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Articles and Interviews

Are Business Schools Ready for Romance?

by Professor Milenko Gudic 2006

An interview with David Maister for the Central and East European Management Development Association (CEEMAN) in CEEMAN News, April 2006.

CEEMAN is proud to announce that David H. Maister, the world leading authority on professional service firms will be the keynote speaker in the 14th CEEMAN Annual Conference on Creating Synergy between Business Schools and Business. He will talk on “Communication and Relationship Development: How to Improve Mutual Understanding between Business Schools and Business”.

Milenko Gudic: In your recent article Do You Really Want Relationships?, you were talking about the differences between the relationship and transactional approaches in dealing with clients, and for the former you were using the “romance” metaphor. In this context, how would you describe the prevailing practices in business schools today, when it comes to their approach to businesses. Are business schools ready for their romance with business?

David Maister: I don’t think many business schools really ant a relationship with business. I cannot speak for all countries, but in most places I go to, I see that business schools are still predominantly academic institutions, with scholarly values, not places filled with people who really want to engage with business. Oh, yes, business schools want to STUDY business, but from a detached point of view. Business schools want to be professors, they do not want to be managers. They want to be observers, not participants. Most of them are like anthropologists, studying mysterious tribes, but making no effort to join the tribe.

Business schools pretend that they are preparing people for business careers, but the truth is that they provide a very one-sided preparation.

This is what I wrote in a recent blog post of mine, entitled Why Business Schools Cannot Develop Managers:

“As I have often reported, I have every business degree the planet has to offer, and even taught at the Harvard Business School. Yet at the end of all that I knew quite a lot about business and nothing about managing.

‘Business’ as a subject (and a degree program) is all about things of the logical, rational, analytical mind: Mike Porter’s five forces, the numerous P’s of marketing, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, etc, etc. It’s about knowledge.

Managing, on the other hand, is a skill, and has nothing to do with rationality, logic, IQ or intelligence. It’s a simple issue of whether or not you can influence individuals or organizations to accomplish something. It’s about influencing people, singly or in groups (or in hordes.) No amount of intelligence will help if you are not able to interact with people and get the response you desire. (Believe me, I have experienced the difference. I know a lot about management from my education. That doesn’t mean I’m any good at doing it.)

And of course, this is not accomplished by taking a college course in psychology, sociology, anthropology or any other ‘ology’ where we sit around and intellectualize about ‘human resources’ but never have to actually deal with a real live human being. (It reminds me of the Linda Ronstadt / Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris song which contains the line — you don’t know what a man is until you have to please one!)

To help people develop as managers doesn’t mean discussing management (or even worse — leadership), but rather requires putting people through a set of processes where they have to experience it, try it out , and develop their emotional self-control and interactive styles.

MBAs are not getting the right education for management, although in developing their analytical skills the business schools are perfect for developing consultants, investment bankers and other professionals, as evidenced by where their graduates actually go. Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill has recently published a book — Managers not MBAs — which makes many related points.

MG: What does it take for business schools to develop romance with business? Do they have to be “romantic” also internally. If yes, how?

DM: My original article contrasted relationships with transactions, which can be viewed as long-term interdependence versus loose temporary affiliations.

Business schools, like all university departments, are not created from people who want interdependency. Faculty in universities are not really wedded to their colleagues — each is encouraged to be an intellectual entrepreneur, each developing his or her own intellectual capital. There is rarely a department-wide or school-wide point of view, because the faculty would hate that. Faculty want independence, not relationships. We are choosing for business school faculty people who absolutely do not want to be tied into an organization which imposes common obligations, common purpose and common mission. Yet we ask these people to study and teach about organizations that need exactly that!

Similarly, there is not relationship with students or executive education. There are only short-term transactions with undergraduate, MBA or executive audiences. There is no real pretense at long-term relationships at most places. Maybe one or two in the world, but the truth is that these are marriages of convenience. We’ll pay you our fees and pretend to listen to you if you’ll give us the rubber stamp of your qualification.

MG In the last CEEMAN Deans and Directors Meeting on the Challenges and Methods do Faculty Development, when we discussed what kind of faculty students appreciate we heard an expression that you also frequently quote: people do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. The question is whether the concept of care is related only to individuals, or it could be also something that schools as institutions could and should embrace.

Yes institutions can care, if there is clarity about who you are truly trying to serve, and a a real commitment to do that. That’s what REAL missions are about. However, scholars are not committed to serve anyone, except maybe their intellectual peers. It would be theoretically possible to imagine a business school that truly lived up to its mission, but I have never seen one. Like most organizations, business schools know what they say they SHOULD be committed to (excellence, teaching, serve the community, provide practical business advice) but they don’t enforce these standards. Or they don’t enforce them at a high level. Mostly, you can keep your job as long as you don’t actually mess up.

MG Large businesses have been increasingly developing their own internal education and training, including corporate universities. On the other hand, in the context of the increasing competitiveness in the globalizing business education industry, schools have been “corporatizing” themselves. What kind of challenges and/or opportunities these trends offer for the development of a real romance that business schools and business should strive for?

DM: Many large professional firms, in an attempt to develop their own managers, are linking up with prominent business schools to train their partners in management. The partners may be learning about business, but when it comes to managing it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. If you want to get experience (or even understanding) of how people actually respond and function, individually and in groups, it’s not clear that a group of scholars who are super-intelligent but have never actually managed anyone are the best providers of that service. Firms would be better off hiring the Dale Carnegie trainers.

But such approaches remain the exception rather than the rule, and, I suspect, are still being designed and conducted by faculty who were specifically selected for their interest in things of the mind -intellectuals who predisposition is to draw analytical lessons from the experience, rather than to help people hone practical skills. Business schools are becoming MORE scholarly places as the years go by, not less.

I’m not saying business schools don’t do wonderful things for people (and perhaps to them.) I’m very grateful for what my education did for me, and proud of the institutions I was affiliated with. I just don’t think any of it had anything to do with making me a better manager — or much of one at all.

As Coert Visser pointed out on my blog, Jeffrey Pfeffer has provided some additional reasons which explain why many MBA graduates often don’t turn out to be great managers. One of those is that economic theories and models have a too dominant position in MBA’s in particular and in management science and education in general. Many authors, like Jeffrey Pfeffer, Daniel Kahneman and Robert Frank have shown that many of the economics theories and practices are based on faulty premises about human behaviour. Management education needs better theories!

Peter FRIEDES said on my blog that there are two fundamental skills that managers need to have to be effective. The skill to Relate to their employees and the skill to require of their employees. Relating includes the skills to Ask, Listen, Include, Coach and Encourage. The Requiring skills include the ability to focus on goals, Declare, Insist, Control and Confront. If a manager has both sets of skills, and a reasonable sense of when to use each set, they will be a good manager. Almost no schools teach the Relating skills.

(Peter Friedes, the ex-CEO of Hewitt Associates, wrote a FABULOUS and PRACTICAL book called ‘The 2R Manager”, for which I wrote the foreword. I still think it is essential reading for anyone taking on a managerial role.)

There’s a lot that business schools COULD be, but I don’t think the current faculty in most places have what it takes to go there, because they don’t WANT to go there. They are (terrific) scholars, not people who really want to engage with the world.