Believe it or not, bureaucracy was once a progressive innovation. Its hierarchical authority, specialized division of labor, and standard operating procedures enabled companies to grow far larger than they had ever been. The German sociologist Max Weber famously praised bureaucracy’s rationality and efficiencies.
But Weber also warned that, unfettered, bureaucracy could create a soulless “iron cage,” trapping people inside dehumanizing systems and limiting their potential. He was right. Today, most people work in some sort of bureaucracy — and according to Gallup, 85% of employees around the world feel disengaged from their work. Maybe this group includes you. If so, what can you do to escape the iron cage?
The most common conversation I have these days with discouraged employees below senior management levels goes like this: “This company’s bureaucracy is killing me. It’s killing the whole business. I know it is critical for the leadership to embrace agile, but the sad reality is that I’m not sure our leadership team will start before it’s too late. What can I do?”
In these situations, advocating greater patience or more persuasive business cases isn’t likely to help. Nor is recommending a job change. If 85% of global employees are unhappy, chances are that most job jumpers will merely land in another company’s cage. Instead,...
In today’s increasingly globalized world, more and more people are choosing to live, work and study abroad—and this trend appears to be a good thing: social science studies have shown that international experiences can enhance creativity, reduce intergroup bias, and promote career success.
To better understand the psychological effects of living abroad, we set out to examine whether and how international experiences can transform a person’s sense of self. Specifically, we focused on “self-concept clarity,” the extent to which someone’s understanding of himself or herself is “clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable”. Self-concept clarity has been linked to a host of benefits, such as psychological well-being, the ability to cope with stress, and job performance, but research on how it can be cultivated is very limited.
Most studies have found that transitional experiences, such as job changes or romantic breakups, typically decrease self-concept clarity. However, all five of us have lived abroad at some point in our lives, and we all felt that we gained a clearer sense of who we are as a result. So we wondered whether living abroad is a unique kind of transitional experience that may actually increase self-concept clarity.Living Abroad Is Associated with a Clearer...
We live in an increasingly personalized society. We choose individualized playlists instead of radio stations. We self-select our news sources and our TV shows. Our cars have infinitely adjustable seats and telescopic steering. Everything is geared, just for us.
Then we have job descriptions.
In most corporate structures, today, recruitment for a position generally means starting with a formal list of tasks — the standardized job description — and hiring someone who can make a convincing case that they would perform each one.
As time goes on, people get stuck in these pre-defined roles, and, if growth opportunities aren’t available, they disengage. Although concerned leaders try to address this problem in many ways — teamwork exercises, mentorship, perks, innovative office spaces, and incentive programs — their solutions miss a simple but pivotal point: Employees are engaged by engaging jobs.
In my experience leading and managing teams over two decades, I’ve found that job personalization — that is, fitting jobs to employees rather than fitting employees to jobs — is one of the best ways to maximize engagement.
Job personalization is best applied when there are clear inflection points: when career trajectories are stalled, during corporate restructuring, or in recruiting for open positions. I’ve also found that it works best with individuals who bring new and...
More and more companies are relying on mergers & acquisitions (M&A) as a competitive growth strategy. Since 2012, M&A activity has increased dramatically in both number of deals and size of transaction, with the yearly value of global M&A deals tracking above $4.5 trillion for the past four years. These are heady numbers and 2018 is expected to continue apace. Yet when mergers are not done correctly, the end result can be at best uncomfortable, and at worst devastating to both companies.
As part of my consulting work on mergers and acquisitions, I created a playbook that defines the best practices for optimizing the human side of M&A. To uncover the human facets and the consistent challenges of M&A, I interviewed 55 executives from multinational to small- to medium-size companies all over the world. The interviewees, who were in the process of an M&A deal or who had recently been through one, included C-suite executives, private equity dealmakers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and middle managers. From these sessions, a consistent theme emerged: M&A often fosters us-versus-them thinking, which can undermine deal success from the get-go.
One of the great ironies of M&A activity is that trust, a key ingredient for business success, often quickly dissolves, as M&A activity is usually...
This month will see the enforcement of a sweeping new set of regulations that could change the face of digital marketing: the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation – or GDPR. To protect consumers’ privacy and give them greater control over how their data is collected and used, the GDPR requires marketers to secure explicit permission for data-use activities within the EU. With new and substantial constraints on what had been largely unregulated data-collection practices, marketers will have to find ways to target digital ads, depending less (or not at all) on hoovering up quantities of behavioral data.
Changing consumer needs, combined with shifting workforce expectations, are altering the competitive landscape and dictating transformation of existing company operating models for consumer industries.
These companies are facing wholesale change—from defining how technology reinvents entire functions to how the organization manages new workforce models to how to unlock value with cross-industry ecosystems.
But it is not just the nuts and bolts of a company that need to change. Stakeholders demand a new level of accountability and corporate responsibility from the C-suite. To turn a profit is no longer enough. Outcomes must work not only for the business itself but also for the greater good of a larger group—consumers, the workforce, shareholders, communities, and the environment.
Nimble digital competitors are showing growth that the largest consumer goods and retail companies are not, for multiple reasons. While disruptive technologies negated many of the advantages historically enjoyed by only large companies with scale, these same technologies have changed the way consumer goods and retail companies create value. An empowered consumer has changed the growth game. Today, digital competitors are using new business models to win, attracting and retaining consumers by reimagining products and services to meet consumers’ changing needs. Market leadership requires companies to create distinctive insight about the consumers they serve, insight drawn from data that only consumers...
Frustrated by the behavior of some men in their workplace, a group of women working at Nike anonymously surveyed other women colleagues a few months ago about their perceptions of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the company. The results painted a clear picture of a workplace where women often felt marginalized, disrespected, and discriminated against. The survey reached the hands of the company’s CEO. What followed, as covered in the media, has been a serious wave of changes: Top executives at the firm resigned or are on their way out, and bias training and other remedies are being introduced.
The gesture by the Nike workers may seem dramatic, but it was the result of women being ignored by HR as they voiced their concerns. Their experience is not unique. Those working in HR departments have the responsibility to assure that people are treated fairly at work. But they may not give an employee’s complaint the attention it deserves when it is targeted to powerful executives, as a way to protect both the executives and also the company from negative media attention or even from a lawsuit. But as research tells us, an unfortunate consequence of not taking action is that more harassment is likely to take...
You can find just about any skill you want to learn on the internet. Steve Jobs’s captivating presentation style, Steph Curry’s jumper, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk — all of these are easily accessible. Clearly, instructional videos, how-to guides, and online tutorials have changed the way we learn.
Or have they? Watching expert performances might make you feel that you could perform similar skills. But new evidence suggests that learning by observation may, at times, be illusory. Observers come away feeling confident that they’re well prepared to try the task out themselves, but when they do, often they’re not better than they were before.Many Skills Are Easier Seen Than Done
In six experiments, recently published in Psychological Science, we tested the hypothesis that people overestimate how much their abilities improve after extensively watching others perform. In one experiment, 193 University of Chicago students visited our lab for a dart-throwing study. First, they watched a video of an expert performer throwing a bulls-eye, either once or 20 times consecutively. Second, we divided participants into predictor and performer conditions. Predictors estimated how many points they would earn (between 0 and 100) if they were given one throw right then and there. We compared these estimates with the actual scores of performers, who were the ones throwing one dart. Predictors...
“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape…That’s what this degree of yours is — a blunt instrument. So, go forth and build something with it.” – Bono, 2004 University of Pennsylvania commencement
Right now, commencement speeches are being given, quoted, lauded and judged. Not every speaker will knock it out of the park, but all have the same goal: to impart some wisdom that will hopefully inspire the next generation.
It’s great to receive sage advice on this banner day signaling “adulthood.” But when else do we hear wise adages, aphorisms, and axioms? Shouldn’t we make more room for such guidance and reflection during our working years?
Ask yourself: When was the last time someone seriously “dropped some knowledge” on you? Something that really grabbed your attention? Your imagination? Made you laugh, shed a tear, both? Something that possibly inspired you to, as Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford speech, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” Hopefully it wasn’t as far back as your college graduation. But, chances are, it wasn’t at work.
After graduation, people still seek this kind of wisdom and inspiration. Millions of Americans watch inspirational talks online, go to conferences, and hire coaches – but they often don’t...
At best, mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) have a 50/50 chance of reaching their intended results. Study after study puts the failure rate closer to 70-90%. Why is the failure rate so high? Repeatedly, research cites the human factor as the leading reason why mergers and acquisitions fail.
Part of the issue is how organizations view the human aspect of the closing date, which is usually treated as the end of the transaction, when it’s really just the start of change. Organizations, processes, and cultures will be integrated for weeks and months after the organizations come together, causing disruption and uncertainty. Leaders in the M&A environment are managing an organization that hasn’t existed before. Their people are no longer part of the organization they joined. Their sense of normal is disrupted. In response, they may choose to hold on to the past and what’s comfortable or feel a bit disoriented as they search for their place in the new company. In the midst of the disruption, new challenges and opportunities will arise not just in the integration of the new organization, but in its marketplace and among its customers. And, the merger or acquisition won’t be the last change they are facing. CEB reports that the average organization has undergone...
At Dorchester Collection of ultra-luxury hotels, we use big data and analytics to help us improve our guest offerings and marketing. Our tool, Metis, analyzes data from online reviews and social media to uncover problems and opportunities. But, as the Dorchester Collection’s director of global guest experience and innovation, I’ve discovered that often the data can only tell you where there’s a problem, not why it exists, or how to fix it. That requires human intervention.
For instance, last year Metis looked at customer sentiment about Parisian luxury hotels. Metis discovered that guests had little loyalty to ours — Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athénée — or to our competitors’ hotels. According to Metis’ analysis, guests view Paris’s 5-star hotels as interchangeable. They visit different ones simply to try something new.
But once Metis noted this lack of customer loyalty, it was up to us to figure out why, and what to do about it.
Observation and Investigation in Paris
We began by studying the market. Paris has ten Forbes five-star hotels – second only to Macau (which was awarded two this year). All Paris five-star hotels have Michelin-starred restaurants; they all provide luxury amenities (champagne, chocolates) on check-in; their rooms are roughly the same sizes and sell at similar rates.
No wonder people...
It pays to plan. Entrepreneurs who write business plans are more likely to succeed, according to our research, described in an earlier piece for Harvard Business Review. But while this might tempt some entrepreneurs to make writing a plan their very first task, our subsequent study shows that writing a plan first is a really bad idea. It is much better to wait, not to devote too much time to writing the plan, and, crucially, to synchronize the plan with other key startup activities.
A startup business plan seems a good idea at the very start because it answers basic questions like “Where are we now?”, “Where do we want to get to?”, and “How are we going to get there?”. By detailing out how to orchestrate complex interdependencies such as customers, competitors, operations, logistics, marketing, and sales, writing a plan first appears to schedule out actions and strengthen the link between actions and performance for the new venture. And, as we mentioned, planning does have value. In our previous work, we looked at more than 1,000 start-ups, separated them into planners and non-planners, and found that entrepreneurs who plan are more likely to create a viable new venture.
But the real key to succeeding in business...
MoviePass, an upstart movie theater subscription service, has been a controversial topic lately. One Wall Street analyst called MoviePass a joke that would be out of business in 18 months. It lost nearly $100 million in its most recent quarter, its parent company’s stock has plummeted, and its auditor recently voiced skepticism over its ability to stay in business.
The company suffers from three fundamental problems. The first is a flawed business model. Its average subscriber sees three movies a month; for every ticket a subscriber uses, MoviePass pays the full retail price to the theater. The problem is that MoviePass collects only $9.95 per month per subscriber, and three movie tickets costs nearly $30, on average, meaning it’s losing nearly $20 per month per subscriber on a variable cost basis. This is a problem that scale (meaning more subscribers) cannot solve.
The second problem: Movie theater operators don’t want MoviePass to succeed because they fear its model will permanently devalue ticket prices.
The third problem: Although MoviePass touts its potential as a platform or advertising business, there is no clear definition of what that would look like or when it could happen.
But the current pessimism about MoviePass misses an important point: The company might find a viable model if it works harder to understand...
Could a lateral move help your career? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Priscilla Claman, a career coach and former HR executive. They talk through when making a lateral move will push you forward and when it will hold you back.
From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:
HBR: Managing Yourself: Job-Hopping to the Top and Other Career Fallacies by Monika Hamori — “While step-downs generally detract from a CV, a lateral move is by no means a career killer. It may in fact prove beneficial in the long run if done wisely. For instance, a lateral move may be justified by the prospect of a promotion in the near future.”
HBR: 15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer by Deepak Malhotra — “Don’t get fixated on money. Focus on the value of the entire deal: responsibilities, location, travel, flexibility in work hours, opportunities for growth and promotion, perks, support for continued education, and so forth. Think not just about how you’re willing to be rewarded but also when. You may decide to chart a course that pays less handsomely now but will put you in a stronger position later.”
Giving performance feedback is one of the most common ways managers help their subordinates learn and improve. Yet, research revealed that feedback could actually hurt performance: More than 20 years ago, one of us (Kluger) analyzed 607 experiments on feedback effectiveness and found that feedback caused performance to decline in 38% of cases. This happened with both positive and negative feedback, mostly when the feedback threatened how people saw themselves.
One reason that giving feedback (even when it’s positive) often backfires is because it signals that the boss is in charge and the boss is judgmental. This can make employees stressed and defensive, which makes it harder for them to see another person’s perspective. For example, employees can handle negative feedback by downplaying the importance of the person providing the feedback or the feedback itself. People may even reshape their social networks to avoid the feedback source in order to restore their self-esteem. In other words, they defend themselves by bolstering their attitudes against the person giving feedback.
We wanted to explore whether a more subtle intervention, namely asking questions and listening, could prevent these consequences. Whereas feedback is about telling employees that they need to change, listening to employees and asking them questions might make them want...
Social media can be a powerful communication tool for employees, helping them to collaborate, share ideas and solve problems. Research has shown that 82% of employees think that social media can improve work relationships and 60% believe social media support decision-making processes. These beliefs contribute to a majority of workers connecting with colleagues on social media, even during work hours.
Employers typically worry that social media is a productivity killer; more than half of U.S. employers reportedly block access to social media at work. In my research with 277 employees of a healthcare organization I found these concerns to be misguided. Social media doesn’t reduce productivity nearly as much as it kills employee retention.
In the first part of the study I surveyed the employees about why and how they used platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Respondents were then asked about their work behaviors, including whether they felt motivated in their jobs and showed initiative at work. I found that employees who engage in online social interactions with coworkers through social media blogs tend to be more motivated and come up with innovative ideas. But when employees interact with individuals outside the organization, they are less motivated and show less initiative. These findings suggest...
Don’t avoid confrontation.
It seems like every business is struggling with the concept of transformation. Large incumbents are trying to keep pace with digital upstarts., and even digital native companies born as disruptors know that they need to transform. Take Uber: at only eight years old, it’s already upended the business model of taxis. Now it’s trying to move from a software platform to a robotics lab to build self-driving cars.
And while the number of initiatives that fall under the umbrella of “transformation” is so broad that it can seem meaningless, this breadth is actually one of the defining characteristic that differentiates transformation from ordinary change. A transformation is a whole portfolio of change initiatives that together form an integrated program.
And so a transformation is a system of systems, all made up of the most complex system of all — people. For this reason, organizational transformation is uniquely suited to the analysis, prediction, and experimental research approach of the people analytics field.
People analytics — defined as the use of data about human behavior, relationships and traits to make business decisions — helps to replace decision making based on anecdotal experience, hierarchy and risk avoidance with higher-quality decisions based on data analysis, prediction, and experimental research. In working with several dozen Fortune 500 companies with...
I looked at my watch. It was 3:20pm. I had been on the phone for over an hour, almost all of that time listening to Frank*, a senior manager at Jambo, a technology company, complain about his boss, Brandon. Jambo is a company I know well — I have many ongoing relationships there from when I used to work with their CEO — but they are not, currently, a client. In other words, I wasn’t soliciting complaints or asking for feedback.
“He’s so scattered,” Frank griped about Brandon, “He’ll waltz into a meeting — late, mind you — and share his most recent idea, which is often a complete distraction from our current plan. Totally ignoring our agenda. And then he’ll micromanage everything we do, reorganizing our work — though we’re still accountable for the stuff he’s ignoring. And that’s not the worst. The worst is he’s completely clueless. He thinks he’s great. At yesterday’s meeting . . .”
This was not the only complaining I heard from people at Jambo. Earlier that week I had spoken to several others, as well as a few members of the Board. And they weren’t just complaining about Brandon — they were complaining about each other as well.
I also spoke directly with Brandon who, just...
A brick-and-mortar retailer buys an e-commerce platform. An internet technology company picks up a mobile phone manufacturer. A chain of pharmacies announces its intent to acquire a health insurer.
Today’s corporate tie-ups increasingly aim to transform the acquirer’s business rather than reinforce it. Why? Some point to major shifts in skill sets that companies need. Others note the diminishing number of attractive same-sector acquisition targets as industries consolidate, and as investors search for ways to put their growing cash reserves to work.
But there’s more to it than that. The current cohort of acquisitions goes well beyond the typical defensive, synergy-driven, horizontal integration that marked previous M&A spurts. These new deals are taking parent companies in uncharted directions. This tells us businesses aren’t acquiring other businesses simply to expand what they’re already doing. They’re doing it because, strategically, they have to – if they want to survive over the medium to long term.
Though recent acquisitions may seem idiosyncratic, they all have in common the need to find new avenues for growth in mature markets or deal...