2021 EFMD Conference for Deans & Directors General

2021_EFMD-Deans and Directors General Conference

Martin Boehm, Dean, IE Business School and the Chair of the 2021 EFMD Deans & Directors General, highlights the key takeaways from the event.

The fact that the EFMD Deans and Directors General conference took place online for the first time is indicative of how dramatically the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in the past year.
The conference theme, Finding Balance, was particularly fitting. Panel discussions revolved around striking a balance between the past and the future – learning from the current crisis while drafting a vision for tomorrow’s management education.

Martin Boehm EFMD Conference

The current health crisis has taught us that tomorrow’s leaders need a holistic vision of the world. We, as academic leaders, must strike a balance between developing good managers and good global citizens. It is not only about maximising profits. Instead, our graduates must address the challenges of our times, such as social inequality, climate change or the technological revolution with their wit and ingenuity. This calls upon us to create the right breeding ground for these leaders to blossom.

Finally, the conference sought a balance between dealing with the global challenges of our time and the day-to-day challenges of running an academic institution. The moment has come to seize a global crisis to reinvent business education.

Here are five major takeaways from this year’s conference:

The Grand Challenges

Business and business leaders have taken a more active role in shaping the public discourse around some of the societal challenges we face. They have decided not to leave it to politicians to find solutions to the most pressing issues. Most of these challenges require the support and coordination of all stakeholders to achieve meaningful results. As Rebecca Henderson said in her closing keynote, “Business has an amazing amount of power. Governments are weak. We face huge issues. In partnership, surely we can make a difference.”

Rebecca Henderson EFMD Conference

Paul Polman—whose panel with Peter Tufano discussed what leadership means in the current world scenario—drew on his experience at the helm of Unilever, where he set an excellent example of building an organizational culture with no conflict between doing good and doing well. He remains convinced that business must be a force for good. This, in turn, implies that our role as business schools has to evolve. We educate the leaders of tomorrow and shape through our research the public opinion. Hence, we must take a more proactive role in moving societal challenges into the focus of our curricula and research.

Covid-19 has taught us that collaboration is key to tackling challenges such as the current health pandemic but also climate change. Perhaps more importantly, however, it has shown that businesses do not operate in a vacuum. Our environment influences us. Ultimately, it shows us that the cost of action is much smaller than the cost of inaction. The current pandemic is destroying trillions. Efficient management and proactive measures could have reduced the cost significantly.

The Rise of Online

While online has been on the horizon for quite some time, this pandemic clearly accelerated the trend towards online education. Over the past few months, we as an industry have learned a lot about the benefits and the shortcomings of delivering classes online. Clearly, one of the benefits seems to be that we are more efficient in the pure transmission of knowledge to our students. Asynchronous online learning offers our students the flexibility to consume learning when the moment is right for them. It also provides the benefit for students to advance at a different pace – appropriate for their level of mastery.

Paul Polman EFMD Conference

However, we have also seen the shortcomings of online education. The fact that making connections and building emotional bonds between faculty and students—as well as among students – is more challenging than in the traditional campus environment.

Best practices sharing benefits everyone at this type of conference. We learned some simple tricks to build a personal rapport with students despite delivering classes through Zoom, like connecting early and staying online after class. Showing your hands on Zoom – and not just a head shot – is a simple way to make Zoom sessions more engaging and lively.

As academic institutions, we have to take an active role to help our students engage with each other. We are dealing with a dispersed student population that only see each other for class. Thus, we must design social activities online for our students to experience campus life in new ways.

As we rethink what we can do for our students, we also have to adapt how we engage with the other stakeholders of our institutions. Many of us have seized the opportunity to engage more with our alumni by offering webinars. Still, we also have to support them as the pandemic continues and the potentially negative consequences in their work environment. Some of our graduates have onboarded with their employers fully online without being able to meet their colleagues in person. This is the opportunity for us to support them in this journey and hence build stronger relationships with our alumni.

Educating “Poets and Quants”

Rachel Ashworth EFMD Conference

Another motif at the conference was the importance of technology and data management’s crucial role for the sustainability and success of an organization. We must expand our curricula to teach our students how to succeed when technology and data are on the rise. We cannot forget that we are preparing our students for life and must provide them with the tools to be successful for their entire career. Therefore, thinking skills such as problem-solving or critical thinking – but also human skills such as empathy and creativity – will become increasingly important in our curricula. This was one of the clear takeaways from the excellent Deans panel with Rachel Ashworth, Sri Zaheer and Ilian Mihov.

Building a Diversified Portfolio

This crisis has shown that being financially balanced or diversified is a benefit. This is most likely only going to grow in the future. Executive Education will be an important testing ground for business schools to evaluate new business models, which are more in line with our corporate customers’ needs. This might affect how we manage our degree programs in the future, as we see a trend towards lifelong learning and just-in-time learning.

Staff Support

Business schools are human-intensive organizations. Our faculty and staff are essential for delivering high-quality education. We see, however, that the current pandemic had severe implications for all employees. More than 60% of employees seem to struggle with mental health issues according to some research conducted by McKinsey. The challenge is that this pandemic is not over, and it might actually get worse. We have an obligation to help our staff to get through this difficult time.
It is true that our immediate response focused on teaching – making sure our faculty can continue teaching their classes. Now it is about everyone in the institution feeling healthy and committed to the cause. This conference highlighted we have to communicate with our staff to keep them in the loop and see whether they are struggling. We also have to show them that we care and that we understand the difficult situation they face.

EFMD Deans Conference 2021

Want to remind yourself of the unforgettable moments from the conference? Have a look at the curated moments on Twitter, follow @EFMDNews and the conference hashtag #EFMDdeans!