The Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) celebrated its 10th anniversary on 26 – 28 May at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne with series of panel discussions focused on how the climate crisis, rising inequality, the global pandemic and new technologies are shaping the content and purpose of business education.

Representatives from 32 business schools gathered to explore issues critical to the future.

“The value of the Global Network is greater than ever,” said David Bach, a founding member of GNAM and Dean of Innovation and Programs at IMD. “No business school, no matter how well-resourced, can cover the entire globe in terms of expertise. By connecting and sharing expertise, we extend our lines of sight and can better prepare students for a world of global challenges.”

Business school curricula will have to change

Peter Bakker, President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, called for a fundamental rethink of capitalism, with a full-scale system transformation that integrates the environmental and social impact of businesses into their performance metrics and cost of capital. This will mean altering the curricula of business schools, he said in a panel discussion titled “The Race to Net Zero”. The panel, moderated by Jörg Rocholl, President of ESMT Berlin, explored the skills and tools business school graduates will need to help accelerate the urgent global transition towards decarbonization.

Our very measurements of success will have to change, Bakker said. “If you look at the ranking of business schools, it is still determined by the salary graduates get two years after they leave,” he noted. “If we want to transform the way we run business or the world, we need to transform the way we educate leaders for the world.”

But change must come from the business world, too. Another panelist, Levin Holle, Deutsche Bahn CFO, said the race to net zero will only be achieved if large corporations undergo huge transformation. “Business schools can provide the input on how to execute these large transformations,” he said.

Johan Rockström, President of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, agreed that business played a disproportionally important role in enabling the scaling of the transformation.

“Everything that has to do with the natural environment and the climate system is at the heart of strategy and in the board rooms, and this is where it belongs,” he said.

Purpose: the ‘why’ of business

The second panel, on “The Future of Capitalism”, opened with highlights from the 2021 documentary film “The Purpose of Capitalism: Lessons from Japan”. The film, made by The Beautiful Truth, poses questions of global relevance about the "why" of business.

In the subsequent discussion, panelists probed the variants of shareholder-stakeholder capitalism.

Jamie Breen, Associated Dean at the Haas School of Business, highlighted the unintended consequences that have arisen from the post-war doctrine laid out by economist Milton Friedman, that the purpose of business is to maximize profit.

Business schools have a responsibility to integrate sustainability and equity into their teaching to shape the minds and thinking of future leaders, she said.

“Our students sometimes have the same short-term focus as our market,” she said. “We have an opportunity when we talk to them about what their careers are going to be (…) to build in this ethical fiber.”

The role of tech in the future of management education

The third and final panel looked at how the pandemic has moved technology-mediated teaching and learning from the periphery of management education to its core.

One challenge facing business schools, said Soumitra Dutta, Saïd Business School Dean-Elect, is whether they continue to reimagine management education for a virtual world, or whether they return to pre-pandemic patterns of teaching. “Do we create the future and push the transformation of education? Or do we slide back to the comfortable normal that was there in the past?” he asked.

Virtual learning is the top force affecting management education around the world, according to an audience survey. The other four disruptive trends, as identified by John Byrne, Poets & Quants CEO and Editor-in-Chief, were credit bearing courses and programs, continued disruption, diversity and sustainability, and leading edge thinking in new areas such as artificial intelligence.

Other challenges cited by panelists facing business schools included how to harness outside-in approaches to accelerate the pace of transformation; the creation of “stackable credits” that can be earned across different institutions; and how to ensure faculty have the right skills to teach across multiple platforms.

“We spend too much time talking about teaching and not enough talking about learning,” said David Bach, IMD Dean of Innovation and Programs. “The question in course feedback should be: How much did you learn? And what did you learn? Was it concepts and skills?”

Solving problems, virtually

On the third day, the tables turned, and the assembled educators became students – of virtual reality. With headsets sent ahead of time to peers joining via Zoom from around the world, IMD’s team led the assembled experts in a virtual reality exercise, using Jenson8 technology, offering a preview of the possibilities of interactive learning in a virtual world.

“We’re holding a learning space where people learn with people – but virtually. It’s a bit like a fancy escape room,” explained David Bolton, Learning Manager at IMD. “It’s about people working with people, whether they’re situated in Lausanne or around the world.”

IMD uses this technology to facilitate problem-solving among groups. Participants donned head and handsets which allowed them to enter a virtual space station, to take up one of three roles – explorers, supporters, reporters – as they attempted to build a spacecraft. In the simulation, explorers act like line managers, and supporters are like executives. Reporters are tasked with taking in what is happening and determining what actually matters – playing the role of the board in a company.

The schedule allowed for just one round of the game – typically in IMD programs like Teams Reimagined, or a range of custom programs, groups go through three rounds in order to perfect technique and approach.

But the point was clear: collaboration, communication and group strategy are key to success. Another major lesson, explained Bolton, is this: How do you make sense in chaotic environments?

Ina Toegel, Professor of Leadership and pioneer of VR at IMD, explained that the game helps participants explore a set of typical challenges: “How does the team operate as a unit? What are the relational dynamics? What about process improvement?”

Speaking to the assembled educators, she explained how the IMD team had determined which VR game would best help teams to develop. “I looked for a game that made people frustrated – because that is what we encounter in organizations regularly.”

“We saw so many games that gave us the ‘Wow!’ factor, but they were gimmicks.” This game, by contrast, Toegel explained, offered excellent pedagogy.

“After my students use this,” one dean quipped, “they will never attend a lecture again.”

What comes next?

Participating deans left the days of discussions with a better sense of an associated agenda for business schools as they face a number of uncertainties globally.  From the transition to a low-carbon economy to paralyzing political divides to the possibilities of technology-enabled interactions, the diverse group of experts from around the globe, found ample common ground to move ahead.