The Bottom Line / Know Your People, Not Your Numbers

Studying business has become the dream of many young people in recent years. The name of the degree sounds enticing: business administration. Who wouldn't want to be a big executive? Who doesn't want to succeed in business?

But the sought-after profession has a lot of problems, and a number of them appear in a report of the committee that studied the condition of business studies in Israel (see page 4). The committee examined the curricula of the universities and colleges in Israel and found them to be rather poor.

The reasons behind this situation include the rapid implementation of too many programs without a proper basis for instruction, a huge demand for business studies, low-quality teachers, and of course the usual budgetary problems.

But there is also another problem, even worse than those found by the committee. The problem is in the curriculum and training that the business schools provide.

The list of courses includes a lot on economics, statistics, finance, marketing, law and much more. But it has almost no courses on anything relating to the manager's main job: the ability to manage people. Because the business world is made up of endless interactions with people: customers, employees, suppliers and managers.

There is no course that trains business students in how to recruit employees, and how to fire them. How to motivate them to work and how to utilize their potential. No course teaches students to manage the workers under them - and certainly not how to manage their bosses.

Graduates of business studies in Israel are - in the best case - experts in macroeconomics, analysis of investment decisions and in understanding complex marketing cases or in statistical analysis. But when it comes to going out and working in the real world, they run into endless problems that no one has ever told them about during their studies.

The daily routine of the business world is much more complex than just a bunch of relationships that need to be managed. The reality confronting the student at that first job is completely different from what he or she studied. The students may have spent two years solving tricky financing problems as homework, but the first real event they meet in the workplace will be how to solve a conflict between two of their employees.

The newly minted graduate can get a perfect score on a complex case on the problems of marketing Swatch watches; but the first time a shareholder in the company he works for interferes in his work, he will lose control because no one ever told him how it works in the real world.

No university trains its students to handle the true daily schedule waiting for them in the business world. And that is the main problem - and the main limitation of the business administration programs.

In order for these programs to succeed, they need to add many more courses from the social sciences. More psychology, sociology, human resource management and organizational behavior.

Such training will provide the students far more effective tools to integrate into the business world - and to succeed at it.

In the end, a graduate of a good business administration program first needs to understand people, and only after that is there a need to learn numbers.