Students generally have two key reasons for undertaking an MBA. One is to strengthen their knowledge of practical business skills; the other is to advance their careers. The latter can include moving up the corporate ladder where they are or considering opportunities with other organisations.
In both cases, though, the ability to make decisions is essential. Managers at all levels are continually making tough calls which affect the direction of the company and the welfare of stakeholders. In doing so, they must take numerous factors and possible outcomes into consideration and deal with the choices and situations presented.
For effective decision making, there are several key elements. These start with collecting and reviewing the relevant data, having access to the necessary resources, and evaluating alternatives. They also include following through with the necessary actions, communicating the decision, understanding its impact, and monitoring what results.
In addition, it is important to consider timing and the degree of risk. We can all recall decisions about courses, job offers or career choices, and know that time pressure and the potential impact on one’s family or future prospects can make things seem that much more difficult.
However, an MBA can definitely give students new tools to sharpen their decision-making skills. A good programme will first review theoretical models and explain different approaches. This helps students understand their own style of decision making style and provides an environment in which to discover and practise alternatives.
MBA students should be aware of the frameworks and related management theories which underpin decision-making processes. Most of these theories revolve around accessing a company’s resources, understanding the competitive environment, and seeing how to deliver results. The work of academics like Michael Porter and Henry Mintzberg has been influential in this area.
Students should also appreciate the difference between directive, analytical, conceptual and behavioural styles. The manager’s ability to obtain necessary data and the number of people involved can determine the style best suited to specific situations. For example, the behavioural approach usually works best when a group or team has to make a decision based on reaching consensus.
A comprehensive MBA programme will teach students about their own decision-making style and link that to each individual’s personality and past business experiences. Courses and self-assessment tests, such as those offered by Myers-Briggs, show how personality influences decisions and the way they are implemented.
The delivery and practice of subjects relating to decision making will differ depending on the learning environment. This is something need to consider fully when selecting an MBA programme. They should ask, for instance, if their classmates will have experiences to share when it comes to analysing decisions in various industries and business scenarios. Also, there should be opportunities to practise decision-making skills in real-time situations by working with companies and helping them move their businesses forward.
Using an example from the Strathclyde MBA programme, a local entrepreneur challenged our brand strategies class to come up with a marketing plan for a newly created energy drink, targeting women in the UK market. The entrepreneur wanted to know if his “fruity, sugar-free, pink and bubbly” product could capture a slice of the market from Red Bull. The strategy had to include positioning the new product, a brand name, and related branding strategies. The class presented many great ideas and, ultimately, the entrepreneur adopted one of the recommended names and strategies.
Overall, decision making is a cornerstone of our MBA programme and we realise that good delivery and an interactive learning environment contribute to successful learning.