From OUR EDITORIAL STAFF we have reviewed a series of articles and reports that, regarding the future of business schools has been done in recent years, we could say that very especially since the International Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. We know that the question that “floated” in the air in all business, professional and, of course, educational environments, was what would the future of postgraduate education look like? More specifically, analysts and critics wondered if management education, that is, that factory of managers to which responsibility was attributed to business schools, would remain the same, that is, maintaining a certain tradition in the type teaching, content, etc.
But more specifically, in the last three years, business schools around the world needed to know something more about what their future would be like, that is, to take into account changes in demographics, globalization, digitization and the emergence of alternative career paths.
This obligation that the MBA and Executive MBA programs around the world had to face in order to change their study plans and use new teaching tools, had a very specific purpose: to maintain its relevance in the years to come, that is, in those of us who are living in this present, which for more INRI has been joined by the close-quarters closure that Covid-19 has produced in economies around the world.
But regardless of the pandemic, there are certain questions that experts have been asking:
– Are business schools changing their programs in such a way that it can be considered sufficient to face the new times that we are living in?
– Are they being as innovative as the businesses themselves studied in the programs?
– Are your research topics relevant in a more complex and less predictable world?
– Are the programs flexible and powerful to attract executives who have more and more options to receive a high-quality education in business?
But what is observed is a substantial difference in terms of the structure of the management programs, which is the change from a unique experience (once the course is finished, the learning is finished) to a commitment in which said learning is established of the type permanent among the educational institutions participating in the postgraduate market. Because, instead of focusing on a single learning experience, participants in executive education programs will increasingly need lifelong learning experiences because the increasing complexity of the business world requires constant course updates to help managers to manage their businesses. It is not a matter of going through the classroom, reaching the end of the course and receiving the degree, because this alone does not accredit all that necessary change that society is needing.
But this training and lifelong learning has not been the only change that was in mind of those responsible for business schools and professionals in the sector. As another change necessary to cope with an ever-changing business landscape loomed on the horizon: we refer to shifting individual disciplines towards a project-oriented approach, which involves the study and practice of interdisciplinary skills. For example, rather than studying mergers and acquisitions, innovation and international business separately, global executives must research and seek innovative modes of entry into foreign markets or understand how a standardized acquisition process must be changed to allow a multinational to move to a different market.
From this it follows that postgraduate education, especially in its conventional MBA and Executive MBA programs, as well as some other highly specialized programs in marketing and / or HR, the trend that will be observed is that business education will focus on less in individual disciplines, such as accounting and finance, and more in solving business problems by combining academic theory with immersive practical experience. Experiential learning is likely to be the fundamental teaching mode for years to come.
An important aspect is the consideration of platforms and ecosystems
The future of management education will also depend on the ability of programs to create platforms and ecosystems to reach managers who want to learn at all stages of their careers. Harvard’s HBX and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MITx are just two examples of educational platforms that create engagement between institutions and managers. It is a matter of whether the educational model foresees that this connection between managers (ex-MBA students and the organizations in which they work) are connected in whole or in part by a series of constantly updating activities, with the business school in the one who completed their training and completed the chosen program.
Regarding the focus of the programs, originally, they focused on maximizing value for shareholders; therefore, the outdated courses provided executives with limited insight into the impact of companies on society. However, running a business is more challenging today than before as there are many more interfaces that managers have to deal with, such as civil society demands for sustainable business models, business restrictions due to trade blocks, and ethics, to name a few.
Consequently, executive programs must not only train managers to make better decisions for shareholders, but also to make better decisions for the society in which the companies are embedded.
We are living in a highly complex market in which managers and professionals who serve organizations need appropriate programs to help them “connect the dots” in a world where the dots are not even clear. Exposure to issues such as the environmental impact of companies, women’s empowerment and social inclusion, considered irrelevant in the past, are becoming the differentiation among the best programs.
In the past, case studies and role-play activities were the main sources of analysis due to the rationale that these tools are good for identifying and understanding patterns that managers should replicate in their decision-making process. However, understanding the past is good up to a point; managers of the future must adapt and adjust quickly to changing scenarios. Easier said than done, but business situations with changing scenarios, competency-based educational programs, project-oriented programs, international programs, a focus on sustainability, and agile techniques for dealing with complexity are certainly part of the solution.
The diversity of participants in executive education programs
Diversity in boardrooms, although not a total reality, has increased a lot. It is enough to see how the Amazon Board of Directors is composed to see that this conformation is not a fad, but a necessary social and market reality. It should even have been put into practice more than fifteen years ago, as regards the evolutionary processes of the organizational structures of the main multinational companies in the world.
Additionally, CEOs present a broader range of backgrounds. This diversity should also be emphasized in executive program audiences, to help them build connections and enrich the perspectives of the world they want to have. There is no longer the isolated leader who can do everything, but is more dependent than ever on an absolutely interdependent social and economic model, so the decisions to be made are also interdependent. Hence, the multicultural and interdisciplinary integration of boards of directors and executive committees is not a fad, but a necessity.
Diversity should also be explored in the business classroom, providing students with the opportunity and experience to work in culturally diverse teams. Recent research by Jang found that organizations using culturally diverse teams perform better, but managers must be trained to reap the benefits of such diverse teams while mitigating pitfalls. This type of training should take place in the management classroom.
Education vs research: an old divide
Probably, the old schism that separates the postgraduate programs in administration will come to an end, with regard to the also conditional question, of whether we investigate or manage. What seems to be that this dichotomy has come to an end in the present world. While most business schools around the world tend to develop their expertise in only one path, either by focusing on education or research, the interface between teaching and research will be more seamless, because it is imperative that this is how it is done, which is why business programs are increasingly classified by their value that they contribute not only to the reality of said businesses, but to society as a whole, and also of course, for the academic level that a student needs, very strong revulsive to adapt to this new reality.
Although major institutions like the Oxbridge ecosystem in the UK, the Ivy League in the US, and various universities in Europe are equally relevant in both research and education, they are the exceptions that justify the rule. A focused research program increases the quality of the educational program, while high-caliber programs attract troubled executives who challenge the current management literature.
Relevant programs outside the United States and Europe
As mentioned in the previous topics, high-caliber universities seem to have a cluster effect because they tend to be in specific areas of the world. However, as the 2018 Financial Times ranking of personalized Executive MBA programs shows, 11 of the top 50 and 5 of the top 20 business schools worldwide are located in Asia, Central and South America. High-quality business schools can be seen in non-traditional venues for managerial training, a topic that increases competition in the management education industry but at the same time reinforces the importance of an international understanding of business operations and a diversity global in business education.
The future of work and management education
Work as we know it is changing from an individual task to a collaborative model, with the fastest growing type of jobs requiring social skills. The jobs of the future that will require working in small groups while sharing and negotiating with coworkers are common. Therefore, business education should focus on developing skills that improve the quality of interactions, such as cognitive flexibility, negotiation, coordination with others, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence and people management.
Many of these skills can be taught in business schools, but more can be done. Management authorities such as David Garvin affirm that “the strongest theme was the need for MBA students to cultivate greater self-awareness. The second topic we heard was the need for practical skills: how to host a meeting, give a presentation, and give performance feedback. The third theme was the need for MBAs to develop a better sense of the realities of the organizations within which leaders operate. Politics – power issues, coalitions, and hidden agendas – are part of that reality. Managers need to develop cultural intelligence, specifically a better understanding of which practices, strategies and behaviors are universal and which are contingent”.
The nature of work is expected to change dramatically due to the rise of automation technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots, 3D printing, and the increasing reliance on mobile technologies. This fast-paced disruption in the workplace will have far-reaching consequences in addition to a reduction in the number of jobs. The social implications for society can result in two incompatible societies. For every job that can be automated, it will be automated. The only non-automated jobs left will be leadership jobs.
These changes will affect the nature of labor relations and the organization of companies. Workers will have to get used to working alongside robots, increased workplace supervision, and the end of retirement as we know it.
Changes in the structure of the management education industry
Universities and business schools can be segmented in the same way as traditional industries. Like any business under global competitive pressure, management education programs have several growth paths, such as organic growth, strategic alliances (through partnerships between international schools such as One MBA), mergers and acquisitions, and diversification. The game is open to movements.
For many years, management education has been under pressure. On the one hand, executives were looking for a quality education that would help them understand the complexity of business. On the other hand, companies sought educational programs to develop leaders who contribute to the success of their businesses. However, the world changed due to various factors such as globalization, technology development, changes in demographics, and the emergence of an Asia-centric world. Business schools responded to the new world with different strategies: adoption of different curricula, use of a teamwork approach, development of global immersion experiences, use of technology, alliances in the creation of knowledge between academia and the industry and developing a lifelong learning approach with executives.
In conclusion, business schools are feeling the pressure of change. Will they be able to apply what they teach in their own classes?