Mentoring B-school Grads

 | January 16,2012 11:18 am IST

We have seen an explosion of b-schools in India. Further, business studies have cascaded to the undergraduate programs too.

There has also been a fair amount of discussion about the employability of a b-school graduate. This presents a conflict; on one side, the explosion of business studies students and the other side is the so called un-employability! The history provides of many examples where the b-school post graduates were educated to analyse business / organisation related challenges in a structured manner and help the organisational leaders with probable options. These graduates gained prominence and as a consequence, moved up the ladder faster than the others. The faster moment attracted others too to undertake business education to advance one's career. The education sector too responded to address the demand supply gap. This led to an explosion in the number of b-schools. 


It is worthwhile understanding the need for b-schools. The corporate sector has often expressed that the students are not educated to meet their needs. They almost always had to further invest in the students to make them productive. The education sector sought to address their need by educating the graduates about the business and organisation specific methodologies.


The effort has been recognised by corporate sector - but with limitations. The b-school grads still need support the b-grads to make them productive. The major bottleneck is the time taken by the b-schools to adapt to the changing business environment. Very recently, I had a chance to interact with Principals of some of the b-schools. They all expressed desire for corporate citizens' interests in supporting their students grow. Their submission was that while their students were intelligent and educated, They would do much better by learning to translate theory into action in the corporate environments. So, I asked them what stopped them from getting the necessary support from the corporates. I was informed that the support came in only from very few organisations and that they would be benefit if many more were to extend support.


I also interacted with the students. Their enthusiasm to learn was high. They were tuned in to the economic and social environment (through newspapers, internet, television,etc). They had studied performance of several organisations. I was struck by the intensity of their desire to implement whatever they had learnt. I wondered how we could tap their talent.


Out of sheer curiosity, I also discussed the employability of b-grads with some colleagues from the industry. The generic response was that several of them were not ready for roles in the corporate sector while confirming that they too experienced shortage of talent.


I connected with some of the young colleagues who were doing well - to understand what enabled success. The findings revealed that almost each one of them had someone other than their immediate manager  supporting them; someone who cared about these youngster's success. I discussed this support further … about the time invested … the purpose … and their own comfort and I was surprised to learn that the time involved was not too much, the purposes were wide but the comfort was very high.


A typical b-school graduate is familiar with some domain and sometimes has some experience in the corporate sector. At bschool he/she gets educated with a typical organisation's overview through business related models.The models, very typically, are based on researches and build in several assumptions, quite a few of which become invalid in organisations. As such, while bschools provide the students with a conceptual overview, few of them enable the students to implement the models in the organisations. This gets further compounded with inter-personal situations which exist in organisations.As the b-grads take up a role in the corporate sector, they experience a certain amount of uncertainty as the level of complexity encountered is far higher that what they learn at the b-school; the volumes, the scope and considerations are far in excess of the ones they have been exposed to during their academic exposure.


The selection process for enrolment in a b-school, which is more often analytical / numeric, too hampers inclusion of diversityin the classroom. This methodology assumes that those who are good with quantitative techniques are the only ones who can pursue business studies. The specialisation selection too gets driven by demand and supply instead of natural preferences. These conflicts often produce a well qualified / educated b-school graduate whose natural inclination could be different than his / her specialisation.


Mythologies from diverse cultures contain several stories where extremely high achievers were supported by someone who cared about their success, someone who was relatively senior and was not competing with the achiever. These relationships can be defined as mentor-mentee relationships. The Merriam-Webster Webster Dictionary defines a mentor as "a trusted counsellor or guide." The genesis of the word mentor goes back to the Greek epic "Odyssey" by Homer in which when Odysseus, the king of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseus' son, Telemachus. The role played by Mentor was that of a trusted counsellor to Telemachus.


Two of Schein's students, Davis and Garrison, undertook to study successful people. Their research presented evidence for the roles of cheerleader, coach, confidant, counsellor, developer of talent, "griot" (oral historian for the  organization or profession), guardian, guru, inspiration, master, "opener of doors", patron, role model, pioneer, "seminal source", "successful leader", and teacher. Most of the b-grads need support to initially get adjusted in the organisation, then find meaningful ways to contribute and often figure out ways to navigate through complex maze of people and people dynamics. They also need support to resolve conflicts and explore options. A proactive approach of supporting b-school graduates would be to enable them with mentors.


Let us first see how to construct a mentoring process for a b-school graduate. Often, the best place to look for a mentor is someone in belongs to the b-grad's work environment, is not directly responsible for the b-grad's output and someone who has a fair perspective of the work, work-area and the organisation. It certainly helps if the mentor is also acknowledged as a successful person.