[Opinion] The Future of the MBA

Most MBA program curriculums educate students in the parts of managing, analyzing, and operating an organization that organizations have deemed important: accounting, finance, managerial economics, operations, strategy, and information technology.

All of these are great areas of focus, as well as areas of specialization, but with 4,000 programs at 454 institutions, graduating 157,000 students per year, you would think that all of the MBA programs (or at least a majority) would feature some sort of conflict resolution/conflict management concentration as part of their curriculums.

You’d be wrong.

The average cost of and MBA program is $7,400 per year. The job titles many MBA graduates end up with, vary from Senior Financial Analyst to Vice President of Operations to Marketing Director. But no matter if the average salary upon graduation is $89,000 per year or $150,000 per year, each job title is really focused on dealing with people, to get job tasks accomplished, and move organizational goals forward.

But the vast majority of MBA programs don’t feature negotiation, conflict management, conflict resolution, dispute resolution, peace studies, or any other type of alternative dispute resolution training for dealing with people in organizations. Even more striking, of the top 50 business schools in the United States, only around 5 to 10 of those institutions feature MS or MA programs in negotiation, conflict management, conflict resolution, dispute resolution, or peace studies in other areas, such as the social sciences or the law.

Which means that if you are an enterprising and energetic MBA student, and you are counseled appropriately that emotional labor and “soft” skills will matter more in that senior VP position you are seeking after graduation, than the spreadsheets you will be tasked with developing, you might head over to the social sciences department of your institution and sign on to another master’s program.

But, that’s doubtful.

The future MBA in America should begin featuring courses, specializations, and concentrations, for students in the areas of negotiation, conflict management, conflict resolution, dispute resolution, or peace studies.

The reasons for this assertion are endless, but the top three are:

The prestige of the MBA degree (in spite of its growing ubiquity among business students) has held up, unlike a law degree. Over time that prestige may fade (and that may already be starting), and the way to ensure that it doesn’t is to get the graduates of those programs focused on doing the only work that matters for the long-term sustainability of organizations of all sizes—emotional labor.

The Fortune 1,000 companies (from Google to Ingram Micro) that are fiefdoms and kingdoms the size of small countries, will need more competent and skilled negotiators, conflict professionals, and more alternatives to litigation if they are to survive, grow, and thrive for the remainder of this century. I know that the shareholders, VP’s, Presidents, CEOs, and CFOs, of those organizations don’t believe it now (or quarterly), but the coterie of lawyers they regularly employ to lobby governments and to write regulations, will fade in importance over the next 100 years. MBA graduates in high positions who understand and value a future of business, profit, and peace will guide them to success more often than the 40 to 100 corporate lawyers on retainer.

The MBA graduates are the ones who can save the business world. Arguments for engaging with conflict in healthy ways can be made from outside the walls of institutions (I make them all the time on this blog), influencers can go to fancy conferences and do TED talks that “go viral,” about the power of treating employees like adults rather than children, and books and articles can be penned about how to negotiate and communicate better (or about how to manipulate employees in savvier ways).  But at the end of the day, the MBA graduate with a focus in engaging with conflict effectively, hired into a Senior VP position, will do more to advance the cause of peace and prosperity than all of those resources combined. And that leader will do it ethically, on a daily basis, while moving the organization forward and saving the world at the same time.

The unenviable task of academic peacebuilders in the 8,400 professional programs in this country that focus on negotiation, conflict management, conflict resolution, dispute resolution, or peace studies, is to do the hard work of convincing their academic colleagues in the business schools to unite with them to create sustainable, economic futures for their graduates.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Sorrells79
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