Improving Mutual Understanding Between Business Schools and Business
post # 195 — September 20, 2006 — a Careers post
On Friday, the 29th of September, (8 or 9 days from now) I will be giving a speech to 150 faculty members from European business schools on the topic given above.
It just occurred to me that if I blogged about it here, some of you may have some ideas and messages you want me to pass along.
Traditionally, there have been four ways business schools (and other professional schools) interact with business:
- Conducting research which helps us understand business better (i.e. an academic, intellectual purpose of contributing to knowledge.)
- Producing prepared students, ready for productive work lives
- Conducting research that is helpful to practicing business people
- Conducting executive education programs for mid-career and senior people
Iâ€™m not sure what absolute â€œgradeâ€ I would give to business schools around the world on each of these things, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s high on any of them.
Iâ€™m least equipped to evaluate the academic scholarly contributions of business school faculty — I was never a good academic even when I was a business school professor. And anyway, that first purpose is not what Iâ€™ve been asked to talk about (even though many professors would consider it their primary purpose and obligation.)
What about producing prepared students ready for business or professional life? As we have discussed here, I donâ€™t think many schools do a wonderful job with helping students develop the social, psychological, interpersonal, political and emotional skills to succeed in life. Business schools donâ€™t; law schools donâ€™t; PR degree-programs donâ€™t; education in general doesnâ€™t.
I did note in the Wall Street Journal special Report today (Wednesday September 20) that some business schools like Michigan and Dartmouth Iin the US) and ESADE (in Europe) are rated very highly in developing (or screening for) students who are willing team players without the pomposity that graduates of some other schools have. Anyone want to comment on what those schools are doing well?
I would not give business school faculty at large a particularly high score on producing useful business research. First, it should be noted that few of the key managerial ideas of past decades (TQM, Six-sigma, business process reengineering, etc) actually originated with faculty research. Get the impression that most â€œBIGâ€ ideas and big thinking come from consultants and business itself. Or am I being unfair?
I have written before that I am nervous about businesses using business schools for executive education. I think business schools can do a wonderful job at teaching analytics and things of the mind, but are less well equipped to teach managing (ie dealing with real live human beings.)
So what would I do to improve all this, even a little?
Here are a few initial opinions:
- Build on strengths not weaknesses — most graduates of business schools (at least in the US and UK) go into consulting, investment banking and other advisory businesses (PR, accounting, etc.) Very few graduates really go to work for ‘regular’ companies. Maybe business schools should admit to themselves that they are training consultants, not managers.
- Business schools like everyone else should spend more time listening to their custromers — if they can ever figure out who the faculty really want to serve. Other academics? Recruiters? Students Its very unclear.
- Invite business people in to give lectures and seminars not to the students but to the faculty
- Require that all faculty do a consulting job for a local business (NOT executive education) and have the client come back and report to all the students and the rest of the faculty how helpful the professor was
- Make all business school academics run their own business, and report annually to the rest of the faculty how well it is going
- Find ways to screen students (and faculty?) for character, not intelligence
- Focus more on designing educational experiences (not content) that help students develop skills through guided practice (how to function in teams, etc.)
- Stop trying to do a little bit of everything: require that each business school have a strategy, a target niche and a differentiation. Working to build this in competition with other schools will help faculty understand organizations much better.
- Set publicly announced targets for the school’s startegyand appoint an external monitoring board (with high visibility and embarrassment.) Introduce accountability into faculty memebers’ lives.
So, those are some of the ideas I plan to throw out.
What would be some of your ideas of things business schools could do to improve their mutual understanding with business?