THEME: Sustainable business for the common good: Developing Asia’s leaders for today and tomorrow
(Second of two parts)
Just before we stepped down as Dean in School Year 2008 – 2009, we proposed the creation of the Social Responsibility academic department putting it in equal footing with other functional areas like finance, marketing, accounting, production and human resources. The Board of Trustees approved the introduction of CSR, Human Rights and Sustainable Development as core/required course in School Year 2009 – 2010. This was the first concrete step in making the graduate business curriculum more conscious of and responsive to the “signs of the times” through CSR. It was also in support of PRME principles long before the GSB became a PRME signatory.
The main impetus behind the establishment of the Center was, the need to have a resource center for integrating into the GSB curriculum, culture and governance, social responsibility, good stewardship for total human development, and the well-being of society and the environment, and to promote transformative human development.
The aim was to help develop competent persons who could help solve the complex problems of society but would at the same time have the character to put the interest of society way ahead of their own personal objectives. In short, we want our students to develop excellence for the right purpose. We aimed to help develop professionals who “care for and about people.”
2nd Ceeman survey
Going over the results of the second Ceeman survey should be very informative and instructive on how management education can be more relevant to the urgent problems of society.
Some of the findings of the survey:
1. More than three quarters (77 percent) answered in the affirmative when asked if they would like to see an increase in the next two years in the number of courses in their own programs that discuss global poverty.
2. A consistent theme was the focus on action learning. Across all levels of management and education, respondents stated that increases in student consulting projects and increases in study travel trips were the activities that were attracting most of their interest. Action learning in the field is the perfect mode for ensuring that students work and learn by tackling real issues in the real world and reflecting on the real actions they take.
Skills needed by business: WEC and NI report
The World Environment Center (WEC) and the Net Impact (NI) produced a report,
“Business Skills for a Changing World: An Assessment of What Global Companies Need from Business Schools” dated October 27, 2011. WEC is a leading center of sustainability thought leadership and implementation within the global business community while NI represents a new generation of student leaders who apply their business skills to work for a better world.
WEC and NI sought to explore questions on the teaching of sustainability in business schools and how future business leaders were developing the skills necessary to implement sustainability in business including:
1. How is sustainability currently integrated into the business school curriculum?
2. What skills do (global) companies want their new employees to have?
3. How will sustainability evolve in the future, and how must global companies and business schools prepare to respond?
4. What more can business schools do to prepare graduates for success in companies that prioritize sustainability across their businesses?
5. What more could businesses be doing to support this effort?
Inconsistencies need to be addressed
WED and NI stated they partnered to identify the core skills needed by business school students to prepare them better for future employment in companies with strong sustainability agendas. Unlike traditional business competencies such as finance and marketing, sustainability is not currently institutionalized within the required curricula of many business schools, giving way to inconsistencies in its teaching. These inconsistencies need to be addressed given the role of sustainability as a major source of value creation and for the preparation of future business leaders who will be expected to demonstrate greater competencies in the implementation of sustainable business strategies.
Conclusions derived from survey; recommendations
The report states that an examination of these issues with the 33 senior executives lead to the following conclusions:
1. Business school students need to develop skills that focus their attention both inside the company, towards daily operations and core competencies; and outside the company, towards the wider ramifications of business decisions.
“Inside” skill sets include an understanding of companies’ actual products and services and how they are made; the changing nature of business planning; the role of global management systems; risk mitigation and the relationship of sustainability to science and innovation.
“Outside” skills include comprehension of policy drivers and how they impact market demand; major trends shaping the global marketplace; the integration of sustainability reporting with financial reporting; understanding multi-cultural perspectives; and improved listening and communications skills.
2. There are skills that traverse inside-outside boundaries. They include greater knowledge of the management of complexity (and ambiguity); systems thinking; improved interpersonal skills; and negotiations.
3. Sustainability is not a stand-alone function within the corporation, nor should it be an isolated part of the business school curriculum. Rather, companies have begun to adapt their governance processes to integrate sustainability factors with research and development, procurement and supply chain management; product development and financial management, marketing, branding and other operations.
4. Sustainability teaching must be formally integrated into the MBA program. There is a need for a more formal engagement of companies with business school professors and deans in addition to expanded student participation in this dialogue in order to align the curricula of the schools to the needs of the marketplace. Corporations need a better understanding of the “business” of universities, and how they can better integrate external, societal, technological and marketplace trends within classroom teaching methods and skill development.
WEC and NI conclude that a growing number of executives are thinking clearly and precisely about the skill sets required to advance their companies’ business strategies. In order for business schools to meet the demand for sustainability skills in the future, MBA programs must hear from companies as to the skills, required for future employment.
Communication and interpersonal skills to rally folks around sustainability
WEC and NI state that business school graduates must become skilled communicators, listeners, influencers and negotiators. They must also remain grounded in the scientific basis of environmental challenges, so that they can make sound decisions at the intersection of business, environment, and society or people, planet and profit. Most importantly, they must recognize the important fact that sustainability is a business concept and needs to be applied as such. Future employment opportunities will overwhelmingly reside in individual business units rather than in corporate-level sustainability positions, as sustainability becomes more integrated throughout the company.
WEC and NI emphasize that one challenge that remains for business skills is how to teach “skills” that are, in many ways, more akin to personality traits. How can one be taught to be a good listener, and a good communicator, in addition to possessing the necessary skills in finance, marketing or management systems? MBA graduates cannot therefore succeed simply with technical or traditional business skills alone.
Businesses want to hire people with these sustainability skills because integrating sustainability throughout the company has become a key mandate for a growing number of companies.
Liberal education and management
The need to combine technical and interpersonal skills and appreciation of the impact of outside forces (such as multi-cultural perspectives, public policy drivers) on internal operations of a company raise questions on the rightful role of a liberal education in business management. And on this issue, we draw insights from Charles Handy whose 1996 essay was quoted in the book (“Promises Fulfilled and Unfulfilled in Management Education”) sponsored by the 41-year old European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD).
“It is odd to say the least, that the education of our managers has so little in it about personality theory, what makes people what they are; or about learning theory; how people grow and develop and change; or political theory, how people seek power, resist power and organize themselves; or moral philosophy, how they decide between right and wrong.
It is odd too, that little attention is paid, to history where all these aspects of people are laid out before us, and where the influences which work on them can be seen in the clearer beam of hindsight. History never repeats itself, but it does help one to learn to disentangle the forces which shape events, a skill essential to management and leadership.
All of this is even odder when one considers that our business schools are, for the most part, set in the context of a University or Institute where Psychology, Politics, Philosophy and History are almost certainly part of the established faculty. It was a mistake, I now believe, to have established our business schools as a race apart from so much else in education.
Recommendation: internal transformation of business schools
We would like to think that aside from enumerating the skills as they were presented in the WEC-NI survey, and as a way of preparing leaders for Asia for today and tomorrow, and molding them to be transformative leaders, business schools must undertake transformative learning and must themselves (administrators, faculty and staff) undergo internal transformation.
Business schools have been blamed for the global financial crisis and scandals like Enron and Worldcom primarily because those who run businesses have lost sight of the higher purpose of business which is total human development, a principle which finds a place in Catholic Social Teaching (CST).
Some of the additional recommendations we can make are:
1. To be a university requires total dedication to the tri-focal functions of teaching, to do the type of research that will find its way into the classrooms and shall help solve the complex problems of society in a holistic way and provide service to society considering the latter’s own socio-cultural moorings. Action learning and action research are perfect ways for fulfilling these responsibilities—the only way to learn from the poor is to deal with them face-to-face.
2. Remove the boundaries between academia and the business sector for more extensive dialogue, better access to information and continuing exchange of research findings.
3. Creation of more innovative courses in the areas of CSR which should include topics related to PRME.
Education and education for sustainability should have as its objective, the full development of the human person, the promotion of human dignity and strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It should enable everyone to participate effectively in the human family and should advance understanding, friendship and cooperation among all people, ethnic groups and faith systems. Education should also transmit knowledge, higher-order cognitive skills and interpersonal sensibilities required to help men and women to become fully themselves and interact with others.
It should develop their ability to observe, reason, synthesize, create ethical values and to develop a sense of justice, respect, tolerance and compassion for others. It should emphasize the responsibility of people to protect the environment for the benefit of the present and future generations, prevent pollution and ecological deterioration, and promote conservation and sustainable development. In its transmission of knowledge and fostering of creativity, education should convey the deep lessons of the past and communicate the opportunities and risks that will be faced by humanity in the future (Llach, 2008).
The dignity of the human person, the person’s integral development and the common good are universal, fundamental and human principles that are essential to the functioning of a just society and to improving the condition of mankind. It is only when we design our initiatives to promote the dignity of the human person and consciously work for the common good can we say that we are engaged in sustainable human development.
In this era of corporate excesses, unethical behavior, abuse of human rights, lack of transparent behavior and disdain (and even sabotage of) good governance, management education institutions which should produce the future leaders of society are in a pivotal position to equip their graduates with a deep appreciation and understanding of core beliefs and values that provide viable alternatives to excessive individualism and crass materialism.
Technicians who care for and about people
Management education is mandated to ensure that transformative education takes place among its graduates, by developing in these graduates, the moral attributes and the technical competence required to improve mankind’s condition.
At the end of the day, all business schools, especially Catholic business schools, because of their fidelity to Gospel values, are called upon to help produce professionals who are “technicians who care for and about people.”
Thank you and good morning!