Developing Effective Relationships Between Management Educators
Dr. Bruce Millett
The recent Karpin Report on management in Australia highlighted the need for Australia to considerably improve the level of its managerial skills and knowledge if it is to compete successfully in a dynamic and turbulent global marketplace. The report also highlighted some of the inadequacies of the higher education sector in terms of supporting the development of such skills and knowledge.
In 1993, I sponsored a seminar in Brisbane where Professor Stephen Robbins gave an insightful talk to HR practitioners and academics about the challenges they confront in their various fields of endeavour. Based in Washington State, Stephen is a very successful and prolific writer of management textbooks. He is an emeritus professor. One thing that sticks in my mind is his description of three types of academic authors.
First, there are the consultants who deal with multiple corporate clients and write about their experiences. Some gain guru status from their insights on business success and failure. Second, there are those that are caught up in career advancement via the paper chase, competing for recognition by prestigious journal editors. These authors are judged by the worth of their topic and the slickness of their methodology. Third, there are those like Robbins, who interpret the work of the first two sets of authors and present the useable facts to an appreciative audience of student managers.
The sad part for management textbook authors, according to Robbins, is the high proportion of unusable and uninterpretable material in the large array of management journals. This point reflects a growing concern about the disconnect between science and the practice of management. There are many reasons for this. Academics are influenced by reward structures, systems and cultures that put a deal of emphasis on theoretical explanations, the sophistication of the scientific method, and on the quantity of publications in academically recognised journals. On the other hand, managers seek knowledge that will assist them in their efforts to be successful today and tomorrow.
What is the answer? Robbins and others do a great job of presenting a systematic study of management through their textbooks, presenting the facts and dispelling the myths. However, universities have evolved at worst as independent observers and at best, loose partners to industry. Business faculties in particular, need to develop much stronger linkages with industry partners to support each other in research that not only has mutual benefits, but also fuels the existing and emerging knowledge-based industries. These partnerships must be developed as learning networks with accessibility of information and accountability of outcomes. If the future is to be a sustainable one, then academics must be active collaborators, rather than passive observers. Research outcomes must contribute to a much wider audience than at present. Reward systems must reflect the importance of university-industry relationships and the outcomes of those relationships.
Bruce Millett is a lecturer in the Faculty of Business, University of Southern Queensland. Bruce lectures in organisational change and development, organisational behaviour, and strategic management.