Expert Articles

Don’t lament the lack of talent, blame it on your recruitment process

One often comes across intriguing and at times irrelevant questions purportedly asked in job interviews, and the common response would be to dismiss these off as the creative work of bored talent in our organisations.  Such questions are fun to read, and some of the responses elicit serious thought.  However, when such questions actually make their way into the selection process, the selection process merits serious debate.

Recently, a young MBA graduate was asked to summarise the origin and rise of the ISIS. One might have granted this question, if the candidate was interviewing for a journalist profile. It is difficult to comprehend the relevance of such a question when the position advertised is that of a financial research analyst, and the job essentially requires the candidate to analyse financial performance of a company.  

In the above case, Stage 1 in the selection process was to paraphrase a two-page document into a short summary, which one could understand would help determine the language skills of the candidate. A candidate who clears Stage 1 has clearly demonstrated those abilities. This process begets the question: Is English-language ability the primary skill required for a financial analyst?  Shouldn’t financial knowledge and skills be of greater importance for a financial analyst?

The candidate was flummoxed with the ISIS question in Stage 2. She even asked the interviewer the relevance of the question, to which the interviewer gave a vague response.  The candidate was then asked about the 2G scam. Seriously, do companies expect 22-year old young adults to comment on scams that occurred when they were still in college?  I wonder if HR interviewers asking such questions themselves would be able to answer similar questions in a stressful situation.  Candidates spend two rigorous years in a formal MBA program to gain subject-knowledge. The entire recruitment process in this case didn’t provide an opportunity to demonstrate that subject knowledge. The candidate was rejected on these flimsy criteria. A bright, young woman who has a demonstrated excellent academic record from grade 10 onwards, and who has cleared the Stage 1 language test, was rejected because she couldn’t speak on the ISIS, which has no relevance to the job profile she interviewed for. Who is to blame here? And then we have HR managers lamenting the lack of talent in our country?

How do the HR managers expect candidates to prepare for a job interview? Should colleges upgrade their curriculum to teach all the scams in the business world? And then what happens to imparting subject-specific knowledge?

Even if the job requires an understanding of such issues, wouldn’t it be more effective to evaluate a candidate after giving the candidate some time, maybe an hour to read up on the topic and then comment.  In the real-world, we all read up on issues pertaining to our area of expertise and work, and that’s how we become good at what we do.  It is really unfair to a prospective candidate to be assessed on topics which are not even relevant to the job. Often, the job descriptions given to the candidate give only a vague-idea about the profile.

This brings us to a very crucial debate on:

“Do most organisations have competent and qualified HR interviewers to help the company identify the right talent for the organisation?”

“How many such potential candidates are lost to the idiosyncrasies of the interviewer?”

Assuming the candidate knows about the ISIS, and has an opinion, the candidate would still hesitate to comment because the candidate is unsure of the interviewer’s stand on the issue.  Don’t we always advice young professionals to avoid discussions on politics and religion at social gatherings, and in formal business environments?

Does anyone within the organisation hierarchy actually groom these HR interviewers on the kind of questions to ask?  Shouldn’t questions be aimed at assessing competence, and evaluating the fit of the candidate with the organisation culture?

Another financial services organisation puts candidates through a rigorous aptitude test, consulting-focussed case study interviews, as well as HR-fit interviews to identify the best talent from campuses to do a “cut-copy-paste” job in the fancy title of a business analyst.  Then they blame young adults for lacking commitment and loyalty, when candidates quit these jobs in less than a year. Why is the focus on selecting the brightest candidate instead of the right candidate? We all know students who have been selected for these jobs, and who express dissatisfaction with the role. Clearly the hires are often a wrong fit.

The other bane is when HR departments schedule 30 to 40 candidate interviews in a single-day. Candidates are kept waiting through the whole day to answer two questions for 10 minutes. How do they assess the fit in such a short-time? What about the interviewer fatigue? Or is it only a charade? But, then why would an organisation want to put up a charade?  Do organisations really have the time to play recruitment games? What does such behaviour convey about the culture of the organisation, especially when such behaviour is depicted by HR managers?  Some organisations justify the waiting period explaining that clients often make the sales executive wait, and they are testing the patience of the candidate.  Even if we buy that argument, is it really productive for sales executives to be waiting 6 hours to meet a client? Does the company actually encourage their sales executives to wait on a client endlessly?  And why would you put Finance candidates through a similar 12-hour wait period? That is such a colossal waste of productive time.

If recruitment processes are to be effective, the first step is to create a detailed job description that identifies the knowledge, skills, and traits required for the job, preferably with an evaluation rubric.  The functional heads need to provide these rubrics for the HR to implement in the process. These evaluation rubrics may even be shared with prospective candidates, who can then do a self-evaluation to see whether they fit the required job criteria. A more evolved approach would be to get the colleges involved in the selection/recruitment process. Professors have interacted with students for a course, a term or a year. They understand motivation levels of students, commitment, aptitude and potential. Instead of asking colleges to send in the entire batch for the interview, companies could ask campuses to shortlist candidates that best fit the job profiles based on evaluation rubrics provided by the company. It will cut down the inefficiencies in the process. HR managers will not be burdened with interviewing 50 candidates per day. They would have more time per candidate to assess the right fit.  It is in the interest of campuses to ensure that candidates fitting the rubric are recommended if they wish to build a long term relationship with the company. A collaborative effort will create a win-win scenario for the company, the campus, and the students.

 

Prof. Dr. Hanif Kanjer

Founder-Director, Rustomjee Business School

Founder-Director, Rustomjee Cambridge International School

Adjunct Faculty, S P Jain Global School of Management

Founder-consulting director, S P Jain Global School of Management

 

Dissing the HBR case-studies

Ask any Indian business school about their teaching pedagogy, and HBR case studies will find a mention right at the top of that list.  While it may sound as a USP, not many institutions actually reflect on the contextual relevance of teaching HBR global cases in a largely homogenous Indian classroom, by an Indian professor.

One might argue that business boundaries are merging, and it is imperative that Indian management students gain exposure to international/global business challenges.  There is of course, strong merit in this argument, but it belies the HBR case study approach propounded by many institutions, which aim to blindly copy leading management institutes from the West.

I have been having this debate across many platforms with directors of institutions as well as students, faculty members and corporate organisations that focus on management development programs. In my own curriculum development, I have consciously stayed away from the HBR cases, and I have found, in fact, that the class participation increases exponentially when the students are contextually able to appreciate the nuances of the business scenario.

I’d categorise the major challenges of teaching an HBR case study in a homogenous class in an Indian management school as follows:

  1. Costs
  2. Context
  3. Culture
  4. Communication

Costs

When one looks at the costs of procuring HBR cases, they are prohibitively expensive, despite HBR trying its best to make it accessible to Indian institutions. Because of the prohibitive costs, there are several leading institutions that are teaching decades-old cases which might be cheaper, or which the institution may have acquired without permission. I question the moral standards of the institutes that unethically source such material for their students. What value-system are you propagating in shaping the minds of future business leaders?

Context

I was invited to teach an executive class at a leading Indian management institute, with the institution director’s instructions on the list of HBR cases to be taught for the strategic management course.  On reviewing the course outline, and the recommended case studies for each session, I politely informed the course coordinator to let the director know that teaching these decade-old cases didn’t excite me, and I would rather not teach the course.  That’s when the director called me up to discuss in greater depth what issues I had with the HBR cases he recommended.  I explained that to teach Micheal Porter’s Five Forces he had shortlisted ‘Nucor Steel Corporation, 1989’.  A more than two-decade old US-story being taught in the classroom of today really didn’t make any sense. How do you expect young 21 to 23 years old, management students, most of whom haven’t had any international exposure, or even work experience, to understand and appreciate the nuances of the challenges of the steel sector in the US in 1989.  Just reading a case doesn’t impart the contextual reference framework to the reader.  So, the director asked me what case I would want to take to teach Micheal Porter’s Five Forces. I mentioned that I would rather take Jet Airways’ acquisition of Air Sahara case to teach the concept.  The director mentioned that there was no case written on the Jet Airways – Air Sahara acquisition. To which I replied, precisely my point. In the real-world, your boss isn’t going to give you a ready-made case to solve. He will give you a business article, a financial statement, or a research report, and get you to develop an understanding of the case, and arrive at decisions. So, most of my cases are business news articles in the public domain, that I use to help students develop an understanding of the business. The contextual relevance makes the discussion highly interactive and productive. Since 2004, I have replaced case studies with contemporary business articles that are not only contextually relevant but also, great tools for conceptual understanding of the various frameworks.  Some of the cases I have covered include: Tata’s acquisition of Corus, IBM-Oracle-Sun acquisition drama, Star TV’s revenue challenges, the changing competitive landscape of Good Knight and Axe, amongst many others.

Culture

Most of these case studies come with ‘Teaching notes’, and you will be surprised at the number of leading business school professors resorting to these teaching notes, not as a guide to prepare for their lecture, but instead of preparing for their lectures. Once at a dinner with a professor who worked at a leading management institution, the professor was lamenting on the lack of commitment and class preparation in the current generation. He spoke of having a class the following morning, and he was sure that most of the students would not have read the case study for that class. When I asked him what case he was going to take, his replied stunned me. He said, he didn’t know the details. He planned to read the teaching notes of the case study post-dinner, and then wing it the following morning.  Who should we blame, the professor or the student or the institution? A typical case study is 20 pages long (although now there are shorter caselets).  If students and professors both ‘try to wing’ the case study discussions, how does it enhance learning?  The problem is compounded with the unfamiliar landscape of the case for the students, and often for the Indian professor as well.  Professors reason that with the increasing burden of teaching, publishing research papers, organising and attending conferences, where is the time to read and research on cases for classroom discussion? When ready-made cases are done away with, the onus lies on the professor to read on current business articles, and prepare content for the class. When a professor is better prepared, the learning curve in the class improves.

Communication

Finally, one needs to call out on the language in most of these case studies. In a multilingual classroom, non-English speaking students obviously find the case studies tedious, but I have observed that even students with English as their first language struggle with the language used in the case studies. This leads to more time required to read and comprehend the case.  Here, I don’t blame the students or even the professors. Often case studies are written by professors and research assistants, in a convoluted language. I have struggled with quite a few cases myself when I studied at London Business School, and I would not attribute that to my English language skills, because I do have a strong command of the English language, both written and spoken. In contrast, most business articles in leading publications are lucidly written, that makes reading them easy to comprehend, and in the process makes for quicker reading as well.

I would encourage more professors and directors to experiment with business articles as an interesting pedagogical option to the staid case-study approach, to make learning fun, and interactive.  I can say with confidence that over the past decade, every time I have taught a course in strategic management or strategic innovation or finance at leading business schools, I have garnered high student ratings on faculty feedback forms, which I would attribute to my selection of culturally and contextually relevant business articles. It works!

Prof. Dr. Hanif Kanjer

Founder-Director, Rustomjee Business School

Founder-Director, Rustomjee Cambridge International School

Adjunct Faculty, S P Jain Global School of Management

Founder-consulting director, S P Jain Global School of Management

 

B-school : Corporate Feeder or Social Contributor?

Business schools are entrusted with the responsibility of grooming future managers who will build social and intellectual capital, a formidable task indeed. A country the size of India needs more entrepreneurs who will create more jobs.  But, if one were to make an honest assessment, b-schools are only paying a lip-service to this lofty ideal, with most of them choosing to pursue the 100% placement record and the highest salary record. Placement season on campuses is one where the
emphasis is often to get the highest paid jobs, and students are often taught to negotiate salary packages.

I get asked this question on “salary negotiation” from students every time I visit leading B-school campuses as a Guest speaker or as a professor of business strategy. My response is usually “You don’t negotiate salary. You negotiate job responsibility and growth opportunities. If you learn and grow, the money will come.”  Sometimes students find that hard to digest because they are fed from day 1 that if they don’t land a good job from campus, they will have wasted their time.Classic stories of exorbitant salaries offered to fresh management graduates at leading B-school campuses by organizations only propels this myth further that B-schools is about getting the highest paid jobs.

I am afraid if we scratch the surface most students would get exposed with their poor conceptual understanding and even poorer skills in application of knowledge in the real world. And I don’t blame the students. The fault lies in our approach,our system. We are raising a generation of managers who are too afraid to take risks one the one hand, or on the other hand extremely reckless with their risk taking, plundering other people’s hard-earned money.

The blame all doesn’t squarely fall on the B-schools. The media has also always played on the hype of salary packages offered at B-school campuses.  In the play for ranking, the focus again is on the salary packages, placement record, infrastructure, and then faculty, when it should be reversed with faculty gaining the most importance in terms of creating a learning atmosphere on campuses.

Young India has tremendous potential, and we as educators need to provide them the right impetusto become agents of change in society, rather than following the cookie-cutter method of creating robotic clones, who don’t think, only follow instructions.

The focus needs to change from a capitalist mindset, “What’s in it for me?”,to a spiritualist mindset,“How can I add value to society?”

Our contribution would be nurturing this rich resource pool, the MBA graduates, and getting them to ask the right questions, and then build businesses that will create a win-win solutions for all the stakeholders.

There are some schools that are making the effort in this direction, and the future will belong to those who embrace this philosophy. The establishment of incubation cells at B-schools, and the awakening of the social conscience through a variety of learning formats will lead to B-schools playing their true role in society.

Prof. Dr. Hanif Kanjer
Founder-Director, Rustomjee Business School
Founder-Director, Rustomjee Cambridge International School
Adjunct Faculty, S P Jain Global School of Management
Founder-consulting director, S P Jain Global School of Management

 

GD/PI Tips for CAT and CET

Following are the best tips you need to know about group discussion:

Whenever you are given a topic, list down three positives & three negatives of that topic.Try to think of examples to support your viewpoint, whether you chose to support the positive or the negative.

  • If everyone in the group is supporting the positive, then you try to focus the group’s attention to the negative.
  • Always introduce your different point of view in a non-confrontational manner. You are not there to argue, but to highlight the merits or demerits of a particular situation. A good way to introduce your opposing view point is “Whilst I do agree with the general sentiment of the group towards this topic, it is very important for all of us to also weigh the possibility of(and you introduce your different perspective).
  • Remember, it is not always necessary to be the first speaker. In fact, most students will try and jump in to be a first speaker. Use that time to list down your thoughts and examples for the topic.
  • In fact, the first few minutes of every group invariably turns out to be a fish-market. Don’t become one of the noise makers.
  • However, if no one is initiating the discussion, then you must take the lead.
  • How often you speak is not as important as what you speak.
  • People who take more airtime only to repeat points mentioned earlier tend to lose credibility. People who listen score better in a group discussion than people who only argue or who don’t let others speak.

Prof. Dr. Hanif Kanjer
Founder-Director, Rustomjee Business School
Founder-Director, Rustomjee Cambridge International School
Adjunct Faculty, S P Jain Global School of Management
Founder-consulting director, S P Jain Global School of Management

If not having customers is bad, having bad customers is worse.

As a strategy consultant, one of the most common business problems I come across that Indian companies face is that of managing their business risks. In quite a few cases when I have asked the management what were their business risks and how were they managed, I have drawn a blank. People talk of revenues, they talk of profits and in the best case, they may talk in broad terms of good customers and bad customers. But, they are not very clear on the business risks. At the onset, let me state that mapping business risks is not rocket science. You don’t require a scientist to work out your business risks. (You could probably do with the guidance of a consultant though!).

Managing business risks sounds like an ivory-tower strategic thinking done by people who have no bearings on ground realities. Far from that, managing business risks requires a hands-on approach. Understanding risks and managing them is crucial for any organisation.

If business risks are not managed, then you are not maximising your profit potential. Business risk broadly means the risk associated with conducting business with the various constituents: suppliers, employees, or even customers.

Risks associated with employees are, also, fairly controllable and measurements. Almost all companies have a recruitment and selection procedure, have a performance monitoring system, and other such tools to identify such risks well in time and manage them.

Supplier risks are easy to identify, are measurable and are controllable. Most companies have detailed supplier evaluation forms, supplier selection criteria to manage risks associated with this constituent. While it is easy to understand the risk associated with a supplier, just one instance of a delayed delivery that halts complete operations of a business, managers find it a little difficult to digest and understand the risks associated with customers.

When one talks of customers, the old maxim of “CUSTOMER IS KING” applies uniformly and very few are able to distinguish between a good customer and a bad. In some instances, for example, say credit card firms, it is easy to identify a bad customer – one with repeated defaults. It becomes expensive for companies to satisfy such customers, who eat away into the margins through the effort expended on following up with them for debts.

Although, it is fairly obvious in the case of credit card firms, often it is a little too late because the customer has already entered the system and has become a burden – sometimes to be written off as bad debts. Understanding the business risks associated with such customers would help such firms in blocking the entry of such customers in the system or atleast ensuring that they are quickly identified and dealt with.

On the other hand, I have observed instances where companies aren’t even aware of the ‘bad guy’ and were bending their back over to please the ‘bad guy’ (in crude terms, getting screwed and not even know who was screwing them).

The management had invited us to explore export opportunities for them in the European market, however, when we visited their factory in Lodz city (Poland), we found the organisation was bleeding. Further investigation revealed that they did not have any management or cost accounting system. Profitability was reported at the corporate level with no breakdown of product-wise or account-wise profitability. So, they were not even aware whether they were making profits on individual orders or not. This resulted in all orders being classified as good orders.

One of the main reasons for the drop in margins was that they were trying to operate on just-in-time without setting other systems in place. We found instances when sales placed orders with production and made delivery commitments to clients without discussing it with the production department. And if parts were not in stock, production department would order them on urgent delivery thereby raising cost. Their single largest customer, by volumes, was actually draining the life out of the organisation. With completely spasmodic orders from the BIG CUSTOMER, they ended up carrying huge inventories to cater to the last-minute demands of the big customer and in instances when parts were not in stock, they would work on the emergency button, thereby raising their costs. On evaluating the profitability of the orders from their largest customer,we found that the company was actually losing money on most of the orders from their biggest customer. They would have actually been better off handing over cash to their customer and asking them to purchase the compressors from outside rather than accepting the orders and manufacturing them. While this was a drastic situation, it really isn’t very different from what one observes in many companies in India.

A real estate client of mine in Mumbai has gone to the extremes of offering customisation to all the home buyers. While there is nothing wrong with that, when one realises that the client is catering to the mass-housing segment, it really is not prudent to offer customisation at the individual level. For example, a particular lady does not like the colour of the flooring in her kitchen, and so the client offers to change the flooring. When it is only one such case, it might be okay, but when the numbers add up to 1000 flats, then it can be a nightmare. That is when you are not managing the risks
associated with your customers.

Customers can get whimsical and make unreasonable demands. It is in such situations that managers need to apply a framework for managing the business risks. Managers must learn that sometimes it is better to lose an order. The ability to evaluate which orders to accept and which orders to lose will come from mapping the risks associated with the different types of customers.

Prof. Dr. Hanif Kanjer
Founder-Director, Rustomjee Business School
Founder-Director, Rustomjee Cambridge International School
Adjunct Faculty, S P Jain Global School of Management
Founder-consulting director, S P Jain Global School of Management

 

When the student is ready the teacher will appear

At Rustomjee Business School, we strongly believe that management education is not just about academic learning, but about discovering yourself, and carving your niche. Most young adults are at a cross-road, and often confused about the path to take.  What adds to the confusion is misguided advice by well-meaning adults, both friends and family.

I have heard umpteen number of times young men in the age group of 23 to 25 years reverting on job opportunities with statements such as “My father is saying this job is not good”, or “My friend is saying the salary is too low”, or “My mother wants me to specialise in finance”.

It is sad to see young management graduates making important career decisions based on such unqualified advice.   By this we don’t mean to undermine the opinion of parents, and well-meaning friends, but it is important to realise and accept that instead of making blanket statements such as these, wouldn’t it be more prudent in helping the young adult discover these things for himself/herself? Whatever happened to the philosophy of “learning by one’s mistakes”.

We don’t mean to tell young adults to rebel against the family, but it is important for family to be supportive in allowing these young adults to make a few mistakes, as long as such mistakes are not life-threatening.

I tell students by all means listen to your mother’s advice of specialising in finance, if your mother has a good understanding of the career opportunities in this field, the skills-required to succeed in this space, and a good assessment of your strengths and weaknesses to be able to perform well in this field.  Parents who don’t have any clue about a particular field, or even a clear assessment of their child’s strength should definitely not be giving career advice to their children.  They would be better off if they could direct their student to someone who works in that sector, as well as someone who has a good assessment of their child’s strengths and weaknesses.

This is where I believe college professors, particularly at business schools, can play a crucial role in helping young adults make important career-related decisions.  

As management school professors we are entrusted with a huge responsibility of helping students build their futures. So, we play diverse roles beyond classroom teaching – right from chaperoning young adults on their industrial tours/visits and boot camps, to being  relationship counsellors, and career counsellors.

The challenge lies in the fact that ‘the one-shoe-fits-all’ approach doesn’t work in a business school scenario.  Each student is different, in terms of aptitude, interest, and sincerity.  However, there is often one common thread across all these student interactions, and that is the desire to do well in life coupled with the insecurities about the future.

As mentors, Rustomjee Business School faculty members are willing to spend time individually with students, whether preparing for a job interview, or preparing for competitive entrance exams, or even helping students hone their presentation and communication skills.

In fact, I can proudly state that you are unlikely to find any college in India that helps students even after they have graduated with their MBA qualification.  We have students who come back to us one or two years after graduation, seeking guidance on post-MBA further studies, professional certification programs or even career-related advice. Our alumnus, Meet Bhatt, who completed his MMS degree with us in 2013, approached us with his interest in pursuing the international CFA program.  Since in our MMS program, we do incorporate the CFA Level 1 syllabus in subjects such as economics, financial accounting, and international finance, we were confident of being able to help Meet Bhatt. He has now completed CFA Level 1, and CFA Level 2 qualification, with tutorial support from RBS faculty members, and is currently preparing for the CFA Level 3 certification exams, without any fees charged to him.  Similarly, Parin Parikh, and Pranay Desai are two alumni who have connected with us with regards to career-related advice on job switch opportunities they received two years after MMS studies.  More recently, Sagar Nagda, of the Batch of 2017 has ventured into a financial advisory entrepreneurship venture, and he credits the learning in the finance program at Rustomjee Business School with the impetus to give him the confidence to start on his own. In fact, he has recruited 5 summer interns from our campus this year, and this completes the circle of giving back to the Alma-mater.

At Rustomjee Business School, we build futures by building long-lasting friendships.  Our alumni come back to take guest lectures on campus, to teach a full course, to conduct summer internship vivas, and as recruiters to provide job opportunities to current students.

The Rustomjee Circle of Giving has grown bigger and wider. That’s why we say, When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

 

Prof. Dr. Hanif Kanjer, PhD (Finance), MBA (Strategy), BE (Production)

Founder-Director, Rustomjee Business School

Founder-Director, Rustomjee Cambridge International School

Adjunct Faculty, S P Jain Global School of Management

Founder-consulting director, S P Jain Global School of Management

 

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