On The New Normal, China, Today’s MBA, and Thank You Notes

Posted in: PSA Partnership

You don’t have to be an economist or financial analyst to know it’s rough out there.  What little growth we experienced seems to have slowed to a crawl.  Some economists estimate it will take us until about 2020 to return to 2008 employment levels. Housing remains depressed. Public sector jobs are being lost as the demand for services increases. Governments at every level face huge budget deficits.  I could go on and on. The causes are many and various, but I’m sure you get the picture.  However, this post is not all about doom and gloom – The shift has happened, and how you adapt will dictate your opportunities as a business professional or student.

There’s not a business or a sector unaffected by global economic and financial forces.  And this certainly includes higher education. Students with huge college loans are unable to take on even greater debt to finance graduate school. Those who do manage to complete an advanced degree often face a dismal job market.  I wish I had an easy or quick answer to these big problems.  I can, however, suggest some actions business professionals and business students might take to survive, and perhaps even thrive in what’s been called the New Normal.

First of all, go to China. Really, go if you can. I tell MBA students they can’t understand global business until they’ve seen China. People work 18-hour days, six days a week. No one leaves work early to attend a child’s soccer game.  Production quality at every level has improved sharply, as has education.  The best of the best go to university where the emphasis is on math and science. And of course there is China’s immense financial strength.

Secondly, pay attention to what used to be called, rather disparagingly, the “soft skills.” I much prefer the term, “vital skills.” Oral and written communication, persuasion, negotiation, and cultural sensitivity are all critically important for leaders. Modern business is diverse, which is a very good thing.  If you want to lead, you need to understand the values and motivations of employees (and customers) from different countries and cultures.

Third, cultivate and nurture professional relationships.  Here’s an area where the MBA really adds value, particularly if the program has a long history.  The many executives in your region with a degree can make up a powerful network. An MBA graduate has access to those people long term for advice, mentoring, and a fresh perspective. It’s always useful to see how other leaders are handling difficult issues and developing creative solutions.

Finally, don’t let technology isolate you. Technology is marvelous and knowing how to use it effectively is very important. However, there is a tendency, especially among younger people, to think all communications can be handled electronically. Face-to-face meetings, eye contact, and firm handshakes still matter. And never underestimate the power of a well-written, well-timed thank-you note.

I began this post on a rather bleak note, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Though the conditions we’re facing today will be with us for quite a while, opportunities still exist—sometimes major opportunities. Those leaders who seize them will have a deep understanding of the global shift in core business drivers, and will appreciate the changing workforce and the skills needed for success today.

Image Source