Questions and answers about the faculty
Young people entering certain careers such as medicine, ministry, or public service may see their choices not only as a way to make a living, but also to serve society.
Andy HoffmanThe Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business believes that students embarking on careers in management should take a similar approach.
Hoffman elaborates his reasoning in a new book called Management as a Vocation: Leaders, Serving Society, which states that tackling climate change and income inequality in particular requires this fundamental shift in thinking. He also discussed the idea along with related topics in a recent video from Ideas Roadshow, an appearance on the What’s America’s Purpose? Podcast. and an interview with economic sociology.
“How will the world be different in the future and what role would you like to play in making it the world you want to see? This is a question every business student and company leader should ask, ”writes Hoffman in the book.
He discusses these ideas as well as the reaction of students as well as business professionals and executives.
Combating climate change, income inequality and other challenges requires massive social change. Why do you think business can and must be part of the solution – not just part of the problem as some people think?
The market – corporations, the government, non-governmental organizations, and the many actors involved in market transactions such as consumers, suppliers, buyers, insurance companies, banks, etc. – is the most powerful organizational body in the world, and business is the most powerful entity in it.
While the government is a major and important arbiter of the market, it is business that transcends national borders and has resources beyond those of many nations. With its exceptional ideas, production and sales skills, the business is best positioned to bring the changes we need to the extent we need them. Business is responsible for producing the buildings we live and work in, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the forms of mobility we use and the energy that drives them.
Indeed, if there are no solutions from the market, there will be no solutions. And without leaders, business will never try to find them.
The book convincingly argues that seeing management as a calling will help address these crucial problems, especially among today’s business students. How do you work this idea into your own teaching? How do the students react?
I find that the students respond very positively to this framework. Twenty years ago, students who wanted to change the world turned to public policy and community management schools for their education. Today many turn to business schools with a desire to develop a new feel for the economic, social and environmental purpose of the company and their role as a manager.
By phrasing management as a calling, I encourage students to realize what kind of manager they would like to be and then difficult questions about the role of business in society, the role of leaders in running them, and indeed the nature of capitalism it is currently structured and could be structured in the future. This gives students a strong sense of freedom of choice when many feel constrained by outdated and outdated models of corporate governance.
I remember a student who told me that every time she walked into the building she felt that her values were being attacked. These type of students are hungry for opportunities to expand their management education to suit their own vision of the type of manager and executive they want to be.
I can think of many cynics and critics questioning such a framework. How do you answer them?
Look, we are graduating tons of business students whether you like it or not. If we continue to produce students who just want to increase the size of their bank accounts, we will continue to have the kind of business scandals that we have seen in the last few decades. But if we can teach business students to think seriously about the tremendous power they might one day wield to shape and guide our society, and learn the responsibility to use that power carefully, we will be in much better shape. And I would add that we tend to help students by helping them find their best path.
Currently, we are generally trying to help them in this direction in two ways: ethical thinking or the legal ramifications of corporate misconduct. But the first often tries to instill new values in fully trained adults or to teach ethical thinking to students who pay big bucks to learn other subjects. The second method is only a worst case basis and does not inspire future business leaders to do their best to achieve great things for their companies, for society, and for themselves.
If you help students look inside themselves, examine and recognize their calling and business purpose, you will get far more meaningful results.
Changing attitudes among current and future students will not be enough – current business leaders, many of whom are tuned to old ways of thinking, must change too. How can you see management as a calling?
I wrote this book for business students and young professionals. I hope they find inspiration to shape their education and young careers so that they get on the right track. However, seasoned professionals may find value in the message of this book. It is never too late to explore new avenues in your life and find your calling.
I remember an interview that Tim Hall, a career student at Boston University, did with a hugely successful executive in the mid-1940s. Hall reported that she was dissatisfied with what she thought was a success and had a revelation one day when she looked in the mirror and realized, “Oh my god, a 20 year old chose my career!” To her fate To avoid escaping, I encourage business students to make smart and far-reaching decisions today, to strive for greatness, and to measure that greatness by how others benefit from what you do. Remember to serve in business, not just accumulate.
When discussing how business students and managers need to rethink their approach to government and regulation, and how do you find students responding, what do you suggest?
It is surprising to me how few business schools offer courses on government lobbying, let alone collaborative and constructive lobbying. Indeed, it is common knowledge that government has no place in the market, that regulation is an unwarranted intrusion into the market, and that all lobbying is corrupt. These views are naive and destructive.
Government is where the rules of the market are set and enforced, and lobbying is fundamental to democratic politics as governments seek guidance on how to set market rules and initiate reforms when necessary.
In the 2019 winter semester, I taught a new course called Business in Democracy: Advocacy, Lobbying, and the Public Interest. It was offered jointly between the Ross School of Business and the Ford School of Public Policy, and to my surprise there were 70 students on the course. The students told me that they were hungry for such content.
They also said that many of their colleagues in their respective schools could not understand why they would attend such a class. We need to change this type of mindset and teach students to see the value of government and business in synergistic ways. Companies with an attitude of service to society can participate constructively in policymaking and seek strategies that will help make society and the economy as a whole strong and fair, not just for the select few and wealthy.
Another new book is out this month, The Engaged Scholar. Is it fair to see that this book poses a challenge to science, much like the challenge of your other book to business – to think more clearly about responsibility to society in a broader sense?
Yes, in a way. Both books challenge the institutions as they currently exist – “Management as a Vocation” challenges the norms of business education and the role of business in society; “The Engaged Scholar” questions the norms of academic research and the role of the scientist in society. The rules of science reward scientists for making academic publications, but I would like to see these rules change so that more scientists do the extra work to get their grants into the public and politics that need and use them can. In fact, at a time of fake news, alternative facts, and misinformation, I would say that it is our responsibility as academics to serve society, and I hope this book encourages more academics to try. And when both books question the norms of their respective fields, both books also challenge individuals to undertake to realign their careers, even if those norms are slow to change.