Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Tagged: business schools

Business schools still have work to do to prepare future managers for a "Better World"

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📥  Business and society, Education, Research

 

 

The latest rankings exercise from Corporate Knights aims to show how far business schools are incorporating sustainability into their research and teaching. While the results show that progress is being made, there are also questions around how business schools engage with such exercises, and whether we're getting a truly global view of business school practice. In this piece, Annie Snelson-Powell questions what such rankings exercises really tell us about how future managers are being educated in sustainable business practice. 

October 16th saw the publication of the 2017 Corporate Knights Better World MBA ranking. This exercise provides an annual assessment of sustainability at all full-time MBA programmes that choose to opt into the Corporate Knights process of evaluation, and also includes the top Financial Times (FT) Global MBA programmes.

These global business schools are evaluated via a methodology which involves three key criteria: the presence of core courses on sustainability in the MBA curriculum; school affiliation with related institutes and centres; and the faculty’s research as gauged by the volume of related publications and citations.

The Corporate Knights report reminds us that the role of business schools in educating future leaders is particularly crucial as it’s these new managers who will shape how all types of organisations address sustainability through their decisions and actions.  The report suggests that both society and the business school sector may often fail to sufficiently recognise their responsibilities and opportunities offered by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As scholars, we also question the actions and motivations of organisations in their approach to sustainability, including a critical concern for how business schools are addressing their responsibilities.  We look to activities at the most prestigious business schools in particular, since their actions serve to define and redefine what an ideal business school should do and hence eventually influence behaviour in the sector overall.  Our earlier research on UK business schools found that while some business schools were failing to implement sustainability, there were also examples of meaningful activity from many schools including the most prestigious.

These findings are echoed in this world-wide evaluation which shows that the six most highly ranked MBA programmes in the world all feature in the Better World MBA ranking this year.  In fact, of the 40 MBA programmes included in the Corporate Knights' list, 18 are also rated as top FT MBAs.  This link between prestige and sustainability is heartening and serves to indicate that we might expect an upward curve in the uptake of sustainability in the MBA as other business schools across the sector follow suit.

However, before we become too complacent about this important progress, questions remain.  Is this uptake of sustainability also reflecting the expertise of the prestigious business schools in becoming ever-more savvy at performing well in the whole suite of games relating to accreditations, rankings and evaluation?  Now that AMBA and other accreditation bodies stipulate that attention must be paid to sustainability, are these business schools merely delivering the minimum required to maintain their status and memberships?  Is signalling an interest in sustainability another means to sway stakeholders without fulsomely addressing some of the profound and inherent tensions faced by business theories and practice, such as the pursuit of maximum short-term profit versus a longer term sustainable means of doing business that respects the environment and society?

Looking more carefully at the MBA curriculum itself, arguably the most direct of the Corporate Knights' measures of the education a future leader will receive, eight of the top 40 Better World MBAs had only one or no core dedicated course on sustainability.  A previous post by our Sustainability & Management MSc students eloquently argues that this kind of education is a fundamental for all business students.  Even at these exemplar “greenest” schools, which should provide the best sustainability education for future managers, there is clearly still more that can be achieved.

Furthermore, this list of the greenest schools is a stark reminder of the over-emphasis on Western perspectives when it comes to thinking about sustainability and management education in general.  These rankings reveal that large geographic blind-spots remain in our assessment of sustainability in MBA programmes.  Of the 40 featured in the Better World MBA list, 39 are from North America, Australia or Europe.  That these regions alone can determine what an MBA for a better world should look like is doubtful.  We should explore how business schools in Africa, Asia and elsewhere in the world are viewing sustainability and seek to understand whether non-Western schools see any benefit in participating in this kind of assessment.  While progress has been made, there is still work to do in establishing a truly global understanding of what constitutes an MBA for a better world.

 

Image by H.Koppdelaney

 

Public reasoning and the public intellectual

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📥  Brexit, Business and society, Education, Uncategorised

 

In our post-truth times, we are in need, more than ever, of public intellectuals. Sadly, we recently lost one of our own most spirited and courageous free thinkers in the business and society field, Malcolm McIntosh, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Management. Malcolm passed away on 7th June 2017 after a long battle with cancer. In this extract from his forthcoming book, In Search of the Good Society, he speaks of the need for elites such as academics and other experts to reengage meaningfully with society in order to address the world's most pressing social and environmental problems. We shall greatly miss not having Malcolm with us on that journey, but his words shall remain a touchstone. 

We have challenges that must be considered carefully and tackled with quiet and earnest intent: reforming the global financial system to bring it back within our control; developing economies that nurture, rather that destroy our natural capital; managing the development of biotechnology such that it provides solutions, and does not create problems; keeping control of AI, such that, as with the development of writing and printing, we know where we are going and have some control; and, turning our media tech companies into responsible publishers so that they are subject to the sort of social controls that govern our print media and daily libel and slander laws. If democracy is to work, and be more of a viable option for the 50% who don’t currently have it, it must be based on what Edmund Burke, and more recently Amartya Sen, call ‘public reasoning’. Burke said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ - and in this time fake news and ‘alternative facts’.

This requires the empowerment of what Pierre Bourdieu, and more recently Edward Said, call ‘the public intellectual’ who through clear public engagement restore the role of the expert and dispel the propagandists that populated the Nazi regime and drive the Trump administration and the Brexiteers. Those who voted nihilistically against those they thought to be the elite, who were the elite, must be engaged so that they can see the wholeness of society, both locally and globally, or we are doomed. Rather than coasting on our laurels we must reengage with everyone, everywhere. We must win the argument with reason.

This ‘high-opportunity, high-risk’ society is open to everyone, but also only those who have access to education and free information. As Antony Giddens says: ‘knowledge and innovation always cut both ways’. The future does not lie with nativism or isolationism. Indeed such moves defy the tide of history, the interdependent nature of all our lives, what we now know about the science of the planet, and what Karl Jung called our collective unconscious which holds the soul of humanity. At the heart of the good society should be an understanding of what Jung called instinct, for these aspects are central to what it means to be human: hunger, sexuality, activity, reflection, and creativity. And I count both art and science as forms of creativity.

Globalisation, like trade and capitalism its bedfellows, is not dead, it just needs reforming. This is not a binary, it has to be nuanced. A balance must be found on a global basis to forge what Sen calls a ‘democratic global state’ through public reasoning. The forces of financialisation, social media and consumption are out of control and have formed a model of AI such that we are beholden to their algorithmic vicissitudes. As Angus Deaton, 2016 Nobel prize winning economist, has said: ‘I don’t think globalisation is anywhere near the threat that robots are . . . globalisation for me seems to be not first-order harm and I find it very hard not to think about the billion people who have been pulled out of poverty as a result’. Deaton and his wife Anne Case have explained through enormously useful and detailed megadata trawling both the Brexit and the Trump votes: the ruling elites have been completely out of touch with white working class people. For instance, Deaton and Case highlighted the fact that the only demographic group to decline over the last fifteen years in America, because of ‘deaths of despair’, were white, poorly educated, working class men.

This is the same group that in the UK and the US have not only seen zero social mobility, but where the bottom 10% have gone backwards – they are poorer now than they were before. In the US they are now in the same position as the African-American population have always been. Just as it took the Babbage Report in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire a hundred years ago to highlight the appalling toll of poor sewage and the need for clean water so this may be a time for the elites, that’s you and me, to take a look at what really matters for everyone – at the top and the bottom of society. China and parts of Africa continue to pull people up over the poverty line, while the UK, the USA and India continue to oppress working people. Japan and most of Scandinavia have virtually eliminated extreme poverty, while parts of Europe, such as the UK, seem to lack empathy for those who suffer most. In the UK this group voted for Brexit, and in the USA for Trump. In both cases fear and ignorance triumphed. The answer is not xenophobia led by elitists (Trump and the Brexit leadership - Gove, Johnson and Farage – all of whom are rich with elite backgrounds). And the groups that voted for Trump and Brexit shot themselves in the foot, like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is not too late. All the statistics prove that globally we have made good progress over the last seventy years and we will look back and see that 2016 was a moment to take a deep breath and ask what went wrong, and then move forward again. The megalomaniacs, the greedy, those lacking in empathy and many corporate interests will always try to take over, but just as meerkats and bonobos run on cooperation so the best of humanity has been when we collaborate and cooperate. We must work for a feminised future not an avaricious masculine past. The future is liberal, collective and progressive but it requires us not to walk past on the other side or hide in a dark room listening to Beethoven with our headphones on until the world blows over. Art may be the best way forward, for it is through artistic expression in different dimensions that we can see the world afresh.

 

This is an excerpt from In Search of the Good Society by Malcolm McIntosh, which will be published by Routledge on 26th October 2017.

Business students need a new perspective not a new framework

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📥  Business and society, Education

 

Two current students on the University of Bath’s MSc in Sustainability and Management, Sanum Jain and Elliot Johnston, discuss the impact that business ethics and sustainability modules have had on their business education. They pose the question: can we talk about business ethics being as important as business economics as part of a management degree?

Management students have the opportunity to sit an array of compulsory and elective courses during their time at business school. As sustainability students, the business ethics module was a mandatory requirement for us, whilst few traditional management students saw this course as an attractive elective. However, it soon became apparent that this course would shape the way we navigate business in a way we think is important for every management student, regardless of specialism.

We became well-versed in the theories of business ethics and came to understand how sustainability needs to be considered as integral to strategy rather than a side-lined marketing tool. Furthermore, we were exposed to the factors that could affect our ethical decision making as agents within a company. Now we field questions about profit making in the face of sustainability limitations, as if we are living in a world where ethical decision making and profit making are mutually exclusive. Our peers in other classes may often label us ‘idealists’ for voicing a perspective we have gained through business ethics. We can't help but wonder if this would be the case if business ethics was compulsory across the School.

Within the first week of studying at Bath, we were introduced to a variety of frameworks upon which we were to base our understanding of business. Most notably, in business economics, we were introduced to Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework and his Theory of Competitive Advantage. The theory of competitive advantage teaches students about low cost strategies and product differentiation strategies to maintain a focus on profit maximisation, with the end goal of achieving a larger market share. This theory provided the backbone of business strategy from which many other concepts have branched. But not for us.

Our module in business ethics introduced us to a deeper perspective, challenged us to ask more existential questions about business and to understand the ‘why and the how’ behind profit. However, this was not a prescriptive course. We weren’t provided with a specific framework to follow. We engaged in case studies that explored the actions of individuals just like us who had behaved unethically for the benefit of their employer. We delved into the problems created by globalisation, analysed the responsibilities of corporations in the modern world, and looked at the theories we might use to understand how complex ethical problems can be approached in a business environment.

We didn’t just gain a perspective through which to view the business world. Business ethics added a dynamic to the content we were introduced to in our other courses. We were encouraged to question our own values and the way we might view decision making in other realms such as marketing and operations. Furthermore, it led us to understand who we are personally, in relation to the corporations who may hire us in the future.

As sustainability students, we are not alone in our way of thinking. Indeed, Michael Porter himself is now an advocate for sustainable development created through business. In his recent TED talk, he called for commercial organisations to address social issues with alternative business models in order to create “shared value”. At the same time, he called competitive advantage seeking differentiation factors “trivial” in the face of greater challenges.

“Shared value is capitalism, but it's a higher kind of capitalism”, Porter said. “It's capitalism as it was ultimately meant to be, meeting important needs, not incrementally competing for trivial differences in product attributes and market share. Shared value is when we can create social value and economic value simultaneously.”

This isn’t a debate as to which framework should be taught in lieu of another. Michael Porter’s business theories are undoubtedly imperative to a management student’s education. However, even Porter recognises the need to change the perspective from which we learn and operate. Knowing what we know, it is the responsibility of business schools to ensure that the next generation of the workforce are equipped to tackle the ethical challenges they might face. We know from research conducted in our own School that this is starting to happen, but more could be done. Conventional management frameworks should be taught through the perspective of business ethics in order to create managers of the future who can successfully contribute to a sustainable world.

Image: businessmen by David Drexler

We need a new voice in the debate about business and society

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📥  Business and society

veronica-hope-hailey1  andrew-crane

Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the School of Management, and Andrew Crane, Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society

In our increasingly polarised times, there is fervent debate over whether business is a force for good or bad in our societies. We believe it is high time that university researchers took a more active role in this debate, providing much needed evidence to inform popular opinion. To do so, we need to speak in a new voice.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So starts Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities, a book which describes in stark comparison the cities of Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. Today, we too live in divided times. We are divided politically, geographically, culturally, into the skilled and unskilled, the 99% and the 1%. Is your daily working life about Sports Direct or Goldman Sachs? About desperate migration or upward economic mobility? About zero hours contracts or business class flights?

Capitalism is over - you want it

Capitalism is over - you want it, photo by Anne Roth

Your answer to these questions will also undoubtedly inform your opinion about whether globalisation is a good thing or not and about whether business is largely to blame for many of the ills of the world. It will also colour your views on whether “sustainable business” is simply a hopelessly optimistic oxymoron or a genuinely realistic prospect in the coming decades. But these are not just matters of opinion. Behind the answers to these questions lie important empirical facts that can meaningfully shape the path we take.

What is clear, however, is that in times of uncertainty, trust becomes more important. But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and never-ending corporate and political scandals, public confidence has been profoundly destabilised. The result has been a breakdown in trust in government, business, and so-called experts more generally - and a seeming turn to a “post-truth” society where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Irrespective of whether you believe we are really heading down a post-truth path, the message for those of us who might claim some degree of expert knowledge in the debate about business and society is clear. We cannot simply expect to be a trusted source of knowledge. And, to inform opinion, we need to do things differently from how we have in the past.

Most of us in the academic world are in our comfort zone when doing our research and speaking about it to our fellow scholars. A lot of our research is impenetrable to even an informed layperson. Even when it is not, our publications are usually locked behind the paywalls of academic publishers.

Too rarely do we actively bring our knowledge out to the world in a way that truly engages with non-academic audiences. And when we do, the results are sometimes catastrophic. As one recent article put it, “business schools play a significant role in reproducing the values, skills and mindset of much of what is wrong with contemporary capitalism, such as opportunism, greed, a focus on shareholder maximisation, and economic short-termism.”

Things are beginning to change. Our research suggests that the movement to embed sustainability in business school teaching and research is making progress. The Conversation is leading the way in bringing journalistic style to academic research. But in terms of accessible research specifically on business and society, we still have a long way to go. There remains a clear need for a trustworthy source of credible research to inform decisions about how business can best contribute to a sustainable society.

With the launch of the Bath Business and Society blog, we want to bring a new voice to this debate. In fact, we believe that the Bath School of Management is uniquely positioned to bring not just one new voice but a whole range of new voices. Our aim is to inform the conversation in a variety of ways through a variety of lenses. A focus on business and society is a core value of our school and nearly one third of our faculty do remarkable, world-class research addressing this theme.  Our students too, inspired and informed by our research, are impassioned, future leaders, looking to make a difference in the world.

Over the coming months, then, our faculty and students will be drawing on their unique vantage points to bring fresh insight and new knowledge to the debate about business and society. Whether it is climate change, fair trade, inequality, modern slavery, boardroom diversity, food waste, or employee wellbeing, they will have something novel, interesting, and informed to say.  And if they say it in enough different ways, maybe at least something will stick with our post-truth audience out there. Time will tell.