Lessons of FIELD 1.0

In a wide-ranging interview last week, Alan MacCormack, the MBA Class of 1949 Adjunct Professor of Business Administration and the person in charge of HBS’s Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) curriculum, met with The Harbus to discuss changes to the FIELD program the faculty has implemented for the second year of the initiative.

In this first part of a two-part series, The Harbus www.replicaforbest.co.uk describes MacCormack’s takeaways from the first year of the program and the primary motivators for the changes to come in year two. Next week’s issue will detail those changes in greater depth.

Last year, HBS undertook a landmark change to its curriculum with the advent of the FIELD program. The program consisted of three modules across the RC year replica breitling Aeromarine .

FIELD 1, the most academic and theoretical of the three, focused principally on leadership skills, conflict management, and section dynamics.

In Field 2, RCs were broken out into cross-sectional teams of six and tasked with helping a company in an emerging market develop a product or service. The hallmark of FIELD 2 was the global immersion program in January in which RCs traveled around the globe to work with their partner company in its native country.

Finally, Field 3 was an exercise in entrepreneurship. RCs were again broken out into teams of six, this time within their sections. These teams had from February to May to develop a viable business and generate revenue; failure to do so would result in landing on the “failed business track.”

When asked by The Harbus to assign a letter grade or 1/2/3 to each of the FIELD courses, MacCormack demurred, saying that letter grades were inappropriate for an undertaking of such size.

“Given the magnitude of the objectives, taking 900 people into emerging markets, having them start businesses, etc., I think it’s tough to give any of the modules a bad grade, because it was year one and it was such a significant undertaking,” MacCormack said. “So in year one I would grade them pass/fail, and they passed with flying colors (laughs)! But that’s not to mean that there wasn’t anything we could learn from it.”

Indeed, the learnings were many, and the task of adapting those learnings into curriculum changes began shortly after the conclusion of last year’s FIELD program.

Beyond their own observations, the faculty had “hundreds of pages” of qualitative data via student questionnaires and, for FIELD 3, failed business track reflection papers with which to gauge the success and necessary development areas of the program.  “this feedback was central to the changes made to FIELD this year,” said MacCormack.

Inevitably such things are often taken for granted by students, but for the faculty a major takeaway from the first iteration of FIELD was the simple assurance that they could execute a program of such magnitude effectively.

“I think there were a lot of question marks when we embarked on this,” MacCormack said. “There were all sorts of design decisions that had to be made a different way because we were dealing with 900 students rather than 40-50, as a smaller school might do or as we are accustomed to in IXPs. And there were a host of logistical questions surrounding any number of issues in FIELD 2 or FIELD 3.”

In Field 2, MacCormack expressed satisfaction that the school was able to successfully source 150 student projects, coordinate travel plans to locations around the globe replica breitling bentley 6.75, respond to necessary healthcare concerns and differing political situations in immersion countries.

For FIELD 3, he cited the challenges associated with establishing approximately 150 legally separate entities, issuing credit cards, developing financial reporting and financial market simulations, and bringing in judges from the world of private equity and venture capital.

“For each part of this program it’s so much infrastructure that, when it’s never been done before, you do everything you can with the best thinking in the world, but you’re always wary that there may be something you haven’t thought of,” he said. “In general we learned a lot in each of the modules about how to execute, but there weren’t any show-stoppers where we said to ourselves, ‘Oh my god we didn’t think about that big issue.’”

In terms of content, one immediate issue that the faculty addressed was the lack of a unifying narrative arc tying the three FIELD courses together.

“Last year, FIELD seemed to students more like three distinct courses with their own objectives,” MacCormack said. “I think we didn’t do as good a job at communicating the connecting tissue as we are doing this year.

“The narrative we’ve constructed for this year is short and to the point: ‘FIELD provides students with the opportunity to put theory into practice, working in small teams, on intensive projects, to solve real-world problems and create new business opportunities.’”  The three modules of FIELD now tie to this central theme.

In terms of the curriculum itself, the faculty had important learnings in the areas of scheduling and content for FIELD 1 and 2, and the different priority levels students would assign to their work in FIELD 3.

On the content side, the faculty learned that activities in FIELD 1 that didn’t have immediate applicability to business settings were less effective than those that did. On the last day of FIELD 1, for instance, activities ECs will remember featuring shapes and colors have been replaced with an extended negotiation exercise.

Last year’s FIELD 2 featured a number of assignments in the midst of CPD programs and recruiting events, which resulted in a number of virtual team meetings rather than the intended face-to-face interactions. In response, the faculty has shortened FIELD 1 from seven weeks to four so that FIELD 2 can begin prior to the onset of recruiting activities.

Beyond scheduling, lessons learned from FIELD 2 were that country cases would be preferable to student papers about the political, economic and social histories of their immersion countries, and that less high level learning about the characteristics of emerging markets was necessary, relative to working on global partner projects.

As far as the immersion experience itself, the faculty concluded that a longer immersion period would be preferable, and that students would benefit from presenting to one another before their final company presentations, rather than afterward. The faculty also learned that having immersion locations that were perceived as less desirable by students, for example Poland, made it harder to match students with their preferred country destinations.

In FIELD 3, the faculty encountered differing levels of student commitment to the project. Some of that, MacCormack argued, is inherent – some people have less interest in working in a startup environment than they would for medium or large companies.

But another contributing factor, according to student feedback, was the decision made in year 1 to assign FIELD 3 teams rather than let students choose their own – something that is changing this year. The complications arising from assigned teams were compounded in teams where students failed to have open discussions about team leadership and design. “This year, we are trying to give students more tools to deal with these difficult situations,” said MacCormack.

More positively, the faculty learned that the financial markets were a positive indicator for successful projects, and that these simulations were dramatically more effective following team presentations rather than the issuing of press releases.

“All in all, it was quite remarkable what teams achieved in three months with limited amounts of capital,” said MacCormack.  “This wasn’t just a business plan contest – we had teams that had generated thousands of dollars of revenues by May, and gained genuine interest from the investor community.”

Beyond the learnings that would be most striking to students, MacCormack noted that, for faculty and staff at HBS, executing the first iteration of FIELD was a constant exercise in “micro-learnings.”

“There were a lot of micro-learnings which surround how to get the best from this method of pedagogy and what the role of the instructor is,” MacCormack said. “How do you construct projects that will be meaningful from an education perspective, how do you set meaningful assignments as you move along inside a project, how do you optimize the work we do in a new building [the Hives]?”

For all the questions and lessons learned, however, MacCormack was pleased that the first iteration of FIELD had proven itself to be a welcome and necessary addition to the HBS curriculum.

“I think an essential thing we learned was that students truly do learn things through action-based pedagogy that you just can’t learn in a case-based classroom, which reemphasizes why you want this to be part of the curriculum, and why you choose for it to be part of the RC,” he said.