What are HR-specialist with an Executive MBA degree: Necessity or Threat?

Sustained development of the business environment, innovation and the internationalization of companies is leading their HR departments’ functionality first in the direction of the human resources management, and then gradually to the strategic HR management. 

Based on this, modern business schools offer training programs with a special emphasis on teamwork, leadership and organizational management training, and provide MBA students with an excellent base of knowledge and skills, which can be very useful for further work in the field of HR.

Unfortunately, many HR specialists are still quite skeptical about such training for their own professional development, as well as reluctant to support it for their employees.  So what are HR-specialists with an Executive MBA degree: a necessity or a threat?

Olga Litvinova, SSE EMBA #GM20 Program participant, Northern Capital Gateway LLC, HR Director, member of the Management Board, shared her vision of this issue with us. Olga has more than 15 years of experience in human resources management in the leading Russian and international companies (FESCO, EVRAZ, Pepsi Bottling Group, Cornerstone).

1) Do serious companies consider business school graduates as their potential employees in HR departments? 

The EMBA degree definitely provides a competitive advantage, especially for the top management positions. HR Director or Vice President of Human Resources in a large company is more about business than HR itself. Especially if you are a member of such top management bodies as the Management Board of the Company, etc.

For HR, as a function, the desire to get classical business education is less common than for other fields, for example, financiers or strategists. And that is what makes it even more valuable! 

2) What were your motivations for participating in the EMBA program before you entered the Stockholm School of Economics? 

We wrote a whole essay on this topic during the application process, and it was also very important topic of discussion in the introductory interview. So I had the opportunity to think about my own motivation a lot! 

For me, this education is an important part of moving forward in my further professional development. I accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience throughout my career, but I feel the need for the right "shelves" to put it all on. This mental structure is what the EMBA provides. My interests and area of responsibility as a member of the Management Board are now broader than just human resources management. Therefore, it is extremely important for me to improve my competence in other areas: strategizing, marketing, finance, production process management, etc. 

Many of those who participate in the EMBA programmes talk about the glass ceiling and how they wish to break through it and see what lies beyond, to get an opportunity for the next career step on the corporate ladder or open new horizons in your own smaller business. I haven’t experiences this feeling of a "glass ceiling" so far, on the contrary, at present I see a lot of new and interesting things that I want to learn and apply in my current work.

What I didn't exactly look for in the programme was the "right network". Often business schools sell the opportunity to establish connections among influential students as a major competitive advantage. I am very pleased that my classmates are just really cool people! I will be happy and very much hope that we will remain friends after graduation. But this will be a very different relationship, based on sincere curiosity, being interested in each other and cherishing the chance of finding kindred spirits as adults. 

3) Do you apply knowledge that is not linked directly to your HR specialization (e.g. marketing, strategy) in practice? Are these other kinds of knowledge useful for further work in the field of HR? 

Yes, I use them very actively. Here are some examples.

On the marketing module, we had a task of segmenting our clients. In order to complete it, I needed to thoroughly research both the current and potential clients of our company in order to understand their different features, what is the strategy of work with each of the segments, and what are the prospects and risks associated with them. A similar approach is applicable to both external clients of the company and internal clients with whom HR works specifically. New knowledge helps me to work with all of them more effectively myself as well as instruct the employees of the company in working with various client groups.

During my studies I’ve kept a separate sheet of ideas for practical implementation in my work. 

Recently, I read several articles on the management of change to prepare for the EMBA project. At the same time, I’ve been constantly thinking about and trying the approaches described in them for our real situation: we started a number of new big projects in our company. Change management is indispensable! I’ve been using these articles, as checklists, for tips on the things we have not yet used. I included them in my work plan and some of them have already started to be implemented.

4) In your opinion, what prospects do you expect HR-specialists with EMBA degree to have in the near future? 

It is difficult to say what comes first is a conscious desire to get an education or prospects of jumping on some specific career development?  Educational opportunities and real life experiences are endless – they work together best, making one a better professional. Like the line of the horizon that you are striving for, but can never reach.

HR at the top level has many career development options. You can grow "wide" and "up", add other areas to your main professional poll. It is also possible to scale your career up: to move to the larger or more complex businesses. The international component, when the organization operates at the global level, is an interesting option too. Here, the broad outlook given by the EMBA can also be extremely useful.

There are strategies of transition to a serious position in consulting as well. And there the degree of master of business administration can become an indispensable part of an expert’s personal brand.

5) Is there any benefit of having an EMBA degree foe an HR specialist? (Isn’t there at least a hint of it being a hindrance in communication with the management and subordinates?)

From the recommendations of the school's alumnus and teachers I got the following: you should not try to "put all of the eggs in one basket", to simultaneously implement everything that you were taught in the business school. You are given the tools and the possible approaches to solving problems, and your managerial wisdom is to apply exactly what leads the best possible outcome. And not only here and now, but in the long run as well. 

Without the support of management and the team work, it is difficult to implement meaningful change on the large scale. That's why so much of attention during our training is given to both leadership and cooperation skills. How well you can "sell" your idea, involving and inspiring not only your allies but also your skeptics in the process will directly affect your personal success and the company's overall results.

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Olga Litvinova, SSE EMBA #GM20
Olga Litvinova, SSE EMBA #GM20