With Action Learning, Everybody Learns!

ASB Corporate Development | Corporate Engagement

With Action Learning, Everybody Learns!

Do you know how much time a manager spends usually on dealing with people aspects versus dealing with technical aspects of their job? Depending on the seniority of the role, anywhere between 60%-80%! And why is that? Well, it turns out that the job is simple, but people are not!

The truth is that managing people is a hard job, especially in a highly heterogenous global environment, defined by multiple generations and perspectives (ok boomer?). But also, in actuality, most of the global education system places a higher value in teaching technical skills such as such as finance, accounting, statistics, mathematics, coding, machine learning, engineering, etc. (otherwise known as hard skills). However, it turns out that what’s really hard is managing diverse teams, navigating competing perspectives and cultures, handling and delivering critical feedback, dealing with office politics, etc. (otherwise known as soft skills).

This reality brings up a difficult challenge to educators around the world: how to prepare market ready graduates that can easily navigate between soft and hard skills, or how we call them at ASB, smart (soft) and sharp (hard) (read more on MIT Sloan Experts).

So, how does ASB prepare the MBA graduates with an education that makes them transformative, principled market ready leaders, that balances smart and sharp skills and provides a more holistic education? The answer comes in the form Action Learning and how we imbedded this methodology of learning in action in our curriculum, a feature for which Poets and Quants considered us the most innovative MBA in the world.

The intense ASB action learning curriculum provides our students productive opportunities to engage, each of the 5 semesters with partner companies all across the region and beyond in month long projects of various range and focus. As an ASB MBA student, you could end up with 5 different projects, in 5 different companies, in 5 different teams and even possible in 5 different countries. So far at ASB, we had over 237 projects with 127 companies in 22 countries across the world.

Why do we think this is valuable? “Because to develop transformative leaders, we have to create a transformative experience, so every semester has to include an experience that students have not had before,” says Prof. Loredana Padurean, the Faculty Director for Action Learning. “To create market-ready leaders, we have to expose students to those experiences as early as possible. To teach principles, we have to allow them to observe principled leaders in action. And to teach managers how to manage people, we have to expose them to as many types of people and management styles as early and as much as possible. Read more about Action Learning at ASB on the AACSB website.

The ASB students

But who are these ASB students? To start with, they come from over 26 countries from all over the world, have an average professional experience of 5-7 years, and along with the ASB MBA they get to study at MIT Sloan for one month and obtain a Certificate of Completion from MIT upon finishing the MIT Sloan Immersion Program. After graduation, many of them chose to stay in SE Asia and join various companies such as AirAsia, Petronas, Maybank, CIMB, but also choose international careers with McKinsey, Esquel, Microsoft and more.

Thanks to the generous ASB corporate partners, many of these extraordinary students are sponsored by companies from Malaysia, SE Asia and beyond because they recognize the need for a sustainable pipeline of talent market ready talent. If you are interested to learn more about how to sponsor a student in the MBA program, contact us at partners@asb.edu.my.

Why host an Action Learning project at ASB?

Donald Lim, CEO of Hotel Equatorial, a returning host company for the third time, said, “We are facing the same problem (but) in a very different perspective because the ground is shifting. (And) because the ground has shifted, we’ve got to recalibrate again. And this is where the students’ perspective is so valuable.”

Host companies, Donald believes, need to have an open mind to benefit most from Action Learning. “At the office level, we’re doing the same thing every day. This whole exercise of being back in a classroom-type lab is very helpful to me.”

Another happy consequence of Action Learning, as Prof. Charles Fine, ASB President put it, is the “mini-MBA” that participants from host companies receive. “The people in your organization who work with our students are going to get exposed to a broad range of the curriculum that our students do.”

Working in new environments is not without its challenges and it stretches the ASB students’ capacity to balance the smart and sharp skills in action. Prof. Fine has three nuggets of advice for the new Action Learning hosts.

1. Be ever-ready for change

“One thing we’ve learned about AL projects is that they are unpredictable. Although all projects begin with a project description, none of those project descriptions will come true because organizations and the world are in a constant state of flux. What is important is to find a balance while navigating changes, and to focus on learning something new.”

2. Maintain a practical mind-set

“In Action Learning projects, you never get nice neat tables of data.” That’s why is important for students to learn how to find a balance between “the great analysis we’d love to do” and what is practical using the data currently available.

Similarly, students will need to navigate wisely through differing points of view. “Welcome to the real world. You’ll never get 100% alignment from all stakeholders but we still have to decide.” Ultimately, “we want students to be responsive to all the advice they get, sift through, make sense of them and go ahead and do something productive.”

3. Learn to bridge cultural differences

Especially in initial Action Learning projects, Prof. Fine noted, “it takes time for everybody to learn how to interpret the statements of others.” The diversity in ASB’s student body and Action Learning host companies often results in people from 3 or more continents sitting at the same table—while it can pose a challenge at first, it’s also a unique learning experience for all.

To Johan Khoo a very prominent industry leader and one of ASB’s student business coach, believes that the value of Action Learning comes from the breadth of experience available. “I’ve been a consultant for over 20 years so I’ve seen a lot of business issues; but I’ve seen more types of business issues in the (past) year-and-a-half than I could ever expect because of the breadth of the Action Learning program across the region and in a variety of industries,” he shared.

Offering an academic perspective, Prof. Renato Lima de Oliveira, Assistant Professor of Management at ASB, enjoys the unconventionality of Action Learning as a learning tool. “We have the world as a classroom!” he enthused, referencing past projects at supermarkets in Thailand and banks in Myanmar, among others. As faculty, his job is to ensure that the project deliverable is academically sound as well as business-relevant.

Speaking from a student’s perspective, Alex Snedeker, an alumna of ASB’s inaugural MBA Class of 2018, shared how Action Learning dramatically shifted her US-centric world-view. Her Action Learning project in Bangkok with the Acuvue brand transformed the way Alex perceived the contact lens market in Thailand, which is drastically different from back home in the US. “There’s no way to learn these dynamics any other way than going on the ground.”

Alex also highlighted another benefit of Action Learning—as a connector between students and companies. “These companies are test driving you,” she reminded students. “Action Learning projects are excellent opportunities for students to discover their passions and culture fit, and for companies to find the talent they need.”

The Action Learning Symposium

Each semester at ASB (usually December and April of each year) ends with the flagship event – the Action Learning Symposium, an event that celebrates the successful completion of these challenging action learning projects. Here students, current hosts, potential and future hosts and various friends and sponsors of ASB, gather to learn more about this innovative learning process, observe the evolution of our students in action and engage in future project discussions.

Watch here a highlight from the Action Learning Spring 2019 Symposium and join us on Dec 12, 2019 from 10.00 – 14.00 at Sasana Kijang. Just simply RSVP here (no fees, by invitation only) and if you want to learn more about becoming an Action Learning host just email us at partners@asb.edu.my.

For more information about Asia School of Business contact our Corporate Development Office.