7 Ways MBAs Can Maximize Their Education Investment

By Roy Young

The subject of how to calculate the ROI on an MBA degree is widely considered by those who are evaluating the decision to enroll and select a particular school to attend.  They ask “is it worth it?” or “what is the value of the degree?” or “which school will give me the greatest return on my investment of time and money?”  Much has been written to provide answers (for example, see here, here and here).  However, those who have already enrolled and those who have completed an MBA are also interested in their MBA investment but ask a different set of questions related to striving to maximize their investment beyond B-school.  These MBAs ask: Am I doing as well as I could be since I got my MBA? Is my employer rewarding my efforts fairly and how can I negotiate a promotion or higher pay? What changes should I make now? How can I get ahead faster? If you are like most MBAs, you ask these questions constantly because you are driven to achieve and earn professional rewards of income and impact.  While in school, you learned that successful businesses grow when they create new economic value by serving consumer needs profitably.  You understand that this is how businesses generate economic value that leads to growth.  It’s no different for your career.  You are the entrepreneur of your own career, and this means that to grow professionally you must create new economic value. The most accomplished MBAs have made this maxim the nexus of their careers.  Great examples are found on the Wharton list of its 40 Under 40, “40 individuals who represent a cross-section of the energy, ambition, accomplishments and diversity of the Wharton alumni network—across professions, interests, degrees, geographies and nationalities.”  The specifics of each of these profiles reveal vastly different and distinctive career trajectories, but they hold one thing in common: each of these MBA alumni is exceptional because they create economic value for their employer early in their careers.  Just like them, you can maximize your MBA investment by creating new economic value for your employer or for your own business in one or more of seven ways:

  1. Inquire
  2. Inform
  3. Connect
  4. Solve
  5. Produce
  6. Sell
  7. Risk

I will briefly explain how each of these seven proficiencies creates new economic value.  Then in a series of posts I will do a deep dive into each, including specific action steps to guide you to your successful application and mastery.  To maximize your MBA investment, your task is to choose to master one or more that align(s) with your strengths. 1. INQUIRE To inquire is the beginning of the creation of all new economic value. According to Harvard Business School professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, it is “the foundation from which everything else springs.”  In an interview in the Wall Street Journal (6/13/14), she said inquiry or curiosity “guarantees sufficient information to do all the other things, such as acting decisively, promoting innovation, and knowing how to renew and reinvent stale products and services.” If you inquire, you will constantly ask the questions that identify consumer needs and business opportunities.  Why? What's behind that? What's new? What are competitors doing? What else is out there? What other possibilities exist?” Ask good questions. 2. INFORM Today, all businesses are drowning in data.  Operations, Human Resources and Sales & Marketing in particular are data-generating machines.  The explosion is driven by a plethora of computer software and mobile apps promising to produce breakthroughs for business decision making with data intelligence.  Raw data, however, is not valuable without clear and insightful analysis and communication.  If you know how to consolidate and integrate disparate data sources and ensure reliable data quality to inform management, you can generate economic value through better decision making, efficiencies in operations and solidified customer relationships.  Knowing how to convert data generated by information technologies and IT staff into business intelligence that the non-technical managers can understand is a critical function. Consider what information is good enough; assess the inevitable tradeoff between speed and accuracy. Turn data into valuable business intelligence. 3. CONNECT In today’s information economy, the means of producing new economic value is people, not machines.   Accordingly, the relationships you build with people inside and outside your organization generate value for your employer in the form of effective project teams, partnerships, teams and collaboration.  Even more important than your 500+ LinkedIn connections that are just a click away is the select group of connections you will develop and nurture resulting in trusted, long-lasting and productive relationships.  Research has shown that givers are actually much more likely to reap rewards from their networking efforts.  What teams have you joined lately?  Who is on your team?  What do you contribute to your network?  Be a giver, a true team player, with cross-functional colleagues and partners.  "Viral" often is a disease you want to get rid of, but "connection" can lead to lifelong benefits.  Become a hub. .  4. SOLVE Identifying solutions to real consumer problems is the key approach to creating economic value.  If you start with the curiosity to Inquire into the nature of the problem and Inform yourself and others through research and analysis, you clarify the problem – what is commonly referred to as “pain” -- that is in need of a product or service that can be the relief that consumers or businesses will buy.  It is only after clarifying and articulating the problem, that you can set a course to develop an economically viable solution.  The most difficult transition is the translation from questioning, research and problem clarification to actual solution.  Your mission?  To lead the project team you have assembled to design and produce the product or service that satisfies the consumer problem.  But make sure your solution is relevant, first “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”    5. PRODUCE In your organization, who is known as a producer who gets things done?  Who is kicking ass in the company?  Whom do you admire?  Are these producers recognized as stars?  There is no limit to the number of producers any organization can have; producing is not a zero-sum game.  It may even be a team that is recognized as a big producer with more than one contributor.  As an MBA, you are likely a project or team leader.  You need to become a producer, but that means in addition to your own work, you have to motivate your team and support staff to do the work you have delegated to them.  In fact, you have to manage the project North to senior management; East to cross-functional colleagues; South to subordinates; and West to vendors and partners (outside your organization).  To become a producer, you will need to juggle all of these sometimes competing stakeholders.  The key is to keep your focus to finish (as Seth Godin says, Shipit 6. SELL Think about the MVPs (Most Valuable Players, if you are not a sports fan) in your company and ask yourself, what do they do well?  What are they known for?  How do they make impact?  No doubt about it, MVPs sell.  You may be under the impression that you didn’t earn an MBA to become a sales person.  The reality is that all management is selling.  The function of a manager is to coax others, whether inside or outside the organization, to part with resources (time and money) they control (see this HBR post on To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink) in order to be an agent of change to grow.  If you are going to be effective, you must turn around rejection, constantly.  Learn how to do it well, and you will be viewed as a rainmaker, even if you do not generate revenue directly.  Sell to grow. 7. RISK This is a big one.  You can always keep your head down and just do your job.  However, your career will plateau and your progress will be flat.  Dramatic growth requires that you take a professional gamble in order to make a leap forward.  You can’t play it safe anymore.and your employer cannot play it safe forever.  Growth for you requires change and innovation, and innovation requires risk.  Will your risk be convincing your current employer to invest in a new product?  Will you change companies?  Change functions or industries?  Risk requires change at the right time and for the right reason, so keep your eye out for opportunities to create new economic value.  Take a leap.   CLOSE To maximize your MBA investment, master one or more of these 7 practices starting now.  If you do, you will be far above average and rewarded accordingly, regardless of the school you attended. Roy Young founded Beyond B-School to provide guidance to MBA students and alumni to help them land jobs, network with professionals and accelerate their careers.