In most languages there is a phrase like ‘the children of cobblers have the worst shoes’ or ‘doctors don’t take their own medicine‘. Whichever the phrase, the message is that experts are either too busy or too expert to take their own advice and practice what they preach. Can we say the same about business schools not taking advantage of their own in-house expertise?

Training but which Training?

Most research points to the fact that training opportunities are accumulated by those who already have higher levels of education. This both increases educational divides and demonstrates that those who know a lot want to know more. Academics are not excluded from this pattern and invest heavily in constantly learning more about their disciplines and methodologies—it is part of the job!

Academics, while always learning more about their particular expertise, spend very little time on formal training beyond it. With the advancement in their careers, academics, like all professional or expert profiles, find themselves playing increasingly managerial-rich roles, for which they may not be trained or sufficiently prepared. The situation may even look paradoxical when management science scholars have in the end to become…. managers! Are they missing a trick?

Investment in management training per se by professionals is a little sparse and sharing their discipline expertise with their closest colleagues rare. Yet, it is not necessarily easy to become a manager of one’s peers—not least when one’s peers are other academics! As in other professional contexts, it is important for those managing academics to have the space to learn, develop and reflect on their experiences as managers.

A recent EFMD report pointed to the importance of nurturing new higher education leaders and there is a range of training courses available for new deans, new directors of research and emerging programme leaders from organisations such as AACSBEFMDFNEGECABS, etc.. However, these programmes are only available for those prepared to go outside their own organisations and perhaps already on a ‘leadership track’.

Ready for Disruption

The disruptive challenges faced by business schools underline the need for human resource development and leaders prepared to respond and innovate – the arrival of new competition, new technologies, pedagogic innovations, new learning models and new business models are likely to disrupt further schools conventions around careers and programmes formats.

Meanwhile, the search for a contribution from business schools to wider society through initiatives such as Responsible Research in Business and Management initiative (RRBM) requires academic leaders able to promote change focused on impact and diffusion of relevant research while retaining and developing talent.

Indeed the organisational and commercial challenges for which business schools provide expertise and advice exist inside those self-same business schools. By valorising colleagues through training led by internal experts, business schools could promote access to skill development, share good practice and promote cohesion between academic and professional support staff.

Time to drink home-grown Champagne

As the phrase goes, sometimes ‘the solution is under your nose’. Many of our business school academics also have rich experiences as consultants and in world-class organisations, as well as being subject experts. In short, they already bridge the commercial and academic worlds.

Likewise, using academic expertise for internal projects reinforces faculty’s contribution to their school’s development. The scope is huge. For example, academics with discipline expertise can aid the recruitment of professional support staff or can advise on strategy formulation or how to use big data. Meanwhile the use of collective intelligence can enable schools to identify areas for future development and change.

This diffusion of state-of-the-art good practice can improve the lives of everyone—including managing meetings, time management, effective communication, client satisfaction, diversity and inclusion. This requires innovative ways to valorise and recognise those sharing and obtaining organisationally-relevant competences where, until now, academic competences alone have been valued.

Business schools have the tools to respond to the challenges they face today. The expertise is there in our academic departments. The rapidly changing education market means that business schools need to practice a little more of what they preach or as Federico says ‘business schools should be drinking their own champagne’.


Mark SMITH is Dean of Faculty at Grenoble Ecole de Management. Federico Pigni is Full Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Repost from LinkedIn with author consent.