Responsible Management Education – Are Schools Walking Their Talk?

business-graphics-1428641-m[We’re pleased to welcome Andreas Rasche of Copenhagen Business School. Dr. Rasche recently published an article in the July issue of Journal of Management Inquiry with Dirk Ulrich Gilbert of the University of Hamburg entitled “Decoupling Responsible Management Education: Why Business Schools May Not Walk Their Talk.”]

In the recent past business school education has been increasingly in the line of fire. The public, politicians, and scholars alike blamed business schools to educate the wrong people in the wrong ways, paving the way for irresponsible management practices. Driven by discussions about whether and to what extent business schools contributed to the 2008-2009 financial crisis and to large-scale corporate accounting scandals, the discourse on responsible management education has gained traction. Schools are increasingly asked to educate students in a way that they build up knowledge related to corporate responsibility, sustainability, and ethics. Numerous initiatives have problematized “traditional” management education by calling on business schools to adapt to new realities. Initiatives like the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) have called on business schools to embed relevant discussions into their curricula and extracurricular activities. These initiatives are popular and many schools publicly support their underlying agenda (e.g., 554 schools had signed onto PRME as of July 2014).

Our paper that appears in Journal of Management Inquiry titled “Decoupling Responsible Management Education – Why Business Schools JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointMay Not Walk Their Talk” offers a hard look at the soft practice of responsible management education. We argue that responsible management education increasingly exposes schools to institutional pressures that can hardly be neglected (e.g., due to changing accreditation criteria). We further argue that while schools may respond to these pressures by modifying some of their formal structures (e.g., new policies and committees), there is a risk that under certain conditions they will decouple these structures from everyday organizational practices. Our analysis explores these conditions and suggests that decoupling is likely to occur when: (1) schools only have limited resources available, (2) there is resistance by powerful organizational actors, (3) schools face competing non-aligned institutional pressures, and when (4) organizational actors perceive institutional demands as ambiguous and hence believe that symbolic adoption will remain undiscovered.

We are not claiming that all business schools decouple talk from action when it comes to responsible management education. What we are claiming is that due to the organizational characteristics of business schools (e.g., protection of academic freedom) and the specific nature of institutional pressures surrounding responsible management education, there is a risk that some schools may decouple relevant structural effects. We believe that a discussion of whether, how and why business schools may decouple responsible management education is timely. As of July 2014, 43 schools were delisted from the PRME initiative for failure to comply with the initiative’s mandatory reporting requirements, while nine schools decided to withdraw from the initiative. The bottom line is this: If we really want schools to educate more responsible business leaders, we need to start a discussion about what enables and, most of all, impedes implementation. “Quick fixes”, like adding more elective courses with relevant content, are unlikely to do the job.

You can read “Decoupling Responsible Management Education: Why Business Schools May Not Walk Their Talk” from Journal of Management Inquiry for free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to have all the latest research like this from Journal of Management Inquiry sent directly to your inbox? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

rascheAndreas Rasche is professor of business in society at the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and research director of the CBS World-Class Research Environment on “Governing Responsible Business.” He holds a PhD (Dr.rer.pol.) from European Business School, Germany, and a habilitation (Dr.habil.) from Helmut-Schmidt University, Hamburg. His research focuses on corporate responsibility standards (particularly the UN Global Compact), the political role of corporations in transnational governance, and the governance of global supply networks. More information is available at Dirk Ulrich Gilbert is a professor of business ethics at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He received his PhD from

gilbertDirk Ulrich Gilbert is a professor of business ethics at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He received his PhD from Johann Wolfgang Goethe–University in Frankfurt (Germany) and held positions at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) and the University of Nuremberg (Germany). His most recent research focuses on management education, international accountability standards, and deliberative democracy. He published in internationally acclaimed journals such as Business Ethics Quarterly, Business & Society, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Management International Review, and the Journal of Business Ethics.

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