Creating cultures of change, part I

Business Impact: Creating cultures of change, part I
Traditional business school structures and content must be challenged, says London Business School’s Andy Craggs

The global Covid-19 pandemic has forced many business schools to accelerate their response to trends in postgraduate education, from ramping up virtual delivery to redefining pricing models, adapting teaching methods to meet diverse learner needs, and teaching faculty new skills to engage with their students in the ‘new normal’ of hybrid learning. Unfortunately, the results of these efforts have been mixed.

Accelerated responses

Some leading business schools have been able to respond by leveraging long-established online offerings into new virtual spaces, such as HBR IdeaCast within the Harvard University ecosystem. Other, newer entrants, such as Coursera and Udacity, which also offer learning content for professionals, quickly accelerated their digital business during the pandemic to enhance content and access to their online offerings.

These forward-looking institutions enjoyed a surge in enrolment and profits as campus-based learning became less practical (and less desirable). Other providers offering more general learning through MOOCs and podcasts also gained traction, although without equivalent certifications.

But for most business schools – including London Business School (LBS), where I work – the pandemic forced us to accelerate change by adding new ‘digital assets’ to Zoom and Teams-based faculty sessions, layering in more intermodular coaching and application work, and increasing the frequency of virtual lectures to maintain the pace of learning. LSE, INSEAD and other global business schools made similar adjustments, but again student feedback has been mixed.

A case in point appeared in the lawsuits filed against dozens of business schools, including Harvard, in 2020 as students sought refunds for the shift to online teaching. As an article on these lawsuits in Forbes surmised, much of the perceived value of Business schools lay in live interactions with faculty, access to school resources, learning that occurs with peers both inside and outside the classroom, and valuable networking.

But a significant and unexpected consequence of the pandemic was also a hiatus that gave students an opportunity to revise their expectations of what business schools really offer. The outcome is creating a direct challenge to traditional educational models.

What is changing?

The new normal has prompted many of us to question fundamentals about our personal lives, professional choices and business models. For business schools and postgraduate education, this acted as an accelerator to educational megatrends that had bubbled in the background for years.

Surveying our networks in other business schools, from Harvard to INSEAD and Singapore Management University, as well as learning organisations like Korn Ferry, the Center for Creative Leadership or the NTL Institute, this familiar pattern is being echoed everywhere. This is sending a clear message to business schools to ‘up their game’, despite their historical legitimacy and reputations. Educators ignore these demands at their peril.

Implications for business school leaders and faculty

But what does this mean for educators and how can they meet these emerging needs in practice? It starts with business schools redefining their value and relevance in a world where the definition of ‘learning’ has suddenly broadened into wider concepts including ‘lifelong learning’, ‘meaning’, ‘purpose’, or ‘paying it forward’. Students come to business schools to enhance their business skills but are now also seeking insight about their important life and business choices in the broader context of society, the environment and their role within it.

The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ is indicative of how large groups are weighing up their options, including where to go for useful and relevant postgraduate education. Business schools which offer this new insight and innovate their learning formats in this broader context stand to win in the future educational marketplace.

So, the question is: How can business school leaders create a culture across their institutions to help faculty and staff embrace change, so that their schools remain relevant to future learner needs? To answer this question, it’s useful to look back at the wider context of postgraduate education over the last several decades and then use this as a basis to imagine a more innovative and relevant future.

Andy Craggs is a leadership consultant and programme director of executive education at London Business School.

This article forms part of a series and is adapted from one which originally appeared in Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: August 2022). Read part II here

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