Hybrid managers in business schools


Prof. Graeme Currie, Warwick Business School

Business schools, like other academic departments, have traditionally been located within a professional bureaucracy archetype where decision-making still remains academically dominated. Archetypal structures and processes within professional bureaucracies, however, are seen as insufficiently accommodating the increasingly dynamic and complex environment faced by business schools.

Thus many business schools are moving towards more executive management structures and processes, where power and decision-making are concentrated in a smaller collective leadership group, commonly composed of the dean, deputy and associate deans, heads of group, supported  by an administrative cadre of school manager, finance manager, human resources manager, corporate communications manager.

Those academics embarking upon more executive management positions within such collective leadership arrangements may be co-opted into being a hybrid manager, enacting a managerial role which combines academic and managerial perspectives. Given that most academics do not embark upon their careers to become executive managers, and they have been socialised into more collegiate arrangements, commonly at the level of their specialist disciplinary interest, it is no surprise that some, if not all, experience some discomfort in enacting new managerial roles. Thus, some academics do not embrace their new hybrid managerial role in the organisation’s interest. Rather, consistent with collegiate arrangements, they enact a ‘representative’ role, buffering their disciplinary peers from managerial intrusion.

Further, they can act like a ‘shop steward’, making demands of management for extra resources or negotiating working arrangements upwards, rather than pushing strategy downwards. For academics, ‘moving out of the (disciplinary) dressing room’ can prove a distressing experience, where they have to pursue organisational interests in a way that potentially impacts negatively upon their academic peers. Hence, they may retain their orientation towards the interests of their academic peers.

Despite the above, there appears little organisational support for incipient hybrid managers. As a starting point for organisational support, we should see management development as being as much about supporting identity transition for hybrid managers as enhancing capability. Thus, peer-to-peer incipient manager networks should be developed and designed to engender a collective identity amongst those undergoing transition from pure academic to hybrid manager. Mentoring arrangements might be put in place so that those undergoing transition can talk this through with those already in hybrid managerial roles and so mediate any cognitive dissonance experienced in their new roles.

This does not mean we displace traditional academic values and ways of working with the more executive management model derived from corporate settings, or that hybrid managers merely push strategy downwards. The value of hybrid managers lies in their ability to combine academic and managerial perspectives. Hence, support by universities and the Association of Business Schools should also encompass opportunities for incipient hybrid managers to make contributions that draw upon traditional academic values, but combine these with an orientation towards change demanded by the increasingly turbulent environment that business schools face.


Graeme Currie: graeme.currie@wbs.ac.uk

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