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This chapter discusses the institutionalization of responsible management education (RME). We start by reviewing different types of institutional pressures that have shaped the diffusion of RME, and we also discuss the relevance of selected institutional entrepreneurs which have influenced the acceptance of RME as a legitimized social practice. The following section focuses on the current status of institutionalization by demonstrating that many schools only symbolically adopt RME and hence decouple their public commitments from actual implementation practices. We review different types of decoupling in the business school context and discuss what determines whether a school decouples or not. The final section takes a look into the future and outlines an agenda for forthcoming scholarly work in this area. This section also discusses in what ways educational and organizational practices can be improved to avoid decoupling and to therefore move more strongly towards substantive implementation of RME.
Andreas Rasche
Copenhagen Business School
CBS Sustainability
Dalgas Have 15, 2000 Frederiksberg
Stockholm School of Economics
Mistra Centre for Sustainable Markets (MISUM)
Box 6501, 113 83 Stockholm
Dirk Ulrich Gilbert
University of Hamburg
Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences | Department of Socioeconomics
Von-Melle-Park 9 | D-20146 Hamburg
Maximilian J. L. Schormair
University of Hamburg
Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences | Department of Socioeconomics
Von-Melle-Park 9 | D-20146 Hamburg
This chapter discusses the institutionalization of responsible management education
(RME). We start by reviewing different types of institutional pressures that have shaped
the diffusion of RME, and we also discuss the relevance of selected institutional
entrepreneurs which have influenced the acceptance of RME as a legitimized social
practice. The following section focuses on the current status of institutionalization by
demonstrating that many schools only symbolically adopt RME and hence decouple
their public commitments from actual implementation practices. We review different
types of decoupling in the business school context and discuss what determines whether
a school decouples or not. The final section takes a look into the future and outlines an
agenda for forthcoming scholarly work in this area. This section also discusses in what
ways educational and organizational practices can be improved to avoid decoupling and
to therefore move more strongly towards substantive implementation of RME.
Keywords: responsible management education, institutionalization, decoupling,
institutional entrepreneurs, institutional theory
Author Bios:
Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at the Centre for Corporate Sustainability
at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). He also acts as the Associate Dean for the CBS MBA
program and is Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. He has authored more
than 40 academic articles in international top journals and published various cases on topics
related to corporate sustainability. He authored and edited numerous well-known books, such
as: Building the Responsible Enterprise (Stanford University Press), Corporate Social
Responsibility: Strategy, Communication, Governance (Cambridge University Press), and
Sustainable Investing (Routledge). He is Associate Editor of Business Ethics Quarterly. More
information is available at:
Dirk Ulrich Gilbert is Professor of Business Ethics and Management at the University of
Hamburg, Germany. His most recent research focuses on management education, international
accountability standards, and deliberative democracy. He published in internationally acclaimed
journals such as ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’, ‘Business & Society’, ‘Academy of Management
Learning and Education’, ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’, ‘Management International
Review’, and ‘Journal of Business Ethics’.
Maximilian J.L. Schormair is a post-doctoral researcher at the Chair of Business Ethics and
Management at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His research interests focus on multi-
stakeholder governance, political CSR, pluralistic stakeholder value creation and deliberative
democracy. Maximilian’s research has been published in ‘Business & Society’, ‘Journal of
Business Ethics’ and in several edited volumes.
Responsible Management Education (RME) has proliferated throughout the last decade.
Currently, more than 700 schools have signed up to the Principles for Responsible
Management Education (PRME) and thereby promised to align their research and
teaching practices with basic values relevant to corporate responsibility, sustainability,
and ethics. Also, accreditation agencies like the Association of MBAs’ (AMBA) as well
as professional networks like Net Impact and the Globally Responsible Leadership
Initiative (GRLI) have supported the diffusion and adoption of relevant practices by
business schools. Few schools would question the significance and diffusion of RME by
now. It is therefore appropriate to view RME as an institutionalized social practice – that
is, a practice by which “social processes, obligations, or actualities come to take on a rule-
like status in social thought and action(Meyer & Rowan, 1977: 341). Institutionalized
practices are widely followed and exhibit permanence (Tolbert & Zucker, 1983: 25) and
therefore have moved beyond being perceived as an unstable “fashion” (Abrahamson,
1996). RME can be perceived as an institution to which organizations (like business
schools) respond because they seek legitimacy.
Based on institutional theory in general and organizational institutionalism in particular
(Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Zucker, 1988), this chapter discusses the institutionalization of
RME in business schools and theoretically frames consequences of its widely diffused
nature. We believe this analysis is important and timely for at least two reasons. First, it
helps us to better understand why schools respond to this emerging agenda and the
manifold changes in the institutional context. The institutionalization of RME and its
influence on organizational practices is not a natural process. Rather, it is the result of (a)
the existence of different types of institutional pressures that make the implementation of
an emerging practice like RME seem inevitable for an organization to appear legitimate
and (b) the work of different types of institutional entrepreneurs who leverage resources
to either transform existing institutions or to create new ones (Battilana, Leca, &
Boxenbaum, 2009). Second, an analysis of the institutionalized nature of RME also
highlights whether or not schools actually “walk their talk” and engage in substantive or
only symbolic adoption of the practice (Høgdal, Rasche, Schoeneborn, & Scotti, 2019;
Rasche & Gilbert, 2015). Such an analysis is important, as the institutionalization of a
practice by itself says little about its actual impact on adopting organizations. We argue
that there is always a risk that schools will decouple formal structures (e.g. committees
and new policies regarding RME) from their everyday organizational practices.
Our analysis proceeds as follows. Section two takes a brief look back and discusses what
has shaped the institutionalization of RME over time. We review different types of
institutional pressures that have shaped the diffusion of the practice, and we also discuss
the relevance of selected institutional entrepreneurs which have influenced the acceptance
of RME as a legitimized social practice. Section three then focuses more on the current
status of the institutionalization by demonstrating that many schools only symbolically
adopt RME and hence decouple their public commitments from actual implementation
practices. We review different types of decoupling in the business school context and
discuss what determines whether a school decouples or not. The final section takes a look
into the future and outlines an agenda for forthcoming scholarly work in this area. This
section also discusses in what ways educational and organizational practices can be
improved to avoid decoupling and to therefore move more strongly towards substantive
implementation of RME.
The institutionalization of practices like RME is the result of different pressures that exist
in organizations’ environment and also the explicit work of selected actors who “push”
their practices towards institutionalization.
Existence of Isomorphic Pressures
Following DiMaggio & Powell (1983), we argue that (1) coercive, (2) mimetic and (3)
normative pressures affect the diffusion of RME policies and practices in business schools
over time (see also Rasche & Gilbert, 2015). First, coercive pressures induce the adoption
of a policy or practice because organizations tend to avoid expected negative
consequences whenever non-compliance with relevant rules or regulations occurs. In the
context of business schools, these pressures result mostly from accreditation agencies
like the Association for MBAs (AMBA), the European Foundation for Management
Development (EFMD), and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
(AACSB)which have acknowledged the need for RME and, in some cases, have added
relevant criteria to their guidelines. AACSB, for example, requires business schools to
commit themselves “to address, engage and respond to current and emerging corporate
social responsibility issues (…) through its policies, procedures, curricula, research,
and/or outreach activities” (2018: 7). Business schools increasingly depend on
accreditations to uphold their legitimacy as well as to differentiate themselves from
competitors (Doherty, Richards, & Meehan, 2015; Durand & McGuire, 2005). Schools’
RME-related activities are also influenced by coercive pressures that originate from
ranking providers. For instance, the Financial Times’ well-known MBA ranking just
recently included a criterion focusing on ethics and sustainability (FT, 2018).
Second, business schools are exposed to mimetic pressures, that is, forces that cause
organizations to adapt their behavior towards the actions of peers. This means that under
conditions of uncertainty schools adapt their programmes and commitments to what other
schools have done. They imitate peers that are perceived to be influential or successful in
the organizational field of RME. Since leading business schools have adopted RME
around the world (e.g., by joining the PRME), other schools have to respond in order to
be perceived as legitimate by social actors. This emerging market trend, in combination
with the rather unspecific conceptualization of RME, induces business schools to adapt
their behaviour towards the RME measures that other schools have already implemented.
Prestigious schools such as INSEAD and the London Business School were among the
first signatories of PRME and received positive media coverage for changes in curricula
or programmes. This inspired other schools to follow suit, as demonstrated by the
increasing number of PRME signatories (PRME reported an average global signatory
growth of 12 % in 2017). Such mimetic pressures are further strengthened by the
existence of elite groups like the PRME Champions, which were explicitly set up to
encourage RME newcomers to learn (and copy) best practices from “Champions.”
Currently, 29 business schools from all over the world are part of this group and
committed themselves to “serve the broader PRME community through active
engagement” with RME stakeholders (PRME, 2018b).
Finally, business schools also face normative pressures in that their organizational
environment increasingly perceives RME to reflect a proper course of action. Even before
the 2007-2008 financial crisis, business schools were criticized for “propagating
ideologically inspired amoral theories” (Ghoshal, 2005: 76) that neglect the ethical
dimension of business and management. Prominent business schools, such as Harvard,
were accused of being (at least partially) responsible for the “moral failure of the MBA
elite” by fostering a culture of narrow self-interest that contributed to the crisis of
capitalism (McDonald, 2017). Parker (2018) takes this critical diagnosis as a starting
point for his call to “shut down the business school” by suggesting radical reform of the
conventional business school model.
These criticisms have been echoed broadly by the media, which increased the normative
pressure on business schools to change course. In addition, several surveys suggest that
students demand more courses on ethics and sustainability in their curricula. An online
survey by PRME (2016) with nearly 1800 participants finds that 79 % of students agree
or strongly agree that “all business students should study business ethics” and 68 % call
on business schools to integrate ethics and sustainability into the core curriculum.
Another survey suggests that 64 % of Millennials would not work for a company that
lacks strong CSR values while 88 % perceive a job with a positive societal impact as more
fulfilling (Cone Communications, 2016). Hence, business schools are also increasingly
confronted with students who expect curricula to include courses and activities that
provide qualifications and skills in RME-related topics.
Institutional Entrepreneurs Supporting Responsible Management Education
The existence of different isomorphic pressures highlights the importance of the
environment in which business schools are embedded. However, merely focusing on
these pressures would unnecessarily downplay the role of certain actors and hence result
in an over-socialized view of institutionalization. We therefore also account for the role
of different individual and organizational actors, which have influenced the
institutionalization of RME. We label these actors institutional entrepreneurs and define
them as “actors who leverage resources to create new or transform existing institutions
(Battilana et al., 2009: 69). Such entrepreneurs usually do not just have sufficient financial
and non-financial resources at hand to support institution building, they also see the
creation or transformation of an institution as an opportunity to further their own interests
(David, Sine, & Haveman, 2013; DiMaggio, 1988). Institutional entrepreneurs usually
launch proto-institutions (i.e. not yet institutionalized practices) and work for these proto-
institutions to be widely acknowledged and legitimized. Ideally, proto-institutions
become recognized as legitimate and appropriate social objects that are widely viewed as
possessing a taken-for-granted status (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Our discussion will
primarily focus on PRME as an example for such an institutional entrepreneur, but it will
also consider organizations that have acted as important allies.
Although RME was discussed long before the launch of PRME (see e.g. Teece & Winter,
1984), relevant debates were often ad hoc and lacked organizational support. For instance,
Windsor (2002) criticized AACSB’s curricular flexibility approach and called for the
mandatory inclusion of RME-related courses. However, these early attempts did not
result in a wide diffusion of relevant practices, as there was no organization that could
support these claims and keep them on the agenda of decision-makers. The debate became
more organized with the introduction of PRME, which were launched in the midst of the
financial crisis in 2007 (Rasche & Escudero, 2010; Waddock, Rasche, Werhane, &
Unruh, 2011). Rather than impeding success, the financial crises helped PRME and the
RME debate to gain traction. Crisis situations often act as enabling field-level conditions
for institutional entrepreneurs to be successful (Fligstein, 2001). Although the financial
crisis did not motivate the creation of PRME, it helped to disrupt the existing field-level
consensus that business schools were sufficiently covering responsibility, sustainability,
and ethics. The financial crisis created a situation in which business schools were
suddenly criticized for educating rogue bankers who put profit above everything. The
New York Times even asked: “Is it time to retrain b-schools?” (Holland, 2009). The launch
of PRME therefore helped to legitimize changes to educational practices.
Another factor that enabled the role of PRME as an institutional entrepreneur was its
social position. PRME’s affiliation with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC)
and its recognition as an initiative that is officially backed by the UN provided access to
an important resource: social legitimacy. As the UN enjoys high levels of trust and
legitimacy (Barnett & Finnemore, 2008; Torgler, 2008), PRME profited from positive
legitimacy spillover effects and therefore increased its capacity to diffuse RME. These
high degrees of legitimacy supported the institutionalization of RME in two different
ways. First, it helped to legitimize PRME’s vision for divergent change, which is reflected
in its six core principles. The principles enjoyed a high degree of communicative
legitimacy because they were drafted by an international task force that was tied to the
UNGC (Rasche & Escudero, 2010). Second, PRME’s perceived legitimacy was helpful
in mobilizing important allies. The following organizations co-convened the drafting of
the principles, then officially endorsed them, and later on served on the PRME Steering
Committee: AACSB International, EFMD, the Aspen Institute Business in Society
Program, the Academy of Business in Society (ABIS), the GRLI, and Net Impact.
Mobilizing these organizations as allies also implied to gain access to resources, most
importantly the formal authority that is attached to accreditation agencies. The support of
these allies also enabled PRME to frame the emerging RME discourse in a way that it
resonated with the values and interests of major business schools. This further supported
the institutionalization of RME, as it prevented the field to be dominated by different,
competing groups of actors.
Institutional theory argues that organizations may respond differently to institutionalized
practices (Oliver, 1991). While some organizations will implement the relevant practice,
others may resist environmental pressures leading to a situation in which conformity to
institutional pressures may only be ceremonial (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). In such cases,
the need to respond to institutional pressures contradicts schools’ internal needs for
efficiency. Schools then decouple their implementation activities (e.g., curriculum
change) from formal structures (e.g., policies) to secure and preserve their organizational
efficiency (Boxenbaum & Jonsson, 2008). Such decoupling between business schools’
public commitment to RME (reflected in their formal structures) and their actual
organizational practices (reflected in their day-to-day activities) has formed an important
part of the scholarly debate (see e.g. Burchell, Kennedy, & Murray, 2015; Rasche &
Gilbert, 2015; Rasche, Gilbert, & Schedel, 2013).
What Causes Decoupling of Responsible Management Education?
Four main factors drive decoupling of RME in business schools (see also Rasche &
Gilbert, 2015): (1) some business schools have only limited resources available, (2) there
can be resistance against RME by some powerful actors, (3) schools often have to respond
to multiple institutional pressures at the same time, and (4) organizational actors can
perceive RME demands as ambiguous ands vague. These factors describe conditions that
make it more likely for business schools to decouple without however determining that
decoupling will always be induced by these factors. Ultimately, decoupling rests upon
highly contextual conditions that can vary significantly between individual business
schools (Snelson-Powell, Grosvold, & Millington, 2016).
First, decoupling can be the result of a conflict between external legitimacy demands and
internal efficiency requirements (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Westphal & Zajac, 1998).
Business schools need to mobilize significant material and immaterial resources to
integrate RME into their organization. Depending on the scale and scope of a school’s
RME efforts, courses, curricula and programmes need to be modified, internal
governance structures altered and, at least in some cases, additional staff needs to be hired.
The overall costs of integrating RME across all programmes and courses can expected to
be high, since a full integration requires the implementation of RME not only within
selected courses but also across the entire program portfolio. At the same time, the
competition among business schools for students and financial funding has increased
significantly over the past years. Governments have reduced public funding for higher
education on a per student basis in several countries, while business schools face strong
competition on the global market (Fethke & Policano, 2013). Tuition fees cannot be
increased indefinitely, as student debt has already reached unsustainable levels in
countries with a high international market share in higher education, such as the US or
the UK. Therefore, many business schools are likely to encounter a tension between the
external demand for RME and their internal resource constraints. This tension, in turn,
can induce business schools to adopt RME only on a symbolic rather than a substantial
level. Recent research points to the diversity of material and immaterial resources that are
associated with either tight coupling or decoupling (see Snelson-Powell et al. 2016). In
other words, a lack of financial resources does not necessarily lead to decoupling, while
other material resources such as experienced faculty or a business school’s reputation
appear to foster a substantial implementation of RME.
Second, the decoupling of RME can be caused by power dynamics within business
schools. Prior research has shown that decoupling can be the result of powerful actors
opposing relevant reforms within an organization (Westphal & Zajac, 2001). Business
schools allocate most of the decision-making authority to faculty and provide tenured
professors with considerable academic freedom (Mortimer & Sathre, 2010). Studies stress
that tenured faculty show only limited interest in changing teaching materials and that
they invest less time and effort into teaching (compared to research; Premeaux, 2012).
This tendency to prioritize research over teaching is passed on to junior faculty as doctoral
programs typically put only limited emphasis on teaching skills (Brightman &
Nargundkar, 2013). Therefore, reforming courses and programs largely depends on
individual faculty members’ willingness to embrace change (Antonacopoulou, 2010;
Doherty et al., 2015).
Faculty members might resist change because they do not believe in the RME agenda, for
instance because they perceive such education as a largely futile exercise within the
constraints of a free market system. Some faculty may also view RME as threatening their
professional identity as “neutral” and “value-free” scientists who avoid being associated
with a political agenda. Since implementing RME into the curriculum ultimately affects
syllabi and course content, faculty has significant leeway to oppose these changes also in
more subtle and covert ways. For example, teachers can ignore RME-related topics in the
classroom or teach them with a high degree of cynicism, while formally modifying their
syllabus (Høgdal et al., 2019; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). This form of decoupling at
the classroom level is difficult to prevent, as tenured professors are used to high levels of
freedom and low levels of control. Although the majority of deans publicly support RME,
deans’ influence on tenured professors and the curriculum is limited.
Third, as suggested by institutional theorists (Ruef & Scott, 1998), decoupling of RME
can be related to business schools being simultaneously exposed to multiple demands
from their organizational environment. This can lead to a situation where schools
implement selected institutional requirements in a substantial way while only
symbolically adopting other field-level requirements. Many business schools, for
example, face conflicting demands concerning the policy implications of major rankings,
such as from The Economist, The Financial Times or Forbes. Since rankings are widely
perceived as a valid signal of quality (Wedlin, 2007), they exert considerable influence
on strategic decisions of business schools regarding staff, programs and research priorities
(Morgeson & Nahrgang, 2008). Although rankings from different outlets and their
underlying criteria do not necessarily contradict RME, they only rarely encourage the
adoption of RME. The Financial Times and Forbes, for example, assign high weights in
their ranking methodology to salary prospects incentivizing business schools to invest in
placement and career services rather than RME. Although The Financial Times included
CSR/sustainability as a criterion in their 2018 ranking for the first time (FT, 2018), the
criterion only carries a weight of 3 % compared to the 40 % weighting for the whole
salary category (20% for the average salary three years after graduation as well as 20 %
for the average salary increase).
It is therefore reasonable to expect that business schools prioritize investments in areas
that affect their ranking position the most, while they could decouple the structural effects
of RME. However, as sustainability and CSR oriented rankings are becoming more
popular (e.g., the ranking by Corporate Knights), business schools increasingly are
confronted with field-level pressures towards adopting RME (Doherty et al., 2015). These
rankings, at least for now, largely address a niche market segment in higher education
that focuses on sustainability and CSR and remain less prestigious and well-known.
Business schools may therefore feel compelled to focus their attention mainly on the core
criteria of conventional rankings, while, at the same time, adopting more symbolic RME
measures to also appeal to sustainability-oriented audiences.
Finally, RME decoupling can also be induced by the ambiguity of institutional demands
that business schools are facing. Ambiguity can cause decoupling because it creates
considerable room for interpretation concerning the specifics of the institutional
requirements that an organization is exposed to (George, Chattopadhyay, Sitkin, &
Barden, 2006). Such ambiguity may motivate some schools to implement RME policies
in ways that have a small or no effect. Ambiguity is likely to be an important driver of
decoupling as the institutiuonal demands related to RME are usually rather vague. The
PRME (2018a), for example, require business schools to adoptthe values of global social
responsibility” and to “create educational frameworks, materials, processes and
environments that enable effective learning experiences for responsible leadership”.
Although PRME argues that such vagueness is intentional, it seems reasonable to expect
that some business schools will exploit such vagueness in their favour by avoiding
substantial changes to the status quo. This vagueness can also be identified in the
requirements of accreditation agencies. AACSB (2018: 7), for example, states that
“sustainable development, environmental sustainability, globalization, and other
emerging corporate and social responsibility issues are important and require proactive
engagement between business schools and business students”, without providing further
specifics on what “proactive engagement” actually means and how schools should
translate these ideas into concrete action.
Types of Responsible Management Education Decoupling
RME decoupling can occur in three different ways: (1) schools do not redesign their
curriculum substantially, (2) changes of the curriculum are not transferred into actual
classroom practices, and (3) schools avoid the integration of RME into their hidden
curriculum. First, there is the case where schools decouple their public claims around
RME from the content of their formal curriculum. This type of decoupling has been
observed by analyses of schools’ curricula. Rasche et al. (2013), for instance, analyzed
RME in the context of MBA programs and found that, while schools’ doubled the number
of RME-related courses between 2005 and 2009, about 75% of these courses were
electives that were not tied to disciplines like finance and accounting. Based on these
insights, they claim that there is a risk that schools decouple their public commitments
from actual implementation, for instance because it is qutionable whether the bulk of
MBA students is exposed to relevant content, if the vast majority of courses are electives
and thus “preach to the converted (Rasche et al., 2013: 78). Burchell et al.’s (2015)
analysis of RME content in UK business schools points in a similar direction. While they
also observed a general increase in RME content over time, they did not find evidence
that PRME signatory schools performed better than non-signatories. This calls into
question in how far initiatives like PRME really act as a catalyst for curriculum change.
Snelson-Powell et al. (2016) extend these insights by finding that smaller, prestigious
schools tend to be associated with tighter couplings, while larger, less prestigious schools
tend to be associated with decoupling.
A second type of decoupling occurs between schools’ formal curriculum and actual
classroom practices. As teachers possess high degrees of autonomy (McLaughlin &
Talbert, 2001) and do not necessarily have to fully follow the formal curriculum (see e.g.,
Meyer & Rowan, 1983), they can decouple their actual teaching practices from statements
around RME in the formal curriculum. Although this type of decoupling has not been
empirically observed so far, it is likely to exist. One key reason for such decoupling could
be the existence of different ideological positions regarding core themes within the RME
agenda. Most RME content is critical of the neo-classical model of welfare economics
and the assumptions that are attached to this model (e.g., that profit maximization should
be the only business objective). It is likely that economics and finance instructors cannot
really identify with such criticism and therefore rather avoid relevant discussions in the
classroom. Nicholson and DeMoss (2009), for instance, find that coordinators from
accounting and finance departments attached much less importance to topics related to
ethics than coordinators from management and marketing departments. Because of the
freedom that is attached to the tenure system (see above), it is likely that tenured faculty
feel less pressure to change actual classroom practices even if they symbolically support
a school’s emphasis on RME (e.g., by changing parts of the syllabus).
Finally, it is also possible that schools decouple RME content that is fixed in the formal
curriculum from the organization’s hidden curriculum. We use the term hidden
curriculum to emphasize the role of implicit learnings that occur alongside the more
formal learnings in educational institutions (Blasco, 2012). The hidden curriculum
encompasses the socialization processes about norms and values that schools pass on to
their students. To our knowledge, only the study by Høgdal et al. (2019) has discussed
the role of decoupling in the context of the hidden curriculum so far. Their analysis of a
PRME signatory showed that some of the messages that were attached to the school’s
hidden curriculum were contradicted the institutions official goal to integrate RME
throughout its programs. For instance, faculty often sent messages to students that made
them perceive RME content as “soft” and “non-theoretical” (e.g., by emphasizing that
such kind of topics are subjective and only based on one’s personal opinion). This last
type of decoupling seems particularly important, as prior studies have emphasized that
the hidden curriculum can significantly affect students’ moral learning (Hafferty &
Gaufberg, 2017).
Although the discussion of RME decoupling still lacks broad empirical support, the
existing scholarly work in this area shows the relevance of the topic. Decoupling seems
at least likely, as many of the conditions that enable the symbolic adoption of RME are
fulfilled. The rather high environmental pressures to show some degree of involvement
in RME paired with the rather vague nature of relevant requirements create a situation in
which decoupling becomes a strategic option for those schools who lack the resources
and/or interest to show substantive implementation.
The institutionalization of RME provides an interesting area for future scholarly activity.
In this section, we highlight three research areas that deserve more scrutiny in upcoming
scholarly work before we conclude with some final implications for educational and
organizational practices.
Decoupling of Responsible Management Education and the Hidden Curriculum
Our discussion of decoupling showed that we still lack empirical insights on whether a
school’s hidden curriculum contradicts its public claims around RME. Studies in this
direction would need to carefully unpack the hidden curriculum concept in the context of
RME (see e.g., Blasco, 2012) to then investigate whether schools send implicit messages
to students about RME (e.g., through their teaching and assessment practices). Such
research would be important and timely, as it includes students’ experience of RME into
future scholarly discussions. As most studies of decoupling focus exclusively on the
curriculum or faculty (Doherty et al., 2015; Rasche et al., 2013) an inclusion of a student
perspective would be important and timely. Relevant research has to unpack the tacit and
contextual dimension of implicit messages that are sent by schools through the hidden
curriculum. We therefore suggest a much stronger consideration of ethnographic
fieldwork (Goffman, 1989), for instance through observations of curricular and non-
curricular activities. Such in-depth ethnographic accounts can help us to better understand
the life-worlds in which students, faculty, and administrative staff are embedded. One
important advantage of an ethnography is that it allows to reach beyond what actors
consciously make sense of and therefore share during interviews (Bourdieu, 1990).
Institutional Maintenance of Responsible Management Education
Current scholarly work primarily focuses on the practices associated with creating RME
as an institution. While institutional creation is an important facet, the institutional work
of maintaining RME as an institution has received relatively little empirical or theoretical
attention. Even powerful and non-contested institutions like RME require maintenance
so that they remain relevant to social actors (Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2009). Topics
for future research include, but are not limited to: (a) studying how actors like PRME aim
to preserve the normative underpinnings of RME and thus stabilize the institution, (b)
investigating whether a broad-based observation of decoupling could endanger the
existence of RME, for instance because it undercuts its legitimacy and perceived
relevance, and (c) researching whether some actors try to establish higher coercive
barriers which would prevent deinstitutionalization (e.g., when accreditation agencies
further tighten their criteria). Reflecting on institutional maintenance is important, as
RME is a fairly recent institution and hence requires ongoing support by different actors,
especially if the relevant organizational field moves in new and unexpected directions.
Research in this direction needs to consider that maintaining RME as an institution means
to actively work for its relevance and legitimacy and is therefore more than the simple
absence of change.
Institutional Entrepreneurs in Support of Responsible Management Education
Finally, research has to better understand the role of institutional entrepreneurs in the
context of RME. While it is clear that these entrepreneurs have succeeded in creating
RME as an institution, there are at least two issues that have remained unaddressed so far.
First, while numerous studies have highlighted the role of PRME as an important
organization that has shaped the institutionalization of RME (see e.g. Godemann, Haertle,
Herzig, & Moon, 2014; Rasche & Escudero, 2010; Solitander, Fougère, Sobczak, &
Herlin, 2011), there is almost no discussion of the role of other actors. In particular, we
need to know more about the role of individual school-based champions that drive the
RME agenda (see e.g. Solitander et al., 2011 for case examples). These individual
champions can help to legitimize divergent or contested aspects of RME (see e.g.
Maguire, Hardy, & Lawrence, 2004). They can also engage in motivational framing
(Misangyi, Weaver, & Elms, 2008) that is, they can offer compelling reasons to their
schools (beyond compliance) to adopt RME as an institution. Such institutional
entreprenuers work against decoupling in various ways, for instance by organizing
resources and navigating through political difficulties (Solitander et al., 2011) or also by
“translating” the rather vague requirements of RME initiatives into contexualized
solutions at the school-level. Second, we need a stronger focus on how those individual
actors, who operate outside of business schools and in the broader organizational field,
act as institutional entrepreneurs. Certain individuals have shaped the institutionalization
of RME in significant ways, for instance Jonas Heartle (former Head of PRME) or Eric
Cornuel (Director General and CEO of EFMD). Future research can study how these
actors used their social capital (e.g. their informal network positions) to build alliances
which impacted the institutionalization of RME.
Implications for Educational and Organizational Practices
Our discussion also has implications for the design of future educational and
organizational practices. In particular, we want to highlight the importance of recoupling.
Often, RME decoupling occurs unintentionally, for instance because a school signed up
to an initiative like PRME without having properly checked whether it has the financial
and non-financial resources for substantive implementation (see e.g., Hillon, 2017). In
such cases, it is possible to recouple, because schools have an intention to improve their
practices (and do not exploit RME as a public relations smokescreen). Recoupling can be
tied to “aspirational talk” (Christensen, Morsing & Thyssen, 2013): i.e. schools who
publicly talk about changes may create this very reality, because key organizational
stakeholders hold them accountable and initiate relevant change processes. Such a
perspective assumes that communication is action and has the potential to initiate
incremental change processes that slowly alter a school’s identity. For such recoupling to
occur there needs to be support from a school’s senior management. Although senior
managers are rarely directly in charge of RME (Solitander et al., 2011), it is important
that those internal champions, who are tasked with implementing relevant practices (e.g.,
driving curriculum change), have good access to decision-makers at the top of a school’s
hierarchy. This ensures that necessary resources can be mobilized and that emerging
discussions are not quickly silenced by internal politics, ideological differences, and
power games.
Schools who want to recouple also need to better understand and assess their hidden
curriculum. Blasco’s (2012) inquiry-based framework provides an important yardstick
for such analysis. Considering the role of the hidden curriculum is essential, because it
points to issues, which often escape the attention of decision-makers and can therefore
lead to unintentional decoupling. For instance, existing collaborations between a school
and its corporate partners can strengthen or weaken the perception of RME. Høgdal et
al.’s (2019) analysis is a case in point. They discuss how students perceived the
sponsorship of the business school by a tobacco company as a misalignment between the
school’s public position on RME and its actual behaviour. Although the implicit
dimension of educational experiences cannot be directly managed (like a curriculum), it
is essential (a) that relevant actors are aware that the hidden curriculum manifests itself
in three main message sites (i.e. school governance, interpersonal interactions, and the
formal curriculum; Blasco, 2012) and (b) that it is possible to influence these sites in
various, often indirect, ways. One important aspect, which has been highlighted by
research on corporate culture (Sathe, 1983), is to more carefully listen to what actors have
to say (and also to realize what they do not talk about) and to acknowledge the importance
of informal carriers of values. Storytelling in and outside of the classroom can be a
powerful source to nudge people, as numerous studies on narratives and change have
shown (see e.g. Brown, Gabriel, & Gherardi, 2009). After all, the stories, jokes, rituals,
anecdotes and stereotypes that faculty and senior management share with students may
be more important for a recoupling of RME than significant financial investments into
the curriculum.
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This paper explores the extent to which business schools are engaging in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what that engagement looks like based on how schools have reported their engagement. The data was gathered from a study of over 1034 Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports submitted by business schools that are signatories to the United Nations backed Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) between May 1st 2015 and May 1st 2020. The evidence suggests that business schools have been slow to engage in the SDGs and many of the reported connections with the SDGs are weak and superficial. The paper outlines what approaches schools are taking, highlights what is missing and makes suggestions on the way forwards.
Full-text available
This exploratory study analyzes the extent of alignment between the formal and hidden curricula in responsible management education (RME). Based on case study evidence of a school that has signed the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), we found poor alignment between the school’s explicit RME claims and students’ lived experiences. While the formal curriculum signaled to students that RME was important, the school’s hidden curriculum sent a number of tacit messages that led students to question the relevance and applicability of responsible management. The tacit messages that students received occurred along three “message sites” related to: (a) how the formal curriculum was delivered, (b) how students and lecturers interacted, and (c) how the school was governed. On the basis of these findings we develop a proposition that can guide further research in this area, i.e., that the connotative level of language use is an important site of misalignments between what lecturers say in relation to RME (e.g., in a syllabus) and how students interpret the meaning of their lecturers’ words. We also discuss further implications of our findings for strengthening the alignment between schools’ formal RME claims and their hidden curriculum.
Full-text available
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to gain a greater depth of understanding of both the pressures and barriers for embedding responsible management education (RME) within business and management schools. Design/methodology/approach – This paper utilises a longitudinal case study design of six business/management schools. Findings – This research identifies a set of institutional pressures and barriers for RME in the business schools selected. First, the pressures appear to come from a number of external business school sources and the barriers from a series of organisational resource and individual factors. Research limitations/implications – RME cannot be seen as just a bolt on. The orientation needs to change to view RME as requiring a shift in culture/purpose/identity. Due to the barriers this will require systemic organisational change at all levels and an organisational change process to bring about implementation. Practical implications – The results clearly show these market pressures are no passing fad. Failure to respond in a systemic way will mean business schools will run into serious problems with legitimacy. Originality/value – This paper fulfils a need for an in depth study of a number of business schools to identify the barriers to RME. This is now a critical issue for schools and this research has provided a number of practical recommendations which will help business schools overcome the identified barriers.
Purpose The governing bodies responsible for drafting and promoting the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) apparently envisioned a completely voluntary initiative without concern for accountability. Public concern and commentary led to the addition of a reporting requirement in 2010. Two years later, program administrators began to update statuses. As of January 2016, PRME listed 636 signatories on their website. Because the reporting requirement took effect, approximately 86 schools have broken their commitment to comply with the PRME standards. Some schools were de-listed for inaction, whereas others actively left the program. This study aims to understand those who intentionally chose not to comply with PRME. Design/methodology/approach This study utilized a heroic quest typology to analyze and understand the behavior of institutions that intentionally chose not to comply with PRME. Narrative analysis of these concluded quests included strategic plans, research summaries, course syllabi and descriptions, press releases, PRME Sharing Information on Progress reports, UNGC letters of commitment, Communication on Progress reports, and internal informants. Findings Out of the 15 entities, 4 exhibited dual or quasi-heroic quests. Their experiences offered two viable and practical alternatives for institutions seeking to transcend the business ethics industry limitations of the PRME initiative. Research limitations/implications The narrative analysis of this study encompassed a sufficiently large amount of data for confidence in the typological characterization of each institution’s heroic quest. Additional insights from informants would no doubt strengthen the analysis. Practical implications The existence of the business ethics industry casts doubt on the ability of business schools and their accreditors to offer substantive change to create a genuine form of responsible management education. This study concludes with two alternative paths taken by schools attempting to escape the narrative of irresponsible management. Originality/value The PRME publicly lists signatories in non-compliance. While most of these result from passive inaction, a small number of institutions intentionally choose to leave the PRME. No research has been done to understand these intriguing cases and the heroic quest typology is a unique application in narrative analysis.
Business schools face growing institutional pressure to respond to the sustainability agenda, especially since the financial crisis highlighted the need to educate business leaders who engage with issues beyond a profit imperative. Although business schools increasingly signal their engagement with global issues, such as sustainability, there are also suggestions that they decouple their espoused commitments from their practices. Rather than institute actual change and include sustainability in organizational activities, business schools may merely indicate that such change is taking place. We examine the key organizational and strategic conditions under which business schools decouple their sustainability policies from their practices. We draw on interviews with 40 deans of U.K. business schools and analyze the data using fuzzy set (fs) qualitative comparative analysis (fs/QCA), a method that investigates combinations of individual conditions. We find evidence to suggest that tight coupling is associated with small, prestigious business schools and that decoupling is associated with business schools that are large, wealthy, or lacking in expertise. We discuss the implications of these findings for business school legitimacy and institutional theory.
This article discusses theoretical approaches that have led the study of international organization, including the United Nations (UN), for the last fifty years. It explores how analysts have conceived the ways that the UN not only regulates the existing activities of states, but also helps weave the fabric of international society. It clarifies the different schools of thought that were developed throughout the twentieth century to help understand the behaviour and misbehaviour of international institutions. The article concludes by asking scholars to work harder in understanding influence within intergovernmental organizations, otherwise known as the first, second, and third UN.
We draw from theories of institutions and collective identities to present a threefold framework of institutional change - involving institutional logics, resources, and social actors - that furthers our understanding of the mitigation of corruption. Those social actors intent on reforming corruption function as institutional entrepreneurs, and their success depends both on articulating an anticorruption institutional logic that incorporates corruption-disabling identities, cognitive schemas, and practices and on having or developing the resources necessary to propagate the new anticorruption institutional logic.