If organisations want to be in tune with the needs of all stakeholders they need to invest in real change, says Simon Hayward.
I recently had the great pleasure of joining a panel at the Societal Impact Conference in New York. The conference focused on how we can build the leadership skills needed to accelerate positive societal change and was hosted by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the world’s largest association for business education.
This was a significant conference. AACSB is the top-ranked accreditation body for the world's leading business schools that between them produce more than four million business graduates every year. That's quite an influence on the corporate world.
Social responsibility is a priority for business schools today and I’m proud that it is a core strategic goal for Alliance Manchester Business School and The University of Manchester.
Our commitment to environmental sustainability is embedded throughout our research and teaching, and led to us being named the world’s best university for action on sustainable development in 2021.
However, universities in general and business schools in particular are driven by the needs of their marketplace. And sometimes there’s a risk that they can be driven in unhelpful directions.
For instance, big business is often out of kilter with societal priorities. While there are some great examples of organisations such as Patagonia and Pentland Brands where corporate responsibility is woven into the fabric of the business, there are still far too many which seem guilty of greenwashing.
They tick the boxes when it comes to societal impact, but is it really played out in action? If organisations really want to be in tune with the needs of all their stakeholders they need to invest in real change and to embrace stakeholder capitalism in practice.
One of the key debates at the conference was whether there is sufficient demand in the corporate world for business school graduates who have a strong sense of societal impact. The overwhelming view from panellists and delegates was yes, there is a demand and it’s growing.
However, business schools have a responsibility to do more than meet the immediate demands of business customers seeking to recruit graduates. We need to help both our students and our students’ employers understand that this is about a long-term commitment to reframing leadership and the role that organisations play in society.
We need radical change such as investment in green technology, commitment to becoming net zero quickly, and partnership with the communities in which corporates make profits. Because time is running out.
The keynote speaker at the event was Henry Mintzberg, the Canadian academic and world-renowned thinker in the field of business and management. Mintzberg is an inspirational and challenging speaker and called for an end to “the imbalance that is destroying our democracies, our planet, and ourselves”. He believes that we need a form of radical renewal unprecedented in the human experience.
Mintzberg set the scene for my own session on the topic of ‘Shaping the talent of the future: Leadership and skills needed for societal impact’ and I sat on a panel alongside academics from New York University, Arizona State University and Columbia Business School as well as corporate leaders from Heineken and IKEA.
Together we explored how to develop business leaders who will prioritise tackling global challenges - leaders who can adapt, thrive, and drive a more sustainable future.
Academia and corporate life
Because I am involved in both academia and corporate life, this was a fascinating panel and a very interesting conference to be part of.
I have already mentioned how proud I am of our business school’s commitment to environmental sustainability. As Global Lead of Leadership and Culture for Accenture I am also proud of how we embed sustainability into everything we do, creating sustainable impact as well as business value.
For me, the learning I can take from one world to another is valuable, and it helps me to add value to others too. I am confident that our business school’s commitment to environmental sustainability is real, and I know that we will continue to play a prominent role in ensuring that our students – and our students’ employers – are equipped to drive sustainable change in society.
The ripple effect we have as our graduates move into the world of work is significant, and it brings a responsibility to make the most of this influence around the world.