Marco Serrato (PhD) is Associate Provost of the University of Chicago and Chair of the Board of Directors of UNICON, an international consortium for university-based executive education.
On the sidelines of the AUC Business Forum, Serrato spoke to Business Forward on the importance of business schools to embrace flexibility and technological innovations to remain relevant and ready for future challenges and disruptions.
Why should Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-based business schools embrace fluidity and flexibility in their education programs?Business schools in the MENA region, as it happens in several other regions worldwide, need to embrace flexibility on the different types of programs and learning experiences that they are delivering. The reason behind this is that the context is changing so much and so fast nowadays that in order to support executives and organizations in the MENA region to be successful, we need to develop not only the skills, not only the knowledge, not only the tools but also the behaviors and values that are required to face all of these different challenges. At the same time, all of this knowledge and skills and behaviors need to be developed in a way that is aligned to specific characteristics and needs that are taking place in the region.What questions should business schools be asking themselves regularly?In order to stay relevant, we need to not only come up with different programs, not only with different content, but to provide a lot more flexibility on how we educate on business and how we educate on management and that is crucial.
What kind of traps could business schools fall into?There are two biases that are very risky for business schools nowadays. The first one is the availability bias and the second is the confirmation bias so we need to be really careful about such confirmation bias.How can business schools change their programs to better reflect the specific circumstances of their local regions?Business schools can and must update and enrich their programs given the changes that are taking place worldwide and in their particular regions, the MENA region in this particular case. Enriching those programs implies three different or three key pieces: First one, in terms of the content, the academic fields that are relevant; we need to enrich and compliment that. Second, in terms of the different types of programs and learning experiences that we provide. In the past, longer programs were really valuable; one program that fits everyone’s needs. However, that is not the case nowadays. We need to provide a lot more flexibility. A lot more just-in-time learning instead of just-in-case to be able to provide the specific content that is valuable. We need to use digital technologies as a way to enrich and compliment our educational value proposition. Making the most of those technologies is a way to be successful in business education nowadays.
Crises take us by surprise and without letting us know or asking for permission, they just arrive. And as with COVID-19, when they do hit the workplace and disrupt all the office dynamics, managers play an important role of bringing a sense of normal to this new phase, which is very likely to continue for some time. Somaya El Sherbini, co-founder of RightFoot, talent management consultancy firm, talks about managing team remotely.
Going virtual The underlying necessities of this phase are staying connected and engaging with the team. The online talk that every manager should have with their team during this emergency phase should not be underestimated. With so much unknown, teams need to talk together on a human level - not just a professional one. Your team needs to feel that as a manager you care. You understand and are addressing what is on their minds, and believe it or not, teams rely on this guidance to adjust their work rhythm.
Managers will share with their teams specific objectives and required results, and more importantly will create the space and time for them to come together to listen to the messages, to ask questions, constitute ideas and take ownership of specific objectives. Creating a safe environment where team-members do not feel intimidated to ask questions or share their views is as vital as ever.
As you capitalize on all the online communication tools available to you, try to make them as interactive as possible. Switch on the camera to allow for some human interaction that we are often obliged to miss on during critical work discussions and decisions. Encourage the team to use instant communication tools that allow for a flowing dialogue – such as messaging groups and phone calls, but do not drop the step of formalizing conclusions through official emails. Go back after the discussion to email, asking the person owning the task to send a summary of the conclusions and action points.
In measuring productivity, the key here is trust. It will be difficult to monitor the process, but your review as a manager will be based on outcomes. We are forced to be open to new work modalities. While it might be a concern that teams will be working less than their pre-COVID levels, El Sherbini believes that it has never been about the eight hours spent in the office. It is about the measurable outputs. So, this is an opportunity to manage the phase with a task-oriented approach and drifting away from having to see employees (who might or might not be contributing in the right levels) at their desks.
70:20:10 theory of learning
El Sherbini believes in the 70:20:10 theory of learning that tells us that 70 percent of learning happens on the job. Interestingly, 20 percent of learning is acquired from interactions with other people, and only 10 percent happens in a formal classroom setting. Based on this, matching team members together on common projects comes handy in the manager’s toolbox. Identify a subject expert in the team and put them together with one or two people who need support on a work challenge. Here, everybody is a winner. The subject expert feels elevated and peer support is put to work to address an obstacle.
Even in uncertainty, there is always a chance to learn, with so many digital learning opportunities availing themselves these days. Continue to observe and have discussions with your team about the skills they need to build, respecting that people understand themselves very well, and need to own their learning objectives in order to achieve them.
The growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset
Encourage people to be open to learn from each other and promote a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. El Sherbini explained that a person with a fixed mindset limits their own learning by worrying about how they are perceived and find difficulty in finding fault or room for improvement in any work they do. The concept of the growth mindset embraces hard work, but with keeping the senses open to new ideas, with never undermining inputs from others. This is how you can work smarter and more efficiently.
Conflict is still prone to happen even remotely, especially with the new work dynamics that make monitoring the work process and the individual inputs harder to keep track of. It becomes the responsibility of the manager more than any other time to highlight group excellence. The team manager is the best ‘seller’ for the team’s achievements. When the team delivers efficiently, the manager has achieved. So, in conflict, the manager needs to talk to the impacted person, and then to the group. As mentioned previously, showing that thoughts and feelings within the team are understood goes a long way.
This article is based on a webinar titled “Adapting to Remote Working”, led by Somaya El Sherbini, co-founder of Right Foot Solutions and Services Consultancy firm, and organized by the American University in Cairo’s School of Business Executive Education program in April 2020.. In the webinar El Sherbini speaks about how managers and their teams could embrace remote working and agile learning in the current protracted situation of the lock-down. El Sherbini had a long career at Microsoft across several countries before she shifted to entrepreneurship. She is also an elected Chair of the Human Resource Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce.
On the sidelines of the Business Forum held at the American University in Cairo's (AUC) New Cairo Campus earlier this year, Enase Okonedo, PhD, dean of the Lagos Business School, Pat-Atlantic University, Nigeria, spoke to Business Forward about the myriad of challenges facing the African continent's business schools. What are the current disruptions and how can they be overcome? What does the future hold for business education in Africa? And what should business schools do to be best prepared and turn future challenges into opportunities? Watch our exclusive interview below or read on for the full transcript to find out.
What challenges are African business schools currently facing? And what challenges are they set to face in the future?
The current challenges that they face goes across the relevance of the curriculum and we are facing a lot of disruption now and even going into the future, in which we find that business and management education is delivered by a plethora of providers, not necessarily only business schools.
We have consulting companies. We have corporate academics and we have various tech companies that compete with business schools in educating the leaders of the future. Business schools therefore have to [sic] of how they can compete in this disruptive mode.
The second is that the traditional means of learning, which used to be between the four walls of a classroom, have been distrupted due to technology. I do think that that is an advantage for a continent like Africa with a rising population: to be able to take this learning to people wherever they may be using technology.
But, of course, business schools in Africa have to contend with the cost of delivering learning using technology. Apart from that, they also have to think about how to make this into profit for those that are profit-oriented.
How should African business schools change their programs to suit their regional contexts?
I think that when we talk about innovation in a global context or the macro context, we also have to think about business schools being innovative, in thinking about the unique ways that they can equip students with the skills that they will need for tomorrow.
It calls for innovation, not only in program delivery, but also in development of curriculums, working with industry and business, with the people who are going to benefit from this learning, trying to understand what the critical needs of employers and employees are today, and also retraining faculty to be able to deliver those courses.
I think for business schools to survive in the future, it calls for innovation, adaptability and new ways of thinking outside the box to be able to deliver this.