Some years ago I had a conversation with one of the research pioneers in measuring the quality of management across firms and its impact on economic growth. I asked why academics had paid so little attention to what seemed to me a very important issue. My interlocutor laughed and told me how he had presented his research results to an audience consisting about half and half of business school faculty and academic economists. The talk was met with deafening silence, as the economists, believed firmly, as classical theory would have it, that market forces will weed out sub-par managers who then are automatically replaced with better ones. The business faculty, on the other hand, found the research without the slightest interest because it was self-evident to them that better management invariably leads to better outcomes. I mention this anecdote because I still come across leaders of organizations that play important roles in economic and social development, yet management education is only rarely on their radar screens. Why is that?
As in the case of economists and business professors, a good part of the answer lies, I think, in “cultural silos” of different institutions, reflecting their respective leadership tradition. When I joined the World Bank senior engineers played a commanding role; fifteen years later, with the Latin American debt crisis and the advent of “structural adjustment lending”, economists came to dominate the institution. In global health, organizations tend to be infused by medical/public health traditions. Few of their leaders and top managers came from a management background. Cultural differences can make it very hard to build bridges between organizations, for example schools of public health and business schools, the former thinking of themselves as serving the public good and often considering the latter as encouraging transactional behavior. It is only in recent years that a growing number of developing world business schools have been offering healthcare management programs, and that some partner with schools of public health.
Nor are development agencies immune to blind spots about the importance of management skills. Leaders of public institutions tend to focus more on administration Ð knowing and applying rules – than on management, and therefore overlook the importance of nurturing skills such as strategizing, thinking independently, taking risks, innovating and working across bureaucratic boundaries, which good business schools instill. Many leaders of public development agencies and private philanthropies also tend to overlook the need to strengthen management skills in order to achieve sustainable outcomes. Once they see how leadership and management training improved efficiency in similar organizations, they may readily agree that “management matters” in their own institutions.
Wildlife conservation is an interesting example. Many of the leaders and staff of wildlife conservancies and the philanthropies that fund them are steeped in natural sciences such as zoology and environmental science. Few have business or management backgrounds. Yet few organizations pose more diverse managerial challenges than wildlife conservancies: first and foremost protect nature; align the interests of local communities, conservation and tourism; organize effective anti-poaching systems; run tourist operations; manage logistics and potential emergencies in remote geographies; hire and nurture personnel; interact with government at various levels; raise funding; and this doesn’t exhaust the list. Most of these challenges match offerings of business schools: strategy, organization, human resources management, NGO governance and management, hospitality management, basic finances, logistics, public/private partnerships, fundraising, communications, outsourcing, networking and other sub-disciplines. Clearly, business schools have much to offer that can help conservancies enhance their outcomes. GBSN is working on an African initiative that will bring together conservancies and management schools. More about this exciting project at the end of May.
Lastly, I deplore once again the near-total absence of research on the impact of management education on developmental outcomes. Business school rankings focus mainly on pre- and post-study remuneration, and very rarely on contributions to society Ð the impact on infant mortality of improved hospital management, the jobs created by graduates of entrepreneurship courses, and, yes, the welfare of communities around conservancies and the numbers of rhinos and elephants saved from poachers, not to mention additional foreign exchange earnings from tourism.
Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network