "extremely busy" as an excuse. How many times have we gone back to university to relearn or do a refresher programme - none , unless your company has sponsored you for one of the Advanced Management Programs (note to my company - are you listening ? Harvard would be nice !)

Take for example the field of finance and accounting. A few years ago, in my company, we played a game - Who wants to be a Millionaire (or Kaun Banega Crorepati to my Indian friends) on basic IFRS principles. We played this amongst the top accountants in the company from many countries. Not one guy won any money. Everybody flunked. We were that ignorant.

Try this in your company. Walk up to your CFO . Do it for a dare. Ask him to price a plain vanilla option, on anything - say your home currency against the US$. Watch him wriggle and squirm.

Experience is a great teacher ; no doubt. But mere experience is not enough. "Back to school", say every 10 years, is a great way of getting abreast and relearning everything we have forgotten.

And reading. Reading a lot. Airport business books don't count. Real stuff. How many of us managers, have read an issue of the Harvard Business Review during the last one year ?

So my recipe to guard against obsolescence (which I haven't thus far practiced, except for the last one), is
- Go and do a formal course in a B-school every 7 or 8 years
- Read the leading business journals of the world (Financial Times and Wall Street Journal don't count)
- Lecture occasionally at Universities.
- Write a business blog ! In order to write sensibly, you have to read something, right ?

I speculated on what grades I would get if I went back to Business School and wrote the exam now. Here's my candid assessment

Business Strategy - A
Quantitative Methods - F
Finance - F
Accounting - C
Marketing - C
Operations Management - F
Economics - F

Pathetic.

8 comments:

  1. Ramesh ...great stuff. But for someone as ignorant on B methods as myself,am I too wrong to assume that you are being a little hard on yourself - grading a C in Op Mgmt when you consider an A for Bus Str? Also for a common man who aspires to be a manager some day - but a little too late for B School, what would be the Plan B? Or is there a Plan B?

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  2. Sorry, I meant a F in Op M.

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  3. kiwibloke11/5/09

    Ramesh, forget about getting grades in B School! If I were to attempt writing the Entrance exam (CAT) which once upon a time i managed the 99th decile, I guess my chances are one in a billion to even make it to B School. So much for dumbing down through 20 years of working!
    cheers

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  4. I used to think that experience was knowledge at one point in time. May be what triggered this thought, which later turned into a beleif is that , I had the oppurtunity to work with the crème de la crème (the IIM and the IIT passouts and the like) but sometimes their managment skills, thought process or ideas never justified their alma mater. I know its extremely vain of me to state this, but this was my preception.Now I know, may be their thoughts had become obsolete.

    But I have a question for you. Dont you think, a problem at hand (real life) is more educating than a course every now and then?

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  5. @ blogueuer - Ops Mgmt has also sorts of quanti stuff. I have forgotten linear programming, can't differentiate between regression and correlation and will definitely get a F !! And yes Plan B definitely - its never too late to do an Executive MBA .

    @kiwi - CAT is tougher than the actual B-School exam. I didn't want to embarass myself by saying that there's no hope in hell that I would get through CAT now !!

    @aparna - you are right, experience is a great teacher and is extremely important. But you also need to know your technical stuff right ? I am convinced that one of the reasons for the current bank failures is that nobody in any bank's board understood what a credit default swap was.

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  6. This is sooo true...Getting trained now n then can help us coz we are not all blessed always with the same jobs related to our education and we kinda lose track somewhere in between...I can guarantee that I'll flunk if I had to take an exam on all my engineering subjects now...and I also don't want to be dumbfounded when my kid asks me some tech quesitons tomorrow...and Yes I did find some of my managers with blank faces when they were posed with certain major issues and all of them go to as many trainig sessions as they can...more knowledge is always an added advantage especially when our designation increases and we are expected to know more than our subordinates.

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  7. You have opened pandoras box. Curriculum followed in Indian business schools (exclude ISB/IIMs) will still be age old and may not add any value.
    I agree with you on blogging and teaching/mentoring budding students will help managers in upgrading themselves. By staying in touch with students, one can have pulse of trends to come in which is good for any manager.

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  8. @Rads - Yes, continuous reeducation is good - not just on company training programmes but also privately on our own

    @Adesh - You are absolutely right. Interacting with students is one of the most refreshing and learning of experiences. hence my exhortation to teach

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