Should management become a profession that requires certification and adherence to an ethical code?
To be able to set and enforce standards of admission to a profession, determine how professional work is to be done, engage in self-regulation rather than be subjected to extensive regulation from without, and reap the economic benefits of a monopoly position in the marketplace—these are all privileges that society grants to professions in return for certain social benefits. The creation of these social benefits, in turn, places certain constraints on professionals. Because they possess specialized knowledge in areas of vital concern to society, genuine professionals are expected to place that knowledge at the disposal of all who require it and to provide services in a way that places the maintenance of professional standards and values ahead of the securing of individual advantage. The renunciation of unabashed self-interest that society expects of true professionals takes a very particular form: unlike actors in the marketplace, as envisioned by classical and neoclassical economics, professionals engage in work out of more than merely economic motives, and they eschew profit maximization (as opposed to profit making) as a goal.15 Indeed, because of the exemption they have been granted from certain laws of market exchange, professionals are specifically enjoined from using the laws of the market to reap economic gain at the expense of their professional obligations.
Implicit in this aspect of professionalism is the idea that, even when serving private clients, professionals are providing a public good. In economics, the provision of public goods has been widely recognized as a case that creates exceptions to the rules governing the provision of goods for purely private consumption. Lawyers serve private clients (be they individuals, corporations, or other private entities) but are understood to be providing a public good—if not justice in every case, then at least the implementation of the rule of law. Likewise, physicians serve private individuals but are understood, in so doing, to be providing the public good of health for the general population. That the advocacy system in American jurisprudence or the structure of the healthcare market in the United States (with its convoluted system of both private and public third-party payers) can tempt lawyers and doctors, respectively, to lose sight of professional obligations beyond serving the interests of particular clients does not invalidate this more general truth. Once a professional loses sight of the larger social benefit that his or her work is intended to provide, the line between professional services and commerce becomes dangerously blurred.
First off, let me say that I absolutely hate when people use "self-interest" and "profit" in negative ways, as if they were diseases. They aren't. People think self-interest means you rape and pillage. It doesn't. If you do, you go to jail, and jail isn't in your long-term self-interest. And profit is what drives business creation in the first place. It is a measure of the economic success of a business. If we don't strive for profit, how do we know we are efficient and effectively using resources?
Now in general, I am not a big fan of professional licensing. I think it's a good idea to have a simple competency test, but that is about it. If managers suddenly have to undergo a rigorous process to become certified, that means Bill Gates and Michael Dell wouldn't qualify. Licensing helps because it keeps the dregs of the profession out, but it also penalizes those who are bright and entrepreneurial, because it may limit their ability to act quickly on an idea.
I remember a guy I worked with several years ago who did electrical design. He didn't have a degree, but had been designing power systems for 35 years. So the company hired some kid who had the proper engineering certification to sign off on his drawings. This is the type of thing I don't want to see happen in management.
I think there should be designations to get in management if you want to distinguish yourself. The certified MBA may be a step in the right direction. But to make all managers obtain licensing is just wrong. It will complicate things, and will do more to hinder economic growth than to promote it.