Archive for the ‘business schools’ Category
Henry Mintzberg raises the hypothesis that business schools aren’t terribly good at training managers:
This is one question these centers of research do not study. We made an exception. A decade after its publication in 1990, I looked at a book called Inside the Harvard Business School, by David Ewing. (The first line was “The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world.” Unfortunately he might have been right.) The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who “had made it to the top”—the school’s superstars as of 1990. My attention was drawn to a few people who would not have been on that list after 1990.
So Joseph Lampel and I studied the subsequent records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that the company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable at least. Some of these 14 CEOs built up or turned around businesses, prominently and dramatically, only to see them weaken or collapse just as dramatically.
Mintzberg also notes that few people seemed interested in his analysis. It’s like a medical school ignoring a study showing that all their graduates kills their patients.
My view on these findings is (a) I need some counter factuals – do non-MBA holders do any better? and (b) an assessment of selection effects – maybe at risk companies tend to over-recruit MBA’s in a desperate attempt to save the ship. Mintzberg is definitely onto something important. It is not entirely clear how a lot MBA training translates into making the tough decisions that CEO’s are often faced with.
Recently, Elizabeth and Brayden have drawn attention to the institutional position of organizational sociology. Three pertinent facts:
- A lot of organizational sociologists have moved to b-schools.
- The major orgtheory/b-school journal, ASQ, rarely publishes people in sociology programs.*
- The dominance of institutional theory
When I look at these trends, I see two things. One, orgtheory has market value. A low budget discipline like sociology simply won’t retain people. Two, I think there is a “thinning” that is occurring in orgtheory. While orgtheory remains vibrant, it is now, in sociology, a field that has jettisoned much of its heritage. Sociologists have gravitated toward big structural theories, like institutionalism, networks, and ecology (the big three, as Heather might say). But what happened to the rest? Why don’t sociologists care about Carnegie school theory? Why have people stopped working on Blau style middle level theory? Human relations?
The answer is not clear to me. One culprit might be the journal system. To succeed in sociology at the higher levels, you need fast publication in two or three journals and it’s probably easier to just work on well established variables/processes (diffusion/density/networks). I certainly did that and I freely admit that I’d be unemployed if I tried to hatch new variables. Second, there might simply be a new division of labor in academia. The “sociology of organizations” now simply means structural analysis. An “b-school orgtheory” means other features of orgs, like performance, that sociologists care less about.
* That didn’t have to be the case, Don.
So I was toying around with the “future of org theory” line of thought, and started thinking about the past of org theory instead, because that’s so much easier.
In my mind ASQ straddles sociology and business schools, or at least has, historically. I thought that ASQ used to publish a fair number of sociologists and now publishes fewer. I figured that was part of the decline-of-org-theory-in-soc story.
But when I took a look, it turned out (based on a limited, totally nonscientific sample) I had the story totally wrong. There were hardly any sociologists publishing in ASQ 20 years ago, either.
A little data, based on the author bio pages: The last four issues of ASQ had, collectively, 45 authors. One, Olav Sorensen, has a courtesy appointment in sociology. Three — Sorenson, Amanda Sharkey, and Brayden King — have soc PhDs but B-school appointments. That’s it for sociologists. Not all the rest are at B-schools, but they’re not in soc departments either.
But. Ten years ago, in 2003-04, ASQ had 34 authors. Not one was appointed solely to a soc department. Two had a joint appointment in sociology and something else, and one a courtesy appointment in soc. Six (including the joint/courtesy appointments) held sociology PhDs.
Okay, I thought. I’m just not going far back enough. The decline of sociologists took place earlier, maybe in the late 90s. So I looked at 1993-94.
Nope. No dice. 36 authors. 1 with a sociology appointment, 1 with a joint appointment in sociology. Three soc PhDs.
That’s where I stopped, since it was getting time-consuming, though I’m curious if another decade would have made a difference.
I suppose on the one hand this shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, “Administrative Science” kind of gives it away: not a sociology journal. But why would I have had the impression that there used to be more sociologists publishing in ASQ? Has org theory as done in business schools moved further from sociology in other ways?
Gabriel Abend has just published The Moral Background, a book that investigates the rise of business ethics. It’s certainly a history of American business ethics, but it has a much more ambitious purpose. Abend uses the history of business ethics to illustrate and promote a specific sociological idea: “the moral background.”
This is an important idea so I’ll try to give you a sense of what it means. Roughly speaking, morality – the labeling of things as good or bad – depends on a number prior ideas and cognitive processes – the “background.” In Abend’s account, the “background” has many dimensions, such as a repertoire for argument, an ability to perceive certain people and actors as capable of moral actions, and tacit assumptions about how the social world works. In other words, moral judgments rely on a gut feeling of what should be moral, an understanding who can be moral, and tools for making arguments about good and bad.
Business ethics, it turns out, is an amazingly good case study because for a long time the concept didn’t exist in quite the same way as it does today. Now, there are business ethicists, a Better Business Bureau and over a century of arguments about what responsibilities business should have. I am not doing justice to this meaty book, but the book’s empirical chapters are quite fascinating (and very detailed) explorations of how the “moral background” of business was defined in the corporate office, the church and the business school.
This book represents, in a sense, the full expression of some emergent themes in cultural sociology that were well expressed in Isaac Reed’s book, which argued that what sociologists do (or ought to do) is study “cultural landscapes.” When you combine this book, Reed’s book, and others like Glaeser’s book, you see that cultural sociology has now made a notable move from the study of cognition (Griswold), toolkits (Swidler) and actions (Joas) and established, or re-established, the primacy of symbolic systems as the focus of its inquiry.
This semester, I agreed to teach a PhD-level course on organizational theory when I realized that fewer and fewer colleagues who are trained in organizational research remain in sociology departments. Apparently, I am not the only organizational researcher who is wondering about the implications of the de-centralization of organizational sociology.
Mark your calendars for Aug.! Liz Gorman has planned the following Organizations, Occupations, and Work (OOW) session for the ASA annual meeting this Aug. in San Francisco. The line-up includes some of our regular commenters and readers:
Title: Section on Organizations, Occupation and Work Invited Session. Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?Description: Few sociologists today consider themselves primarily scholars of organizations. Sociologists who study different types of organizations within their primary fields–such as economic sociology, science, social movements, political sociology, and urban sociology–are often not in conversation with each other. Many sociologically-trained scholars have migrated to business schools and become absorbed by the large interdisciplinary field of organization studies, which tends to have a managerial orientation. Little attention is directed to the broader impact of organizations on society. This invited session will consider these and other trends in the study of organizations within the discipline of sociology. It will ask whether “organizations” still constitutes a coherent subfield, whether it can or should be revitalized, and what its future direction might look like.Participants:Organizer: Elizabeth Gorman, University of VirginiaPanelists:Howard Aldrich, University of North Carolina – Chapel HillElisabeth Clemens, University of ChicagoHarland Prechel, Texas A&M UniversityMartin Ruef, Duke UniversityEzra Zuckerman, MIT Sloan School
Topics: Organizations, Formal and Complex
An old question for management scholars, with a few words from Bill Reichert, a well known tech guy:
Anyone who has spent any time in the entrepreneur ecosystem knows that there is an inverse correlation between high prestige MBAs and entrepreneurship. It’s clear what is going on here. The GMAT, like the SAT, is focused on finding the high achievement individuals in society — not the compassionate, ethical, collaborative, or socially conscious individuals. The whole institutional educational game is focused on individual achievement and test scores on standardized bodies of knowledge, not on teamwork, risk-taking, and innovative thinking.
A biting quote for legend Guy Kawasaki:
Entrepreneurs ask us all the time how we figure out the valuation of a startup company. Most VCs suggest that this is a very mysterious art. But actually it’s quite simple: To determine the fair value of a startup company, multiply the number of engineers by $250,000, add $250,000 for each engineer from IIT, and then subtract $500,000 for each MBA. <
Reichert ends on a positive note:
So what should we do to develop these talents in our young people? Is it the proper domain of our university system to teach team skills and social consciousness? Or do we simply accept that the current approach to finding and selecting elites is the best the university system can do, and leave it to the real world to apprentice young graduates in these skills and attitudes? It’s hard to imagine developing an effective curriculum for our educational system that will develop the non-academic team skills and creative thinking skills that we need. But we can probably do more, in early education, in the universities, and in the workplace, to foster the development of these skills and to make sure that young people with these skills are not undervalued by the educational system, or by our society.
Definitely worth the read.
lifting the crimson curtain: Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education
As a grad student, I always found crossing the bridge over the Charles River from Harvard University to the Harvard Business School (HBS) to be a bit like approaching Emerald (or more appropriately, Crimson) City. On the Allston side, the buildings seemed shinier (or, as shiny as New England vernacular architecture allows), and the grounds were undergoing constant replantings, thanks to a well-heeled donor. In addition, HBS has loomed large as an institution central to the dissemination of organizational theory and management practices, including Elton Mayo’s human relations.
HBS has certain peculiarities about teaching and learning, like the use of case studies which follow formulaic structures as the basis for directed class discussion.* Moreover, instructors follow a strict grading break-down: mandatory “III”s assigned to the lowest-performing students of classes – a source of concern, as students with too many IIIs must justify their performance before a board and possibly go on leave.** To help instructors with grading, hired scribes document student discussion comments.***
Such conditions raise questions about the links, as well as disconnects, between classroom and managerial leadership, so I was delighted to see a new ethnography about business school teaching at the UChicago Press book display at ASAs.
With his latest book, Michel Anteby lifts the crimson curtain from HBS with his new book Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013).
Here’s the official blurb:
“Corporate accountability is never far from the front page, and as one of the world’s most elite business schools, Harvard Business School trains many of the future leaders of Fortune 500 companies. But how does HBS formally and informally ensure faculty and students embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand experience as a Harvard Business School faculty member, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.
In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, Harvard Business School has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence and ambiguity in HBS’s process of codifying morals and business values. As Anteby describes, at HBS specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy. Anteby suggests that this model-which tolerates moral complexity-is perhaps one of the few that can adapt and endure over time.”
Check it out! And while you’re at it, have a look at Anteby’s previous book, Moral Gray Zones (2008, Princeton University Press).