Organisations of all sizes are building ethics and sustainability into their vision for the future, and as a result there is increasing demand for employees with expertise in these areas. Increasing demand for responsible management knowledge also coincides with a change in the expectations of graduates and leading talent who are looking beyond just salary figures, seeking a meaningful career from prospective employers.

AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s new Responsible Management curriculum provides a broader educational experience that goes beyond simply mastering technical skills, it also equips graduates with the skills they need to meet this demand for ethical expertise in industry. This demand is driven not only by a shift in global sustainability priorities, but also a shift in the expectations of shareholders and consumers on the responsibilities of businesses when it comes to operating responsibly. 

Co-creator of the new curriculum, Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre and Adjunct Professor at AGSM UNSW Business School, says the new program is in line with UNSW’s commitment to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME).

The curriculum aims to equip people, especially managers, with not only the disposition, but the skills needed to embrace and respond to the challenges facing the world now and in the future.

“The world of business itself is changing and in quite profound ways,” Dr Longstaff says.

“You've seen it in Australia, where business leaders have often been ahead of governments in dealing with challenges like the threat posed by climate change, the reality of modern slavery and the need, more generally, to look beyond the traditional boundaries of the corporation and address wider issues. Business leaders realise that the world is demanding new things of them.”

Businesses used to distinguish themselves from the competition by what they did in terms of a product or service. But now it’s just as much about what you mean – who and what you represent and the values and principles that shape how the business operates on a daily basis. 

“It's a new ecology of meaning,” Dr Longstaff says. “And people are deciding whether they want to be a part of it, either as investors, customers, suppliers and perhaps most importantly, as employees. This new ecology requires managers who can actually align themselves and the whole business to core ethical foundations about what they're doing and why.”

Rethinking what we think we know

Due to the challenges the world is currently facing, Dr Longstaff says society is going to become more fragile and demanding as the transition to responsible and sustainable management continues.

“I think we are on the cusp of a very, very significant change,” he says. 

“The changes I foresee will force us to rethink almost everything about how we arrange our society. Climate change is part of the story – but only a part. The introduction of AI and expert systems and robotics will lead to a major revision in how we produce, maintain and market goods and services.” 

“Many wonderful opportunities, both commercial and social, will be lost if we don't have people in management positions who can navigate this new environment in a wise and effective manner.”

Dr Longstaff says there's been recognition across the business world that developing and possessing a narrow technical skillset is no longer sufficient. There needs to be a cohort of people in management who can deal with complexity. And that means developing the traditional skills of ethical discernment; skills that are designed to help provide a non-judgemental understanding of how moral and ethical standards are formed.

“AGSM is responding to a felt need within the business community for a different kind of person, particularly for those who occupy the executive ranks. This program can help people build and flex their ‘responsible management muscle’ so that they are fit for the future that's coming.”

Making responsible management business as usual

By embedding the concepts of responsible management into all modules of its Full-Time MBA program, AGSM is enabling students to build upon their already considerable experience while providing an additional dimension of understanding in ethics, sustainability and responsibility. 

This is made possible through new responsible management frameworks that broaden the range of perspectives leaders bring when assessing challenges in different aspects of business.

“We don’t just want to provide a set of theoretical insights. We also want to offer practical tools that people can draw upon in their own decision making, including in their engagement with other parts of the program,” Dr Longstaff says.

Starting with a foundation program for this year’s Full-Time MBA cohort, Dr Longstaff said that while the faculty will guide students through the curriculum, he is keen to see a model where the students start making their own enquiries. 

“They might be presented with a topic in an area as dry as, say, taxation and they bring their new perspectives to bear in order to question core assumptions that are typically just taken for granted. We hope that they will ask, ‘What is the case for this? What are the issues here? Where do we draw the boundaries?’ I want to see a very active, student-engaged process,” he says.

“Students will be equipped with the language and skills needed to challenge assumptions, develop new insights and then give them practical effect.”

The new curriculum has three components to be completed pre-, during and post-MBA, with the opportunity for students to obtain a Fellowship in Responsible Management. 

Students will engage in discussions about real-world challenges in the fields of ethics and sustainability each term, writing reflections and refining their views on responsible leadership. 

To obtain their Fellowship of Responsible Management, AGSM MBA students will be required to defend the views they have developed throughout the program in response to questions posed by a panel of academic and industry leaders.  

“I share the view that programs of this kind are at their best when they really test participants. It is this that takes them past being a mere credential and instead marks them out as having been of real, practical value. In this case, there is a proof point affirming that the student has a demonstratable capacity to think ethically and responsibly,” Dr Longstaff says. 

“Students will present their views in the presence of their peers – and in response to questions related to real-world issues as posed by some very senior people from the business world. That might sound like a terrifying prospect. However, it is also an incredibly enriching opportunity to marshal your thoughts and give an account of what you know and believe.”

The opportunity to make an impact

While equipping today’s leaders to tackle tomorrow’s big issues sounds like a very serious prospect, Dr. Longstaff says it should be an empowering exercise that brings a lot of joy.

“Universities are the perfect place to play with ideas and possibilities. It’s amazing what fun can be had once you have the freedom to challenge conventional wisdom. You no longer have to accept life as you find it.” he says. 

According to Dr. Longstaff, engaging in these conversations and revealing new ways of thinking unleashes new possibilities. While sustainable development goals expose the potential consequences of inaction, they also reveal the opportunity to make meaningful change – and the benefit of doing so. 

Successful leaders need to be enabled to see the potential opportunities in what others simply see as a challenge. Looking at the world through a sustainability lens helps people to navigate uncharted waters with confidence. 

“In that sense a program like this sets up executives for success.”

“Of course, there will be challenges, but this program will equip students with the skills needed to respond – for the better. And that's how business can help change the world for the better. It need not be all be ‘sackcloth and ashes’. Responsible management can be as rewarding as it is purposeful and exciting.”


To read more about how AGSM is embedding Responsible management principles within its MBA programs, click here

To learn more about AGSM’s refresh 12-month MBA program, click here