Schools must reduce emphasis on Mad Hatter methodology

Management education is, by design, as complicated as the challenges we prepare our graduates to face. But according to a recent study published by the Global Foundation for Management Education: “The new environment calls for a richer set of education experiences, with learning that transcends borders.”

A scan of leading business schools suggests that we are still struggling to adapt our curricula and learning environments to the needs of students and their prospective employers. Having invested heavily in pedagogical infrastructure to address the issues of last century, many graduate business programmes find themselves engaged in initiatives to revitalise, restructure, enhance and update their programs to differentiate themselves, as well as to meet the needs of a more diverse student body.

Globalisation, technology, demographics and economic integration have forced organisations to shift from an inwardly focused and geographically constrained approach, to resource gathering on a global level.

In the midst of this upheaval, parallels can be drawn with the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This fictional character is constantly reciting poetry that has questionable practicality and posing riddles that are bereft of meaning. This approach characterises the behaviour of many in management education who propose recommendations to improve the sector. Their suggestions include the need for more analytical tools, increased self-awareness, more concern for ethical and social issues, deeper understanding of learning styles and greater emphasis on interpersonal and conceptualisation skills.

In all of these approaches, the glaring error is the focus on what business schools do and how they do it as opposed to the value offered to students and recruiters.

Management education has evolved and improved, yet the challenges and issues MBA graduates must address have also grown.

In particular, they have gone beyond localised economic impact to ethical conscience over issues such as the corporate role in global warming and how board decisions can affect the wider community.

The danger lies in failure to provide managers and individuals with appropriate perspectives, experience and skills to manage in complex competitive environments. Instead of educating individuals in key functional areas, future managers must be able to deal with the full array of parameters that define the managerial task. it is then that they will be able to make a difference for good.

Business schools would do well to develop individuals who are able to identify, understand and intrinsically integrate values into their decision-making processes. Particular emphasis should be placed on developing conceptual and analytical sensitivity to the range of value issues inherent in the great diversity of cultures and value systems they will encounter in global business.

Emphasis on ethics and values all too often focuses on trying to instil specific values or ethical behaviour in students. While formative initiatives are important, they do not necessarily make graduating MBA students better managers; but perhaps serve only to help them avoid breaking the rules.

Such initiatives do not make them better able to cope with the ethical nuances imbedded in different cultures or to respond to these in global settings.

As suggested by the Global Foundation for Management Education: “Globalisation means that business and management must be understood in the context of local history, politics and culture.”

Management education should not be “culture free” (a trait which characterises some programmes seeking analytical rigour and pedagogical objectivity) but rather be “culture-full” – incorporating the issues that cultural diversity raises in decision-making.

Business schools cannot guarantee that all our MBA graduates are magically more ethical managers, since we cannot force them to be so.

What we can do, however, is ensure that MBA graduates are culture and value-sensitive as they plan and implement strategies across geographical boundaries.

In this diverse landscape, it is the responsibility of business schools to ensure the development of “value-oriented” perspectives and skills which will survive the ever-increasing parameters under consideration.

Business schools must provide grounding in how to manage the forces at play in this globalised, shrinking, competitively intense business world, to ensure that unethical options do not become either tempting or overwhelming.

MBA programmes should prepare individuals for global careers, not leave their graduates with Mad Hatter riddles on how to manage, but rather with tools to approach the changing complex environments in which graduates must lead organisations.

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