Business schools need to rethink many concepts they hold dear –including academic departments, tenure and the full-time MBA
Several prominent voices have criticized business schools and the traditional full-time MBA. They argue that the classical business school curriculum helped develop business leaders who contributed to today’s global economic crisis. Quite frankly, I believe there are several good reasons that their criticism, at least in part, is valid.
First, most business schools teach linear thinking: too often, students learn to make decisions in an “either/or” or “positive/negative” fashion. They often don’t work actively with constant up-down, in-out, long-short movements of business cycles. They don’t learn to recognize critical turning points or understand the factors that make the difference between success and failure.
Those students then become real-world leaders, whose lack of understanding can lead to decisions and strategies that make the peaks and valleys of business cycles much more severe. Second, business schools often teach students to focus on short-term bottom-line results, even through long-term growth is equally important. They often fail to remind students that a company’s customers are just as important to its financial success as its shareholders.
Third, while business schools have made changes to their curricula to eliminate “silos” and teach across disciplines, they still are hampered by outdated approaches, which keep the silo mentality firmly entrenched.
Lastly, in general, today’s business schools seem to be heavily committed to full-time education, particularly the full-time MBA. But, that does not reflect the rapid pace of business, where leaders need lessons they can use in the workplace today, not one or two years from now. I truly believe that part-time education formats are more important than ever, because they allow students to continue to work during their courses and offer them opportunities to apply what they learn immediately. Equally important, part-time programmes allow students to bring to the classroom practical insights they gain on the job.
I believe that executive education deserves a more prominent role in a business school’s mission statements . So, to use lingo from marketing, many business schools might need to change “the mix” of their offerings to better reflect the needs of 21st century business.
Moving from “me” to “we”
Many business schools have recognized that teaching in silos is a dysfunctional way to teach management – and that’s a good thing. These schools have devised new, more integrative curricula. They are assigning more project work and encouraging faculty from different disciplines to work as teams to teach the same courses. While these efforts are all admirable, they might not be enough.
Why? Because while schools might be changing how they teach, they aren’t necessarily changing how their faculty think. Even with business schools’ efforts to integrate curricula, too many faculty members still work in disciplinary isolation. They still work in separate departments, garnering titles based on academic specialty – and seek tenure in their disciplines. They pursue axiomatic research and publish predominantly in axiomatic journals. The business curriculum might be integrated, but business faculty, most often, are not.
That reality encourages a “me, me, me” attitude among faculty members, which keeps them separate from their colleagues in other disciplines. As long as this is the case, the silo mentality will stay strong.
But eliminating departments might not necessarily eliminate disciplinary silos. For example, at IMD in Lausanne, where I was president for 15 years, we had not titles, no departments and no tenure. Still, the bulk of IMD’s professors stayed with the school for a long time, setting in to their specialties. As a result, even at IMD, we had silo elements. Even we could not break free into a truly integrated way of thinking.
Making it work – the new way
Our new model, however, does present significant challenges. What we are doing at the Lorange Institute of Business Zurich is different. We need to be optimistic that we can change the way we teach business, that we can create new business opportunities for our students and faculty. To do that, we must change our model so that focus is squarely on our students – rather than on our faculty.
We know we must attract strong first-tier research faculty because research is key for cutting-edge teaching. Faculty, in effect, will be “moonlighting” at the Lorange Institute of Business Zurich from other institutions to work with us on a part-time basis.
However, we realize that other institutions have cultivated the talents and research of these faculties. We do not want to be accused of “cherry-picking” the best talents from other schools. Therefore, we will ensure that their commitment to their home institution is fully recognized. We will not only support part-time faculty members, but also fund their parent institutions in return for their contributions.
In addition, we will embrace a “flat hierarchy”, where all faculty members are involved with the governance of the school, so that we can eliminate bureaucracy. We will form a Faculty Senate, which will be in continuous contact with school leadership regarding curricular design and development. Faculty will also reside on campus to encourage informal, daily interaction with students and other stakeholders.
Our students will be older executives – typically 35 to 45 years old – with different professional, educational, cultural and national backgrounds. They will bring their real-world experiences into each course and be able to put what they learn to the test almost immediately. We will teach through “living” case studies, which will be assigned to student as consulting projects or presented by guest speakers who have lived them. Our EMBA students will complete “living research projects” that will demonstrate positive impact on our students and the companies where they work.
In all respects, we view Lorange Institute of Business Zurich as a “meeting place” for ideas. It will be a place where students and faculty share their immediate experiences. We are committed to the Socratic Method, where all participants engage in debate about what really works in practice, rather than a one-way communication from professor to student.
Our programmes offer leadership development in a challenging, global and highly interactive learning environment. Participants deepen their knowledge in subjects as diverse as managerial accounting, business law, IT management and business statistics. They also learn cutting edge practices from Masters-level courses, including Applied Business Fundamentals, Management of Business Cycles, Marketing for High Quality Goods, Leadership, Applied Business Statistics, HRM, Corporate Strategy and Effective Management Communication, etc. – and they improve their social skills.
Peter Lorange is president of Lorange Institute of Business Zurich in Switzerland (formerly GSBA Zurich). For further information about the Institute’s programmes, contact Lorange Institute of Business Zurich, Hirsackerstrasse 46, CH-8810 Zurich/Horgen (tel: +41-(0)44 728 99 44; fax: +41-(0)44 728 99 45; web: www.lorange.ch).
Article by Peter Lorange