Monday, August 27, 2012

AoM-Meeting 2012; People for People

The annual meeting of the Academy of Management  (AoM), at which 12,000 participants from all over the world discussed the latest research results and trends, was held in Boston August 3-7. One presentation type is the “Professional Development Workshops” (PDW), which are about the further education of university teachers. Professors Joe Mahoney (University of Illinois) and Sybille Sachs (University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich, HWZ) organized and moderated a panel discussion on “Value creation with People for People”. It was the continuation of an initiative that the two had started the previous year at the AoM-Conference with the goal that after years of excessive emphasis on shareholder-value thinking the importance of people should again be regarded as the central focus of interest (see the report of last year). Some impressions of the well attended and comprehensive presentation are noted in the following:

Professor Joe Mahoney (University of Illinois), a leading academic in the field of the Theory of the Firm, demonstrated among other things that managing decisions narrowly oriented to shareholder value often lead to breaks in the social contract that exists between the firm and its stakeholders (e.g. customers, employees etc.). This again leads to the underinvestment of these stakeholders in their firm specific engagement and generally to a lack of commitment of these stakeholders. The firm can thereby suffer a weakening of its resources and a decrease in productivity. In contrast, when stakeholders are involved as people in management decisions, not only can negative effects be avoided but also commonly found innovative solutions can be encouraged (see our book, Chapt.7, p. 114 ff). 

Ed Freeman (Darden Business School), theoretician and founder of Stakeholder-Management, regards the increasing inclusion of People for People thinking as the most central question of business education in our time. He reminded us that in the course of history great thinkers (e.g. Freud, Kant etc.) have acquired fundamental knowledge about human beings that has not been sufficiently regarded and applied in the education of true leaders.

Jim Post (Boston University), professor for Business and Society, who together with other authors has recently published a book on The Historical Development of Social-Responsibility – Idea in Theory and Practice, demonstrated with the example of his own university, how regard of human aspects have changed in teaching. Whereas a few years ago the vision of the Dean in charge was completely oriented to human aspects and required a humanistic mindset from the faculty, this orientation is missing today.

Sybille Sachs (HWZ), professor for Strategy and Stakeholder Theory, demonstrated in her contribution that the aspiration of a more human perspective, and in particular an increased propagation of positive narratives, is not only to be seen in management. In various academic disciplines analogous thoughts are being acquired, which means that there is potential for interdisciplinary cooperation. She illustrated this with quotations from very different scientists, who are advocating a positive humanistic view in their fields. One such quotation is given here: “In particular, we encourage researchers to examine the origins and implications of positive framing. We further advocate for positive leadership (e.g., Cameron 2008) in response to crisis and the outcomes to be gained from crisis events when positive frames and positive leadership are enacted” (James, Wooten and Dushek, 2012, p. 483).

The participants of the workshop agreed at the end of the extremely stimulating discussion that the idea of People for People needs to be continued and deepened in a presentation at the AoM-Meeting 2013. In the meantime information on examples of positive narratives in leadership education or in firms should be exchanged among the participants. Should you also know of examples, we would be happy to publish them in our blog.

Edwin Rühli

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