Designing the MBA journey

By Andrew Dalik and Ewa Maciejewski from the University St. Gallen, the 2021 EFMD MBA Conference Chairs

The 2021 EFMD MBA Conference was designed with the following takeaways in mind:

1. Role model conversations that people can have cross-departmentally
2. Offer concrete examples, experiments and best practices

3. Equip people with a toolkit of questions

To frame the conference, we introduced 3 design principles. These are principles we use at the University of St.Gallen MBA within the Strategic Projects team to help develop initiatives and measure performance that aligns all team members on the big picture. We are by no means a perfect example, but we are making headway.


The MBA journey touches all departments: Marketing, Recruitment, Admissions, Programme, Corporate Relations, Career Services, Alumni Relations. Wherever you are in the organisation, see how your MBA participants flow from one department to another. Acknowledge who is on your left and right, and how your work is connected (or disconnected) to theirs in the experience of the participant.


It is easy to get lost in daily or weekly tasks. Often, we can’t see further ahead than the next deliverable. It’s natural to be focused at the 1:1 scale, but is what you are doing at the 1:1 scale making sense within the big picture of the organisation? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Is it connected to what your colleagues are doing in their daily work? Force yourself to think, observe and interact at the 1:10,000 scale. It will bring clarity and accountability to the 1:1 scale.


The MBA journey can be observed in a 10+ year time horizon. We often operate on our own departmental timelines (the Recruitment Cycle; the Academic Year; the scope of the Rankings), but this all sits on one much longer timeline.

The structure of the conference mirrored all major aspects of the overall MBA journey. We wanted to establish that programme design is embedded within overall experience design. Thus, the first day was dedicated to the pre-programme phase, the second day to the in-programme phase, and the third day to the post-programme phase.

2021 EFMD MBA Conference

Here are some of our reflections:

1. Role model conversations that people can have cross-departmentally

– We successfully avoided PowerPoint; there was only 1 slide in the whole conference
– Initial feedback was that participants indeed feel more empowered to invite themselves into cross-departmental dialogues and hold both themselves and colleagues accountable to bigger picture goals

2. Offer concrete examples, experiments and best practices


– Your programme positioning is connected to your institution’s positioning; be clear on what positioning is credible for your overall brand
– Being ranked #1 won’t solve your problems; it can actually create problems with the ‘right’ profiles self-selecting out of the application process
– Seek clear positioning to attract the ‘right’ candidates, and assess applicants for specific fit with that positioning

– Positioning can be driven by marketing or employability rationale, not purely academic rationale


– Teach your MBA participants how to search for their own data, not just how to analyse data that is given to them
– Take a ‘slow thinking’ approach to integrating holistic personal development content, by revisiting and applying it over and over, rather than delivering this content in one short intense burst
– Have a portfolio of products that works together as a complete offering, including online delivery models


– The future of work requires competencies with technology and remote working, regardless of the industry; thus, it is necessary for us to further intensify digital content and digital delivery in MBA programmes
– When it comes to alumni engagement, don’t forget how important the social aspect is; after then pandemic is over, throw some great parties
– Use data systematically to define and control the narrative around your programme’s success (long-term career fulfilment, personal development outcomes, effectiveness of teaching, etc.); otherwise, CSEA and rankings will define success for you, and they are highly driven by salary and jobs secured within 3 months
MBA conference Andrew Dalik

3. Equip people with a toolkit of questions

Here are some questions to ask yourself and your colleagues:
– Does our programme have a positioning statement?
– Do you find it hard to articulate your positioning?
– Is our positioning reflected in our assessment of applications?
– How does our positioning come to life during the in-prorgamme and post-programme phases?
– How relevant is our programme content, in terms of training participants for the business world today?
– How do we know our personal development training is working? What do we measure?
– What have been the benefits of going digital during the pandemic?
– Do we have the right competencies on our team to push our programme into more sophisticated digital territory?
– Do our professors have the technical competencies that applicants in the next 5-10 years will require from an MBA programme?
– Do our participants have a ‘customer centric’ mindset when they leave the programme?
– What are the patterns between outcomes, academic performance and application assessment? Are there any signals of what makes a ‘successful’ candidate in our programme?
– Which alumni engagement activities do we consider to be most important?
– How do we systematically get feedback from companies?

– How do we systematically get feedback from alumni?

Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions or would like to connect in more detail about one of the topics covered in the conference.