Challenges to Modern Management Education
Challenges have histories; and the history of management education foretells today’s challenges. The need for new approaches has arisen out of an increasingly complex international business environment and social expectations for and of managers.
The industrial revolution that characterised worldwide economic development from 1760 inspired a host of metaphors (‘time is money’); and when writers such as Frederick Winslow Taylor advocated principles of ‘scientific’ management, the metaphor for organizational operations became ‘organization as machine’. By the early 1900’s, the term ‘management’ was in wide use and organizational emphasis was on efficiency, standardization and production consistency.
European business schools operated throughout the 1800s, the Wharton School opened in the US in 1881 and by the 20th century the Harvard Business Review in 1922 reflected the belief that management was an academic discipline, based on 19th century policies of economic liberalization. This concept, of mechanistic organizations geared to a free market economy, though still popular in some quarters, has become profoundly inadequate to address pressing challenges of managerial sustainability, responsibility and ethics. Harvard Business Review contributor Rita Gunther McGrath suggested the image for this kind of management historically was one of execution; and though it was followed by what she describes as an ‘age of expertise’, she claims the need for a third ‘age’ – one of empathy: in managers, and for employees, stakeholders, community and environment
The early to mid-twentieth century was a period of remarkable growth in theories of management, imported from the disciplines of sociology and psychology by writers such as Chris Argyris, Peter Drucker; Mary Parker Follett; the Galbreths; Elton Mayo; Frederick Winslow Taylor; and Max Weber. Management education was influenced also by the military in operations management; and by science to develop theories of management by objectives, and reengineering.
In 1913 Arch W Shaw at Harvard Business began changing the management education curriculum from descriptive to functional, emphasizing methods and research. The metaphor of organization-as-machine was giving way to different images – of knowledge management and of the relationships, not between parts of a machine, but between people, between managers and their subordinates; and between organizations and society. In 1919 Wallace Donham, Dean of Harvard Business School, hired Elton Mayo, who helped shape the Hawthorne studies of workers at Western Electric that gained new insights to human behaviour in the workplace.
In the 1970s and ‘80s the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher re-embraced 19th century politics of privatization and deregulation; and many institutions to date still seem to operate as in the business-as-machine era. Most management educators, however, now favour principles of entrepreneurship and leadership - beyond the reach of neoliberal economists. In 2017 more than 90% of business students in a UK study on corporate social responsibility said they would be willing to sacrifice some percentage of their future salary to work for a responsible employer. Another study, in India, found that the concepts of business responsibility, philanthropy and economic responsibility provided four critical arguments for the introduction of corporate social responsibility to management education to cater to changing business needs.
Studies such as these suggest that society is ready for a new era of business thinking and management practice. The late Stephen Hawking proclaimed:
Mankind's greatest achievements have come about by talking and its greatest failures by not talking.
Management educators need to talk to students on how to assume new roles within organizational structures that accommodate social and environmental sustainability. Empathy is demanded of managers today as well as execution and expertise.
Elizabeth Christopher, author of Meeting Expectations in Management Education, is currently the leading co-editor of a Special Issue of the Journal of Management Education. She has interests in international management, managing cultural diversity, communication across cultures, and online teaching and learning.