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What are the differences between modern executives and their predecessors? They have many more tasks to solve, which require rather innate skills, the so-called soft skills, not necessarily cultivated by traditional Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs, note the authors of an article published by the British magazine The Economist.
Spiritual development seems like a strange mandate for business schools that prepare future managers to work miracles in an increasingly secular world. But some are already succeeding, or at least trying.
Hec Paris, one of the most prestigious in the world, decided to send his students on a trip (initiation, I would say) to a remote locality, where a Benedictine monk (former lawyer) seeks to help them navigate among various ethical dilemmas. Whether or not the three-day special seminar represents a change from business logic, in which profit is king, to a milder and more tolerant form of capitalism remains a topic open to debate. But it certainly proves that current expectations about what makes an MBA program extraordinary and, by extension, a chief executive officer (CEO) have multiplied.
Until recently, MBA programs focused on analyzing numbers and business strategy. Executives must continue to master these skills. However, the corporate world has changed since the MBA became a sort of rite of passage for already very influential executives.
Now, management teams are accountable to a growing number of so-called “stakeholders” (from employees to social activists) and face strict monitoring of their companies ’actions in the environmental, social or governance area (so-called called ESG). Creating value for shareholders is simply no longer enough.
One effect of this trend is that running a business today requires a growing list of skills and qualities. In addition to digital and financial knowledge, the skills of good strategists and communicators, executives should also be aware of what to eat supply chains, environmental protection and more. It must be ensured that human resources (HR) policies are diverse and inclusive, and as the work regime becomes hybrid, they need to devote more time to verifying those directly subordinate to them.
Some of these new duties are delegated to new corporate roles. For example, Prince Harry is the chief impact officer (CIO) at a Silicon Valley firm. Law firm Clifford Chance has named a “global director of employee wellbeing and experience,” and on the professional LinkedIn network, nearly 5,000 users describe themselves as “chief happiness officers (CHOs).” Even so, most executives will more than likely have to cover each of these roles to a greater or lesser extent.
As the day has only 24 hours and even the most hardworking managers need sleep, their degree of load changes. By allocating more time to employees and other business stakeholders, they have less time left for other things to do – some even critical to the smooth running of the business, such as medium- or even long-term strategy.
Since 2006, Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria of Harvard University’s School of Business have been monitoring what executives do all day. They found that they devote almost a quarter (25%) of their work time to strengthening relationships with both those inside and outside the company, ie more than they devote to developing strategies (21%), corporate culture (16 %), routine managerial tasks (11%) and transactions (4%).
Even though the two researchers do not yet have relevant information, some anecdotal evidence suggests that hybrid work has pushed executives even further toward managing their employees. In fact, human resources directors say that managers spend more time managing subordinates.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, managers were the ones who somehow worked hybrid, half time in the company, and the rest in external meetings, business trips or working remotely. More than a third of their communication was via video chat, e-mail or telephone.
The difference, now, is that all employees have the same work model, with little time spent in the office. The opportunities for face-to-face interaction are dramatically reduced, which complicates the process of strengthening relationships with employees and certainly increases the time allotted for remote interaction.
As the workload of executives changes, it is normal for the MBA curriculum to change as well. A large number of institutions incorporate completely new modules – Harvard University’s School of Business has a module called “Reimagining Capitalism”, and Insead, the prestigious French MBA, teaches its students about “Business and Society”.
Many MBA programs already offer interpersonal skills development courses. And some set up courses on the “Zoom era” (the common pitfalls of virtual negotiations are highlighted). And it becomes clear to anyone that, with these changes in the curriculum, less time is being spent on other, say, traditional courses.
There are also some MBAs that fundamentally rethink the policies of attracting candidates in an attempt to reflect the developments in modern management. For example, group interviews are organized in order to assess software skills rather than intellectual ones. Or candidates are measured by questionnaires, essays or letters emotional qualities such as empathy, motivation and resilience.
Changes in who recruits and teaches a business school may also have an effect on those who enroll. Given that an MBA degree has the role of validating the managerial-executive competence of the holder, this may determine what type of person will rise in the corporate hierarchy.
The innate, non-technical qualities are in the top of the requirements on the labor market in 2022.
WHAT THE. The so-called soft skills are said to be interpersonal. They have less to do with each person’s qualification, so they are less specialized, being more vocational and more aligned with the attributes and personality of each individual. WHICH. The ability to communicate, teamwork, the ability to solve problems or conflicts, to lead, but also to be responsible – all represent such soft skills and are at the top of employers’ requirements for 2022.
This article appeared in issue 143 of . magazine.
PHOTO: Laszlo Raduly