Business and Management INK

Top Five Takeaways from AOM on Business and Management in a Challenging World 

October 17, 2023 1152
View of sage Business & Management booth at AOM conference
The Sage booth at AOM 2023, Hynes Convention Center, Boston

“Putting the worker front and center” was the theme of the 83rd Academy of Management (AOM) meeting held August 4-8 in Boston. With its focus on post-pandemic workplaces and working conditions, technological shifts, declining globalization alongside reshoring, widening income inequalities, generational differences and priorities, and growing labor activism, this meeting had both a business and management theme, and a social science one. This all reminds us that business and management never operates in a vacuum but is, increasingly, interconnected with other disciplines and the broader social sphere, particularly within the ever-emerging frameworks of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and stakeholder capitalism. 

Fitting, therefore, that the great R. Edward Freeman — who first developed stakeholder theory — attended. Sage managed to sit down with this legend over a cold beer and thank him for his work on the stakeholder theory entry in Sage’s Business Foundations digital product. Ed’s vision for business resonates deeply at Sage, and the spirit of his inspiring TEDx Talk, “Business is about Purpose,” permeated many of the discussions that took place at AOM 2023. As Ed says in his talk, “We need a conceptual revolution, a new story about business.” This reminds me of a classic in the canon of management literature, Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization (published by Sage), which highlights the central role of “images” and metaphor in thinking about and understanding business, management and leadership, and their huge importance if we’re to break out and find new ways of organizing and working. 

With around 10,000 attendees from around the world and over 1,500 in-person sessions across 26 different interest groups, this year’s AOM meeting inevitably covered a vast range of topics and caucus-driven priorities. Still, some clear themes emerged across the divisions and sub-disciplines, which we’ve been reflecting on and refer to as our “Top 5” takeaway themes for business and management in 2023.  

As you’ll see below, these are topics that Sage has been actively publishing in for some time now. While the field of business and management faces many crises in a so-called “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world that increasingly finds itself in a state of polycrisis, we are encouraged to see some green shoots as narratives and mindsets begin to shift, and wide-ranging organizations respond responsibly, with many now employing much-needed stakeholder approaches to doing business. Such approaches hold the imagination and ideological weight to surpass traditional shareholder models and the “business as usual” status quo. This aligns with the way we at Sage — as an independently owned company — have always felt that business and management should be done, and in turn researched and taught, informed by diverse perspectives and interdisciplinary approaches to looking at problems and phenomena, and in working towards positive societal impact for all. 

1. Buckle Up! Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Research, Education and Practice 

A cursory glance at the AOM program this year saw two letters appear again and again: AI. Recent widespread adoption of ChatGPT understandably has catapulted this topic to the top of the agenda at research and education conferences this summer. It’s fair to say that we love a SWOT analysis in business and management, and the famous matrix underpinned most AI-related discussions throughout the conference. Faculty are gearing up for the rollout of AI in management and organizations, and generally embracing generative AI, especially in the classroom (and even as part of student assessment), whilst feeling optimistic about its capabilities. Nonetheless, they are acting cautiously and remain mindful of its potential negative effects and the economic/social injustices it could perpetuate if left unchecked. This focus on the ethical component of AI underpinned an engaging and collaborative forum on “AI, Ethics, and Academia,” co-convened by Rebecca Frankel, a Sage acquisitions editor and member of the AOM Ethics Committee, and this is a conversation we need to keep having as the technology and its usage evolves. 

We were particularly excited to attend a timely workshop on using AI for management education, facilitated by AI-whiz Ethan Mollick at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (check out Ethan’s brilliant Substack for all things AI). Megan LePere-Schloop also led an important session with colleagues aimed at helping researchers develop ideas to advance (interdisciplinary) research on AI, organizations, and management.  

AOM 2023 really did highlight that business schools are on the precipice of an incredibly profound moment given that AI will not only transform many aspects of research and education over the coming years, but also radically alter the research contexts business schools study as AI, robotics and automation become widely used in workplaces and wider society, and capital and labor converge. 

Rebecca Frankel, a Sage acquisitions editor and member of the AOM Ethics Committee, ran an engaging and collaborative forum on AI, Ethics, and Academia

In light of this, Sage as a company is thinking deeply about how we employ generative AI responsibly within our organization, how it informs our products, and how we can support researchers, educators and students to navigate the new technological terrain by providing the tools and resources they need. To this end and as an example, we are currently working on a new prototype project to include AI assessment in the simulations that Hubro Education, a Sage company, offer, ensuring a learning and assessment environment whereby AI can be used by the educator to assess large cohorts of students (common within business/management schools), and the student meanwhile cannot use AI within the same secure learning environment to shortcut their assessment. A win-win for efficiency and learning!  

Elsewhere, Sage Campus has developed a timely and much-needed introductory course on AI, which explores the key concepts and ethical issues surrounding AI, as well as the role and uses of machine learning for faculty, researchers and students. The course includes generative AI and ChatGPT. You can request a free seven-day trial for this Sage Campus course here

2. Mind the Gap: Research Methods and Workplace Skills in a Changing World 

An interesting irony of artificial intelligence is that the more it evolves, the more we seek out human intelligence, and look towards innovative scholarly research methods to better understand newfound complexity, and the soft skills needed to accompany new technologies. This year’s AOM didn’t disappoint in balancing its focus on machine alongside human learning, and centering research methods and workplace skills in an ever-changing world. 

Sage, long a leading publisher in research methods, recognizes the importance of evolution in every research method as times change and new digital technologies are made available and used. Survey-based research is one such area that has evolved in an online world and can now be scaled in a network society. At this year’s AOM we celebrated with its editors, contributors, and others, the publication of a new handbook for researchers, The Sage Handbook of Survey Development and Application, which provides classic survey research coverage alongside cutting-edge tools and techniques to provide an authoritative and comprehensive overview for developing and applying surveys in research. 

Women with VR headset  and conference halyard sits for VR session on negotiation and conflict management skills
An AOM attendee trials the new Sage x Bodyswaps virtual-reality product designed to help students develop negotiation and conflict management skills.

Timothy Hoff and colleagues emphasized the importance of soft skills to personal and career development, and in turn, embedding soft skills such as adaptability and critical thinking into courses and curriculum. There’s also now a big opportunity to use AI tools to help develop soft skills as Tawnya Means emphasized in her session.

Related, Andrea Honal chaired a session which championed the evidence-based value in immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and using headsets to provide digital environments where students can learn and hone skills in a range of modes and scenarios, while educators can track their progress using learning analytics. On this, Sage unveiled at our AOM booth a new partnership with Bodyswaps to create AI-driven VR simulations to help higher edication students improve their negotiation and conflict management skills, combining Sage’s business and management expertise and Bodyswaps’ innovative technology. Here is a short promotional video to learn more about this new educational resource. 

3. This is Only the Start: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Indigenous Approaches for Management and Organization 

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a key pillar for Sage and informs how we recruit and retain, foster company culture, and what we publish and why. Having started as a female start-up in Mad Men-era New York City in 1965, Sage continues to champion topics like women in entrepreneurship and leadership, as illustrated in this recent video from Sage Video about women working in STEM leadership roles in New York City. Sage also recognizes the importance of authorship identity and representation and how this can help to provide new and diverse perspectives, especially in subject areas and for industries where diversity is lacking. For instance, if you are a young female student studying entrepreneurship, it’s important that you can find a textbook like the bestselling Entrepreneurship: The Practice and Mindset, lead-authored by Heidi Neck, and know that you are studying in a field that is inclusive and open to all, studying examples of diverse and relatable entrepreneurs. 

DEI was a strong focus at this year’s AOM. Sage Business Foundations contributor Mateo Cruz led a key session that community built beyond the conference on integrating DEI concepts and competencies into “the business core,” with attention to faculty readiness, curriculum shifts, inclusive classrooms, strategies and resources for implementation across all levels. Similarly, we at Sage don’t see DEI as a mere “bolt-on” to long-established study programs, but as something fully incorporated into “the business core.” We’e made a small but vital first step in making a DEI pledge and commitment part of our Business Foundations product, which you can read here

Group of roughly 20 people stand and look up at photographer
The DEI division celebrating its 50th anniversary at the AOM

The DEI division/interest group at the AOM 2023 was celebrating its 50th anniversary at this year’s meeting, headed up by its incoming chair (and Sage journal chair) Eddy Ng. This anniversary, alongside the division’s change of name over the years (most recently from Gender and Diversity in Organizations), reminds us that the AOM community has long been a progressive voice and its priorities are constantly evolve to align with social contexts and needs. Consider this division’s poignant journey since its inception as the Status of Women Interest Group during second-wave feminism in the early 1970s. This division’s now expansive and intersectional set of aims and objectives, with broad inclusion of all marginalized voices, is a key ally in working towards social justice through business research and education. We look forward to seeing the positive impacts of this division for at least another 50 years. 

The PhD Project student conference took place ahead of the AOM, and provided the perfect forum for this extremely diverse and talented pool of doctoral students to come together before many of them had attended the AOM meeting for the first time (a daunting moment given its scale!).  

Sage staff were involved in a roundtable event alongside the students and editors from some of Sage’s leading journals in the field who kindly offered their advice and guidance to students in getting published. To have Editorial teams from Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Studies, and Organizational Research Methods all present shows how committed our scholarly community are to tomorrow’s management and organizational researchers and to ensuring that they are thoroughly diverse and inclusive. 

Various people sit and talk while seated at round tables in large conference room
PhD Project students gaining useful insights on getting published from top journals editors.

At the PhD Project awards dinner, the students were inspired by professor Sharon Alvarez, AOM’s president-elect, who told them that with her appointment three presidents of the AOM are alumni of the project. That’s an extraordinary story and illustrates why Sage continues to partner with the project. 

As a commitment to DEI becomes a baseline expectation for business and management within both the academy and practice, and a good understanding of its principles become widespread, whilst continuing to do the work on those principles and keeping them front and center, it’s also important to seek larger strides in relation to DEI and ask what more can be done? One progressive movement we are excited about at Sage is the now burgeoning community of scholars and educators looking at indigenous-related research and teaching as part of international efforts to decolonize and indigenize research and the curriculum, illustrated by this recent video from Sage Video on feminist and indigenous methodologies. 

So it was fantastic to see a dedicated session on this topic at AOM 2023, led by Matt Murphy in bringing together both indigenous and non-indigenous faculty to help build knowledge, networks, and safe spaces for practice and future collaboration. During AOM, Sage met with Ana Maria Peredo, Jesse Pirini, and Stephen Cummings to discuss the work they are spearheading in this space within the management and organization community of scholars and educators, illustrated by their recent article in the Network for Business Sustainability and other related activities they have been leading in local communities across Canada, New Zealand and beyond. As they rightly pointed out during our meeting, academic work in this area must be handled with extraordinary care, particularly when working within indigenous communities. What indigenous frameworks and approaches can we adopt for management and organization, and how do we do so in a way that avoids cultural appropriation and the othering of indigenous lived experiences? The useful concept of “weaving together” seems like a good starting point for imagining an integrated approach to knowledge and practice.  

Following the AOM, Ana Maria, Jesse, and Stephen flew up to Ottawa for the inaugural consortium, The International Academy of Research in Indigenous Management and Organizational Studies, which was a great success, and we very much hope the first of many. 

4. No More ‘Business as Usual’: Grand Challenges and Sustainable Futures Must Be Prioritized 

Alongside AI, keywords that appeared regularly in the AOM schedule were “sustainability” and “grand challenges” (such as inequality, aging societies, war and nuclear threats, and political upheaval). These were discussed in the context of how well current research and teaching practices are set up to tackle so-called ‘wicked problems;’ who the stakeholders are needed to work in new collaborative and interdisciplinary formats; how management research can inform policy decision-making in these areas; and what demands the “Greta Generation” are positively placing on their instructors to transform the curriculum away from profit- towards sustainable, purpose-framed business education. Integration of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in business research and education is a positive starting point, but there is much work to be done to move beyond auditing and checklists and to culturally embed sustainability in ways that Klaus Weber highlighted in a session he led at the AOM on the relationship between organizational culture and sustainability. After all, and as the late management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” 

Attending the AOM following extreme weather conditions in the Mediterranean this summer and growing climate concerns globally, it felt appropriate to make this topic a focus of our presence at AOM 2023. We kicked things off with Sage colleague, Rebecca Frankel, giving a presentation to doctoral students in the Organizations and Natural Environment, or ONE, division. This is an exciting group of PhD students and emerging scholars doing incredibly important work with a clear social/environmental dimension. It was also an opportunity to promote a new journal to Sage, The Journal of Tropical Futures: Sustainable Business, Governance & Development at our booth with the chair of its editorial board, Eddy Ng. While it’s encouraging and essential to see so many well-established, mainstream business and management journals welcome submissions and increasingly publish research around sustainability, a dedicated journal offers a dedicated forum, which furthermore focuses on a part of the globe most impacted by climate change, the tropics. Its interdisciplinary nature also points to the fact that sustainability and other grand challenges won’t be solved in silos, countering as we must the oft-quoted line from Garry Brewer that, “The world has problems, but universities have departments.”

Eddy Ng, associate professor & Smith Professor of Equity & Inclusion at Queen’s University, engages with visitors to the exhibit hall at AOM. Ng is chair of the editorial board for the Sage-published Journal of Tropical Futures.

This vital interdisciplinary spirit in solving grand challenges is also present in Sage’s series on sustainability in Sage Business Cases, which includes cases on in-demand and diverse subjects, such as accounting, healthcare management, leadership, social enterprise, and more, with topics including “slow living,” renewables, business model innovation, B Corps, sustainable supply chains, community-based resource management and the circular economy, to name just a few. Check out the Sustainability series containing nearly 100 cases here in the link

5. Beyond the Academy: Societal Impact of Business/Management Research and Education  

Building off of a recent agenda-setting Academy of Management Learning & Education special issue, one key AOM session led by Olga Ryazanova looked at the impact of business research in light of societal challenges that business research could better help to address. The session raised some important associated questions around incentivization structures, career progression, existing metrics, and how to pitch and plan research for societal impact within such contexts.  

This echoes just some of the discussion points made in Sage’s recent white paper, “Measuring Societal Impact in Business & Management Research: From Challenges to Change,” which included some of the same personnel as the special issue, and put forward a variety of suggestions for ways to ensure that business/management research speaks to audiences beyond fellow discipline researchers. 

Terri Scandura shows off her two Sage textbooks. A second edition of Management Today publishes in February.

One AOM session led by those at schools involved in the excellent and inspiring Community on Business & Society alliance noted the central role of teaching alongside research, community, and voluntary projects, in working towards positive societal impact, especially given the huge student numbers today at business/management schools globally and the opportunity to shape the thinking of tomorrow’s leaders. This is precisely why Sage continues to focus strongly on publishing responsibly-minded teaching and learning resources alongside our journals program, and believes in the ongoing power and centrality of the humble textbook in helping to guide students ethically through their learning journey and out into workplaces. This was the spirit in which we celebrated with Terri Scandura the success and influence of her two leading Sage textbooks, Management Today and Essentials of Organizational Behavior at the AOM. 

Concluding and celebrating another year in Business & Management 

Like any annual meeting, between all the sessions, time spent in the exhibit hall, and author/editorial board meetings, there was still time at the AOM 2023 to socialize and celebrate the many successes of Sage’s business and management publications and resources. Looking around the rooms at our journal receptions and seeing all the name badges, it was exciting to see different generations and faculty from around the world come together and toast to each journal community. There was much to celebrate, from Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Devers outlining the incredible discipline rankings and impact factor (13.5) of the Journal of Management with nearly two million downloads in 2022 and one million downloads already in 2023 up to August; to Mark Learmouth, editor-in-chief of Human Relations, presenting the leading journal’s Best Paper Award to Penelope Muzanenhamo and Rashedur Chowdhury for their article and call for collective intellectual activism, “Epistemic injustice and hegemonic ordeal in management and organization studies: Advancing Black scholarship.”

Matthew Waters is a senior publisher for business & management at Sage. He is always keen to hear from those working in the business/management field. You can reach him by email: matthew.waters@sagepub.co.uk

View all posts by Matthew Waters

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