You can often predict which meetings will be unproductive from the moment you receive the invitation. There’s the “team update” where you spend two hours listening to a rundown of how everyone spent their week, or the “planning meeting” where you hash out picayune details that should have been handled elsewhere, or the “brainstorming session” where extroverts shout out random ideas.

Some of these you can dodge, but others are much harder to escape — especially if the invitation comes from your boss, a key client, or an influential colleague. Here are five ways to get out of a meeting that you know will be unproductive, or at least to limit the collateral damage to your productivity and schedule.

First, get clear on which meetings really are important to attend. The list is short: The most essential meetings are the ones in which decisions will be made. If your team is choosing to launch either Project A or Project B, you can’t make a high-stakes decision over email – you need everyone to share their viewpoint, air their concerns, and coalesce around a solution. That’s best done in person, or least during a teleconference.

A related category that’s worth attending is any meeting that provides an overall strategic direction for your company or team. It...

When I worked as a management consultant, I had a client that I thought of as difficult. Let’s call her Marguerite. She and I didn’t see eye to eye on much. I disagreed with the direction she was taking our project, the people she chose to involve, and the pace at which she thought we should do our work (why did she need to go so slow?). But because she was the client, and I was just starting out in my career, I didn’t think it was my place to openly disagree with her. Instead, I forwarded every email she sent me to one of my colleagues and complained about how Marguerite was making bad decisions and not heeding my vague, and likely passive-aggressive, suggestions that we try different approaches.

One day, instead of forwarding the email, I hit reply. I thought I was complaining to my coworker but I was actually sending Marguerite a direct email about what a pain I felt she was. About 15 seconds after I pressed send, I realized what I had done and thought, “I’m going to be fired.” Thinking it’d be better to get it over with quickly, I walked over to my boss’s desk and fessed up. To my surprise, he didn’t get...

“Bureaucracy” has become a catchall term for the many ways in which organizations squander workers’ potential. From needless paperwork to delusional project timelines, administrative overhead can prevent workers from doing the meaningful tasks that contribute to the organization’s bottom line. Employees perceive bureaucracy to be an immovable beast, blocking their path toward efficient, satisfying work lives.

And yet excising these bureaucratic elements from organizations would be nearly impossible. Projects that involve complex technical work must be tracked and coordinated across departments; budgets must be accounted for; and costs must be kept in line. While some organizations do a better job than others of protecting their expert workers from the detrimental effects of documentation, schedules, expense accounting, and budget statements (the list could go on), managers can only do so much.

In our research, originally published in Administrative Science Quarterly, we compared two contrasting production settings: film sets and a semiconductor equipment manufacturing firm. In both situations we found plentiful evidence of bureaucracy. And in both situations employees managed to fulfill these bureaucratic expectations with a minimum of complaining or disillusionment. We find that in these organizations, the experts have figured out how to make bureaucracy work for them.

Why? One reason is that experts in both settings recognized that making bureaucracy work allowed them and their colleagues to maintain...

If you find yourself having to purge your refrigerator’s crisper bin every few weeks, imagine what goes on at a grocery store. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimates that annually between a third and a half of all food produced is wasted worldwide. According to the Guardian, approximately 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, and 20% of meat and dairy products are wasted by suppliers, retailers, and consumers every year.

This waste is growing alongside a growing world population. The United Nations reports that the world population is expected to grow from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion people by 2050, which makes food security a more pressing issue. Growing food requires water, seeds, labor, machinery, energy, and fertilizer. Letting food go to waste, then, is a frivolous use of natural resources that drives up costs, inflates food prices, and weakens the food supply chain.

Large food retailers such as Kroger, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Carrefour, and Wal-Mart stand in a unique position to address this global food issue. Because of their direct links with farmers, processors, and consumers, they have the power to influence every facet of the supply chain. And because the traditional supermarket industry is highly concentrated (for example, in...

The new Republican tax bill, which the House passed this afternoon and the Senate is expected to approve tonight, is complex, but what it will mean for health in the United States is simple: less.

It will mean less health insurance for individuals; less coverage for elderly and poor Americans; less revenue for doctors, hospitals, and myriad health care businesses; and, quite possibly, a less-healthy, less-productive workforce.

The tax bill will be the most important health care legislation enacted since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. The law’s two major health-related aspects are the elimination of the penalties paid by people who fail to have health insurance as required by the so-called individual mandate, and the bill’s overall impact on the federal deficit — which will increase by an estimated $1.45 trillion after allowing for predicted economic growth.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the repeal of the individual mandate penalties could result in as many as 13 million fewer Americans having health insurance. About 5 million are projected to be people who previously bought health insurance as individuals either within or outside the ACA’s marketplaces. Some will choose not to buy insurance because the penalty has disappeared. Others, especially higher-income individuals who don’t qualify for subsidies under the ACA,...

Technological innovations have radically transformed the business landscape in many ways over the last two centuries, from the introduction of steam power to the market conquest of radial-ply tires. Research by McKinsey & Company and the McKinsey Global Institute shows that digitization is having the same radical impact. In particular, our research shows how digitization can significantly hurt incumbent firms in many industries — depleting as much as half the revenue growth and one-third of earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) growth of companies that neglect to embrace digital innovations.

It is not too late for incumbents to reverse the digital curse and re-create a more profitable growth path if they are willing and able to invest more in digital than their peers and take the offensive by reshuffling their activity portfolios and beefing up remaining activities with new business models. On top of that, incumbents would be wise to choose a “platform play” — creating value by intermediating in transactions between other parties, such as suppliers and consumers — because it opens the way to capture more value in disrupted industry chains.

Despite the demonstrated benefits of this path, which we call “digital reinvention,” only a minority of companies have fully embraced it. In our early research on 2016 data...

In the age before the digital revolution, marketers used to tell customers about a product and then work through a traditional step-by-step purchase funnel. But today, there’s nothing linear or traditional about the way businesses and their brands can explode in scale overnight—sometimes before the product even makes it into the hands of customers. Since the pace of marketing is now determined by everyone with access to the internet or a mobile device who can gleefully tweet, post, or blog their feelings and experience, customers can instantaneously become an extension of your company’s story—for good or bad. It starts by inspiring your customer to tell your story in an authentic way, by building empathy and creating an emotional connection that turns customers into fans. At Microsoft, we continuously collaborate with businesses in an industry whose customers already self-identify as fans: sports. For billions of people around the world, sports are a matter of passion, touching lives by offering a depth of human engagement unparalleled in other activities. Our mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, by designing for inclusivity to enable open customer experiences and reflect how people adapt to the world around them. Empathy is the foundation of inclusive design in that when we understand human motivations on a universal scale, we design for a broader, more...

The subscription business model is booming. Previously dominated by the likes of newspapers, magazines, gyms, utilities, and telecommunications firms, more products and services are being offered to more people through subscriptions than ever before. Business-to-consumer subscription businesses have attracted more than 11 million U.S. subscribers in 2017, and the industry as a whole has been growing at 200% annually since 2011. There are over two thousand consumer-focused subscription businesses capitalizing upon customers’ diverse tastes. While many companies are selling more traditional products – such as food (Blue Apron and HelloFresh), grooming products (Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s), beauty supplies (Birchbox and Ipsy), and clothes (Stitch Fix and Trunk Club) – there are hundreds of companies with more unorthodox products catering to the “long tail” of consumer tastes, including Harry Potter toys, survivalist products, and moss.

While the industry is growing rapidly, it is also highly volatile. Approximately 13% of subscription businesses tracked by the subscription-related website My Subscription Addiction have failed, and many more have seen sharp reversals of fortune. For example, Blue Apron rose to become the largest meal kit delivery business in the U.S., went public in June, then saw its stock price fall 70%, making it the worst performing IPO of a major...

To tackle employee burnout, companies need to assess just how burned out their staff members are—and why. Many organizations conduct surveys to gain this sort of insight, but serious flaws in how those surveys are designed often lead to bad results. Well-intentioned leaders, following an inaccurate roadmap of where the problems lie, end up wasting time, energy, and resources on the wrong things. For example, they may ask people if overwork is an issue and then try to reduce the load, when the real problem is more psychological.

A seminal paper in the Journal of Vocational Behavior defines burnout as “a reaction to chronic occupational stress” characterized by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a “lack of professional efficacy (i.e., the tendency to evaluate one’s work negatively).” So it’s multifaceted. But when you take all those things together, the researchers found, the polar opposite of burnout becomes clear: It’s engagement.

That certainly aligns with my consulting experience. Working with hundreds of companies, I’ve observed that managers can counteract burnout by shoring up engagement—that is, helping employees feel more connected and committed to the organization and motivated by the work they’re doing. This includes addressing challenges that make it tougher for people to do their jobs, such as a lack of support from managers, a lack...

Perhaps the most well-known data heist perpetrated by an “insider” was Edward Snowden’s appropriation and disclosure of data from the National Security Agency. The Snowden case demonstrated the cost of focusing on external threats to the exclusion of internal bad actors. In the aftermath, companies are increasingly adopting sophisticated technologies that can help prevent the intentional or inadvertent export of corporate IP and other sensitive and proprietary data.

Enter data loss prevention, or “DLP” solutions, that help companies detect anomalous patterns or behavior through keystroke logging, network traffic monitoring, natural language processing, and other methods, all while enforcing relevant workplace policies. And while there is a legitimate business case for deploying this technology, DLP tools may implicate a panoply of federal and state privacy laws, ranging from laws around employee monitoring, computer crime, wiretapping, and potentially data breach statutes. Given all of this, companies must consider the legal risks associated with DLP tools before they are implemented and plan accordingly.

There are several key questions companies should consider before deploying DLP software. First, whom are you monitoring? Second, what are you monitoring? Third, where are you monitoring?  Let’s look at each in detail:

Whom are you monitoring? The first question is important, as the answer may require you to provide prior...

There’s no question that legacy IT systems are too slow and rigid for the agility that digital business demands. As companies modernize their IT infrastructure, they are looking to gain flexibility, scalability and above all, speed. And that means buying more new technology: IT organizations must adopt new platforms and processes and integrate services in new ways.

Are IT organizations ready for the challenge? In a new global survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, overall executive confidence in internal IT was very mixed, with only 17 percent of the executives viewing their own IT organization as being extremely capable of executing their company’s digital agenda. About 45 percent saw their IT organization as moderately capable, while over a third believe their internal IT organization is not at all capable of executing the digital agenda, rating them 1 to 4 on a 10-point scale.

However, this varies dramatically based on...

If it was ever true that “a rising tide lifts all boats” in an economic sense, it is clearly not true in modern America. Since 1980 half of Americans have been stuck in place—their wages in real terms haven’t budged—while the top 20% have seen large gains.

Rising inequality of income and of wealth undermines much of the narrative about opportunity in America—that it’s a country where anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In fact, today the U.S. has a lower rate of intergenerational economic mobility than France, Germany, or even Sweden.

Another form of economic inequality has been rising as well. Though it’s garnered less attention, it undermines not just families’ dreams for their children but hopes for their own lifetimes. It’s the gap between people with financial stability and those without it.

Our research has found that even those with long-term, “steady” jobs cannot count on financial stability because of the volatility and unpredictability of their incomes and expenses. The major source of income volatility we found was due not to job changes, but to changing income from the same job. In other words, our households had steady jobs without steady pay.

Taken together, these two forms of inequality mean that some households have incomes that are the worst combination of stagnant...

The U.S. health care system is begging for disruption. It costs way too much ($3.3 trillion last year) and delivers too little value. Hundreds of millions of Germans, French, English, Scandinavians, Dutch, Danish, Swiss, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Australians get comparable or better health services for half of what we pay. For most Americans, care is not only expensive but is also fragmented, inconvenient, and physically inaccessible, especially to the sickest and frailest among us.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when titans of our private, for-profit health care sector — like Aetna, CVS, UnitedHealth Group (UHG), and DaVita — strike out in new directions, stakeholders react with fascination and excitement. Could this be it? Is free-market magic finally bringing Amazon-style convenience, quality, and efficiency to health care? Are old-guard institutions, like hospitals and nursing homes, on the verge of extinction?

The answer, frustratingly, is that it depends. It depends above all on the results. To be the change that many desire, these new mergers and acquisitions, and the others that will likely follow, must produce a higher-quality product for consumers (and satisfy physicians and other health professionals) at an affordable price. The details are crucial, and the details in health care — as our political leaders have recently learned — are complicated.


It seems like every week brings news of yet another major cybersecurity breach. Evidence suggests that the bad guys are getting smarter and more professional. Nowhere is the problem tougher than in national defense, where sophisticated actors, including nation states, engage in cyberwarfare. A big part of the problem: There simply aren’t enough great cyberdefense analysts to go around.

The Australian Defence Organization (ADO), which consists of  the Australian Defence Force and the civilian Australian Department  of Defence personnel supporting the ADF, has the same escalating challenge. To help address it, ADO has, with the help of some innovative business firms, leapt to the forefront with a new approach to sourcing cybersecurity talent: “Dandelion programs.” They tap non-traditional talent sources — especially people on the autism spectrum who, because of the social difficulties that accompany their disorder, can have trouble getting hired and remain unemployed. As the pioneering Danish firm Specialisterne showed first in the early 2000s, however, and as the Australian Defence Organization’s partner DXC Technology has demonstrated through deployments in Australia, if you manage things right, you can recruit great talent and activate it to a maximum degree from populations of autistic people.

Insight Center The Human Element of Cybersecurity Sponsored by Varonis
Future Economy Future Thinking A roundtable conversation with our advisers. Learn about the future economy project Harvard Business Review interviewed the CEOs and other business leaders who signed up to the Future Economy Project, our initiative spotlighting businesses’ sustainability agendas....

“Traditional approaches to staying focused don’t work for me.” “I know what I should do to be more productive, but I just don’t do it.” I hear sentences like these repeatedly from coaching clients. Many have read articles and books — and have even been trained in productivity methods — but still find staying focused to be an uphill battle. Why do people who know a lot about what helps people focus still struggle to focus? Through my work, I’ve identified several reasons, as well as strategies that may help you gain control.

Assuming that others’ preferred productivity strategies should work for you can yield frustration and a sense of defeat. A friend or an author may advocate their own approach so enthusiastically that it seems fail-proof if properly implemented. But if you experience the approach as inauthentic or constraining, it may not be right for you. Trying to make it work can send you into a rut where you repeat unhelpful behaviors while beating yourself up over your lack of focus.

For example, a subset of my coaching clients has an aversion to structuring their time usage with widely recommended tools like spreadsheets, planners, calendars, if-then rules, and timers. These are often the same clients who are closely attuned to the quality of their work experience,...

Executives say that they lose 40% of their strategy’s potential value to breakdowns in execution. In our experience at Bain & Company, however, this strategy-to-performance gap is rarely the result of shortcomings in implementation; it is because the plans are flawed from the start.

Too many companies still follow a “Plan-then-Do” approach to strategy: The organization works tirelessly to create its best forecasts about the future market and competitive landscape. Leadership then specifies a plan that it believes will position the company to win in this predicted future. This approach may have made sense when first popularized by GE and others in the 1970s, but in today’s fast-paced world, the “cone of uncertainty” surrounding future market and competitive conditions is too great for companies to prescribe every element of a multiyear strategy. The Plan-then-Do approach is obsolete – even dangerous.

Today’s successful companies close the strategy-to-performance gap with a new strategy approach best described as “Decide-Do/Refine-Do”. This agile, test-and-learn approach is better suited to today’s tumultuous environment. It also helps bridge the chasms that exists at so many companies between great strategy, great execution, and great performance.

Here are five lessons we’ve gleaned from what we see the best companies doing:

Treat strategy as evergreen. The best companies see strategy less as a plan and...

Even the best sales forces can’t keep every good salesperson. Loss of salespeople to competitors occurs frequently in high-growth industries in which the demand for experienced salespeople exceeds the supply, such as in fast-evolving technology markets. Poaching of salespeople also occurs when sales are driven largely by relationships. For example, wealth management companies frequently recruit advisors who have built a strong book of business at competitive firms.

Companies facing high sales force turnover situations can try to reduce undesirable loss of salespeople, but they should also use another strategy, by taking steps to reduce the negative consequences on customers and the company when salespeople do leave, as some inevitably will.

These strategies focus on minimizing sales loss during three critical phases surrounding a salesperson’s departure – the withdrawal period, the vacancy period, and the hiring/orientation period.

Managing the Withdrawal Period

In the period from when salespeople contemplate leaving until they actually depart, salespeople often stop putting full effort into the job. Too frequently, departing salespeople are distracted by their job search. Or worse, if a departing salesperson plans to work for a competitor, the salesperson might feel pressure to convince customers to defect. Minimizing withdrawal period sales loss requires a proactive approach.

It starts with detecting the possibility that a salesperson might leave...

Only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs, and while there is incremental progress — there are 32 female CEOs this year, the highest percentage ever, compared with only 21 last year — the rate of change can feel excruciatingly slow.

But what if there were a way to make breakthrough progress by applying research-based tools and strategies to boost these numbers faster? With that objective in mind — and as part of their 100×25 initiative, which is pushing for female CEOs to lead 100 of the Fortune 500 by 2025 — the Rockefeller Foundation provided a grant for Korn Ferry to design and execute a research project geared to developing action-oriented initiatives to create a sustainable pipeline of female CEOs.

We secured the participation of 57 female CEOs — 41 from Fortune 1000 companies and 16 from large privately held companies. We then conducted a series of in-depth individual interviews, delving into pivotal experiences in their personal history and career progression, and using Korn Ferry’s executive online assessment to measure key personality traits and drivers that had an impact. Our goal: to crack the code of these women’s success, in order to help organizations better identify and leverage their highest-potential female leaders and to ensure more women succeed in the future.

Throughout the research, Korn Ferry used our best-in-class CEO...

While strategic plans identify what your organization should do differently, very few provide a roadmap for how to build the skills, knowledge, and processes needed to carry out and sustain the critical changes. But without building these capabilities, it’s very difficult to achieve the results you want.

For example, a multi-product technology firm we advised laid out a strategy to significantly increase business with its large enterprise customers by creating single points of contact and focusing on providing solutions as opposed to delivering products. The strategy was sound, but making it happen required many new capabilities: dozens of sales people had to learn new approaches to selling and relationship building, different sales divisions needed to share information and collaborate, new roles for coordinating enterprise accounts had to be created, financial information had to be presented and analyzed differently, and so on. These changes meant that hundreds of people in the company had to work differently in some way – but the plan said nothing about developing capabilities. So despite general agreement that the strategy made sense, the missing capabilities made it impossible to carry out.

Capabilities lie at the heart an organization’s ability to achieve results, so it’s hardly a surprise that different results require different capabilities. But strategic plans often get this simple equation wrong, for one of two reasons.

First, many strategic planners and senior executives assume that if the strategy is logical, then people will figure out what to do, and don’t build capabilities development into their plans at...