The End of the Competitive Advantage? New MBA Career Strategies

The End of the Competitive Advantage? New MBA Career Strategies main image

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For those of us who learned about Strategy from Michael Porter during our MBA, we may feel disheartened to hear the latest news about the end of competitive advantage – an advantage that allows a firm to generate greater sales or retain more customers. It used to be that a competitive advantage, such as cost structure or product offerings,  gave companies an edge over their rivals and allowed them to generate a greater return on investment for shareholders. But today, the concept of the competitive advantage is no longer relevant for many companies.

How can it be? And what does the end of competitive advantage mean for the future of management careers?
The end of competitive advantage is almost like the fall of the Roman Empire -- an immense change for organizations. This announcement was made by Rita Gunther McGrath, professor of Columbia Business School, in her recently released book, The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business
What McGrath argues is that businesses are so rapidly evolving that to be sustainable is no longer an issue. On the contrary, companies need to exploit their competitive advantages temporarily but be prepared to quit and adapt as soon as this advantage becomes obsolete.    
The end of the competitive advantage implies major challenges for organizations, since a new business strategy affects the whole organization, meaning it needs to realign its structure towards the new direction, and we all know how difficult it is to implement changes in consolidated organizations. 
The good news, however, is that getting an MBA can help you create new career strategies so you can meet the need companies have for new types of managers.

The New People Managers 

The end of the competitive advantage is creating a need for new types of people managers to successfully implement these changes. These changes also affect the career strategies of managers who will need to adapt their skillset for the changing job market. A new set of skills are needed and those individuals who have them will be in high demand. Who are they?
I can think of two big categories: the ones identifying the new reality beforehand - the Visionaries, and the ones able to implement it efficiently: the Go- Getters.
What types of roles do these people perform and what skills do they need to have?

What is a Visionary?

Visionaries share certain traits: they are information hunters,  keen to gather input from all kinds of sources, especially from a strong network of individuals working in other industries or fields and from all levels in the hierarchy that can provide a constant flux of insights on emerging customer needs that are to be covered. 
Visionaries process all of this information in order to generate a holistic understanding of a given situation, emphasizing the importance of the whole as well as the interdependence of its parts. Visionaries will then transmit, convince and persuade the whole organization of his new vision and way forward, quitting from their comfort zones and getting in and out of spaces.

What is a Go-Getter?

Go-Getters are goal-oriented individuals; they get the message, know the goal and quickly realign all available resources in a newly designed process that will efficiently lead to the accomplishment of the established goal. And with any failure, they learn from it, finding new room for improvement. 
Of course, reducing the new set of skills to these two might look too simplistic, but at least these are the fundamentals upon which the rest will derive. 
Then the next question is, are we ready for this, have we got these skills, is there a place to learn them?

How to Get People Management Skills

Skills are not learned in a book or in a conference room. Like most skills, people management skills are acquired through experiences that help develop certain behaviors. You are not a leader, for example, because you know what it entails to be one.  You are a leader if you act in a certain way. People management is not about what you know, it is about what you do. 

New Management Skills: How an MBA Can Help

An MBA can help to develop the management skills and knowledge you need to succeed despite the end of the competitive advantage.  During the course of an MBA program you learn the fundamentals  of everything: operations, marketing , finance, talent management… and then suddenly without realizing it, every time you have to solve a business case you are integrating all that diverse knowledge into a cohesive solution to the problem. It comes naturally as you learn.
MBA programs are also very helpful to develop other management skills such as teamwork, communication, self assurance, goal orientation, flexibility, innovation, etc. 
But the management skill I see as the most difficult to acquire is this Constant Change Orientation, this “it is over” state of mind: quitting before is too late and to be in constant readiness to change. 
And the problem is that I do not think this skill is acquirable. There are people who naturally have it and others who do not.  They like what they like and do not want to do something different all the time, it is embedded in their personality. So if you are one of these people, you will have to look for another organization where your skills are still in need. 
So, welcome to this new era in which you need to be in constant job hunt mode. There is no escape, one way or another – either you change the organization you work for or you adapt to the new environment and do something different required by the organization you are in.
By Ana Herranz, Director of Career Education at the Careers Managment Center at IE Business School
This article is sponsored by IE Business School. Find out more about its MBA programs >
Written by Louise O'Conor
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