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?
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