Time for an MBA Makeover

Last Updated May 3, 2010 12:19 PM EDT

Although the top dozen business schools offering MBA programs still have far more applicants than available slots, middle-tier schools are experiencing enrollment declines. And lest the top schools such as the one at the top of this page get complacent, this trend is likely to continue up the chain, warns a thought-provoking new book, Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, by Harvard Business School faculty Srikant Datar and David Garvin, and research associate Patrick G. Cullen.

What's happening? Garvin calls this the "hollowing out of the MBA marketplace." The "product" -- students with an MBA education -- is less in demand by employers, who want their prospective leaders equipped to meet the new challenges of a global market. The foundation that business schools taught over the last 50 years -- analytics, models, and statistics -- are now being, if not replaced, at least supplemented by new requirements in the workplace.

As Garvin tells HBS Working Knowledge in an interview:

"MBA graduates increasingly need to be more effective: they need to have a global mindset, for example, develop leadership skills of self-awareness and self-reflection; and develop an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of business, and the limitations of models and markets."
Specifically, Garvin points to three "needs."
  1. Greater self-awareness. Executives want managers who understand the impact they have on the performance of others.
  2. Development of more practical skills. Today's managers should come equipped to lead teams, run meetings, deliver effective presentaions and give performance feedback.
  3. Understanding the big picture. Modern organizations are complex organisms, and leaders, to be effective, must understand the context of how decisions are made. It's often better to find a good solution that can be executed easily rather than the 'right' solution that would be disruptive to implement.
So business schools need to change their product to meet market need or risk being disrupted by in-house corporate training programs and other competitors.

You are an experienced manager who has been around the track a few times. So what's your advice to B-schools on what they should be teaching their students?

Related Reading
Rethinking the MBA: Status Quo Schools Will 'Fall By The Wayside' (BNET)

(Empty classroom image by sidewalk flying, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.