There is no doubt that living and working in our contemporary society, that is characterised by the techno-economic ongoing and fragmentary development, we as individuals see ourselves struggle with such emerging issues identified by Arisian: lack of security, uncertainty, risk, stress, individualism, nihilism, relativism, and subjectivism. We might add to these: ambiguity and suffering as contended by Mansueto & Mansueto. Surely, the influence of uncertainty on individuals and business is huge (Lane and Klenke, 2004). Individuals might be feeling alienated in such a society.
Indeed, we are in the midst of a crisis of confidence in the leadership spearheading several of our domestic and global institutions. Parameshwar states that this is manifested in the spate of corporate frauds, corruption , the sense of betrayal engendered by downsizing, reengineering, new technologies , economic recession with growing unemployment. Add to these the expanding threat and counter threat of war by nations together with domestic and international terrorism. Add to all these issues what is identified by Andreaus et al., the presence of unethical actions and the lack of consideration of the social and ethical impact of economic and financial choices taken by business organizations and individual businessmen.
Such developments in this post-ideological period and post-modern society seem to threaten the very fabric of the society, by allowing individuals to stand alone, and to introduce change to or even reject the values that have hitherto defined the character of Western society. Figure (1) highlights some but not all the problems that we are facing – not only in the Western world, but rather these seem to be a hallmark of the global society as a whole.
This is summed up by Andreaus et al., who through a literature review had emphasized the possibility that a lack of values lies at the core of the crisis and the amorality of business which needs to be confronted. Certainly, this trend, if left unchecked, might lead to grievous consequences for the society as a whole.
The question that poses itself here is: Have those leaders (such as CEOs or CIOs or CFOs of some of the companies such as Citibank, AIG, General Motors, Storm, Northern Rock, Goldman Sachs amongst others that made the headlines with the meltdown in 2008/2009) obtained their higher education degrees? And the answer would most probably be a resounding ‘YES’ , with some graduating from some of the highranking higher education institutions. WHAT WENT WRONG? What was the gap between what those individuals learned at the higher education institutions and their actions when they became responsible in the contemporary business world?
To allow proper answers to such questions, let us recall earlier seminal literature that might assist us; where Bruch and Ghoshal posit ‘The real gap was between knowledge and action.’ – Yes, unfortunately, the majority of our higher education institutions would graduate students who MIGHT have the knowledge, but feel lost when in the real world – unable to act! The real problem was that even though they knew what to do, they simply did not do those things. Bruch and Ghoshal provide a phrase to describe the situation as the pervasive ‘knowing-doing gap’ in companies. By the same token, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton of Stanford posed the question: ‘Did you ever wonder why so much education and training, management consultation, organisational research, and so many books and articles produce so few changes in actual management practice?… Why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behaviour consistent with that knowledge.’.
Well, in an attempt to respond, I take refuge in Ghoshal (2005), who posits that bad management theories are destroying good management practices. Further, Ghoshal 2005 argues that Business Schools do not need to do a great deal more to help prevent future Enrons; they need only to stop doing a lot they currently do. They do not need to create new courses; they need to simply stop teaching some old ones. But, before doing any of this, we—as business school faculty—need to own up to our own role in creating Enrons. Ghoshal goes on to argue that our theories and ideas have done much to strengthen the management practices that we are all now so loudly condemning.
I add my voice to other scholars, stating that organizations, including higher education institutions, need to discover their inner power to balance energies and transform themselves into more humane systems; that management should be recognised as the art of doing and getting done; that researchers in management should share the blame for the failure of businesses; to cease solving the ‘negative problem’ of containing the costs of human imperfections, which led to pessimism in management research; that management researchers recognize their social and moral responsibility towards business and management; that the existence of internal controls that ensure management in higher education provide assurance regarding reliability of their reporting in accordance with the generally accepted principles that include policies and procedures; that research into the role of executives’ perceptions of ethical issues needs to be implemented within the curriculum. We should be looking beyond the meltdown and downfall of the economy and morality, ceasing the blame game, and instead assisting in the shaping of tomorrow’s business leaders through the principles and practices of business ethics programs at the universities. Most importantly, employing individual’s self-control .
There is a way, and deriving from Issa, one approach would be to develop that which Weick and Sutcliffe describe as faculties to cope with errors and anticipate events before they occur, to develop capabilities for mindfulness, swift learning, flexible role structures, and most importantly, adapting a mindset of prevention to preempt the need for a cure. While Weick and Sutcliffe contend that human fallibility is like gravity, just another foreseeable hazard, well-developed skills to detect and contain failings in their early stages might be what is missing – skills which otherwise would allow a better understanding of how the different parties in the business world act together for the benefit of all.
Here lies our responsibility; we in higher education, we need first to cease treating our students as customers; they are a product, they come to us as ‘raw material’ and leave us as a ‘finished product’ where we add value to these individuals to their way of thinking, and most importantly to their character. Certainly, we in higher education need to develop such skills in our students. We need a mindset revolution in those students. We should cease to concentrate our teaching and learning on issues merely in relation to marketing, finance, human resources, production, or other theoretical subjects that will always direct our students to think of how to increase the bottom line. Instead, and in addition to the basic theoretical topics, we need to start to concentrate on sustainability, as in sustainable environment, sustainable economy, and sustainable society. As institutions of higher learning involved in the education of current and future managers and deriving from Crompton et al., we need to ensure that our students are transparent and participatory, and demand the same standard for others; they need to always ensure that communications embody the values that they seek to promote. I hope as academics we would be able to get above our individual achievements and goals, looking for and taking care of the most important stakeholder in our careers that is our students.