The post-COVID world, with its new paradigms, has necessitated reimagination and reset of industry operations. Management schools too need to rethink the future of management education and curate a new programme which is skills-based and develops graduates employable and who know how to be at peace with themselves and society.
Today, the world is disrupted by two significant forces technology and COVID 19 - which challenges human imagination and capabilities to fight back. The severity of the ongoing pandemic together with governance failure is felt far and wide across regions, demographics, and socioeconomic sections of the population. While COVID has hit the entire global population and world economy, its impact is felt much more severely in developing nations and densely populated emerging nations like India. Given the heightened uncertainty post the second wave in India, it is not surprising that anxiety and hope today battle each other. It is now certain that institutions, policies, and processes need a reset, and education is no exception to this.
Faced with the suddenness and the gravity of COVID in March 2020, higher education institutions were forced to close their campuses and send students, faculty, and staff back home. There was uncertainty over the duration of the lockdown and what was to be done to prevent the academic term getting washed out. In such a scenario, transitioning to digital mode was the only alternative. For institutions digitalising their academic processes such as course design, delivery, student assessment, internships, and student engagement were challenges.
Management education, nay higher education itself, needed (and still needs) reimagination, innovation, and integration of changes in industry, society, and technology in a postCOVID world.
Impact of Covid
Life post COVID
The world may not return to a pre-pandemic era. Work practices and consumption patterns would have changed. The pendulum is now shifting. Most expect economic recovery, though not full-fledged, only in 2022. A study of top 500 US CEOs concluded that recovery will be in 2022 and another 27 per cent believed it could be in 2023. 72.6 per cent believed that employment will be less compared to January 2020. 52 per cent CEOs believed that business travel will no more be the same.75 per cent said that the pandemic accelerated their companies’ technological transformation. The same was true for higher education where university faculties and students rapidly took to the digital medium, even as its limitations emerged.
Thus, though, the post-pandemic environment looks hazy, it will have firms and institutions accelerating their pace of technological transformation. Risks related to customer loss, business continuity, demand collapse, and employee safety are only likely to be enhanced. In higher education, all three models—online, hybrid, and campus-based learning—will simultaneously be in vogue. The student would have the freedom to choose any one or all modes of learnings.
The era of reskilling and upskilling
As organisationl functions automate, it will be necessary for employees to reskill or upgrade their skills—technological, managerial, and interpersonal—that will augment customer experience and improve efficiency. The World Economic Forum report on Future of Jobs categorised skills into seven groups: process skills, technical skills, complex problem-solving skills, systems skills, social skills, resources management skills and content skills.
Reconfiguration of learning experience
The pandemic has hastened the need to reconfigure students’ learning experience. Management schools, worldwide, took to digital medium to deliver their courses and conduct examinations, even in the midst of limitations of digital technology. Yet student experience with online education was mixed. Even South Asian management schools adopted technology to deliver courses and engage students digitally. But challenges such as the digital divide in the society, partly due to gaps in IT and energy infrastructure and partly because of non-affordability of devices, have constrained institutions to deliver the desired learning experience. In addition, problems of student attentiveness, screen fatigue of both faculty and student, malpractices in examinations, and online validation of learning still challenge faculty. Hence institutions and faculty need to revisit their learning models in all three modes.
As mentioned above, workplaces and jobs are rapidly changing. Many jobs will not exist, while most will have parts that will be replaced by technology. Hence, management education should focus on development of core skills, irrespective of the course or programme pursued by the student. These core skills are:
In more specific terms, the new age management programme will need to focus on knowledge, performance and uncertainty management skills. Chart 1, below gives an outline of this new age management programme.
Refocus management programme
The programme’s focus has to be on resources, process, and uncertainty management. Resources here refer to the entire suite of human, financial, technological and other physical resources. Given the uncertainty today, firms’ focus will be on conserving resources and also improving their efficiency. In all such situations, the management’s task will be to ensure business continuity.
Supply chain risk assessment and management also needs to be part of the resources and process management. Talent management will be crucial as current competencies of employees rapidly become obsolete. Keeping them safe at all times and ensuring that the workplace environment is safe will be important. Communicating with them on a regular basis for work and their wellbeing will only assure employees that they are not lonely in these times. Hence, from the education perspective, safety management, disaster management, people management including skills of empathy, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness need more attention in management schools. Technology is no more supplementary to the corporate functioning; rather it is at the core of strategy and impacts firms’ competitive advantage. Hence, understanding how technology resources can be used is as important for a manager as acquiring management knowledge and skills.
The process management involves understanding procurement, operations, and marketing including customer service process. Tomorrow, as one teaches these subjects, one would also need to focus on the ‘how’ of each function. It will help improve process efficiency and consequently deliver it smartly to the customer.
A lot has already been written on these skills. These are about how one can be oneself. Because that is the only way one can relate to others. People want to connect on a humane level. Some of the skills that can help in the making of a humane environment are emotional intelligence, people sensitivity, communication, empathy, patience with others, genuine interest in others, flexibility, negotiation, proactive problem-solving, and leadership skills. Hence, in designing people management courses, the focus should be on these. Learning skills will further help develop such humane environment. Also, big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can help individualise response and respond to contingencies in an individual employee’s environment.
The programme has to encourage holistic understanding of business, society, and the individual. For this purpose, it needs to embed courses in psychology, sociology, and spiritual science. Given the current environment of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and helplessness, perhaps we need to bring these courses in management programmes besides inputs in healthcare management. Sociological skills involve interpersonal and cross-cultural skills that can help students interact effectively with people, irrespective of their background.
Spiritual science is about understanding the soul that energises matter in the physical world. It focuses on an individual’s well-being, contentment, success, peacefulness, and satisfaction. It also helps him to manage his mental health and understand that all physical objects and matter have a beginning and end, but the soul or pure consciousness has no beginning or end. This understanding makes a difference to the individual in his relationships, conduct, and performance. It is a path for the humanisation of the economy and a strategic variable for the diffusion of humanising values in society.
The importance of systems in organisations has been felt by companies of all size today more than ever before. Systems focus requires analysis of how system should work and how changes in conditions/operations/environment will affect outcomes. Such analysis is required across all functions. Based on the above, judgement is required on the most appropriate systems for the organisation. An understanding of costs and potential outcomes will further better the decision. Systems evaluation is also required periodically This involves identification of measures or indicators of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct performance, relative to the goals of the system. Important systems skills are:
Complex problem-solving skills
Most problems today are complex. Solving them requires an understanding of what constitutes the complexity, and this involves an interdisciplinary approach—knowledge acquisition and knowledge application concerning the goaloriented control of systems which contain many highly interrelated elements.
A focus on empirical data mining in such cases is useful. For example, problem of profit maximisation and enhancement of a firm’s reputation need an analysis of human resources, manufacturing, materials, resources inventory, and marketing. Within each of these functions, there are several variables that need to be analysed from the perspective of their positive or negative effect. These variables interact with others to finally influence sales, customer satisfaction, and generate profits. In this example, production is a function of employee competences, resources in stock, technology in play, quality assurance, production site characteristics, and stocks in the market. As one can make out, each of these will involve big data analytics.
In the new world order, a manager cannot succeed if he does not have technical skills and the ability to make decisions based on the data generated by AI or through analytics. Hence, new programme design will need to integrate inputs in coding, AI, machine learning, cloud technology etc. Drones today, for example, have been used in Siro survey, maintenance of law and order, surveillance and lockdown enforcement, delivery of medical and emergency food supplies, surveying and mapping, and spraying disinfectants. This has only been possible because we understood the higher potential applications of drones.
To conclude, technology and the pandemic have shifted the goalpost in economy and society. New paradigms now require reimagination and reset of industry operations. Management schools also need to rethink the future of management education and curate a new programme which is skillsbased and develops graduates who are not only employable but also know how to be at peace with themselves and society. Life skills together with employability skills will make managers more relevant to the industry in a post-COVID era.
For years, the cost of sustainability is what held many businesses back. Now, we have reached the precipice where the cost of ‘not’ being sustainable might be too high. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a business imperative—one that organisations cannot afford to overlook as they build their post-COVID business strategies.
It has been the toughest of times leading through a pandemic. But what can we learn from what we have all been through? How will it change us as leaders? And how should we lead out of lockdown? These are just some of the questions that we believe leaders should be pausing to ask themselves.
‘Just-in-case’ learning, around which present-day education systems are mostly built, are ill-suited for the ‘just-in-time’ business world. We should expect a number of experimental approaches as our tech world attempts to ‘crack the formula’ for future education.
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