IT, MBAs and ideals

mba.jpgIf an MBA doesn’t give IT managers the respect they need from senior executives, they may need to do a lot of soul-searching. And that’s exactly what Rakesh Khurana hopes they’ll do.

Khurana is a professor with Harvard Business School who is currently promoting the book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, an indictment of the kind of education managers typically receive and how ill-prepared they are to really transform organizations. I haven’t read more than the introduction, but the premise calls into question a lot of the rhetoric IT managers have been hearing about thinking more like their line-of-business counterparts.

“The logic of professionalism that underlay the university-based business school in its formative phase was replaced first by a managerialist logic that emphasized professional knowledge rather than professional ideals, and ultimately by a market logic that, taken to its conclusion, subverts the logic of professionalism altogether,” Khurana writes. “This notion (of professionalism) comprised, among other things, a social compact between occupations deemed “professions” and society at large, as well as a certain set of relations among professional schools, the occupational groups for which they serve as authoritative communities, and society.”

An MBA was not merely supposed to create the next generation of profit-driven leaders, in other words, but leaders in every sense of the word.

I don’t know how many Canadian IT managers are pursuing or even consider some business education to further their careers, but Khurana’s book taps into a growing discontent over the quality of most MBA programs. Rather than giving them the tools to cope with change in the enterprise, MBA programs are now more commonly marketed as a sort of get-rich-quick scheme for hedge fund managers and consultants.

If Canadian IT managers aren’t pursuing business education, it may be because they aren’t sure about the payoff: whether than MBA – or even some other kind of training – will really lead to more fulfilling work, better pay and career potential. Khurana’s book could scare them away, but I don’t think it should.

Professions, writes Khurana, “are carriers of important societal norms and values concerning such matters as the relationship between knowledge and power and the maintenance of trust.” Yet the title From Higher Aims to Hired Hands could apply equally well to IT managers as it does to MBA grads.

Computer science set out to solve some of the most pressing problems in organizations, but a lot of an IT manager’s time today is spent fixing an e-mail glitch or resetting someone’s password. When you’re lucky you get to be part of the projects that grow the business, but IT management should represent something more than merely executing the tactical elements of a senior manager’s vision. Forget greater IT-business alignment for a moment: what about how technology can help business leaders contribute to a stronger, healthier society?

More than just getting a better idea of how business works, IT professionals may need, along with the aspiring CEOs down the hallway, to start learning more about business ideals.

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