The Yale School of Management today introduces an innovative MBA curriculum that replaces courses in finance, marketing, and other subjects that have been the mainstay of business education for the last 50 years with multidisciplinary courses that cut across functional boundaries to provide management education in a richer, more relevant context. Yale's new approach aligns the way management is taught with the way managers operate every day and challenges students to shape their career goals around their personal values and aspirations. The 208 students of the Class of 2008 begin the new courses today, the start of the 2006-2007 academic term.
"The management profession has experienced profound change in the past few decades, but management education has not," said Joel M. Podolny, Dean of the Yale School of Management. "Most business school curricula are based on a model that made sense in the past. But today, a successful manager must be able to identify and frame business problems and move across a variety of organizational, political, and geographic boundaries to solve those problems. Our new curriculum teaches the integrated skills contemporary managers need."
The Yale SOM faculty unanimously approved the framework for the new curriculum in March, 2006. Since then, teams of senior faculty have worked to design all new courses and original materials. Courses in the new first-year curriculum are taught in three segments: Orientation to Management, Organizational Perspectives, and the Integrated Leadership Perspective.
The heart of the new first-year curriculum is a series of eight multidisciplinary courses, called Organizational Perspectives, structured around the organizational roles a manager must engage, motivate, and lead in order to solve problems -- or make progress -- within organizations. These roles are both internal -- the Innovator, the Operations Engine, the Employee, and Sourcing and Managing Funds (or CFO) -- and external -- the Investor, the Customer, the Competitor, and State and Society. Each course draws on topics and insights from a variety of functional management disciplines to study the managerial challenges each role presents.
"No executive wakes up in the morning and thinks 'I'm going to do finance today,' so it doesn't make sense for students to sit in a finance class and learn to crunch numbers absent of any context," said Professor Sharon Oster, who is one of a number of senior faculty who worked on developing the new curriculum and led the design of the Competitor course. "We are teaching them in a way that's relevant in the real world."
Professor Ravi Dhar, who was involved in the design of the Customer course, offers this illustration: "The traditional MBA curriculum typically treats an organization's relationship with the customer as a marketing topic. Marketing obviously provides important insights in this regard, but it's not the only relevant discipline. To really understand and engage the customer, a manager must draw from a variety of disciplines -- accounting, to assign value to a particular customer relationship over time; economics, to develop useful incentives; organizational design, to structure optimal staffing configurations for superior customer service; psychology, to understand how customers make choices; even operations, to ensure timely and effective customer responses. The new Yale SOM curriculum not only teaches the fundamentals of marketing; it places marketing -- or any management discipline -- within a framework of other relevant management disciplines and demonstrates to our students how to synthesize those fundamentals in order to be organizationally effective."
An added advantage of presenting disciplinary knowledge by role is that it allows ethical and value-based issues to be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum. Many of the value-based dilemmas that arise in organizations are specific to a manager's engagement with a particular role. For example, issues of fiduciary responsibility arise in the context of relating to the investor, while issues of providing honest feedback to a client who doesn't want to hear it occurs in the context of the customer.
The first segment of the new curriculum, Orientation to Management, features courses that introduce students to basic business concepts and skills. A course on Problem Framing provides students with frameworks and strategies for structuring management problems in ways that are organizationally tractable. Students also begin to develop their career plans through a Careers course that focuses not on how to find a job, but on how to think about how personal aspirations and values intersect with career goals in the long-term. A formal, required Mentorship Program will provide feedback to students on academic performance, interpersonal skills, and career aspirations. Groups of 13 or 14 MBA students will be supported by a mentor team consisting of a faculty member, a staff member, and a second-year student.
The final segment of the first-year curriculum, the Integrated Leadership Perspective, presents a series of complex business case studies structured around issues of scale, from small entrepreneurial start-ups to large multinational corporations. The purpose of these cases is not only to highlight the management and leadership challenges associated with guiding organizations of different size and scope, but also to give exposure to career-defining challenges that will prompt students to reflect on the challenges that they wish to pursue. Because comparatively little interdisciplinary teaching materials exist, the faculty and the school's case writing team have developed new case material especially for the new Yale MBA curriculum. The courses in the Integrated Leadership and Organizational Perspectives will also draw heavily on real-world data sources such as 10-Ks and research reports, which are not typically integrated into traditional MBA course work.
Also as part of its MBA curriculum innovation, Yale SOM becomes the first major business school to require students to study abroad. In January, between the first and second semesters, students will complete a required two-week International Experience where they will be rapidly immersed in a new environment, engage in intensive study, meet with business and government leaders, and complete a trip project. For this academic year, the list of countries for these faculty-led trips include Argentina, China, Costa Rica, India, Japan, and Singapore, as well as a combined trip to England and Poland and another combined trip to South Africa and Tanzania. The insights students gain during the experience will allow them to bring a global perspective back to class discussions.
"For me, what has been most gratifying has been watching the energy and courage that the faculty and broader Yale SOM community have put into developing the new curriculum," said Podolny. "From my conversations with business school deans and corporate executives, there is a broad consensus that the traditional MBA curriculum is disconnected from the management profession. Over the next few years, many schools will be pursuing their own reforms; I am honored to be part of a community that has shown the resolve to take the lead in responding to that disconnect by imagining a wholly new model of what management education can and should be."
The mission of the Yale School of Management is to educate leaders for business and society. Founded in 1976, it is the youngest of Yale University's professional schools. The school offers a two-year full-time MBA degree, an MBA for Executives program tailored for health care professionals, a Ph.D. program, and executive education programs.
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