Management Education in a Disrupted World

John North, the Executive Director of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), observes how our current global reality calls for courageous academic leadership for dealing with immediate priorities as well as future change.

Perhaps we can learn from our colleagues in the frontline of healthcare and consider what “triage” within our own context makes the most sense while planning for a better future. A “bi-focal strategy” of sorts — dealing effectively with what’s up close, while “seeing” into the future.

In a recent circular “Civilization, Interrupted”, Alan Stoga, Chair of Tallberg Foundation, outlines three potential scenarios for global governance emerging from the current crisis concluding as follows:

“In the end, leadership will matter. We need leaders who are global, committed to universal values, innovative and courageous.”

Despite uncertainty and upheaval, the world has not come to a standstill and if anything the time to ensure pragmatic and responsible progress is now. Humanity’s understanding of responsible business and regenerative economies will likely accelerate and develop tremendously during this pandemic. Whether purpose-driven responsible business and restorative economic systems become a reality or not, is very much in the hands of business and management educators. Do we have the courage to prioritise what matters most?

The foundational shifts possible and necessary for a future management education ecosystem that serves the common good requires more than the immediate tactical responses such as enabling flexible and virtual delivery.

Where then might courageous academic leaders start with proactive and positive disruption of management education?

There is a lot of superficial talk about opportunity in the crisis amidst the heartbreaking reality that many people will not survive. There is also the growing realization that many organizations, roles, policies and practices many thought were “essential” are being dismantled; apparently there are other ways after all. There is also the growing realization that those society took for granted — particularly front line workers — are absolutely core to our collective survival.

For the management education “collective” to be in service of society, what is really essential? What do we need to protect and nurture during this crisis and the next? What do we need to let go of?

Medical triage protocols are designed to provide an objective and standardized forum where decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources (e.g. ventilators) to critically ill patients are made. While it is heart wrenching to realize that doctors are being forced to make such life and death decisions, in a world of scarcity, this has become our new normal. Patients in triage are being assigned scores using frameworks and tools such as those developed by the University of Pittsburgh*, which takes into account multidimensional factors for each patient, such as:

  • Their current acute situation i.e. how ill is the virus making them now?
  • Underlying long-term factors affecting survival i.e. are they a smoker or a cancer patient?
  • Non-clinical criteria relating to societal contribution e.g. someone that is economically active at a relatively young age and with a higher number of dependent family members will score higher.

These factors add up to a score which healthcare workers reference when allocating and prioritising resources. Those patients with the best likelihood of survival (in both the short and longer term) and whose potential societal contribution could be deemed highest are the ones that receive the treatment. Is there anything we can learn from this approach?

We asked a few Deans and Academic Leaders to share their initial thoughts and observations from their respective contexts as they witnessed or experienced the onset of the pandemic. Their contributions serve as input to the next virtual round table (scheduled for 29 & 30 April) of the ongoing Deans & Directors Cohort. Over the coming days we’ll list more perspectives as they come online:

During the 29–30 April roundtable, through dialogue, sharing and collective learning, participants will produce a collection of observations, learnings, and intentions for individual and collective actions. Our hope from this collective learning is to inform a basic triage protocol for the benefit of the wider responsible management education landscape.

*White DB, Katz M, Luce J, Lo B. University of Pittsburgh, Department of Critical Care Medicine. Allocation of Scarce Critical Care Resources During a Public Health Emergency. Accessed 26 March 2020.