Executive Masters in Organizational Change Offers ‘Mindset Shift’

First published forbes.com 3/2017. Activism is not usually a term that goes hand-in-hand with executive education, but in a world where “resistance” and “protest” are now everyday language among the educated middle-class, it’s not altogether surprising that a major U.S.-U.K. business school is offering a graduate studies program with a radical edge.
In an interview with forbes.com, Academic Director and faculty on the new Ashridge Hult Executive Masters in Organizational Change (EMOC), Professor Steve Marshall, references Albert Einstein saying, “a problem cannot be solved from the same mindset that created it. ”

Ashridge Hult

Ashridge Business School. Inset Professor Steve Marshall

Problems we don’t seem to be able to shift using our habitual ways of thinking include “‘intractable’ issues like climate change, social justice, the growing gap between rich and poor, gender issues,” says Marshall.

“Without doing deep work about the way we think, anything we do to address the bigger problems we face will be so rooted in those problems that its unlikely to be effective.”

To break the mindset, Ashridge EMOC is dipping into its 20-year experience in Action Research.

While Action Learning is a well-known real-world oriented team learning process, its problem, says Marshall, is participants remain rooted in existing paradigms.

Action Research, by contrast, has an agenda of promoting “a spirit of participation, social justice, sustainability, equality, and leaders’ reflexivity in considering their own paradigmatic models that we would expect to see in leaders at this (senior) level.”
Ashridge, located in a former royal residence in Hertfordshire, England, merged operations with U.S. Boston-based Hult International Business School in September 2015.

At an outreach event at Ashridge House in February, course directors told potential participants and their organizational sponsors that EMOC is for participants who are facing volatile disruption, looking to acquire new skills to go about change and become leaders through working with disruption.

It is for participants who are “fed up with standard business school platitudes and want a different experience with a focus on application and wisdom.”

“Participative and reflective frameworks of Action Research offer better ways to intervene in complex systems and lead change in organizations facing a changing future.”

Enacting Action Research implies challenging and renewing the business education mindset, so EMOC designers are rejecting the Harvard b-school case method in favor of live cases that participants and their sponsoring organizations bring to the program.
Participants’ own real-life change projects are the case studies.

Marshall explains: “The world moves fast. Typical business school case studies become less and less relevant. We would rather participants bring the stuff they are currently working, and that will be our cases.

“Faculty and peers will work alongside delegates on the project work they bring in, interlaying and interweaving methodological considerations. We hold process for them.

“We engage with their current ‘mess,’ rather than offer polished solutions to past solved cases.”

A curriculum design that invites participants to work on their organization’s real-world business challenges also calls the sponsoring corporate (or professional or public sector organization) into direct engagement.

Our invitation to the sponsoring organization is “bring us your worst problems to work on,” says Marshall.

The two-year, part-time Masters program combines online learning and webinars with six three-and-a-half-day workshops held at Ashridge and Schumacher College in the U.K.