MBAs’ Communication Skills Need Work

Three Harvard Business School academics polled more than 30 business school deans and the same number of executives only to come to a surprising conclusion: the communication skills of MBA graduates is an area of concern.

“Clear thinking and effective communication are closely linked. Unfortunately, MBAs are frequently weak in these areas,” say Srikant Datar, David Garvin and Patrick Cullen, the authors of the new book “Rethinking the MBA” in a recent article in The Times UK.

As Stanford GSB‘s dean Garth Saloner points out in our post from Wednesday,  the so-called hard skills of financing, accounting, supply chain management are widely available across the board, “But the soft-set skills, the real leadership, the ability to work with others and through others to execute”“that is still in very scarce supply.”

Recruiters and deans interviewed for the book were in agreement in their assessment of recent MBA graduates, saying that even students from the best schools can’t communicate, or don’t know how to express their concerns in a frank but non-aggressive way during presentations.

The tides may be shifting, though, as more schools have taken stock in the aftermath of the financial crisis and now realize programs must incorporate personal skills development with academics if students have a hope of mastering the nuances of management.

The article spotlights Cranfield School of Management as one of the first business schools to take communications skills seriously. Cranfield’s course on communicating in a crisis gives students one hour to master a brief and then face hostile journalists in a mock press conference.

Elsewhere in Europe, INSEAD now offers three different electives on communication: communication and leadership; the art of communication; and advertising and social media strategy. The programs at Spain’s IE Business School, for its part, requires all students to take courses on soft skills, such as communication, as well as the humanities, such as philosophy.

The importance of effective communication skills cannot be stressed enough in today’s business marketplace. “At some time in their lives all organisations have to deal with a major crisis,” says Cranfield’s Stephen Carver. “You need only look at the collapse of Enron or Lehman Brothers to realise that crises are part of business life.”

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