Last week the HBS Working Knowledge newsletter pointed to an article called Is Business Management a Profession?. Of course is is, but what they’re really asking is whether management ought to become professionally recognized in the same way that the fields of medicine and law are recognized. The reason for the question is that the authors suppose that if management were a licensed profession, there may be fewer opportunities for unethical folks.
This doesn’t seem like an entirely bad idea to me, but I just don’t see how it can work in practice. Most managers don’t/can’t enter their first management jobs as experts. They need lots of coaching before they become good managers, and lots of practice before they become excellent managers. Relatedly, businesses can’t exist without low-level managers. I can’t see how you’d have two managers with the same "license" and one gets paid a fourth of what the other does. Sure, you could create tiers of licensure, but you’ll still end up with over-licensed managers who are underpaid, or overpaid and under-licensed managers.
Some folks would argue that an MBA is the defacto licensure for managers. Well, kinda. From my perspective, licensure comes with an obligation to continually update skills. According to the article, MBAs are the least likely to pursue continuing education–what a depressing statistic. I’m all for getting an MBA–if it’s clearly a practical step in your career path. However, my bet is that there are more good MBA-free managers than there are good MBA-laden managers.
Of course, I may be taking this way too literally. From my perspective, virtually anybody may end up with management responsibilities. It isn’t reasonable to require licensure of everyone with management responsibility. However, if all we’re talking about are senior-level managers/executives, then I’m more likely to get on board. First, it would be a step of good faith for a stock-buying public that has grown tired of overpaid executives who are unfamiliar with the word "ethics." Second, licensure at the executive level would give young managers, who aspire to such work, a more clearly defined path to the corner office. Working on a weighty license, over a lengthy period of time will show commitment to the profession and a genuine interest in managerial matters. Seems like elements of the licensure might be integrated with MBA programs as well, but I’d want to see an emphasis on continuing education.
Okay, stepping off the soapbox now…