“At the time of my decision [to go back to school], there was a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about offshore outsourcing and if that would replace U.S. engineers,” says Hoobling, who is currently a student at Walden’s online program. “I thought an MBA would make me more marketable in other industries not turning as rapidly toward offshore outsourcing.”
A 2005 survey by the Society of Information Management found top IT managers much more likely to outsource technical functions such as telecommunications. Eight of the 10 skills managers deemed “critical” for keeping in-house were business or project management skills such as business process design, project planning, and change management.
“IT professionals who only do very narrowly defined technical tasks are more vulnerable to having their work done somewhere else by people with lower wage rates,” says Thomas Malone, author of The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life and occupant of the Patrick J. McGovern chair at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “If you can combine technical knowledge with a broader knowledge of how technology can help your business, it’s much harder for your job to be outsourced.”
Such people are likely to be called on to manage those teams of programmers in India or the help desk in Costa Rica. At Walden’s High-Tech MBA program, students must enroll in a Global Competitive Environment course that deals with issues as diverse as international law, virtual teams, and distance management, says faculty chair Rebecca Sidler.
“By the time they get through the global course, students will have had a lot of practice managing across time zones and cultures and dealing with individuals they will never meet,” Sidler says.
Still, managing across continents involves new challenges that are not easily met, warns Mark R. Beckstrom, a human-capital-management consultant at IBM Business Consulting Services.
Particularly challenging areas include knowledge transfer, communications across multiple time zones, and managing handoffs in companies that use the ‘follow-the-sun’ model of software development, where coders in Asia work while their counterparts in the U.S. sleep, Beckstrom says.
“You need one set of project management skills for planning a project where your team is located in the same place you are, and a different set of skills to plan projects that use the follow-the-sun model,” Beckstrom says. “How do you pick up something someone else has been working on for the past 16 hours without losing your time advantage? That’s not something that happens automatically. It’s a skill that has to be culled.”
Join the culture club
Other aspects of globalization that often receive too little attention are the enormous differences between cultures, says Yong Zhao, director of the U.S.-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University.
“One might think IT is universal, but how IT industries are managed, how products are made, and what appeals to different people are quite different,” Zhao says. “One major difference between the U.S. and China is the concept of hierarchy. Many U.S. managers may find that many of their Chinese team members do not speak out at meetings and thus think they are either ignorant of the topic or in agreement with the ideas presented.