Teaching Business Ethics Through Sportsmanship

Dr Tom Vine presented at the Ensors sponsored Quay To Growth Business Breakfast at the University of Suffolk on Thursday 2 March. He discussed some new research taking place in the Suffolk Business School, on teaching Business Ethics using the principles of sportsmanship:

Business Ethics is traditionally taught through philosophy, and is often driven by the same key, Western philosophers: Kant, Aristotle, Marx, Nietzsche, to name a few. The biased is on abstract philosopher, and irrespective of the level of study (undergraduate or postgraduate), teaching falls back on a classical philosophical framework.

But here we have a problem – business students have not enrolled on a philosophy degree, and they can struggle with the material. Students may recognise that there is value to the reading and engagement with the module, but they are often looking for practical nuggets that will help them in their future careers – how can they be a better business person?

Here at the Suffolk Business School, we decided to start exploring alternatives to this traditional method of teaching, and have realised that we can supplement this with a different perspective – the idea of sportsmanship. Solomon (2004) even argues that good sportsmanship and fair play are essential obligations to business ethics, although he makes this statement free from further research or investigation. We decided to delve deeper, to take advantage of the connections between sportsmanship and businessmanship in a pedagogical sense.

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We know that there is a language of sportsmanship in business – considering the ‘ballcourt figure’, or to ‘get the ball rolling’. We ‘keep our eye on the ball’, or we have to ‘take it on the chin’. Clients ‘move the goalposts’, and competitors ‘play hardball’. Where has this linguistic connection between sports and business come from?

As in sports, there are competitors in business; there are rules by which we must play and conduct business; there are parallels in respect to betrayal. There is an sense of ‘fair play’ and behaviour that is driven by a moral reasoning.

So why do we think this approach works? Well, we know that sport has wide appeal – there is an already well established cultural understanding of what it means to be a good sportsman, even if a student does not follow a particular sport or team avidly. This allows our students to engage immediately, with something they can relate to on a fundamental level. Sportsmanship is learned at an early age – unlike philosophy. It is also inherently personal – learning of sportsmanship is experiential, much like how it is to be a good business person. These things make learning business ethics through sportsmanship intellectually accessible to students, who perhaps did not realise they would be embarking on philosophy as part of their business degree.

This is part of an ongoing research project by Dr Tom Vine and Dr Will Thomas. If you are interested in this research, please contact talkbusiness@uos.ac.uk

Don’t Give Up! Insight on the processes of academic publishing

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

I received some good news recently…

A paper on the professionalization of management consultancy that I published in the spring of 2016 with my colleague Dr Nick Butler, of Stockholm Business School, has been nominated for the Urwick Memorial Cup. This is an annual award made by the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants for ‘outstanding research’ in the field of management consultancy. I am obviously delighted to be short-listed for this national award but my purpose in drawing your attention to this is not (simply) to boast. Rather I thought that this event might allow me to offer a little insight on the processes of academic publishing…

Our (I hope) prize-winning paper has, yes you guessed it, an interesting back-story. Back in 2013 I was working on a paper about the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) and its annual best-practice awards. In truth I had been working on this paper, off-and-on for about ten years. In 2013 – more in hope than belief – I sent the most recent draft of my paper to the editor of a journal called Culture and Organization. The editor found the paper interesting, and so, she sent it ‘for review’. Putting this another way, the editor sent the paper (anonymously) to three academics who were invited to comment on its merits.

Some months later (academics are pretty busy and don’t get paid for this activity) the editor wrote to me and shared the opinion of the international panel of reviewers whose services she had commissioned. The reviewers had enjoyed the paper but suggested that I might like to revise my work. To help with this one of the reviewers suggested that I should contact Nick Butler because he had been engaged in related research concerning the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC).

I duly contacted Nick who was kind enough to send me some published research and – very generously – an unpublished piece of research which he had been unable to place with a journal. I was intrigued by this unpublished work and volunteered to rework the paper with a view to securing its publication. Nick agreed to this proposal and over the next year we batted drafts back and forth across the North Sea. Eventually by late 2015 we had a paper we liked.

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We sent our paper off to a journal editor who promptly rejected it. So we rolled up our sleeves, did some further editing, and sent it to another journal….and promptly received another rejection. Eventually we found an editor who was willing to send the paper for review. And some months later the draft was returned to us for revision. Over the next few months we re-wrote the literature review completely and made other changes to the paper’s empirical section and to the concluding discussion… Ok, we pretty much re-wrote the paper.

Early in 2016 this activity finally paid off. We had backed our intuition and to our great relief the paper was finally accepted for publication in Management and Organizational History…and in 2017 it was nominated as you now know for a rather prestigious award.

So, what would I have you take from this?

It’s simple really. Take advice by all means but don’t give up too quickly on your hopes, dreams and aspirations! The market place is awash with products – ‘people carriers’ and ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ to name but two – which were rejected when they were first offered to consumers.

Further reading:

Butler, N & D Collins (2016) ‘The failure of consulting professionalism? A longitudinal analysis of the Institute of Management Consultants‘ Management & Organizational History, 11(1), pp. 48-65

Collins, D (2014) ‘Constituting best practice in management consulting‘. Culture & Organization, 22(5), pp. 409-429

#SBSAnalysis: Make America Great… Again

On  Thursday 16 February, Prof David Collins, Head of the Suffolk Business School, presented some research on Make America Great…Again: The Excellence Project in Retrospect. A version of this paper, translated into Spanish, will appear in the journal ‘Debats’ in late 2017. In the meantime, a downloadable version is available here:

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UCS Question mark (8)
University of Suffolk Waterfront Building, photograph (C) of the University of Suffolk