Category Archives: MBA

The MBA: It’s Your Ticket to the Middle

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your job.  Yet, year after year, your performance reviews provide little insight into what you need to do to gain some upward mobility.  No raises. No promotions.  Eventually, you begin to realize that with little movement after 5 years or more, it’s unlikely that any real movement will be coming in the near future.  You’ve got to change your outlook and the MBA seems like the perfect credential to boost your career.  If you want to get into management, it seems like the ideal tool.  But can it really get you to the top?

When I was working on my MBA, I was just as optimistic as every other student.  I thought the MBA would propel me into management quickly.  I earned my MBA while working full time.  The managers around me didn’t have a lot of credentials themselves, so I felt that my MBA would have a huge impact on my growth in the company.  The only MBA in the company was a Harvard graduate and he was the CFO.  When he came in the company, he came in at the top.  He had considerable management experience at the top level and a MBA from Harvard.  This was my introduction to the two things that get you into top management.

Many believe that the possession of the MBA will push you to the top of any organization.  I wish it were true.  The challenge for MBAs entering the workforce is that there are too many MBAs for too few positions.  According to Statistics Canada data, 10.4 percent of all jobs were management jobs in 1995, but that has reduced to 7.8 percent today.  The recession has brought about change that will greatly impact your ability to climb higher in your career.  About 1 in 10 management jobs that existed in 2008 are gone.  Wal-Mart Canada cut costs by targeting more than 200 head-office jobs. After Tim Hortons merged with Burger King, the coffee chain cut 40 per cent of its middle managers. When Rogers Communications restructured its business under CEO Guy Laurence, it let go of several hundred middle managers and up to 15 per cent of its executives.  While the rate of MBA enrollment has not increased in recent years, it still remains high.  About 52 percent of students around the globe are exclusively interested in the MBA, indicating that the supply of MBAs is unlikely to decrease anytime soon.

If the reduction of management jobs and the large numbers of MBAs doesn’t deter you, then you’ll need to create value for employers to convince them that you’re ready for top management.  There are two things you must have to create that influence: a recognizable value and desired work experience.

The MBA is a faster ride to top management positions if you get it from a top program.  It’s not because they are considerably smarter than everyone else, it’s because they bring a perceived value that the company needs.  For example, if a company is preparing itself to be sold or seeking investment funds, bringing in top program alumni creates the perception that the company is well managed.  This makes investors feel more comfortable about the risk of investing in the company.  It’s little more than managing perception. It’s similar to reasons why professional athletes earn so much money playing a game.  They bring an inherent value to the organization, which for sports athletes lie in their ability to sell apparel with their name on it.  Do you think an MBA from an unknown university would create such perception?  If not, then it’s likely that the MBA won’t carry you to the upper echelons.  Even the ivy leaguers who start out with the Fortune 500 companies don’t start at the top.  Andrew Ainslie, dean of the Rochester University Simon School of Business, said “You’re reporting two to four levels below the CEO. That’s middle management, and that’s where most MBA students go and it doesn’t matter which university they came from.”

Another factor that will slow your rise to the top is work experience.  Companies looking for top level professionals will focus on the experience of the individual in the areas they need support in.  That could be mergers, acquisitions, startup, restructuring or dressing up the company for sale.  Company needs are often very specific and without such experience, you don’t have a chance.  Is experience more valuable than the MBA? I would say it certainly is.  Lynn Lee, managing director at Atlantic Research Technologies, a global executive search firm, says “Corporations typically call us in to help them identify people who are already in the upper management or middle management ranks. When recruiting these candidates, most companies, large and small, Singaporean and international, usually look first and foremost at the candidate’s employment experience, and at his or her achievements and management style. A person with a truly outstanding employment record can get a great senior management job without an MBA or other advanced degrees.”   How do you know what experience they want?  That’s a great topic for another post.  That’s coming soon!

After I earned my MBA and spent many years in middle management, I learned about another extremely important factor that can greatly decrease your chances in reaching the corner office.  It’s self-preservation.  Most managers at the top are focused on growing their own career, not limiting their employment by promoting someone else to take their job.  This mindset creates an environment that I call the “dark side of management” and I have an upcoming ebook that will dive into this topic in detail by providing real examples of situations that often happen that can limit your middle management career because someone at the top was trying to preserve their own career from poor organizational performance or create some organizational change that has great potential for personal financial gain.   I was really unsure about creating this ebook since the world wants to focus on all the happy stuff in life but it’s these unpleasant situations that damage and limit your ability to grow your career.  You will run into them at some point.

No matter where you earn your MBA, it’s all about value (i.e. perceived or real).  If you earned your MBA from a lower tier program, don’t expect it to have high perceived value that executives look for when they want to manage perception.  This will limit your upward mobility.  Therefore, you’ll be forced to develop specific experience that executives and boards are looking for if you want to draw their attention for any opportunities at the top.  Experience has value.  Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in middle management.  While that may sound exciting, especially when you consider where you are now, it comes with a big set of problems (which are covered in my upcoming ebook).  Then, when you consider the sheer quantity of competition for an ever shrinking pool of opportunities, you might just find middle management to be one of the toughest places in business.

The Single Greatest Challenge With Today’s Career

No matter how well you prepare yourself for your career, there’s a rising force that is creating huge barriers for professionals today.  College degrees don’t matter.  It can’t prepare you for this.  Even a great network of professionals and coworkers and years of experience has limited impact in this landscape.  This force creates an environment like no other in the history of business.  For those in power, it provides the ultimate in flexibility in use of talent but for the talent, it affords some serious confusion in determining, much less traversing, any kind of career path.

Just a few decades ago, my father worked in a 100 year old company for over 34 years.  The company had a well defined structure, including a management hierarchy, job roles, payment structures, career paths and incentive plans.  I became a part of the company as I grew up.  Strangely, when I graduated college and starting working there, I couldn’t see the company I knew as a kid.  Changes had already begun and continued every year I worked there.  It was the beginning of what we call the “constant change” that we see today.

A softening structure.  When I began my first job, the organizational structure was rigid and well-defined.  Everyone had their place and knew what their responsibilities were every day.  I had a manager to help me when I ran into problems.  The organization chart was clear to each employee in many ways.  Now, let’s look at the difference within the last ten years.  I’ve helped many professionals who work in companies that have no organizational chart.  Companies engage in these practices because they say they want to remove barriers and allow their employees to approach anyone at anytime.  Having studied a few companies that have utilized this method, I can’t say that is highly successful, as many have failed.  While it seems like a good approach, employees quickly learn that there is still a hierarchy.  The management structure is well defined, just not put on an organization chart.  Decisions are still made by this structure and when things go wrong, it rolls downhill.  While some superficial facets change, many things don’t.  It’s not all bad though.  Employees do have the ability to interact with other business leaders, which can lead to new opportunities. Remember, there’s no structure so there is no real career path either.  You have to figure that out for yourself.

It’s hard to roll with my role.  Now, more than ever, high achievers are engaging with organizations that want to hire them but don’t want to provide a clear definition of their responsibilities.  Companies feel a strong need to remain flexible, which means they need to be able to use their talent any way they see necessary.  Role definitions tie their hands and contribute to an inability to change directions quickly.  Of course, it’s also possible that companies don’t know exactly what they need so they hire people who can function in ambiguity and aren’t afraid to charge headfirst into the unknown.  When I was a kid, I often worked as a farm hand.  This is a job that requires you to do whatever the landowner asks you to do.  They didn’t ask if you had certain skills or talents.  They needed something done and I was the person to do it.  Today, we see that even with the best business knowledge and expertise in the world, work boils down to that same simple principle.  Somebody has to do it.

There’s no work schedule.  This is certainly a more recent trend for companies that has been ushered in by technology that helps us work from anywhere at any time.   The typical work week was defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was established to ban oppressive child labor, set the minimum wage standard and the maximum work week. Of course, with most employment, this doesn’t apply to you.  High achievers are often salaried exempt employees, which mean your work schedule isn’t really protected by law, as long as your pay is the same each pay period.  You can work 40 hours a week or 100 hours a week.  To make this more challenging for you, there is no real definition of work hours.  With a cell phone and laptop, you are reachable any time of the day and reachable almost anywhere in the world.  Growing up as a kid, my dad had a pretty good schedule.  He was an hourly employee and worked from 6AM to 3PM.  He could easily plan his life because the schedule was well defined.  Today’s work schedule is ill defined and makes your life a little more unpredictable.

Working ‘at-will.’  As if your career wasn’t already lacking of any real structure, states have created laws that allow employers to dismiss you for any reason and without warning.  Yep, that means they can walk into your office on Friday and terminate your employment without any justification.  Friday is a good day because it doesn’t disrupt the normal workday of your coworkers should you be terminated without reason.  So, the length of your employment at any company is always at risk.  Many years ago, this wasn’t much of a risk for the workforce but now many managers have figured out that balancing the bottom can include terminating a few employees to keep their division’s budget in the black.  I know we are all professionals here but when your job is on the line, you might be forced to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like terminating employees.

All of these factors have created a completely amorphous environment, void of any reasonable predictability, which further perpetuates the need for change.  We can’t see where we are going and that makes us uneasy.  Professionals remain in a job for 2 or 3 years but choose to leave because their future in the organization continues to remain undefined.  We are creatures of habit and embrace predictability, to some extent.  We’ve built our lives around our jobs and when that stability becomes unstable, so do our thoughts on satisfaction and happiness.  We once had a system that built careers on a visible, logical progression.  You went to college to earn a degree and then entered the workforce in your field.  After years of work in that field, you were promoted up the chain in a career that lasted a lifetime.  Bonuses and promotions were an annual part of your growth.  Today, we see more job uncertainty than we ever have but it appears to be occurring in times with sufficient economic stability. Nonetheless, young graduates will find themselves entering a workforce that struggles to define what it can offer in return for their efforts.   Whatever it is, it is likely to be short term.

I’ve Got An MBA – Where Are the Management Jobs?

You’ve finally earned your ticket (the MBA) to the executive ranks. Graduation is over, you have a diploma and now you need to figure out how and, most importantly, where to put your skills to work.  The job market for managers is fairly hot right now.  If you haven’t found your opportunity yet, here are some places you might not have thought to look.

New business.  Many companies tout their successes to the world, mostly in the hopes of winning favor with potential customers but you can use these press releases to identify potential employers.  Small to medium companies often win big contracts from the private sector and government sector for which they are not totally prepared to manage.  While they may have established some preliminary management strategy to win the business, they may get changes to what they were awarded that is outside of their proposed plan.  Change always creates opportunity for establishing vision and direction.

Your action:  Monitor websites in your industry to identify companies that have announced big wins.  Learn as much as you can about their new business and determine where you can help out.  Then, contact someone in their Business Development department to see if you can get connected with the person responsible for that new business (e.g. department manager).  You go to Business Development people because they like to talk and negotiate.  Pitch your knowledge, skills and abilities in a way that clearly articulates how you can help them manage that new business.

Mergers & Acquisitions.  Companies are always trying to find ways to make money.  One of these ways is through the acquisition of other companies.  Big companies buy smaller companies to expand into new markets, increase their intellectual property or simply to show growth to investors.  Usually these transitions are challenging and difficult to manage as larger companies are not adept at adapting small companies into their fold.  Often, they will select new management for the smaller companies to help them make the transition, and this is where you can help.  A word of caution: Most of these acquisitions only last a few years before they are spun off or shut down.  If you’re not afraid of change, this is the type of business to follow.  M&A is always happening.  Read about 2015 M&A activity here.

Your action: M&A activity is not a highly publicized activity, at least not until the deal has been made.  The best way to learn about these activities is to tap into the industry grapevine and listen for rumors.  Talk with Business Development people to learn about rumors of mergers and acquisitions in your industry.  Go to trade shows and industry association meetings and conferences to gather information.  Companies love to talk about these rumors, which often have a strong element of truth.  Get your information and strategy ready for how you can make that acquisition more successful. Then, maintain contact with your connections to identify when it will occur.  Send your resume and cover letter that explains how you are the solution to the success of the new acquisition.

Venture capitalists (VC).  Another great source of management changeover is companies owned by venture capitalists.  Typically, VCs provide funding to companies and try to grow the companies as quickly as possible in an effort to sell them in a few years for a large profit.  This process of buying and selling companies creates a need for exceptional leaders who can manage each transition.  Often, VCs will identify organizational leaders they like and will seek to work with them many times during their career.  But there are also opportunities to introduce yourself and how you can help make them more successful.

Your action: Search the web for venture capitalists in your industry.  It’s as easy as doing a Google search on the name of your industry and the words “venture capitalists.”  Click the links to identify numerous VCs in your industry.  Then, research them to find out what companies they invest in.  Create your business case for why they should hire you and send it to the VCs and the companies they own. But make sure you know which of their companies may be in line for a transition before you engage with them.

Having an MBA is great.  You do learn about business.  Unfortunately, business isn’t run anything like it was when the MBA was first created.  Constant change is the flavor of the day.  Managing in transition isn’t the same as steady state management.  My guess is that there are far more companies in transition than there are in steady state.  If you can create a compelling case for why you’re the best for transition management, then you’ll likely find an opportunity to prove it.

Education Overload – Earning Multiple Graduate Degrees

Recently, I’ve received hundreds of emails about earning multiple graduate degrees and the impact it will have on a career.  With such interest in this approach, I felt it was time to share some thoughts on the pros and cons of earning so much formal education.

There is no ladder to climb.  Just a few decades ago when I began my career, there were defined paths for upward mobility.  Companies would outline how one could transition from position to position, eventually gaining responsibility, authority and greater benefits (e.g. pay).  Today, that doesn’t exist.  Many companies don’t even have an organizational chart.  They will tell you that it provides you the benefit that you can go anywhere you want without restriction and that those old predefined paths only restrained you to a certain future.  They will say you have complete control over your career.  I really like this idea but it was really done to reduce top heavy management ranks, which is often slow, inefficient and expensive.  It wasn’t done to move more people upward.  You can make all the lateral movements you want, but moving upward, well, this is where you have to apply your knowledge to navigate an uncharted organization.  If you’re really searching for structure, you’ll need to target big corporations.

Graduate degrees are not required for executives.  While it seems logical that the most brilliant people will rise to the top of organizations, this simply isn’t true.  In fact, many businesses are started by people with little formal education.  I mention this because you might join such an organization.  You’ll take the job and then do research on the executive team, only to find that they are not highly educated like you. I’ve found this many times in tech and high tech companies, where you might expect to find highly educated managers. If you desire to be around the highly educated, you’ll need to seek them out.  Most are in technology and finance.

THE CONS

I know it’s hard to believe that being highly educated could have a down side, but it does. Here are a few things you might encounter when you have a lot of formal education and you’re working in Corporate America.

You’re a threat.  You might not ever actually see this directly but to management teams that don’t have graduate degrees, employees that do can be threatening.  They fear being embarrassed by their lack of understanding of many topics and feel there is some secret competition at play.  A good judge in determining the type of organization you’re in is to assess the leadership.  If they are more interested in growing their career, you’ll be considered a threat.  If they want to grow their organization, then you might have a chance for growth.

Possible solution: If you find yourself here, you have to be humble and give your ideas for growth and improvement away.  Show your management you’re here to help them become a success.

You’re underemployed.  Face it.  There are not that many jobs that require a graduate degree and hardly any that will list two graduate degrees as necessary.  Unless you can afford to search for that perfect job for a long time, you’re likely to accept a job that you can easily do.

Possible solution: Begin your job search when you are in graduate school.  Utilize the university’s resources to place you in a higher position.  Work with professional organizations while you are in your academic program too, as they are more likely to help students than graduates.

You’re Academic.  I always thought this was a good thing but I’ve had a few instances where senior managers have told me I was too academic.  I think they meant it to be derogatory and imply that I didn’t have enough experience.  Well, when you’re a young professional, this will be a problem.  Again, this is a biased view from a less educated management team, where experience is more important because it is what they have most.  What I found is that being labeled academic is good and bad.  It’s bad because it implies you do threaten people around you a little.  It’s good because they realize that you are well educated and have the ability to perform industry recognized analyses.

Possible solution: Don’t waste any time or energy on proving you are smarter.  Let your work show that.  You should focus on results and creating tangible successes that define your value to the company.  It is helpful to show management that you can help them improve their own career.  Once they feel that support, they won’t be as inclined to keep your career suppressed.

You’re Expensive.  High credentials mean high salary.  This is what companies will see and that can scare them.  They’ll overlook the fact that you can bring high productivity, high efficiency and high output.  Most companies don’t try to identify the financial impact of such indirect benefits.  They only focus on the direct costs that are easy to measure, like your salary.  This can make finding a job really difficult.

Possible solution:  High salary is offset by high returns.  You’ve got to be able to show real situations where you have greatly reduced cost, created new earnings, or improved existing earnings.  Companies want to make money and you must be able to provide evidence where you’ve helped do that. 

THE PROS

The majority of the advantages of higher education are personal.  It brings a sense of accomplishment, pride, an understanding of how to learn and confidence.  These emotions are powerful and will help you push through challenges that are ill-defined, untested and unbeaten. The difficulty is keeping this confidence under control and avoiding being overbearing to others, as most people aren’t excited by change and challenge.

You’ve got credentials.  It feels good to help those degrees and more importantly, the knowledge and understanding of how to learn.  Multiple graduate degrees communicate the message that you are smart.  In organizations that like utilizing smart people, you’re an asset.  You have numerous advantages, like being able to work alone without supervision, solve difficult problems, create new ways of doing business, research how the competition does business and so much more.

Career Strategy:  Don’t focus on communicating your brilliance.  The degrees will do that for you.  You should however strive to create tangible accomplishments that clearly articulate your ability to put that brilliance to work and create success.  These tangibles are what others will consider to be work experience.

Changing fields is easier.  Many multiple degree holders have earned these illustrious credentials to afford themselves the power to change occupations much easier.  In my experience with such high achievers, it does help to have a considerable depth of expertise in multiple areas.  Transitioning from one industry to another is possible but not necessarily any easier.  The advantage of your credentials is that you usually don’t have to entertain a lower position at the new company.

Career Strategy:  While you may have knowledge in multiple areas, it’s important to create tangible accomplishments in these areas to communicate that these skills and knowledge are still current and valuable.  If you can’t create accomplishments with the knowledge, create some successes with the skills that can be transferred to other fields.

Instant Recognition.  When you submit a resume that has multiple graduate degrees, companies will recognize they are dealing with someone who is smart and can learn.  They will search for the value you can provide.  This is very important as most first reviews of resume are typically to identify factors that eliminate you from consideration, not inclusion.

Career Strategy:  Ensure your credentials include accomplishments and accolades that are expected for someone with such qualifications.  The value is not just in what you know, it’s in what you can do with what you know…and that you have to prove.

The mind that wants to learn and grow constantly is special.  It seeks to create value wherever it can and as often as it can.  Most of us are not like this, as we seek to settle into life, create stability and entertain ourselves until retirement.  While we appreciate its abilities, it also reminds us of our own abilities and how we may not measure up.  It scares us and, at times, makes us feel as if our stability is being threatened.  Education is very important and we should all seek to constantly improve ourselves.  But we don’t.  So to those who chase many academic credentials, your success will be found with those who appreciate and value such knowledge. Please know that all companies don’t appreciate you.  So you may have to spend some time searching for those who will embrace you, preferably while you’re still in school.  Finally, I leave you with a quote from the British Author and creator of the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once said “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”

IAMPRO MBA Award Nomination

Well, it’s not often we are nominated for an award for our support of MBAs.  We’ve been blogging, publishing and working with MBAs on career development for a decade.  Considering I’m the only American among the International pool of nominees, I am truly honored to be representing the USA.

The IAMPRO MBA Awards celebrate MBA’s at the forefront of leadership excellence. To recognise the talents and contributions made by accredited schools and their students to the MBA arena and the wider community, the IAMPRO presents five annual awards to outstanding managers, entrepreneurs, non for profit managers, industry leaders.

The IAMPRO invites you to vote upon MBA students or alumnus/alumna for each category of the MBA awards. The winners will be individuals in each respected category.

Vote for me HERE.

I’m in Category 4. MBA ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT AWARD.

There is some real tough competition among these nominees and I’ll need all of the votes I can get.  Your vote is most appreciated.

MBA for Starting Your Business

It’s the latest craze and it almost sounds like a contradiction but many universities in the USA have quickly adopted an MBA program focused on entrepreneurship.  If the university isn’t adopting a certified program, they’ve instituted seminars, weekend training, networking events and more that address entrepreneurial needs.   It’s hard to imagine that academia would be able to show budding new entrepreneurs how to run a successful business.  The MBA degree was developed to help managers become better managers. Now, we are taking into a position that requires a broader set of knowledge, skills and abilities.  Many universities realize the challenge in providing such education so they often solicit the support from local entrepreneurs.  In fact, many colleges hire entrepreneurs to develop the new MBA program.  While the MBA isn’t really a requirement for anything, an MBA entrepreneurial program isn’t either but it might be helpful for your startup.  In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key elements of this type of program so that you can determine if it’s right for you.

Assessing business ideas.  If you want to be an entrepreneur but don’t have any idea what business you want to create, then learning to assess ideas is very important.  The ability to recognize and evaluate opportunities is not an easy task.  Most entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship educators recognize that only a small percentage of venture ideas actually represent viable business opportunities.  Such skills are critical as startups are usually plagued by high uncertainty, low information and the need for rapid decision-making.  Students are often introduced to numerous platforms for evaluating business ideas such as the Timmons Model of the Entrepreneurial Process, the New Venture Decision Making Model and the Opportunity Search Model.  These models help you assess potential opportunities by guiding your focus in areas of environmental attributes, owner characteristics, strategy factors, resources, economics, and product/service model.

Basic organizational structures.  Most programs offer guidance in identifying the various types of structure that might be suitable for your business, such as an LLC, C-corp, S-corp and so on.  The factors that are important here are usually the number of owners, tax benefits, liabilities, and record keeping requirements.  If you don’t know anything about these, then the knowledge you get will be helpful.  However, in my experience, spending a few minutes with a business attorney or CPA is just as sufficient.

Develop a sound Business Plan.  If you’ve been reading our blog, this should be easy.  We just saved you a ton of money.  MBA entrepreneurial programs will give you great support in building a good business plan.  The business plan serves two purposes:  (1) clarifies your value statement and revenue model, and (2) communicates sufficient growth potential and stability for investors.  Of course, the quality of plan is only as good as the experience behind the creator, so you might want to investigate the experience of your professor.   Ideally, you can create your business plan early in the program and implement it throughout the life of your MBA program.

Marketing Plans.  MBA programs concentrate more on analytical and strategic marketing, such as creating marketing plans and strategies for sales purposes.  There is potential to develop some powerful skills here, such as competitor analysis, market research, budgeting, branding, communication, marketing tactics and metrics for monitoring.  Marketing plans are very valuable for a startup as they will help you focus your energy.  If you don’t develop the skills yourself, you’ll likely be hiring them at some point. 

Funding.  Many programs offer courses on working with venture capital firms, banks and angel investors.  These sources are exciting as they often come with sophisticated investment analysis tools and models, as well as thoroughly researched and professionally prepared business plans.  The top tier programs also give you access to these fund providers.  Unfortunately, most startups don’t usually get to tap into such sources.  The more common sources of funds for new and smaller businesses are family, friends, informal investors and the entrepreneur themselves.  Much of what you’ll learn won’t be used right away but will be helpful later on.

Mock experience.  Most programs will tell you this is a huge advantage, as students are afforded the practice of key business skills in a safe environment.  You can basically work with a team of students to walk through the development and implementation of a business venture.  The intent of this mock experience is to help ensure decisions are made using sound business practices.  The hope is that you’ll fall back on your habits, developed during practice, when difficult situations arise.  Of course, you may have the view that there are many factors that can affect your decision making abilities that can be emulated in a classroom setting.  It reminds me of the scene in the movie Harry Potter:  The Order of the Phoenix when Harry asks Professor Dolores Umbridge “And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?”  In this scene, the ministry felt that a “theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations.”  Unfortunately, starting your own company has real consequences that can be quite costly and theory ignores the fact that real businesses often deal with irrational people, both in your own team and the customer.

Identify new ventures.  To sustain growth of your organization, you must be able to identify new opportunities, including understanding, qualifying and quantifying the market.  Additionally, you must also understand your competitive advantage, build a financial plan, secure funding and build a team that can implement the plan.  These lessons may seem a little premature when you’re just starting up as you’ll be more focused on implementing your business plan, which usually doesn’t include changing course or expanding products and services right away.  If you don’t know what kind of company you want to start, this may help you understand how to assess any opportunities you find interesting.

Global strategies.  Most offerings are designed to help you develop leadership and strategic thinking tuned to the realities of today’s global economy, including topics related to operations, partnerships, product development, and legal contracts.  If you don’t plan on going abroad anytime soon, this may be a little premature and not a great deal of help for your more urgent startup needs.

Networking with other entrepreneurial minds.  Networking is a common theme for MBA programs.  Apparently it works for entrepreneurial programs as many students partner with other classmates to launch their business.  Networking is always helpful as it lets you bounce your ideas off existing entrepreneurs, professors and students who can help you evaluate your ideas.   Now, this can be done in many places, not just a college campus.

Startup acceleration.  This offering is usually dedicated to helping fundable startups with scalable business models connect with companies who might be interested in supporting the business idea through mentorship and venture capital.  If you’ve got an idea that requires considerable startup funding, this might be a useful approach.

While I’ve always thought that universities have become quite adept at jumping onto new trends, entrepreneurship seems to be more popular than the MBA itself.  The concern I would have in partaking in such programs is that you will be spending a lot of money to learn skills that may not be easily transferable to other companies should you decide not to start your own upon graduation.  Even worse, you could graduate from the program and your startup company fails a short time after.  That would be a huge setback.  Now, this is not to say that such programs don’t have value.  They do have value, especially if you have an idea of the business you want to start.  I’m not sure you’ll gain great benefit in these programs if you have no idea what business you want to create.  Just think about the challenge of any MBA graduate who finds themselves at the end of the program asking themselves “now what?”

In our next, we’ll give you a list of questions you should consider before enrolling in such programs.  We’ll also try to bring you real experiences from graduates to assess how well the programs work.

GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE

In the last week of the year, my son and I took off down I-75 towards Tampa, Florida for a Lacrosse tournament.  Just a few hours into the trip, I noticed a common trend that lasted the whole 8 hour trip.  I looked over to my son and asked him to tell me what he saw.  He stated “everyone is in the far left lane.”  I reminded him that the far left lane is the fast lane and designated for the drivers going a little faster than everyone else.  But why would almost everyone flock to the fast lane?  As we moved over into the fast lane, we quickly noticed that traffic was actually slower.  The cars in the other lanes were traveling faster, with the exception of a few cars that forced drivers to work their way around them.  But they had two lanes to maneuver in so they didn’t have any problems getting around the slower cars.  The fast lane was a different story.  The only way to move forward was if someone moved out of the way.  Even though we were all going slower, we were in the fast lane and drivers remained there despite our speed.  Sound familiar?

fastlane

So many of us do this with our career.  It’s a sick version of the herd mentality.  We do everything people tell us to do but only seem to get the same results most everyone else gets.  That is, we are stuck in line waiting for the person ahead of us to retire, transfer, quite, get promoted or simply kill over before we get a chance to move up.  “Get out of the fast lane,” my son said.  “We’ll get there faster.”

Many people stay in the fast lane because it’s easy, doesn’t require any thought and you always know where you are (i.e. stuck behind the person ahead of you).  It’s like being on autopilot.  You’re moving but you aren’t sure if you’re getting there because you can only see taillights ahead of you.  Still, it doesn’t require much effort, so we drive on.

Scientists at the University of Leeds discovered that it takes a small minority (just 5%) to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95% follow without even knowing it.  I know, moving over to the slower lanes would require you to make decisions constantly because there are slower cars that you will have to move around.  It gets to be a lot of work moving in and out of the lanes.

Staying in the fast lane may just be your problem with achieving the success you desire.  Research led by the University of Exeter has shown that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by those around them, rather than rely on their own instinct. As the fast lane slows down, so do you.  As it speeds up, you speed up.  You do what they do.  As a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment.  Let’s say that the fast lane is full of MBA aspirants.  They haven’t noticed that the corporate world is full of them already and many of them have gained no flexibility in their career by earning the MBA.  It does little to improve their upward mobility.  If only a few people in the fast lane aren’t paying attention to the population of MBAs in their industry, they’ll stay in their lane to earn the degree and fall into the same situation as the others.  Everyone else will follow.  While the fast lane population may have dreams of getting into management, the MBA isn’t the only way to get there.  Get out of the fast lane.

So why do so many think the MBA is the only way to get there?  Social learning may be the reason.  It is likely that many aspirants are surrounded by a few people who believe it’s the answer.  Of course, once you go on campus, everyone will tell you it is the answer.  With so much bias towards the degree, aspirants will forego any analytical processing and go directly to the analytical response.  This does happen and was proven in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, which found that a strong social bias may very well decrease the frequency of analytical reasoning by making it easy and commonplace to accept without thinking.  Well, I do remember something about us all thinking the world was flat, until that 5% of scientists convinced us it wasn’t.

What are other ways to get into management?  You can always start a company or join a startup.  Small companies offer the opportunity to learn more about management, since there is less of it.  Outside of these options, you might find yourself waiting in line for a long time.  Of course, you might occupy that time by building a nice list of credentials that you can put on your resume. Then, when somebody moves over, you can hit the gas and move into a new position.  Or….you can get out of the fast lane!  Some say “success is a choice.” Well…this is one of those choices.

If you’re considering taking the entrepreneurial route, let us know.  We’ve got plenty of folks who can help you with your idea.  Contact us at info@blitzteamconsulting.com.

MBAs: Using the Summertime to make the SWITCH

You’ve just graduated with your MBA and are looking forward to your opportunity to get into management.  While we may want to use the summer as a time of reflection and a little job searching for that new leadership position we so desire, graduates should be taking just a little time to  publish the history of their transition to leadership before contacting potential employers.  While top tier MBA programs are connected to companies that will hire their freshly minted graduates, smaller to medium enterprises, as well as startups, need experienced talent.  If you’re in the market for this type of opportunity, painting yourself as a new leader won’t get you very far.  Let’s take a look at what the summertime should hold for your activity plan.

As an MBA graduate, you likely have high expectations for improvements in your career mobility brought about by your increased understanding of the operational aspects of business life.  But these aren’t the expectations you should focus on initially.  Employers want to know your value proposition.  They expect you to add value to their business through such things as helping identify and obtain global opportunities, developing products and services, finding unique solutions to problems, utilizing exceptional communication and leadership skills, and building high performing teams.  Is this the value you offer?

Making the switch, or changing careers, is normally a stressful activity.  If you’re thinking that the MBA degree will be enough to convince employers you’re ready for management, you might be in for a surprise.  Relevant experience is more important than the degree.  You will need to be able to prove that you already have significant relevant experience as an MBA.  Otherwise, you’re viewed as someone the company will have to train.  Oh, training budgets hardly exist today.  Most companies focus on hiring the “right” people, which means they won’t train them.  Your proof of value starts with your resume and social network profiles.  If your resume doesn’t communicate much because you don’t really have the experience you need, here are some things you can do this summer.

Volunteer.  Small to medium sized companies need help.  Why?  Well, not every business owner is highly educated, formally speaking, on the many aspects of running a business.  There are plenty of places to find companies who need support.  You can contact a city’s chamber of commerce, small business service centers, SCORE, and many other groups setup to help small businesses.  All of these can be found with a simple Google search.  Finding projects will help broaden your expertise and provide success stories that you can offer to potential employers.

Learn to speak publicly.  Toastmasters is a great place to learn to speak and is fairly low cost.  They also have branches everywhere.  The best thing about them is that you can develop and practice any speech.  More specifically, you could have an audience that helps you tell your stories.  Maybe you can develop the speech that articulates your desire to transition into management and all the steps you have taken to make that switch, the things you’ve learned and the value it has to an organization.  Can you imagine how well this will sound once practiced over and over?

MOOCs.  Yes, I know.  You feel you already have enough education, especially after spending two years working on your MBA.  Well, I’ve graduated quite a few times and am always finding reasons to learn more.  Online classes, which are mostly free of charge, are a great way to build expertise on a topic that you might be interviewing for.

Consult.  Gaining experience rapidly is best done by freelance consulting.  There are numerous websites that can help you find projects to work on.  Just do a quick search online for MBA freelance jobs to find a lot of them.  I’ve worked with MBA & Company and people per hour.

These are just a few ideas on what to do with your summer, assuming you haven’t made the switch you planned on.  The business world is moving at a fast pace, requiring MBAs to learn more and more, all the time.   Remember the old saying about competition in the marketplace, “if you’re sitting still, you’re losing ground.”  Get busy building evidence of the value you can offer as a manager to companies.  You don’t have to be a fresh graduate with no experience.  Experience is too easy to get.  You just have to do something to get it.

Why Should You Get An MBA?

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t just recommend doing anything because it is trendy, especially when it comes to spending a lot of your money and even more importantly, a lot of your time.  The MBA is a great tool for your career; that is, if you use it correctly.  If you don’t have an MBA, you may be asking yourself “how do I use the MBA?”  Well, it’s more than the degree we are talking about here.  Let’s look at this in more detail.

The GMAC 2014 Prospective Students Survey Report states that the MBA provides three key benefits:  skills, networks and brand.  Were these in your initial thoughts?  They weren’t in mine.  I thought education was about learning those quintessential skills that make you valuable to the business world.  Of course, I didn’t graduate from a top tier business school, where the mentality is quite different.  According to many top tier graduates I’ve worked with over the years, networking and branding are major subjects that are studied and perfected during the program.  Grades are not as important.   So, you can learn from the top tier programs that the “MBA Experience” is very important to future success.  If you just enter your MBA program with the intent of only learning new skills, you’ll miss out on two-thirds of the overall benefit of the MBA Experience.

We’ve looked at what MBAs do with their degree.  Take a look at our presentation. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll love it.  It’s March Madness and the MBA_2015.

Naturally, not all MBA programs are equivalent when it comes to the experience.  Top tier programs will be more organized and geared towards the networking and branding aspects.  Most every other program will suffer in these areas.  And some programs won’t provide anything at all.  I would dare say that most MBA programs are in this category.  Sure, you can read a few articles that say MBAs are in high demand but economics would beg us to understand the supply side of this before making a decision.  The problem for MBA aspirants is that it is difficult to truly assess the supply and demand side of the MBA.  So, your only choice is to gather as much information as you can and make the best decision possible.

But where do you go for such information?  Often, aspirants seek information from the MBA programs themselves.    This is a good place to start but it shouldn’t be your only source of information.  After all, the problems you’ll run into with the MBA will be post-program issues.  Universities will have limited experience in this stage of your career.  For example, I’m a father of three kids and I’ve seen the birthing of each child but I can’t tell you what it feels like to give birth.  You have to go to the source for that; that is, the mother.  Well, if you want to know the impact the MBA has on your career, you need to ask someone who has had that experience.  In other words, ask the MBA graduates.  After all, they are the ones who are trying to build their career with the MBA degree.  Wouldn’t that be a good source of information?

Before you make any decisions about the next two years of your life and the destiny of a whole lot of your money, take the time to understand the impact the MBA has on your career by reading the stories of MBA graduates from around the globe.  Their experience will enlighten you and give you insights that will help you maximize the return on your personal investment.

We’ve taken the time to capture the knowledge of MBAs from around the world on many topics that affect MBAs directly.  These topics aren’t the kind of issues that get addressed during your MBA program (and never will be) but they are REAL WORLD issues faced by MBAs every single day.   Click below to learn more about What MBA Graduates Know.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t just recommend doing anything because it is trendy, especially when it comes to spending a lot of your money and even more importantly, a lot of your time.  The MBA is a great tool for your career; that is, if you use it correctly.  If you don’t have an MBA, you may be asking yourself “how do I use the MBA?”  Well, it’s more than the degree we are talking about here.  Let’s look at this in more detail. The GMAC 2014 Prospective Students Survey Report states that the MBA provides three key benefits:  skills, networks and brand.  Were these in your initial thoughts?  They weren’t in mine.  I thought education was about learning those quintessential skills that make you valuable to the business world.  Of course, I didn’t graduate from a top tier business school, where the mentality is quite different.  According to many top tier graduates I’ve worked with over the years, networking and branding are major subjects that are studied and perfected during the program.  Grades are not as important.   So, you can learn from the top tier programs that the “MBA Experience” is very important to future success.  If you just enter your MBA program with the intent of only learning new skills, you’ll miss out on two-thirds of the overall benefit of the MBA Experience. We’ve looked at what MBAs do with their degree.  Take a look at our presentation. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll love it.  It’s March Madness and the MBA. Naturally, not all MBA programs are equivalent when it comes to the experience.  Top tier programs will be more organized and geared towards the networking and branding aspects.  Most every other program will suffer in these areas.  And some programs won’t provide anything at all.  I would dare say that most MBA programs are in this category.  Sure, you can read a few articles that say MBAs are in high demand but economics would beg us to understand the supply side of this before making a decision.  The problem for MBA aspirants is that it is difficult to truly assess the supply and demand side of the MBA.  So, your only choice is to gather as much information as you can and make the best decision possible. But where do you go for such information?  Often, aspirants seek information from the MBA programs themselves.    This is a good place to start but it shouldn’t be your only source of information.  After all, the problems you’ll run into with the MBA will be post-program issues.  Universities will have limited experience in this stage of your career.  Look, I’m a father of three kids and I’ve seen the birthing of each child but I can’t tell you what it feels like to give birth.  You have to go to the source for that; that is, the mother.  Well, if you want to know the impact the MBA has on your career, you need to ask someone who has that experience.  In other words, ask the MBA graduates.  After all, they are the ones who are trying to build their career with the MBA degree.  Wouldn’t that be a good source of information? Before you make any decisions about the next two years of your life and the destiny of a whole lot of your money, take the time to understand the impact the MBA has on your career by reading the stories of MBA graduates from around the globe.  Their experience will enlighten you and give you insights that will help you maximize the return on your personal investment.   We’ve taken the time to capture the knowledge of MBAs from around the world on many topics that affect MBAs directly.  These topics aren’t the kind of issues that get addressed during your MBA program (and never will be) but they are REAL WORLD issues faced by MBAs every single day.

 

 

Do You Really NEED an MBA?

I recently held conversations with a brilliant engineer from India.  He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering and has a dream of moving into a management position.  Don’t be shocked, engineers do this all the time.  He thought that the MBA would be a requirement for getting into such a position.  I wasn’t surprised by this, he is an engineer after all, and management isn’t his forte.  I asked him to consider a few things before he made his decision to earn the MBA.  Here’s what we discussed.

Is the MBA required for management positions?  This question is a little higher up than his specific situation but it is imperative that MBA potentials understand the requirements for the positions they seek.  To illustrate my point, I went online to several job sites, like Indeed.com, and pulled up several management job descriptions to assess their academic requirements.  Here’s what we saw.

VP, Operations Support

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • 7 years of experience in Product Supply
  • 3 years of experience forecasting, planning, supply chain metrics, Lean/CI, Six-Sigma

Regional Vice President

  • Functional Area: SA – Sales/Sales Support
  • Experience Level: Mid-Level
  • Required education: Bachelors Degree or equivalent experience

CEO and President

  • Education Requirements: No requirement

Sr Vice President – IT

  • Education: Bachelors Degree (four year college or university)
  • Experience: 4 to 10 years experience

On and on this went.  Most management jobs did not require an MBA.  The jobs we saw that mentioned the MBA stated it as a preference or as desirable, not a requirement.  In those cases where it did appear, the experience requirement was more significant (such as 12 years relevant experience).  These listings, and many others, clearly illustrate the need for MBAs at mid and senior levels.

Does your management have an MBA?  In determining whether an MBA would help your career in your existing company, it’s useful to assess the background of your current management.  How many of your leaders have an MBA or an advanced degree?  I would suggest that in most cases, the upper echelons are not highly educated professionals.  Most have been in business for some time, however.  If your management doesn’t have advanced degrees, they most likely won’t see a great deal of value in it at their level.  Experience will trump everything else.  Why? Because it’s the value they can provide easily.  I would never place a high value on a characteristic I don’t have.  I would be ruling myself out of my own job.  So take time to understand what your leaders consider to be important.  Otherwise, you’ll stress yourself out over a credential that won’t help you much.

More isn’t always better.  If a bachelor’s degree is good, then a master’s degree or PhD has got to be better.  This is what many professionals believe.  If I can’t get opportunities with a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree will certainly bring them to me.  Really? This isn’t logical thought.  There are industries that require advanced education but most don’t.  When you earn an advanced degree, you do put yourself in a unique group of professionals (who all have an advanced degree), all of which who are seeking opportunities at the upper end of corporations where there are much fewer opportunities. Don’t forget that many of those positions are already filled by professionals with less education and aren’t interested in giving their position up.

Will your performance suffer?  Earning the MBA takes time and energy.  For most of us, we’re already too busy and taking on the burden of classes and homework pushes our boundaries.  If you’re working full time and earning your MBA, it’s important to understand that your daily job performance can suffer.  You’ll get tired and become more focused on your school work than your job.  People will notice the change.  At first, it will be okay as people will understand your new challenges.  But after a while, their memory will fade and even though you’re working twice as hard as everyone else, you could be seen as an average or even below average performer.  It’s not fair but then again, you are being paid to do a particular job.  Balance is critical.  Make sure your management understands your situation before you dive into it.  Ask your coworkers to watch your performance and let you know when you show signs of an imbalance.

Who wants your MBA?  The biggest challenge you’ll run into as an MBA professional is finding organizations that truly value your educational credentials.  There are companies that do seek out MBAs, but they are usually tied to particular universities.  Consider the big 4 consulting companies.  They chase the graduates from top tier programs.  Not because they are smarter but for the brand power their MBA credential carries.  For example, I’ve worked with many Harvard and MIT graduates and I don’t think they are any smarter than anyone else.  But when you mention they are a Harvard or MIT graduate, people go crazy, as if they have superhuman powers.  Now, for all of those graduates of lower tier programs, you won’t get this reaction, especially from major companies.  The good news for you is that there are companies who do need the skills MBAs possess.  You have to identify what companies need and then create your value proposition, which includes tangible proof that you possess those skills and have used them to create success.  This type of analysis requires some serious networking inside of companies to understand how their management works, what skills they need, how you can become their beacon of hope and position yourself as the only viable candidate.   But I figure if you can afford two years to earn the MBA, you can certainly afford the time it takes to find the right position.  Just don’t get in a hurry and settle for something less.

If you’re asking yourself if the MBA is right for you, take time to consider these questions.  The MBA is just a college degree.  It’s a tool that you can use to improve your career.  It bestows no guarantee of success.  In fact, many colleges are struggling to improve the MBA’s value proposition to students because graduates are finding many of its promises to be empty, void of the ability to make their dreams a reality.  Universities sell too much and students expect too much.  The MBA can be useful in building a career, just take the time to understand how and where to use it.  Getting an MBA to simply possess one will only leave you with a big student loan….and who wants that?

If you’re really sold on the idea of earning an MBA, you should check our ebook “The Joy of an MBA.”  In this book, MBAs share stories of how they used the MBA in their career.