!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Is management a profession?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is management a profession?

As documented by Rakesh Khurana, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, there has been a shift over time in the nature of business education.

In his 2007 book, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession, Rakesh explains how business schools, beginning with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1881, aspired to training managers who would approach their jobs with the same commitment to benefiting society that is expected of traditional professions, notably medicine and law.

In an interview published by Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, Khurana identifies four characteristics of a profession:
  1. An agreed-upon body of knowledge.

  2. Schooling by faculty whose knowledge and guidance are recognized as authoritative by their students. In other words, students do not view going to a professional school as largely a matter of developing a social network and acquiring a credential.

  3. Governance that directs members of the profession to "use their knowledge and the practice of their work to benefit others rather than engage in self-dealing or self-interest."

  4. Continuing education.
According to Khurana, many of today's MBAs "want the status of a profession without any of the constraints of a profession. A profession is not only about the benefits that you claim. It's also about what you renounce." Khurana argues that nowadays business schools, in effect, offer vocational education rather than professional education.

My own view is that the concept of "professional" has two contemporary meanings — the traditional meaning that Khurana seeks to preserve, and a "lean" version of the concept that retains the expectations of continuously updated, specialized knowledge and of ethical dealing, but leaves out the expectation of working in the first instance for the benefit of society. I'm comfortable with using both senses of "professional" so long as it is clear which is meant in any given context.


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