Irena Stropnik MBA (FS) is Director & Team Lead, Optimization at Scotiabank with over 21 years of progressive experience in banking operations in branches, regional support, large processing units and most recently optimization projects. Her commitment to excellence energizes and inspires those who work under her leadership. Irena continues to practice and apply the strategic mindset that she developed during her tenure as an MBA student. Her response to Dr. McLarney’s recent post gives profound insight on scholarship within the context of business endeavours.
In reading through Dr. McLarney’s open letter to our alumni community, I couldn’t help but reflect and think back to my first days in the MBA (FS) program. Excited about pursuing something new and challenging myself, and then there was nervousness – was I smart enough, could I learn, how about the other students – would I be able to keep up with them?
As I made my way through my first course, I gained confidence in the fact that I could do the work and I could learn at this level. That was freeing in many respects as the ‘mark’ would take care of itself and I could then open my mind to actually learning – more than the theory, more than just answering assignment or exam questions, but actually learning and creating a better understanding of the world around me because of that learning.
For me, and for most people I have observed, applying a new theory is highly tactical when you first try to use it. But then as you gain more experience through working with it and applying it to the real world you gain a much deeper understanding of the theory and what it means…I love those moments when I can understand or explain something in everyday terms but knowing there are years of research and knowledge invested in the scholarly theory and in my ability to learn and apply that theory.
I was often surprised by some of my fellow students who only seemed to care about their marks and what course content would be on the exam – many didn’t seem to want to think about anything else. I suspect that there were many reasons behind this thinking and I don’t know if they realized that they were selling themselves short by not embracing the experience and the tremendous opportunity to learn both from our Professors and from their fellow students.
I currently lead a team that engages our business partners using Lean Six Sigma methodology – my Lean journey started three years ago and the learning continues every day. On the surface, the theory can seem quite simple and highly tactical so many try to run through our program, fill in all of the templates and drive out a recommendation as fast as they can. Once they’ve done that once or twice, they think they know it all and want to move on to another assignment. The challenge is that it’s not that straightforward and you can’t apply the exact same approach to every business. You need to understand both the intricacies of the methodology, but also of the business to really be successful. You need to think about the objectives of the engagement, how best to achieve those objectives and how to work with the business and communicate with them to be most effective – one of our goals is to help the business think differently about what they do and how they do it.
That’s a different level of understanding and application that takes years of practice, ongoing learning and a sense of humility and purpose where you always need to strive towards perfection (doing it exactly right) but knowing that you will never get there – to me, this is the difference between marks and scholarship.