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Responsiveness and Organizational Improvement 101

My article of November 18, 2001 suggested radical changes to the HBS curriculum. The article called for, among other things, a full semester course on ethics and values, as opposed to the too brief LVDM, more complete coverage of the legal issues facing managers and a major overhaul of the Social Enterprise curriculum. As promised in that article, a poll soon followed, and 406 ECs responded. The results largely agreed with the much smaller, informal survey that lead to my article: ethics (31.1%) and business law (35.1%) were the full-term courses most requested to be added to the RC (while only 1.7% voted in favor of Social Enterprise); 81% agreed on the need for a full semester course on business law; and a whopping 53.1% of ECs would elect to drop Social Enterprise from the RC if given the choice to drop only one course (the next highest was Negotiations at 15.8%).

The results were forwarded to RC course heads, faculty and Deans Kester and Clark. Only Dean Kester responded to the e-mail attaching results (Dean Clark failed to respond to no fewer than five e-mails from me on the subject; I am sure he is very busy), and thus I was somewhat dismayed that my efforts had been in vain. Then things began to change. On March 2, Dean Kester sent an e-mail announcing the following changes to the curriculum:

1. “Creation of a new 25-30-session Term 2 course focused on leadership, values and corporate accountability” (“It will offer students a basic understanding of the legal and ethical as well as the economic and social responsibilities of organizations and their employees, including the relationship of corporations to society, managers’ responsibilities within organizations, and the role of personal values in individual decision-making.”); and 2. Social Enterprise will cease to be offered as a discrete course in the RC (“Those ideas and topics in the current Social Enterprise course that are appropriate for the new leadership, values and corporate accountability course will be included there”).

As Dean Kester’s e-mail noted, “These changes culminate more than a year of thoughtful review and deliberation about the structure and content of the RC. Student views expressed through course reviews, end-of-year program surveys, input from the Academic Committee (a joint student, faculty and staff committee devoted to MBA curriculum matters; see //sa.hbs.edu) over the last several years, and various student polls played an important role in the faculty’s considerations.” As pleased as I was to see the poll mentioned, I was even more please to see the changes made. At an MBA program that teaches us to continuously improve ourselves and to seek to improvements in our organizations, it is satisfying to see such institutional recognition of these issues and rapid institutional change. Even without knowledge of the process, one can imagine that changes to the RC curriculum, which is at the heart of the MBA program, are not made lightly or without thoughtful and deliberate consideration. Thus I hope that I am not alone in applauding Dean Kester and the administration for these necessary yet bold changes.

But what about the law? As you might know, I am a lawyer and will return to a corporate law practice upon graduation, and thus I know first hand the value of some awareness of even the most basic principles of the legal and regulatory system and its various interactions with business organizations. Granted, Dean Kester’s e-mail stated that the new course focused on leadership, values and corporate accountability would “offer students a basic understanding of the legal and ethical as well as the economic and social responsibilities of organizations and their employees.” Yet, given that course’s broad agenda, I remained somewhat dismayed that the coverage of the most crucial legal issues facing managers would be treated only superficially.

But Dean Kester’s e-mail was not the end of the story. A review of the EC curriculum for the Class of 2004 reveals a new course titled “Legal Aspects of Management.” As the course description states, “The objective of Legal Aspects of Management is to prepare students for the legal and regulatory challenges they can expect to encounter as entrepreneurs and managers of private and public businesses. The course will examine strategies for meeting those challenges while achieving core business objectives. It will explain not only the importance of complying with the law, but also how managers can use the law and legal system strategically as tools to enhance their competitive position.” Bingo. Perhaps someday that course will might be added the RC. For now, however, it is yet another much-needed and timely change to the curriculum, especially given the rapidly changing legal environment, including the impending securities industry reform and the recent passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. (Author’s note/shameless plug: Given that the Class of 2003 did not have the opportunity to take this new course and learn more about these crucial issues, you will simply have to contact me if you need legal assistance at any time throughout your career.)

Joking aside, the addition of this course is cause for yet more applause for the administration and their responsiveness to students’ needs. If we ever truly wondered why this is the world’s top business school, perhaps we need look no further. An alert, committed and responsive administration will allow the graduating Class of 2003 to rest assured that the best will only get better. In a year where many were critical of the administration for issues related to recruiting and this newspaper, there are just as many reasons to celebrate their achievements.

June 2, 2003
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