Just one month into the PGPX at IIM, Ahmedabad and one already gets the feeling of having been at the centre of a heady whirlwind for ages together! The learning is top class, the schedule rigorous, the infrastructure amenable and life, generally good. As I reflect on my one month here and all that I want to communicate through this blog, one topic seems to stand out, Organizational behaviour.
As is normal practice in most graduate schools, we are currently studying core courses, or “Building blocks” as they are officially referred to.
If you happen to look at the aspirational and reflective posts of most prospective, current and past MBA students, they will probably mention that they want to specialize in areas like finance, strategy and marketing.
My humble submission is this. These areas may be more glamorous, but the most important lessons you will learn and retain for the rest of your life and career will probably come from the area of organizational (and individual) behaviour.
My rationale for making the above hypothesis is simple. In the course of our personal and professional interactions, we would be required to apply and display a variety of theories, skills and frameworks. A common factor to all these interactions is the inescapable need to involve ourselves with people and groups (or, in a business context, organizations).
Add in the complexity of businesses going global and workforce mobility becoming the norm. There is a high chance that we would be working in an American organization on a project for a customer from Europe who is of Arab descent and having a vendor who is Chinese but works for an Indonesian firm!
In scenarios like these, it is imperative to acquire a sense of cultural sensitivity around the diverse individuals or groups that one would work with.
The discipline of organizational behaviour and its study equips us with refined intuition on topics of culture and diversity. I recently heard a senior executive, an MBA from an IIM himself, state that, of all the subjects he learnt in business schools, he had forgotten much but only organizational behaviour remained fresh and appeared the most relevant to his work.
Another dimension of organizational behaviour is its ability in a reactive manner to analyze what kind of business practices would work in a particular setting. Of course, I refer to the variation in different settings based upon varying cultures of individuals and organizations.
I would give the illustration of a company with which I have deep ties, Toyota Motor. Toyota was my first job stint and hence the experience there has shaped the way in which I have developed much of my career as well as professional traits.
Toyota is (not surprisingly) studied in a lot of business schools and specially in topics based on Operations Management. However, the place I could connect a greater chord to my experience in Toyota was in the Organizational Behaviour sessions.
The kind of organizational structure Toyota follows works well for them, both at home and abroad (though it takes them a longer time to establish these structures abroad).
The Japanese workforce is heavily influenced by the history of Japan (sense of duty, hierarchy, male dominant) and the harsh conditions it has endured over centuries (earthquakes, lost wars, scarcity of land to grow food and so on).
Viewed in this context, values typical to the Japanese worker like working long hours at the cost of personal life, comfort in working in rigid organizational settings and the obsessive quest to avoid wastage can easily be understood.
Organizations which are vastly different in terms of this cultural legacy would have a hard time in implementing Toyota Production Systems (TPS). This is notwithstanding the fact that the philosophy itself is so simple and we now have a flood of TPS and lean trainers over the world!
In India, the organizations who have had great success in implementing TPS (like the Tata Group and the Sundaram Group) have been the ones who have similar or close cultural heritages.
In this context, it is not at all surprising to me that the seminal work on understanding and propagating the philosophy of Toyota Production System has been achieved by Professor Jeff Liker at the University of Michigan, the author of the bestselling book “The Toyota Way” and a person I have had the privilege of having long discussions with. And, surprise, surprise, his Doctoral degree is in, you guessed it right, Sociology!
In conclusion, my submission to the current and prospective MBA student is this; specialize in a variety and mix of disciplines but learn your OB well ! It will help (and probably save! ) you a lot in the future. (Cover Image Courtsey : en.wikipedia.org)
Aniruddha Srinath,is in the PGPX (2016-17) batch at IIM Ahmedabad. He has more than 7 years experience in Manufacturing Strategy and Operations. He has a Master’s Degree in Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.