Leading in a Civilian Context

Submitted by: M. Kendall Fitch (US), Harvard University

Summary: I propose an MBA course for veterans: “Leading in a Civilian Context”. It would address managing in civilian contexts, transitioning to the civilian workforce, and leveraging service experience. Upon completion, students may be offered credit for up to three classes depending on their level and experience of military service. The course would be attractive to students in speeding time to degree completion and providing community and reentry support that is often lacking in US higher education.

Full Description: Military veterans are natural managers and leaders with the benefit of real practical experience. Despite this natural fit with an MBA program, many former service members are deterred from these programs for three reasons: compared to the average candidate they are older and less willing to sacrifice time in education, they have less financial savings, and they have less social capital in the civilian environment. By 2013, the US veteran population under-40 is expected to grow to 2M individuals. Creating easier transitions for service members to move from active duty into management education programs could facilitate significant increases in management degree candidates from this group.

Easing the military to MBA transition could largely be accomplished through a single course offering in MBA programs targeted specifically at service members: “Leading in a Civilian Context”. The course would focus on management in civilian contexts from a post-service perspective, transitioning to the civilian workforce, and leveraging lessons learned during training and service. Upon successful completion of the civilian management course, students may be offered credit for up to three management classes depending on their level and experience of military service. This single course could speed their time to degree completion, ease cost to completion, and provide reassurance of social capital. Additionally, this program would be highly attractive for recruiting veterans to MBA programs.

My proposal focuses on the US military, however, the program could be replicated globally to design curriculums that recognize and reward other unique prior work experiences.

Within the US veteran community, this program has significant impact potential for students, their families, and the local community. In the post-9/11 environment, many talented young people have entered military service and they unfortunately find limited supports when reentering the civilian community. An MBA program which could celebrate and reward military service would be a win-win ensuring that young leadership talent is not lost during this transition back to civilian life.
For training, a standardized curriculum for “Leading in a Civilian Context” is needed for a national accredited rollout. Several different methods for training could be used depending on desired level of centralized control and number of schools adopting the curriculum initially. For a large initial rollout with a high level of centralized control, a national conference could be held to train the MBA educators. Instruction could address issues ranging from an overview of military training to identifying signs of post traumatic stress. A less centralized rollout could involve educators completing an online course for accreditation. Schools would seek out participation because offering the course with community supports would increase the enrollment of students who have access to GI Bill funding.

Implementation will require a four stage process relying on partnerships and agreements with both military and educational organizations. First, in the coming months 3-4 MBA programs should be approached to develop and pilot the course offering based on (1) an outline for curriculum content and (2) a promise to heavily advertise both their MBA program and their experiential credit offering with former service members through such existing channels as mba.com. Second, after pilot schools are selected, school faculty should work in conjunction with military training personnel to understand the range of leadership training experiences that service members gain during active duty. During this stage, school faculty should also work with MBA graduates who have military backgrounds to ensure the curriculum is relevant, engaging, and supportive of military students. Third, the program should be piloted for one-year and the curriculum should be updated to incorporate the pilot feedback at the end of that year. Finally, the program content must be packaged and advertised for nationwide adoption by both MBA programs and veterans. With this package of course content, additional training on GI Bill funding and military student supports could be offered to schools that adopt the program to ensure accelerated uptake among veterans making this a win-win for both schools and students.