As an MBA is also about fulfilling family aspirations, make sure you keep them engaged in the process while you forge new ties and grow as a professional.
Students sharing the joy of graduation with their families highlight the dreams they have had before enrolment, the huge effort during the period of study, and the incredible sacrifice by their families to support them emotionally and financially.
Despite this, when I attend MBA fairs and information evenings, it has always surprised me how few people bring their husbands, wives or partners. Incredibly, this continues when I see how much I have to encourage students to bring family members to campus to participate in social activities and even sit in on a class. This is a great mistake.
In selecting an MBA program, the goal should be to go for the best — a globally ranked school that monitors graduates’ career performance. This monitoring should be done after graduation and in subsequent years so that they can tell you the payback period and return on your investment in fees and time.
Such programs are not easy — they are emotionally demanding in terms of time, cost, rigor and performance expectations. Indeed, it is useful to draw a stress curve and monitor your roller-coaster ride through it as the year progresses.
Despite all this, you will be focused on your program; you will meet and interact with others who will become close and trusted friends; you will laugh at the in-jokes; and you will change as a person over the course of the program. Regrettably, while this happens, the purpose of undertaking the program is lost on the journey. This purpose is to realize the dreams of the family in terms of career progression, salary and fulfilling family aspirations. In short, it is building a dream together.
While students face the pressures of combining the MBA with work or meeting deadlines, their partners face their own challenges. These range from the fact that there is less leisure time for the family, financial sacrifice, a feeling that they are being isolated as new friendships are formed in syndicate groups, the observation that people are changing as they go through the course to the fact that they are not included.
This can lead to conflict at home. However, it is easy to remedy this situation and make it a time when the family really draws together and builds a dream.
The solution is to engage them.
This is a journey that cannot be taken in isolation — the family has to be part of it and support the decision completely.
• Bring your partner to the information evenings or MBA fairs so that they know and understand what you are planning.
• Discuss your motivation with them together with the financial and time-related implications thereby making this a shared decision.
• Bring your partner to the campus to meet the faculty members and administration so that he/she too gets an idea about what the program involves.
• Discuss your program with alumni and let your partner talk to those of other students so that you learn from the experience of others.
• Hold some syndicate meetings at your home where your partner can see you working with colleagues and feel engaged with what you are doing.
• Secure the agreement of the faculty member and invite your partner to attend a class.
• Form a group on campus for partners of MBA students, which can arrange social events or even special classes.
• Ensure that your partner attends social events organized by the student services function on campus for MBA students.
• Ask your partner to read and edit the English on your assignments. That way they will feel that they are part of the family’s effort in preparing you for success.
Above all, ensure that you spend some free time with your partner.
Following these simple suggestions will strengthen your relationship with your partner and ensure that they do not place obstacles in your way through failing to understand or appreciate the pressures you are under to complete an MBA at a first-rate institution.
The same principle applies when dealing with employers — experience has shown that those students who engage their employers in the program are most likely to secure unequivocal support for what they are attempting to achieve.
Perhaps the greatest pressure comes on those students who are moving back into their family business after graduation.
Again, engagement is the solution if you are not to be perceived by the family as the same person who joined the class a year or two years previously.
Communication, engagement and benchmarking of the change you undergo at a personal level from sharing ideas with people from different industries, cultures, nationalities and career backgrounds will make a significant change to who you are and how you perceive yourself.
It is imperative to ensure that there is a match between the desired outcomes for the family when undertaking an MBA and the actual outcomes. This can only be achieved by not disappearing for the duration of the program and still expecting people in the business to know what you have achieved and how your objectives may have changed.
The MBA program is exciting and challenging. However, to get the most out of it, make sure that those who you need most feel part of this challenging and exciting process all the way through.
— Written by Professor Nick van der Walt, Executive Director and Dean of Hult International Business School.