The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Radicalising Responsible Management Education: Why and How?

Radicalising Responsible Management Education: Why and How?
The responsible management learning and education movement has made important achievements in transforming management towards sustainability, although many of these are incremental. The time is ripe for a positive radicalisation that matches the magnitude of the sustainability challenge. Management academics should engage in three radical practices: we need to think anti-paradigmatically, to question taken-for-granted, but unsustainable management logics; we must dare to practice civil disobedience, enabling us to throw a spanner into the wheels of unsustainable practices in our sphere of influence; and we need to engage in performative politics, owning our academic power to shape more sustainable management realities.

We are living in the age of grand crises, many of which are fuelled by business school graduates and, respectively, by business school academics involved in the formation of these graduates (Ghoshal, 2005).

After all, our practices are what make business schools and potentially business school business models that can address and prevent grand crises instead of fuelling them (Laasch et al., 2022). As business school academics, we have a responsibility and opportunity to radicalise responsible management learning and education (Laasch et al., 2020).

The common incremental and accommodative forms of responsible management learning and education attempt to slightly amend business as usual as opposed to radically disrupting ideas that are at odds with the urgency, nature, and magnitude of the current crises. The climate emergency and biodiversity extinction are two of the most visible manifestations of such crises. More widely, our collective impact is now exceeding six of the nine planetary boundaries, each of which has the potential to severely impact life on Earth (Richardson et al., 2023). We are also dramatically falling short of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals with 88% of the targets still off track (United Nations, 2023).

In summary, the accommodative approach we have favoured so far has not yielded the results we need to effectively tackle these crises and achieve a sustainable business transition deserving of the ‘transformative’ label. A radical, non-accommodative approach is needed that will break away from taken-for-granted logic, practices, and the social structures of business and management whenever they stand in the way of sustainable, responsible and ethical management. I propose that academics should engage in three salient practices to achieve a more radical type of management learning and education (see Figure 1).

THREE PRACTICES FOR RADICALISING RESPONSIBLE MANAGEMENT LEARNING AND EDUCATION

How can academics radicalise thinking through anti-paradigmatic thought?

Anti-paradigmatic thought radicalises thinking by breaking with the dominant but unsustainable, irresponsible, or unethical business and management mindset. It means, for example, moving from a growth mindset to a sufficiency mindset, from an extractive and linear take-make-waste value ‘chain’ mindset to a circular revalorisation network mindset, and from a humans-as-resources mindset to a humanistic management mindset (Laasch, 2024). Anti-paradigmatic thought is radical as it attempts to break with often taken-for-granted and socially entrenched logic, which underpins irresponsible management practices.

Radicalising one’s mindset often involves a somewhat painful process of internally taking stock of our own acceptance of much of the received wisdom, which supports practices that generate irresponsible management realities. It also involves engaging others – colleagues, students, management practitioners and legislators to similarly reflect and suggest alternatives. It might also involve challenging others on their beliefs and offering alternatives that are in line with more desirable future management realities.

How can academics radicalise (in)action through academic civil disobedience?

There is a long history of academic and intellectual activism to promote more responsible management theories and practices (Contu, 2020; Callahan and Elliott, 2020). However, academics must also engage in academic activism against taken-for-granted negligent practices, in particular, practices that academic practitioners are often complicit in enacting. Such academic civil disobedience is radical as it seeks to disrupt and weaken accepted irresponsible management practices. To radicalise our (in)action, we might not literally glue ourselves to streets or courtroom benches, but we can use our role to generatively disrupt or block actions that perpetuate old irresponsible, unsustainable, and unethical paradigms. We could abstain from voting or hiring if there are insufficiently diverse candidates. We could refuse to travel to conferences or teaching gigs by plane for emissions reasons, and not go if there is no emissions-acceptable alternative. We could decide not to support or engage in our school’s CO2-intensive global expansion plans or decide not to contribute to global study trips that require flying around with entire cohorts. This type of academic civil disobedience has the power to impact students by serving as role models to emulate their own civil disobedience practices as future managers. It would also boost our credibility in teaching as it enables us to be consistent outside the classroom with what we preach inside the classroom. In teaching, we could stop teaching taken-for-granted theories or using language that reinforces and seeks to justify irresponsible management realities. For instance, I stopped using the term human resources management, and I stopped teaching frameworks that instrumentalise human beings or promote unsustainable economic growth. I do so even, and most importantly, in my introductory management textbook, for which the pressure to ‘cover the basics’ and reproduce the old logic of management is at times overwhelming.

How can academics radicalise theories through performative politics?

’Performative’ describes theories or theorising practices that ‘perform’ and shape realities according to their image. It means that we can use theories and theorising as engines to change social realities and shape how they are generated (Leca et al., 2014; MacKenzie, 2008). It means that we can use theory as a ‘weapon’ to generate and ‘realise’ new theories of management that become instrumental in supporting more desirable enacted practices. It also means using theories as a political instrument to generate the management realities we want. Performative politics is radical because it aims to change the paradigmatic theoretical foundations on which business management realities rest.

The opportunities to engage in performative politics in academia are vast and varied and they are not restricted to our work with theories in research. Of course, we can decide to understand the workings of already enacted alternative management practices and elevate them through publication, or to normatively envision and write about what utopian alternatives could look like (Gay and Reinecke, 2022; Gibson-Graham, 2008). We can also use our teaching as spaces of alternative co-creation with students, take on academic consultancy roles, and incorporate societal engagement practices to explain and add legitimacy to the alternatives. We could also work toward discrediting and questioning taken-for-granted irresponsible, unsustainable, or unethical management practices. We can work in policy advisory roles to co-create the explicit and implicit rules that prepare the ground for alternative management practices to be enacted. In so doing, we can help transform radically disruptive responsible management principles from being utopian and unrealistic alternatives to a realised and practised new normal.

This article is based on Laasch, O. (2024). Radicalizing managers’ climate education: Getting beyond the bull**** fairy tale of eternal economic growth. Journal of Management Education, 48(1), 110-140.

Radicalising Responsible Management Education Why and How


References

Callahan, J. L. and C. Elliott (2020). ‘Fantasy spaces and emotional derailment: Reflections on failure in academic activism‘. Organization, 27, 506-514.

Contu, A. (2020). ‘Answering the crisis with intellectual activism: Making a difference as business schools scholars‘. Human Relations, 73, 737-757.

Ghoshal, S. (2005). ‘Bad management theories are destroying good management practices‘. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4, 75-91.

Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2008). ‘Diverse economies: Performative practices for other worlds‘. Progress in Human Geography, 32, 613-632.

Gay, A. A. and J. Reinecke (2022). ‘Researching for desirable futures: From real utopias to imagining alternatives‘. Journal of Management Studies, 59, 236-242.

Laasch, O. (2024). Principles of business and management: Practicing ethics, responsibility, sustainability. London: Sage.

Laasch, O., D. Moosmayer, E. Antonacopoulou and S. Schaltegger (2020). ‘Constellations of transdisciplinary practices: A map and research agenda for the responsible management learning field‘. Journal of Business Ethics, 162, 735-757.

Laasch, O., O. Ryazanova and A.L. Wright (2022). ‘Lingering COVID-19 and looming grand crises: Envisioning business schools’ business model transformations‘. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 21, 1-6.

Leca, B., J-P. Gond and L. Barin Cruz (2014). ‘Building “Critical Performativity Engines” for deprived communities: The construction of popular cooperative incubators in Brazil‘. Organization, 21, 683-712.

MacKenzie, D. (2008). An engine, not a camera: How financial models shape markets. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Richardson, K., W. Steffen, W. Lucht, J. Bendtsen, S.E. Cornell, J.F. Donges et al. (2023). ‘Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries‘. Science Advances, 9, 1-16.

United Nations. (2023). United Nations SDG progress report: Special edition highlightsVerfbar unter: [April 5 2024].

Oliver Laasch is a chaired Professor of Responsible Management at ESCP Berlin, an Associate Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Manchester, and founder of the Center for Responsible Management Education. He is author of the disruptive textbook Principles of business and management: Practicing ethics, responsibility, sustainability (2024, Sage).

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