Tuesday, December 16, 2008

MBA - Useful or Useless?

The November issue of Insite, the Aged Care industry newspaper has a feature on management. On its front cover it asks the question whether an MBA is purposeful or pointless for executives in the aged care sector?

I would like to take a slightly broader perspective than the aged care sector. Let me state first up that I dont have an MBA or even an undergraduate degree. While I have studied a variety of University level diplomas and courses, I have tended to get my education from the University of Hard Knocks. There are many, especially amongst those that have invested in higher degree level education, who would view my comment as being cynical. They would be wrong. I am totally in favour of continuous learning. The process of learning is more important than the channel used to learn.

More importantly, I believe than the actual qualification, is the reason why one believes the qualification is necessary. The often quoted outcome of MBA level education is that it teaches people critical analysis skills. Maybe. My question would be this. Does it teach people how to apply those skills in the real world of constantly changing environments and pressure to perform? Looking around the world at present and seeing the impact of the economic crisis and prior to that the meltdown of the dot-com era, I get a sense that those with the education somewhat lacked the ability to apply their learnings in a practical manner.

Some have a tendency to believe the qualification actually qualifies them to perform a certain role. Nothing could be further from the truth. Interestingly enough, research worldwide suggests the majority of current CEO's tend not to have post graduate level education. They got where they are by experiential learning and applying common sense. In future that balance will change, I believe, increasingly more CEO's will have higher tertiary education. This will not be because they need it to do the job, it will be a result of increasing numbers of people completing post graduate university degrees.

For those that enjoy the structured learning of University, and I did, then completing post graduate education may well be a good option, though a reasonably expensive one. The cost has to be recovered at some point and the question has to be asked whether the benefit is equal to or greater than the cost? In my case I have always been busy getting on with the job to find the time to learn how to get on with the job. I have also made a lot of mistakes and I am sure many of those would not have been made, or the impact may have been less, had I spent more time with colleagues in a more formal learning environment. Equally I could have made less mistakes had I spent more time seeking guidance from mentors already in my fields of endeavour.

This serves to illustrate there are many different ways to gain an understanding of issues - and that is what higher education provides, a broad understanding. It also opens your mind to different perspectives.

Just this morning, one of the people I follow on Twitter posted an item about free university education.

This intrigued me so I took the time to look through some of the offerings. I looked at the course material for a program on advanced strategic planning. Read it, enjoyed and decided it didnt add a lot to my current level of understanding, gained from 35 years of practical experience.

This is not a rejection, or a criticism of the course or its producers. For someone else, without my practical experience, such courses offer a cost effective means of learning at a higher level. For those that might be considering this option, I will offer this insight. While attending University in the past I have found many of the lectures only so-so. Where I have gained the most is from interaction with individual lecturers and with other students. While face to face interaction is preferable you can replicate this interaction online.

Would I hire someone with an MBA level degree over someone with experience and able to demonstrate understanding and the ability to achieve? Probably not. Would I hire someone with practical experience and and MBA over someone with just practical experience? Probably so. Would I use degree level education to filter out applicants for a position? Never. When I help clients hire, I am looking emotional competencies and a demonstration of continuous learning. We can develop all the other competencies over time.

Let The Journey Continue
John Coxon
Taking You From Frontline Manager to CEO
Email john@johncoxon.com.au
Skype: john_coxon
Blog: http://healthsector.blogspot.com
Blog: http://nfp-management.blogspot.com
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