Towards An Impactful EMBA: Some Thoughts

EMBA is here to stay and may soon trump the regular MBA in popularity and relevance. Moreover, the IDL format of delivery is likely to gain favor among participants and institutions for it makes education affordable and available.

The executive today is in midst of a never-ending battle. He is required to assess the numerous opportunities as well as address the unique challenges that crop up on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, he soon realizes that his education and training turn obsolete with time. Research has brought to light that (1) either executive are centered on action, without much time or interest to step back and reflect on their effort, (2) or are too immersed in reflection without getting much of a headway in action. Either way it adversely affects the organizational performance. Therefore, executive education programmes have become highly relevant in recent times. These programmes may be visualized as reflective pauses in the careers of the executives, which helps them catch their breath, tap new reservoirs of resources, both social and intellectual, and recommit themselves to the cause of wealth creation. 

Before furthering the discussion, it is important to define the scope of this article. It may be borne in mind that the idea of executive education in business could be traced to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. More specifically, researchers believe that its root lies with Harvard’s short five-week courses that were designed as selective extracts of its standard MBA programme. Today executive education in business comes packaged in various forms. These could be in-house educational programmes run in the organizational premises. For example, the Tata Management Training Center (TMTC) is focused on developing leaders for the TATA group. Similarly, there could be programmes that are company-tailored and designed by the universities. The Management Development Programmes (MDPs) administered in the IIMs are such initiatives. Finally, there is the Executive MBA (EMBA), which is a long-term programme (often ranging between 12 - 24 months) that enrolls specific types of managers through a competitive selection process. Thanks to the revolution in the Information Technology (IT) industry, currently the EMBA in India is administered through two distinct modes: the traditional classroom model, where students would assemble for classes over the weekends, and the online mode where students would be able to listen and participate in live lectures sitting at remote geographical locations through a computer. IIM Kozhikode had pioneered the later mode in India. The Institute identifies this as an Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) and believes it to be a gamechanger in the executive educational landscape of the nation. Not only does it increase access to education thus operationalizing the Education for All motto of the UNESCO, but it also helps in making education affordable. This article is focused on discussing ways to enhance the impact of the EMBA (IDL) programme, which is being offered by many management institutes in the country under different guises. 

It may be understood that the participants in the EMBA (IDL) programme are adults with significant professional experience. In tune with the principle of adult learning theory, the educational experience may be designed to stimulate their intelligence and stir their intellect. Further, it must be connected to their professional practice. Lest it may be forgotten, there exist two distinct categories of customers for this programme: the individual participant and the organization. The individual participant often seeks information on new technologies and practices for better performances in their current assignments. Further, he also looks forward to gathering competencies for future career progress while seeking a space to unburden and share his experiences (often failures) without attracting any political backlash. He also uses this opportunity to enrich his professional network. The organization, on the other hand, is hoping that the programme would transform its managers to leaders of change, capable of initiating and effectively bringing about a cultural and operational shift in tune with the competition. Additionally, there is a call by well-known thought leaders to align management education with the larger societal interests where care and not currency would be the primary driving factor behind decisions. Integrating all these diverse demands of multiple customers, the following question may help measure the impact of EMBA (IDL), “To what extent the three competencies of Expertise, Empathy, and Ethics are developed among the participants at the end of their educational experience?” 

            Expertise can be both situational and personal. Situational expertise involves identification of all the elements leading up to a situation/experience, utilizing an appropriate theoretical prism to make sense of the situation/experience, as well as predicting an outcome. Situational expertise also involves identifying opportunities and foreseeing challenges while in pursuit of these opportunities. It involves conceptualization of the desired outcome. Personal expertise, on the other hand, involves awareness of one’s competencies, personality, values etc. as well as a self-arrived realistic assessment of one’s preparedness to manage a situation. Empathy signifies an understanding of the human impact of managerial decisions. For example, while automation may help reduce cost, yet it could trigger job loss which in turn could bring about a strike. An empathetic manager could foresee the outcome and strive for a win-win outcome. Finally, ethics involves asking oneself these two questions, “Am I cheating my coworkers, organization, government, society?”, “Have I designed organizational processes that discourage cheating by anyone?”.
             Towards meeting these three competencies, a unique mix of instructors and pedagogical strategy is required. In fact, according to a finding in one research, the faculty is the backbone of the EMBA. They must be competent and confident with a gift to guide a conversation. In an online environment, with no real connection with the students who are dispersed across locations, this is of utmost importance. Hence, the instructors must be rich with contemporary examples of various business practices across industries to stimulate an impactful conversation. Both best practices and failed practices ought to be discussed. They must be able to convert the classroom to a laboratory, treating experiences as data while introducing the theoretical frameworks as analytical instruments. They must be able to demonstrate a connection between the head and the hand while appealing to the heart. It must not be forgotten that the “softer” aspects of management like leadership, motivation, conflict resolution etc. are harder to learn, and hence are the source of competitive advantage in the long run. Thus the EMBA instructor is to be chosen with care. Further, the instructional strategies for the executive education ought to be carefully chosen. As discussed previously, these strategies must make participants reflect within, think aloud and act out. Therefore simulations, case studies, projects, and discussions are the major pedagogical tools to be employed. Finally, a capstone course forms the icing on the cake integrating the various managerial functions. It helps the executives realize the multidisciplinary nature of the business, comprehend the explicit and implicit complexities involved while encouraging them to think creatively.
             EMBA is here to stay and may soon trump the regular MBA in popularity and relevance. Moreover, the IDL format of delivery is likely to gain favor among participants and institutions for it makes education affordable and available. As technology improves, it is the quality of educational experience that is going to distinguish between various offerings. Only the best will live to see another day. 

This article was published in BW Education issue dated 'Nov. 20, 2018' with cover story titled 'BW Education Issue Nov-Dec 2018'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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