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Notes. Teaching Communication: Where Do Indian Business Schools Stand? Objectives. Ujvala Rajadhyaksha


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present short pieces which are research-based, experience-based or idea-based.

Teaching Communication:

Where Do Indian Business Schools Stand?

Ujvala Rajadhyaksha

This paper benchmarks management commu-nication courses offered at top-ranked business schools in India with those offered by top-ranked American business schools. It also surveys perceptions of Indian managers re-garding the importance of different aspects of communication to their effective performance. Compared to the large number and wider range of topics covered in communication courses offered by American business schools, Indian business schools concentrate mainly on oral communication and within that on pre-sentation skills. Such a focus appears to be in tune with the needs of Indian industry. How-ever, a survey of managerial perceptions re-vealed that there are some skills and topics that need more emphasis. Cross-cultural com-munication, corporate communication stra-tegy, and media relations are areas that require strengthening along with more innovative methodologies to teach communication.

Ujvala Rajadhyaksha is a member of the faculty at the Shailesh J Mehta School of Management, HT, Mumbai. Email: ujvala@som.iitb.ac.in

A large part of being an effective manager involves

being an effective communicator. Many top mana-gers concede that, as one climbs the organizational ladder, the relative importance of technical skills declines while that of communication skills increases. Therefore, business schools all over the world have altered their course curricula to add a focus on acquiring communication skills along with the regular quantitative and technical skills. However, despite these changes, communication courses are often perceived by students as being 'soft' or 'easy' courses, and are in general yet to receive their attention.

In an effort to obtain insights into and improve the teaching of communication in business schools in India, this study attempts to audit communication courses taught in top ranking business schools in the country, and compares the results with the findings of a similar audit of management communication courses in the MBA programmes in the US (Knight, 1999). The study also presents results of a brief survey of the perceptions of Indian managers regarding the importance of different aspects of communication in their work life. Implications of the audit and survey results for the teaching of communication in business schools are outlined.


The objective was to assess the place of management communication in contemporary post-graduate busi-ness management education in India. The following information was sought about the business schools in the sample:

1. What is the name of the course(s) offered on communication?

2. What is the nature of the course(s) - compulsory or elective?

3. Are there any prerequisites for the course? 4. What is the total number of credits/contact hours

allotted for the course (s)?


5. What is the total number of course or credit requirements for the programme?

6. Which area or department offers the course(s)? 7. What is the background/educational qualifications

of the faculty who last taught the course(s)? 8. Is the faculty person a permanent or visiting

faculty member?

9. What are the rough course contents/outline?


Selecting top ranking business schools in any context is invariably a contentious task as debates and criticisms of the methodologies used for the survey continually abound. However, in every country and context, some surveys tend to become more popular than others. For instance, in the US, Business Week surveys have emerged as being popular and fairly trustworthy in their results, followed by US News and

World Report surveys (Knight, 1999). In India, despite

its critics, the Business Today (BT) survey of business schools has gained wide readership and acceptance. Further, until very recently, it continued to be the only comprehensive survey that focused exclusively on business schools in India. Relying on the rankings of the BT survey of top ranking business schools published in May 1998, the top 20 business schools (based on the overall perception index) were se-lected.

For the purpose of comparing schools, only full-time post-graduate programmes in business manage-ment were examined. All evening/part-time/working professional or executive programmes were ex-cluded, as also full-time specialization programmes focusing on rural management, computer-aided management, advertising and media management, etc. This was done in the interest of improving the comparability of communication courses offered by maintaining uniformity of programmes, course struc-ture, and student profile, as well as to make this audit manageable in its size and scope.

Data Collection

The starting point for data collection was the official websites of the business schools in the sample. While websites offer a quick and easy way of gathering information, relying on them to the exclusion of all other sources can be problematic as not all websites are regularly updated. To overcome this drawback, wherever possible, an effort was made to verify all information by email or telephonic interview with

the teaching faculty or programme directors. Where repeated attempts evoked no response, students of the programme and courses were contacted.

Summary of Audit Results

The salient features of management communication teaching that emerged from the analysis' are given below:

1. Almost all schools surveyed offered at least one core compulsory course on communication. The only exception was the Indian Institute of Man agement, Calcutta (IIMC), where British Council conducts a certificate course on communication and presentation skills. Students from both first and second year can volunteer to attend this course, which lasts approximately 25 contact hours. The British Council in Calcutta arranges faculty persons. The course does not count to wards the credit requirements of the programme. The Institute bears the fees of all students who wish to attend the course.

2. In most schools, written and oral communication were covered in the same compulsory course. Interviews with some of the students suggested that greater emphasis was on oral communication, especially on presentation skills. Only Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) and T. A. Pai Management Institute, Manipal (TAPMI) had separate courses for written and oral com munication. At IIMA, the oral communication course was an elective while at TAPMI it was compulsory.

3. Three schools-TAPMI, S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), and Inter national Management Institute, Delhi (IMI)- offered more than one compulsory course on communication. The Symbiosis Institute of Busi ness Management (SIBM) offered additional com pulsory courses on communication to only those students who had opted for the BASE programme. The BASE programme is a two-year, optional, autonomous, supplementary programme for MBA and MPM (Master of Personnel Management) students of SIBM, apart from the university curriculum. SPJIMR offered a compulsory course on negotiation skills to first year students, which was taught in workshop style by the communi cations faculty of the Institute.

1 Details of communication courses taught in Indian business

schools and course contents are not reproduced here. Interested readers may get in touch with the author.


4. The compulsory course(s) were usually offered in the first year of the programme, except in the case of the two-year post graduate diploma in business management (AICTE approved) offered by the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS). In this particular programme, students opting for international business special ization in the second year had to clear a com pulsory foreign language course which extended over the first and second year.

5. Two schools offered foreign language courses to students that counted towards the credit require ments for the programme. These were NMIMS where it was a compulsory course (see 4 above) and IMI, Delhi, where too it was a compulsory course.

6. Six schools offered electives in communication in addition to the compulsory courses. All electives were offered in the second year of the programme. No school offered more than two electives in communication. It must be noted that many schools offered electives under the OB/HRM area that would cover aspects of communications, such as personal growth labs, courses on interpersonal skills and negotiating skills, etc. However, since these courses focused more on behavioural issues rather than explicitly on communication issues, they have not been covered in this audit exercise. The only exception to this is the negotiation skills course offered at SPJIMR by the communications faculty (see 3 above).

7. The total contact hours for an entire compulsory course varied from 22 to 40 (based on available figures). In general, the norm for the core com munications course appeared to be one out of 22- 24 courses in the first year.

8. None of the schools had an official prerequisite for core compulsory communication courses. Since admission to all 20 schools surveyed was through an entrance examination and an inter view process, all schools got an adequate chance to test for themselves the written and oral com munication ability of the candidates. Hence it was probably assumed and accepted by all schools that any student gaining admission was equipped to meet with the course requirements. It was only at IIMA that a recommended, though not com pulsory, preparatory programme was held for students who were found to be weak in commu nication ability. This short three-week programme was usually conducted before the start of the two- year business management programme. The

AICTE approved two-year full time diploma programme in business management at NMIMS had a communications course only as a prerequisite for entry into the programme. This course did not add towards the credit requirements.2

9. In only three schools were any of the commu nication courses offered by a special communi cations area. These were IIMA, SPJIMR, and Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIML). In all other schools, these courses were offered either by the OB/HRM area or the general management area. In some schools, these, courses were occasionally taught by faculty from the marketing or statistics area (as at TAPMI). 10. Ten schools had permanent faculty to teach the

compulsory communication courses. Rest of the schools relied on visiting/part-time faculty. 11. Most of the faculty teaching communication

courses did not possess a specialist educational background in communication or any allied dis cipline like (English) language/linguistics.

Management Communication in Indian

Versus US Business Schools

A comparison of the results of the current study with a seminal study of management programmes in US business schools conducted by Knight (1999) shows the following similarities and differences in ap-proaches:


1. Most required and elective courses count towards core or degree requirements in both Indian and US schools.

2. Stand-alone communication courses are still the dominant model in both Indian and US schools. All communication courses are taught separately and not integrated into the main course curricu lum in a formal manner by communication faculty working alongside with the rest of the faculty. The only exception to this is Cornell (Johnson) and UCLA (Anderson) in US, both of which follow integration of communication courses with core and elective courses.

3. Cross-cultural, intercultural or international com munication did not appear to describe the titles

1 This information was gathered from the website. However,

discussions with the faculty concerned and administrative staff of the institute presented a contradictory picture with the staff saying that the course was not a prerequisite while the faculty (visiting) believed it to be so.


or content of required or elective management communication courses. Only a few schools - such as Virginia - offer any elective course in this area. Some schools in India do offer electives on cross-cultural management, though not courses with a focus only on cross-cultural communication. Anecdotal evidence suggests that required and core courses cover intercultural communication; however, this is not obvious from the course title or descriptions.


1. Corporate communication and media relations have become increasingly important in manage ment communication teaching in US though not in India. In India, these inputs are provided, if at all, only in elective courses in marketing and advertising specialization courses. In contrast, many schools in US - Dartmouth, Emory, Georgetown, Michigan, NYU, and Virginia - offer advanced electives in these areas.

2. While the content of required communication courses in Indian business schools focuses mainly on skill acquisition - written and oral - the focus of the required courses in US is more broad, covering communication strategy.

3. Schools in US offer many more courses on communication compared to Indian business schools, and communication courses as a percent age of core curriculum amounted to an average of 8.7 per cent over the 18 schools in the US sample that had required courses on communi cation. In contrast, in most Indian business schools, the communication course is just one required course out of 22 or 24 courses in the first year. This amounts to a low percentage of 4.5.

4. Schools in US are experimenting with more flexible and creative approaches to delivering management courses such as through the integra tion programmes mentioned earlier and through the adoption of a modular means of weaving all core courses together throughout the academic year as at Virginia. In contrast to this openness, the course structure and content of communica tion courses in Indian business schools has been slow to change. This is especially the case with programmes of business schools that are governed directly by the university system (UGC). Many schools have attempted to work around this problem and provide more innovative and up-

dated inputs in communication courses. However, this is usually because of the initiative of specific faculty members rather than because of an in-nately dynamic and responsive curriculum.

Indian Manager's Perception of


The preceding part of the paper provides some benchmarks that can aid in improvement of business communication teaching in India. However, since the business context in US and India may differ, this paper also attempts to survey managerial perceptions towards communication with the hope of identifying lacunae in the curriculum of communication courses. While the survey is not exhaustive reflecting all possible functional areas and industries, it was preferred over armchair hypothesizing about the kinds of communication issues faced in business. To that extent it brings us closer to the reality of the managerial world.

The Study

Eighty-four practising managers from a cross-section of industries and functional areas were presented with a one-page questionnaire covering different topics on communication that are traditionally taught in communication courses. They were asked to rate the importance of these topics, using a 5-point Likert type scale format ranging from 1 = Not important at all to 5 = Very important, to their effective performance as managers. The topics covered aspects of written communication, oral communication, em-ployee communication, use of office technology, and ethics in communication. The detailed topics are presented along with mean perception scores and standard deviations of the scores in Table 1. The mean total work experience of the sample was 11.42 years with a standard deviation of 7.53 years. Sixty-three per cent of the respondents came from the manufacturing sector while the rest came from the services sector.

Managers perceived topics pertaining to oral communication most important for their roles as managers, followed by topics on employee commu-nication, ethics and cultural diversity, technology, and last of all written communication.

With regard to oral communication, managers perceived improving listening skills as most impor-tant followed by using effective interpersonal skills. They gave the lowest importance to improving


Table 1: Survey of Perceptions of Indian Managers Regarding the Importance of Different Communication Topics to Their Effective Performance

Item Mean Std. Rank Within Overall

Score Dev. Category * Rank

1. Written Communication

Using Correct English Grammar and Sentence Structure 4.13 0.85 3 18

Writing Memoranda 3.78 0.94 5 26

Writing Persuasive Letters 3.92 0.93 4 25

Writing Good News/Positive Message Letters 4.29 0.78 1 9

Writing Bad News/Negative Message Letters 2.94 1.32 6 28

Writing Reports 4.24 0.79 2 12

Overall Mean For Written Communication 3.88 0.53 5

2. Oral Communication

Giving Individual Oral Presentations 4.49 0.76 3 3

Using Correct Pronunciation 4.19 0.83 8 16

Using Effective Interpersonal Skills 4.65 0.59 2 2

Improving Listening Skills 4.75 0.49 1 1

Participating in Group Presentations 4.36 0.63 5 5

Improving Nonverbal Communication Skills 4.07 0.82 10 21

Participating in Meetings 4.20 0.82 7 15

Conducting Meetings 4.08 0.89 9 20

Refusing/Saying 'No' Politely and Firmly 4.42 0.81 4 4

Closing Conversations (Especially Those That Lead Nowhere) Politely 4.27 0.81 6 10

Overall Mean for Oral Communication 4.35 0.42 1

3. Employee Communication

Constructing Resumes and Application Letters 4.18 0.78 3 17

Giving Good Interviews for Jobs 4.31 0.78 1 8

Preparing Portfolios 4.01 0.72 4 23

Conducting Employee Interviews 4.22 0.87 2 13

Overall Mean for Employee Communication 4.18 0.59 2

4. Technology

Using Office Technology (Like Fax/Photocopying Machines)

for Assignments 4.06 0.97 4 22

Preparing Graphics for Presentations 4.26 0.84 2 11

Using Electronic Mail 4.35 0.90 1 6

Using Internet/Web 4.21 0.84 3 14

Using Voice Mail 3.46 1.13 5 27

Overall Mean for Technology 4.07 0.67 4

5. Ethics and Cultural Diversity

Recognizing Discriminating Language 4.00 1.06 3 24

Knowing about International/Cross-cultural Communication Issues 4.12 0.77 2 19

Following Business Etiquette 4.33 0.84 1 7

Overall Mean for Ethics and Cultural Diversity 4.15 0.65 3

* All ranks have been given by ordering the mean scores in descending order.


verbal communication skills and only a slightly higher rating to the ability to conduct meetings.

With regard to employee communication, man-agers perceived giving good interviews for jobs as being most important to their roles as managers while they perceived preparing portfolios as being the least important communication skill for their effective performance as managers.

With regard to ethics and cultural diversity, managers gave the highest importance to following business etiquette and the lowest rating to knowledge of discriminating language.

With regard to technology, managers perceived using electronic mail most important to their effective functioning as managers while they gave the lowest importance rating to using voice mail.

With regard to written communication, manag-ers found ability to write good news/positive message letters most important, followed by the ability to write reports. They found the ability to write bad news/negative message letters least important to their effective performance, with the next lowest in importance being the ability to write memoranda.

The three communication topics that received the highest perceived importance mean rating scores by managers were improving listening skills, using effective interpersonal skills, and giving individual oral presentations. The three communication topics that received the lowest perceived importance mean rating scores by managers were writing bad news/ negative message letters, using voice mail, and writing memoranda.


It is evident that managers consider oral commu-nication far more important to their effective per-formance than written communication. In a sense, this is not surprising, as managers' preference for oral over written communication has been observed time and again in the management world (Mintzberg, 1971), as also their greater experiencing of face-to-face work-related challenges and conflicts (Reinsch and Shelby, 1997). Oral communication is favoured over written communication not only because it is faster but also because it provides richer information. Given that much of managerial decision-making is characterized by ambiguity, communication channels that are high in information richness enhance the

Vol. 27, No. 2, April-June 2002

understanding of complex business issues (Daft; Lengel and Trevino, 1987).

An interesting observation is the high ranking accorded to e-mail communication. On the face of it, this may appear confusing given the similarity of e-mail messages to traditional written memos. How-ever, a closer look at e-mail suggests that while its format may resemble a memo, its interactivity affords writers and readers with both opportunities and constraints, unlike memos (Extejt, 1998). E-mail attachments allow one to transfer huge amounts of information in a cheap, fast, and effective manner. This makes e-mail messages a rich information channel and thus explains managers' increasing reliance on it over traditional written communication.

Business schools in India, however, do not teach students the dos and don'ts of this form of interaction, even though, as a mode of communication, it is different from traditional written communication in many ways. A special etiquette applies to e-mail, especially the need to avoid spamming and there is the need to check e-mail often. Office e-mail is often believed to be private, but employers who own the systems have been upheld legally in their right to monitor e-mail for business reasons (Extejt, 1998). All this makes it important to pay careful attention to the content and tone of e-mail messages which tend to occur more frequently than traditional written forms of communication within organizations.

Managers consider having good listening skills, effective interpersonal skills, and the ability to make oral presentations important to their survival. From the audit of the communication courses in top Indian business schools, we find that there is a bias in favour of imparting oral communication skills. This trend appears to be in keeping with the needs of Indian industry. However, the need for improving listening skills needs to be noted. Its key role in business has been observed even in other non-Indian contexts (Goby and Lewis, 2000). The overall emphasis of Indian instructors seems to be on imparting pres-entation skills.

Inputs on interpersonal skills are usually part of the OB/HRM courses or in the form of separate elective courses offered in the second year. There is a need for more core courses on these topics so that all students are compulsorily exposed to them. Such a strengthening of the communication compo-nent in the core curriculum may necessitate the employment of more permanent faculty to provide


such inputs in a dedicated manner. However, Indian business schools seem to prefer using part-time/ visiting faculty to teach these courses.3

Another interesting point is the high rating accorded to following business etiquette. With growth in service-oriented jobs, managerial effectiveness possibly requires a greater emphasis on being or appearing to be poised and presentable in social interactions. This is a drastic change from the half-sleeved, 'bush-shirted' days of supervisors and managers who spent a lot of their time on the shopfloor in traditional manufacturing organizations. Communication courses, however, do not focus on aspects such as learning to be presentable and well turned out within specific cultural and/or business contexts.4

Some additional areas of neglect in the teaching of communication in Indian business schools have to do with macro aspects such as corporate com-munication strategy and maintaining public relations with external agencies. Most business schools in India focus on micro aspects of communication pertaining to the individual and seem to forget that understand-ing the organization as a unit of analysis and beunderstand-ing aware of aspects pertaining to the building and maintenance of corporate image and identity are an important aspect of management functioning. In fact, as the environment becomes more dynamic and complex with globalization, increasing numbers of mergers and acquisitions, and crisis and chaos typifying the business world, adopting a cogent communications strategy within organizations be-comes pertinent (Mukherjee, 2002).

Some instructors may be tempted to support a micro thrust in the course curriculum with the argument that, although organizations recognize communication as an essential managerial skill, very

3 One is not suggesting here that visiting faculty or part-time

faculty are not equipped or competent to teach communication courses or that a separate communications area is the only panacea to some of these problems. In fact, some business schools in US that adopt the integrative approach do not have even separate courses for communication. Rather, the point is that, in the absence of permanent faculty to teach communication, communication continues to remain a neglected area in business curricula.

4 Although students ask for inputs on grooming and etiquette

to be provided in communication courses, instructors tend to summarily dismiss such requests. Perhaps there is a need to take a relook at the need and importance of providing these inputs in the light of the growing importance of service-oriented jobs. On a lighter note, it can be said that students somehow manage to arrange for these inputs through seminars and workshops, especially when the placement season is round the corner.

few organizations in fact have a communication function like marketing or finance - so why teach communication concepts in a business school? Such a line of reasoning, on the face of it, may appear reasonable and pragmatic; however, it ignores the basic principles of organization structure and design. Contingency theorists would explain the differentia-tion of an organizadifferentia-tion's structure into sub-units or departments as a way of coping with environmental uncertainty or acquiring scarce resources from the external world on which it depends for survival (Galbraith, 1973; Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967; Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978). When seen from this perspec-tive, the absence of communication departments has little to do with a hypocritical attitude on the part of organizations as is implied in the aforementioned argument. As a matter of fact, in support of theory, many large and complex organizations, in public and private sectors, having multiple stakeholders (HLL, ONGC to name a few) have always had well-developed public relations and corporate communi-cations departments, as these have made a difference to their ability to manage perceptions of sharehold-ers, ministries of the government, and other such entities on whom their smooth functioning depends. Further, communication is a process that cuts across an organization. It is all pervasive—much like any other process such as decision-making, problem solving or change. Just as we continue teaching students techniques for problem solving or decision-making, even though few organizations spin-off a subunit to exclusively house such a process, so we continue teaching them communication concepts with a macro thrust. In this regard, courses along the lines of "Business and Media Relations" offered at Michigan or "Media and Management: A Practical Approach to Public Relations" offered by Stern School of New York University could be considered as additions to the curriculum in Indian business schools.

Focusing on inter- and cross-cultural communi-cation is yet another lacuna in the teaching of communication in business schools in India which should be dealt with, especially with the growing need for managers to do business globally as well as the growing incidence of direct foreign placements and student exchange programmes.


Teaching of communication in Indian business schools could make many improvements to reach world-class standards as well as to become more keenly tuned to the needs of Indian business.


Business schools could begin by offering more core and elective courses on communication than they do at the moment. This may require them to increase their intake of faculty to teach communication on a permanent basis and to reverse the current trend of having these courses taught in an ad-hoc manner.

While the content of communication courses in Indian business schools with its emphasis on oral communication seems to be doing justice to the

current needs of industry, updating of content is required in the area of specific skills like listening, business etiquette and using e-mail, intercultural communication, and corporate communications and media relations. Finally, communication needs to be dealt with in a much broader manner in the course curriculum,- through an integrative approach and through a focus on strategy - besides the present micro focus on skill acquisition.


Daft, Richard L; Lengel, Robert H and Trevino, Linda Klebe (1987). "Message Equivocality, Media Selection and Manager Performance: Implications for Informa-tion Systems," MIS Quarterly, Vol 11, pp 355-66. Extejt, Marian M (1998). "Teaching Students to

Corre-spond Effectively Electronically," Business Communica-tion Quarterly, Vol 61, No 2.

Galbraith, Jay (1973). Designing Complex Organizations, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Goby, Valerie Pricilla and Lewis.Justus Helen (2000). "The Key Role of Listening in Business: A Study of the Singaporean Insurance Industry," Business Communica-tion Quarterly, Vol 63, No 3.

Knight, Melinda (1999). "Management Communication in US MBA Programs: The State of the Art," Business Communication Quarterly, Vol 62, No 4, pp 9-32. Lawrence, Paul R and Lorsch, Jay W (1967). Organization

and Environment, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mintzberg, Henry (1971). "Managerial Work: Analysis from Observation," Management Science, Vol 18, No 2. Mukherjee, Rumy (2002). "Beyond Press Releases and

Lobbying," Times of India (Mumbai Edition), Tuesday, March 19.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey and Salancik , Gerald R (1978). The External

Control of Organizations: A Rresource Dependence Perspec-tive, New York: Harper and Row.

Reinsch, Lamarjr N and Shelby, Annette N (1997). "What Communication Abilities Do Practitioners Need? Evidence from MBA Students," Business Communication Quarterly, Vol 60, No 4.

"The BT Best B-Schools Survey," (1998). Business Today, May.

Website for course descriptions in US Business Schools: http://bcq.theabc.org/more/exhibit5.html.


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