Business School Impact: Connecting With Communities

Business School Impact: Connecting With Communities

The quality of research and teaching has long served to define what differentiates business schools, but the relationship between the schools and their communities is changing.

Business and management schools around the world are increasingly being challenged to step out from their ivory towers. For many years, the quality of research and teaching has served to define what differentiates business schools. However, now more than ever, schools are faced with the new imperatives of engagement, innovation, and impact. The relationship between business schools and the societies of which they are a part is changing. For some, this shift represents an extension of what they are already doing; for others, it’s an opportunity to establish and extend their reputations and portfolios.

Today, business schools epitomize the concept of the “multiversity,” a term coined in 1963 by Clark Kerr, president of the University of California system. For Kerr, the multiversity both comprised and reached out to different communities, a description that clearly resonates with the contemporary business school. With a blend of scholarly academics, practice academics, scholarly practitioners, and instructional practitioners, the business school often has one of the most diverse faculty in the university. This variety of background and expertise serves to meet the demands of multiple groups, including students, alumni, and organizations across all sectors. What this looks like and how it works in practice is ultimately a strategic question derived from a school’s mission and vision.

A Mission and Vision for Impact

In 2013, my own place of work, Sheffield University Management School (SUMS), conducted a consultation across academic and professional staff to renew its mission and vision. Through this process, the school’s faculty were able to articulate their own values and those they felt defined the school. The mission and vision were iteratively refined by the leadership with continued input, a process that also served to foster engagement of colleagues. Forging the mission and vision in this way also served to enhance their authenticity and credibility. The results were two statements that embodied who we are as a school and what we do. These statements reflect our commitment to the communities we engage with and how we approach engagement.

A defining feature of impact at SUMS is fostering socially responsible and sustainable work practices with the individuals, organizations, and communities with whom we work. This focus has developed over time to become a common value of the school, permeating areas of accounting, organizational behavior, and supply chain management alike. At SUMS, the focus on socially responsible and sustainable work practices has come to represent an important competitive advantage, in terms of our research, our teaching, and our impact. More than this, the research, teaching, and impact at SUMS have been aligned to make the rhetoric of socially responsible and sustainable work practices a reality.

The Distinctiveness of Impact

Global business schools each have different interpretations of impact and assume alternative approaches to generating it. This is a strength of AACSB’s accreditation standards, which encourage schools to have positive and significant relationships with business and wider society, according to their mission and vision. Engagement, innovation, and impact will always be multidimensional, ranging from the formal to the informal, and include one-off interactions as well as longer-term strategic partnerships. The nature of engagement, innovation, and impact is itself inherently dynamic, and business schools need to approach it in this way. As an evolving agenda, there is no textbook approach, and schools need to find what works for them and their network of communities.

If business schools are to rise to the impact challenge, they need to foster engagement and maximize their impact by building on strengths and strategic priorities, as well as meeting the needs of different external communities. Moreover, having an impact is about pushing the boundaries, to identify and invent, create and cultivate new opportunities to work effectively with different communities. This means engagement, innovation, and impact need to be given the same strategic consideration as research and teaching. As with other AACSB standards, success will always be a question of continuous improvement. A central question for the future, therefore, concerns how business schools can realize the reciprocity with other teaching and research imperatives. Engagement, innovation, and impact are building the business schools of today, and will shape the society of tomorrow.

Tim Vorley, Professor, Sheffield University Management SchoolTim Vorley is a professor of entrepreneurship at Sheffield University Management School in the U.K. He is on Twitter @timvorley.