Category Archives: Career

The Case For and Against Studying an MBA

The case of the MBA, a Master of Business Administration, is an interesting one. The qualification used to be an institution in itself. An MBA (especially from a prestigious school) gave admittance to an exclusive circle of elites who were going somewhere – senior management in fact. Serious about your future, an MBA qualification meant others took you seriously as well.

Is that still the case? Not entirely. Over the last few years, the value of MBAs has been on the decline.

Let’s look at both sides of the argument though.

First up, in case you’re not sure, what is an MBA?

Master of Business Administration

Unlike other Masters programmes which involve a specialisation in a particular area, an MBA draws from a variety of disciplines. The programme gives you a broad overview of knowledge and skills you might need in a successful, upper-rung business position (i.e. senior or executive management). So you would draw from various business fields such as accounting, information systems, economics and finance, as well as ‘soft’ or ‘human’ fields like sociology and psychology.

Why you should study an MBA

There is plenty online material that goes into detail about the benefits of an MBA. For the purposes of being succinct, these can be distilled into increased salary potential and career advancement.

With an MBA, you are equipped with the technical skills necessary to understand the ins and outs of business. While the influence of the humanities gives you insight into the consumer’s mind and how social groups behave.

An MBA provides in-depth understanding of various areas. It’s great in that it moves away from the modernist compartmentalisation of knowledge in academia, where the fields you study get more and more specialised, to the point where you lack a holistic grasp of what’s actually going on in a real world setting. If you’re going to be in the top echelons of a company, where you are required to make strategic decisions for the business, a general understanding of various facets is necessary for decision-making.

Why you shouldn’t study an MBA

While it’s true that MBA holders generally have higher paying jobs and better positions, there is good argument that this is more correlation than causation. In other words, someone serious, hard-working and talented enough to get an MBA was probably going places already. It’s not the MBA that necessarily makes the difference between success and mediocrity.

The problem is that MBAs are expensive. Yes, it’s good to invest in yourself, but you might be better off putting that investment of time and money elsewhere. Even if you do have that kind of money to spend, it might be better off going into your first start-up. Even dismally failing at a business is a great education. A unique one that will teach you a few things a degree couldn’t.

Sure, an MBA will give you a good overview of skills to have. But you could easily get your basic business know-how from a short project management course, and thereafter get experience in the classroom of reality.

If you have the money, and aren’t yet too sure yet where you want to take your career in the business world, then an MBA could be a good idea. If it means going into debt, or if there are other ways to get the skills you need, you’re better off without it.

The choice of whether or not to get an MBA isn’t a simple yes or no one. Just don’t get one because someone told you it’s what you need to be successful in business.


Project Management Tips

Don’t underestimate the importance of project management. If you’re a very small business with simple, easy to manage tasks, you probably won’t be thinking about that matter. But as soon as your projects become a bit more complicated, project management becomes something important.

If you find yourself having to take on the responsibilities of a project manager, read on to learn a few tips to help you succeed and keep business on track.

Be a real leader

An obvious role of a project manager is the project leader. As such, leadership is a vital skill to develop, because you’re basically the team captain. A project manager must cultivate positive team dynamics, constructively handle conflict, and act as a coach or mentor to team members.

You will also need to take point when getting input from the team and major stakeholders, as well as getting their buy-in. You will need to motivate your team during difficult times, keep projects on track, and make tough calls when the time comes.

If you’re unsure of your ability to be a leader, don’t worry, everyone has their own leadership style. You just need to find yours, embrace it, and shine.

If you’re still over-whelmed about having to take charge, a project management course should help you get equipped and build up your confidence.

Avoid Scope Creep

Scope creep is something you need to watch out for. Scope creep happens when new elements are added to the already approved project, drawing things out and making the project more complicated and drawn out. However, the budget, available resources and time schedule isn’t properly adjusted.

There are always going to be changes along the way, but you need to make sure it doesn’t get out of control. You need to make sure you keep everything together and hold out as far as possible against scope creep.

It can happen though that the project’s scope actually needs to be revisited, in which case you can engage in the rescoping process. Be sure to have all the proper documentation to show why rescoping is necessary, and make sure all the stakeholders sign off on the changes before go ahead.

Keep communication lines open

If a project gets messy, delayed and off track, one of the biggest culprits could be ineffective communication. It seems like such a little thing because it’s so easily prevented, but effective communication is vital when you have many people performing various tasks, all working together for the same aim. Thus, the communication lines need to be kept open at all times. Communication should be consistent, open, sincere and clear.

An important role of the project manager is being the operator of the communications system. Work out a communications plan, make sure everyone understands it, and stick to it. You as the project manager need to communicate with the project team leaders as well as the stakeholders. The team members need to be able to communicate with you, and with each other.

Finally, make sure everyone stays on the same page by creating status reports based upon the project information and updates.

Managers and employee – What is the best grounding for a relationship?

Everyone is an employee, but not everyone is a manager. What exactly a manager does differs, much like the broad category employee, and is dependent on career and business. However, there are many common properties that all managers and employees should have in a relationship that will make it fruitful. And a fruitful relationship in this sense benefits in many other, often important areas.

Paychecks aren’t the point: respect matters

Shoving money at someone while you mistreat them won’t make them like you. Money might be able to feed and clothe, but it is not a guarantee that you’ll get respect. Respect, after all, works both ways. It doesn’t matter that a manager is of a higher rank than the employee; if he wants respect from his employee, he needs to show it, too. You don’t become a magically more important person overall just because you are more senior.

However, the employee must also recognize that the manager is – well – managing many tasks simultaneously. He is in that position, ideally, because he is more experienced and knows what needs to be done. Questioning too often, criticizing unnecessarily, or being difficult is detrimental to the projects that help sustain a business – projects the manager must maintain. So, employee’s should trust that the managers know what they doing, while at the same time not allowing themselves to be doormats.

Both care about the business

Aside from some dodgier elements, everyone in a business wants that business to do well. This means having projects completed on time; it means making customers happy. It means not upsetting investors.

As many business management courses teach, managers often straddle the big picture and must get their hands dirty down below. Since employees, or those being managed, are not as qualified to assess and judge, it’s safe to say managers should be able to convey what is needed and have it met.

Of course it helps for them to issue orders and commands in a way that actually makes it memorable: research suggests this is a combination of written and verbal requests.

By having these met, the business does better.

This is why employees should accede to manager requests: it benefits the business. Often managers don’t want it for themselves, directly, but to meet client demands or what will benefit the business. Basically, if you want to keep your job, you should do what is told. This is not via threat of being fired – though that is always there – but rather that you won’t have a business at all!


The job or career doesn’t matter, when it comes to these fundamentals. Whether it’s the assistant to some CEO in New York or any one of the minor jobs in Cape Town, we should learn and educate ourselves about what makes good business relationships.



How is your job affecting your happiness?

On the 20th of March 2014, the world celebrated the second United Nations International Day of Happiness.  Jetpac City Guides, a developer of guide apps for tech-savvy travellers, celebrated the occasion by measuring the happiness of cities around the globe based on the size of smiles on Instagram uploads.

An image processor measured the smile pixels on faces from across the world to calculate a smile-score for every city in every country. Based on smile measurement, Brazil is the happiest country with a score of 60.8. South Africa also did well. We grinned ourselves into 18th place with a score of 33.6.

The influence work has on happiness

Studies have shown a happy worker is more productive, but can your job influence your general happiness? Let’s have a look at the overall happiness of South African workers to see if our impressive smile score has anything to do with our careers.

In a survey done by the iOpener Institute for People and Performance in 2012, South African workers showed an above average rate of ‘worker happiness’. The survey took into account five factors influencing professional contentment: Contribution – the effort an individual or team makes; conviction – short-term motivation; culture – a feeling of fitting in at work at work; commitment – long-term engagement; and confidence – the belief in one’s ability.

Participating South African workers scored above average in all five components despite a troublesome economy and a dauntingly high unemployment rate. According to Katie Demain of Stroke, the South African representative of the iOpener Institute, “…Those who are in formal employment in S.A. have a sense of being privileged and more readily take personal responsibility for their own success.”

The happiest jobs to have

According to Forbes, the five happiest jobs in the USA are database administrator, quality assurance engineer, executive recruiter, insurance underwriter and executive assistant. The average annual income for workers in these positions in America is about US$78 700.

Forbes recently published another study comparing worker happiness with income and found a direct correlation. Their findings looked at diverse factors influencing happiness over different employee levels, but found a definite tread of greater career enjoyment in the higher ranks, which also happen to enjoy larger salaries.

Since the job market here at home looks different than in the US and our salaries might not always be completely on par, it is difficult to say whether executive recruiting or underwriting car insurance in South Africa is the key to a happy career. What can be said however, according to Katie Demain, is that, “South Africans have a ‘can do’ attitude, and combine this with ‘job-crafting’, which is about making their positions suit their preferences instead of resigning from that position. Their work ethic is well known globally and, as a nationality, South Africans are a resilient collective of people who manage organisational change and people dynamics at work quite well.”

Perhaps our admirable happiness has more to do with our brilliant work ethic than where we work.






Know Your Ergonomic Rights

According to the Ergonomics Society of South Africa (ESSA), ergonomics is the science of work. The goal of ergonomics in the workplace is to design tasks, jobs, products, work environments, and systems in such a way that they are compatible with the needs, abilities, and limitations of people.

In November of 2013, the ESSA announced that they will be working closely with the Department of Labour to ensure ergonomic design is recognised in the South African legislation. This development will ensure the safety and sustainability of working conditions in our country so that our jobs do not negatively affect our overall health.

How do I enforce my ergonomic rights?

A worker should have the freedom to preserve their health while doing their job. It is therefore completely within your rights to approach your seniors with complaints about strain on your back caused by a non-ergonomically designed chair, poor ventilation, or any other undue strain to your body.

Not all problems concerning worker safety and comfort have been addressed in our legislation. There is, for example, no legal limit to what weight a worker can be expected to lift manually. A lot of airlines draw the weight-line for a single piece of luggage at 32kg in an effort to spare employee’s backs. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a much lower maximum weight of 23kg, and that’s only if all other conditions are perfect.

Another example of holes in our ergonomic legislation is a lack of clear regulations when it comes to temperature control. International regulations do however dictate a summer bulb temperature of 23 to 28 degrees Celsius. In winter this range drops to 20 to 25.5 degrees Celsius.

Luckily space allocation is clearly stipulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Environmental Regulations say that workers are entitled to 2.25 square metres of office space including their desk, chair, computer and accessories. Hopefully all aspects of our worker environment will soon be stipulated this clearly.

Promoting an ergonomic workspace

Keep in mind that your employer wants you to be healthy as well. A lack of health concerns in the office leads to employee absence, and profit losses. Office environments and control rooms where employees spend the whole day in a seated position should especially be concerned about ergonomically designed desk spaces and adequate lumber support.

It is your employer’s responsibility to have your workspace audited and certified by the ESSA. There are plenty of companies who specialise in office layout and ergonomic control room design.  These specialists can help with implementing the correct features and floor-plan to make your workspace as friendly as possible, and thereby promote your health.

The cost of implementing ergonomic design is easily validated when looking at the impact it has on worker happiness, days taken off sick and general productivity. Do everything you can to ensure your workplace is not harming your health, whether the legislation demands it or not.