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A Contribution to the

Advancement of
Management Education

Andr Faizi Alves


Oct 2015

In the last decade or so, more and more people have been calling for an improvement in
business (Management/Administration) education, as seen in articles such as How Business
Schools Lost Their Way and Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools? (Published by HBR and NYT, respectively)
Quite possibly, in order for any improvement to be significant, it has to address at least two
dimensions of the discipline of management:
1. The human dimension
2. The scientific dimension
1. THE HUMAN DIMENSION (INDIVIDUAL VS. COLLECTIVITY)
To date, the human dimension of management has primarily been addressed through
courses like Ethics, Organizational Behavior, and Leadership. However, these courses could improve their contributions by further exploring and incorporating principles related to the essential reality of our human species.
Even if not clearly spelled out, a call to reexamine the essential principles that should guide
our lives is present in the questioning of the way that the most reputable educational institutions are preparing the most brilliant minds. The implosion of companies such as Enron, Arthur Anderson, WorldCom, and major financial corporations during the 2008 crisis is a display
of the lack of understanding of the vital principle that should govern the relationship between
individual and society.
To be fair, this failure is not due to a lack of concern on the part of higher educational institutions; for example, nearly all of them have Ethics as an obligatory course. However, courses
that, after exploring different theories, rest their argument on the idea that people should be
ethical because it is good for the bottom-line of their companies should consider evaluating
how connected such a proposition is with the essential reality of our species. Now, to better
contextualize the magnitude of the task that these educational institutions are being asked to
accomplishthat is, to prepare humans to be ethicalwe should not forget that moral values
are primarily acquired and consolidated during an individual's upbringing. After this stage, it is
not easy to change a persons values and character. A person that has grown selfish will have a
hard time, for example, becoming altruist.
Ethics, like all other management courses, has to be designed in light of the principle of unity in diversity, of the oneness of humanity.
A sustainable social order is distinguished, among other things, by an ethic of reciprocity
and balance at all levels of human organization. A relevant analogy is the human body: here,
millions of cells collaborate to make human life possible. The astounding diversity of form and
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function connects them in a lifelong process of giving and receiving. It represents the highest
expression of unity in diversity.1 Bah International Com-munity
Hence, a solution to the false dichotomy between ethics theories that focus on individuals,
like Respect for Persons (forget Egoism), and those which focus on the collectivity, like Utilitarian-ism, can be found in the understanding that the human species is an organic whole 2. Neither humans nor society can exist without the other. Excessive focus on the community, as exemplified by communism, or on the individual, as it is the case of capitalism, has proved, in the
end, to be harmful to both individual and collectivity, even if some of the greatest beneficiaries
of the material output of each economic system are unconscious of this truth.
In sum, if management schools, and in particular courses that explore the human dimension, expect to better their contribution to the creation of true individual and social well-being,
they should consider exploring and deepening their understanding of the reality of our species.
2. SCIENTIFIC DIMENSION (MANAGERIAL vs. NON-MANAGERIAL WORK)
Concerning the scientific dimension of management, a quick scan of the disciplines literature suffices to expose the difficulty that the thinkers of the profession have had in explaining
it. To date there is no consensus about its definition. Additionally, there is no consensus on
what management is supposed to do. Even the four most commonly accepted and taught
basic functions (adapted from Fayols work) are explained differently by different authors. In
the end, the explanation of each function ends up being a mosaic of topics that each author
feels are relevant. Left unexplained are the non-basic functions. One can only assume that
the non-basic functions are everything else. It is of little wonder, then, that today the majority of management graduates and professionals have a hard time, if asked, to present a definition of management and/or an explanation of what managers are supposed to do.
Here too, reflection will show that this problem also stems from the fact that the development of the scientific aspect of management has been affected by the same deficit in the under-standing of the essential reality of our species that has impacted the courses that address
the human dimension. Depending on how one understands human beings (the purpose of life),
and the purpose of organizations, so will one define and explain management. Above all, the
explanation of the role of management must be coherent with the concept of organizations as
truly social systems.
A materialistic view of life has driven the majority of management thinkers (and practitioners) to focus on production and, therefore, on specialization or, in other words, to focus on the
non-managerial work of specialized areas, leaving unclear the work that management is supposed to do. This approach, for the most part, continues to guide the design of management
courses as well as the reasoning for promoting people to their first managerial position.
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Consequently, today, most management courses are developed with focus on functional areas. Aside from the knowledge of the non-managerial work that characterizes each area, these
courses do bundle in some management programs, tools, and so forth, but none of them
provides clear explanations of how the complementary knowledge relates to management
functions. For example, knowledge of double entry and network security, although extremely
important for good management of the respective areas of finance and IT, is primarily required
by the non-managers who will be executing the technical work of each area. Certainly, for
good management of the areas of finance and IT, at some point the managerial work, for instance, of Planning and Organizing has to intersect with the non-managerial knowledge of double entry and network security. But to focus on the latter category of work in detriment of the
first hampers the preparation of managers. As a result, basically all students leave management
courses without a clear understanding of where non-managerial work ends and where managerial work begins.
NEW DESIGN PURE MANAGEMENT vs. CUSTOMIZED MANAGEMENT
In practice, in order to improve management education while addressing the two above dimensions and at the same time not losing the benefits resulting from the knowledge of specialized work areas, programs could be redesigned primarily around two major concepts:
a) Pure Management Around this concept, focus is placed on the managerial work that
is the reality of the job everywherethat is, on the work that has to be performed by managers
irrespective of management level, area of work specialization, and so forth. Courses in this area
impart the knowledge and skills required to manage any work area, regardless of whether or
not a manager is familiar with particular customized managerial work, as no customized managerial work can cover all the needs of any particular work area. Additionally, other topics that
are fundamental to the practice of the profession, like human beings, organizations, and work
domains, should be explored.
b)
Customized Management this concept should guide the design of courses that expose students to the best practices of specialized work areasthat is, to help the students acquire the knowledge and skills of both the managerial work that has been customized to areas
like a section, department, or industry and the non-managerial work that has been the object of
such customization. In other others, courses in this area would teach a combination of customized managerial work and non-managerial work specific of particular work areas, primarily functional ones, such as Operations, Marketing, or Finance. Also, Management Programs should be
taught to help with the execution of particular management function or set of functions that
can be applied to specific situations regardless of work area.

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References
1. Bah International Community. Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism. Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable
Development.
http://www.bic.org/statements/rethinking-prosperity-forging-alternatives-cultureconsumerism
2. Bah International Community. The Prosperity of Humankind. Statement Library. 1995.
http://statements.bahai.org/95-0303.htm

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