Is Management Really a Profession?

Posted by: Jena McGregor on September 18, 2007

Doctors must take the Hippocratic Oath and earn continuing education credits for years. Lawyers must pass the bar and adhere to strict codes about attorney-client privileges. But although managers have long been known colloquially as “professionals,” the graduate schools many of them attended have long drifted away from their founding charters, which wanted to create a profession of management.

That’s the argument made by Rakesh Khurana, a Harvard Business School professor, in his new book, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. Khurana, who made a name for himself with his 2004 book, Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs, is a star at HBS, and builds a fascinating argument for why business school education is in need of reform. For an interesting discussion between him and Yale School of Management Dean Joel M. Podolny, click here.

I had the opportunity to hear Khurana speak about his book on Monday at a luncheon at the Princeton Club. Khurana defines a profession as one in which its practitioners have to master a certain body of knowledge, in which that knowledge is used to help others, and in which there’s a governance system that’s both ethical and self-policing in nature. None of those really describe management: Anyone can become a manager, whether or not they have an MBA; it’s not really done to aid a client; and there is no self-policing body making sure ethical standards are met. Khurana argues that while the founders of today’s elite business schools tried to legitimize business education by calling it a profession (no self-respecting elite institution at the time wanted to have anything to do with something so tied to making money), today, it’s become anything but.

Khurana believes we’re at an “inflection point of what the role of business should be,” and as pressures build to create corporations more attuned to benefiting society, we also need to educate future managers to do the same. He suggests that business schools could have some way of proving their students have mastered the curriculum (a board exam for MBAs?) and that there should be some “evergreen” aspect to the MBA (continuing education requirements, for instance). He adds that in “Rakesh’s normative world,” there might even be an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath for business students. He even has a suggestion for the first sentence: “First, I will not lie.”

What do you think? Should management be more of a profession?

Reader Comments

John A. Byrne

September 20, 2007 8:18 AM

Management, a profession? Please. Management is a creative art, a discipline, maybe even a game. But a profession? Never. Harnessing the human spirit and the energy of an organization can never be a profession. No more than playing the sax in a jazz quartet. No more than painting vivid colors on a canvas.

Brandon W

September 20, 2007 1:35 PM

Start by distinguishing between ownership of a company and the employees. Managers are employees - the end. Anyone can be a manager, regardless of education and credentials, because modern management is little more than oversight of process execution. I have a BBA in Marketing and a Master's degree in Organizational Development, and I own a business. Business school is a lot of high-minded chatter that accomplishes nothing... The real world doesn't work like business school.

Subir Dhar

September 23, 2007 1:24 AM

MBA can never be and never should aspire to be a professional course.

A professional course requires a very strong body of knowledge spread over a period of time (eg. Law, Medicine, Engineering - each takes 4-6 years)- and a profiency in the subject is a minimum requirement to perform in one's career. Compare this with just a 15 month program of Management - and you get to know the answer.

Secondly - Most of the businesses in the world start off as small business entities - do you want all the people to get an MBA and then start a business?

To me it appears that there are concerns of long term survivability of MBAs (and also to answer what value an MBA brings to an organization).

The worry is - if the MBAs are not valued, then even the factories churning out the MBAs will also not be valued too.

The possible approach maybe to include/embed the Management Courses as part of professional courses to achieve the desired results.

Regards

Subir Dhar
Bangalore

Dan Curtis

September 27, 2007 9:11 AM

Management is an art and a science. I think what people have been hoping for over the years for the MBA was that it would create business "leaders." Folks that when they graduated were potential, even likely, CEOs or CFOs some day.

With the MBA easier to attain today than 10 years ago, and many schools pumping MBAers out left and right, the goals haven't changed but the outcome is much different. An MBAer today is a specialist now more than a generalist and prepared for taking over the reigns in different areas of the business field; accounting, management, HR, etc.

Does the MBA world require policing? I am not sure. But I don't think it should be a rubber stamp recieved on the list of prerequisites for a CEO. We all know you can't really teach leadership. You have that trait....or you don't. It isn't learned, but rather refined over years of experience and learning.

S. Algoo

September 27, 2007 1:50 PM

Being a student in her second year of the MBA, I agree with Mr. Khurana as to the validity of calling the MBA a professional course.

I believe that being a manager equipped with the MBA, trains the person to use specific tools taught as part of the MBA which leads to smarter management of processes that achieve quantifiable goals. Specialization helps a person focus on using available information within a specific area , linking with other functional divisions in an organziation easily. On the other hand, the manager without an MBA learns how to use the same tools but those are often colored by personal experiences.The learning is limited to what parameters of the organization. It is often fragmented and these managers cannot function in the global marketplace that we are working in.

Finally, the MBA is a tool that can be used by any professional. Engineers , lawyers go on to get an MBA to help them manage large organizations.As Mr. Curtis rightly points out, a CEO is a natural leader. Leadership can be a profession or an art or a science. If the leader is able to convey and lead the team, we have a successful company, if it fails, the organization folds.

Business is a great playing field.

V

December 12, 2008 6:08 AM

anyone here has read Mintzberg's book? I guess he gives all the answers to this ...

Scott

April 22, 2009 1:27 AM

Management as a legitimate occupation is in question right now, let alone as a true-to-life profession.

To me, a manager has more in common with a used-car-salesman than with a doctor.

It's an overpaid post, to be sure. The MBA degree ill-prepared a whole generation of dupes for doing something that's illegitimate to begin with: telling other free people what to do.

gg

June 24, 2009 1:11 AM

Business Management is a profession.
believe me. ^^

gg

June 24, 2009 1:11 AM

Business Management is a profession.
believe me. ^^

balaji kharatmal

September 8, 2009 7:11 AM

professionalism is an integral part of modern management.to sustain in the market one who has desire to grow should maintain this approach.being a student of management i agree with the view of mgmt as a profession.

pride blue

September 13, 2009 4:15 PM

management is a profession much as it doesn't have strict code of conduct and things like that................

michael tusiime

September 16, 2009 4:50 AM

The emerging trend of separation of management from ownership and increasing professionalism has to a debate as whether management is profession,Discuss.

mr manager

October 6, 2009 2:47 AM

Management is an art and a science. I think what people have been hoping for over the years for the MBA was that it would create business "leaders." Folks that when they graduated were potential, even likely, CEOs or CFOs some day.

With the MBA easier to attain today than 10 years ago, and many schools pumping MBAers out left and right, the goals haven't changed but the outcome is much different. An MBAer today is a specialist now more than a generalist and prepared for taking over the reigns in different areas of the business field; accounting, management, HR, etc.

Does the MBA world require policing? I am not sure. But I don't think it should be a rubber stamp recieved on the list of prerequisites for a CEO. We all know you can't really teach leadership. You have that trait....or you don't. It isn't learned, but rather refined over years of experience and learning.

Good read


bondage

sardar haroon

October 15, 2009 9:45 AM

i am also a student of business administration i think that management is a activity which is perform by the person and his staff to achieve common goal and also for company's or organization's benefit.so management is a profession..

evans

October 26, 2009 8:45 AM

I think that management is more of an art than a profession.It is all about achieving organizatinal's goals and there are no laid down principlesor formular that if followed will give the exact desired outcome .

Obadia John Mwaihola

November 18, 2009 6:27 AM

Management is not a profession.
that is because it do not meet all the vital attributes of a profession even though it may contain some.
in addition,it is well understood that professional is the one is specialized in a specific field of that particular profession and therefore he/she only deals with only A SPECIFIC TYPE OF CLIENTS.
for example,
a professional(doctor)dentist deals with clients with dental problems only!
there is no way he can deal with a client with a heart attack unless he is SPECIALIZED in that particular field.
But in management it is different,
THERE IS NO SPECIFIC TYPE OF CLIENTS!!!
That also disqualifies management from being a profession.

Obadia John,
first year BBA student,
Mzumbe university.

David Watson

February 4, 2010 12:20 PM

I dont get what gives someone with a Management degree the right to run, for instance, a hospital or an engineering firm. All organisations should be run by people who understand the company's products/services instead of outside managers.

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