Research Feature

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Achieving Meritocracy in the Workplace

Rewarding employees based on merit can be more difficult than it first appears. Even efforts to reduce bias can backfire; disparities in raises and bonuses by gender, racial, and other characteristics persist in today’s organizations not only despite management’s attempts to reduce them but also because of such efforts. The author describes how a simple analytics-based approach can address these concerns and produce a truly meritocratic workplace.

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Stop Jumping to Solutions!

When presented with complex decisions, many executives turn to the tried-and-true decision matrix, spelling out the pros and cons of various options. One flaw in this method, however, is that executives don’t take the time to thoroughly frame the decision and explore the full scope of options. But the matrix’s real value is when it is also used as a process tool that helps executives expand their set of options and criteria.

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Improving Analytics Capabilities Through Crowdsourcing

Analytics capabilities can greatly expand a company’s ability to innovate — but what do you do when the talent you need just isn’t available? Agribusiness giant Syngenta, faced with an insurmountable analytics talent bottleneck, turned to crowdsourcing. Using a series of contests, it outsourced the development of a set of award-winning analytics tools to improve its decision making — and learned, in the process, some key factors supporting successful crowdsourcing.

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The New Rules For Crisis Management

Digital media have produced an explosion of nontraditional news outlets. When a crisis arises, managers must be aware of media controlled by various stakeholder groups, which may have significant influence on how the crisis evolves. Failure to recognize the power of stakeholder-controlled media has significantly affected the outcomes of past corporate crises. Companies need to know how stakeholders gained this power, how they use it, and what to do about it.

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Finding a Lower-Risk Path to High-Impact Innovations

Pursuing a high-impact innovation strategy can have terrific payoffs — but it’s also extremely risky, and most companies won’t do it. Yet a comparatively less risky, proactive approach that strings together “lily pads” of capability-building investments, technical and conceptual advances, and market explorations into “enabling innovations” can bring companies closer to their goal and provide a long-lasting competitive edge.

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Do You Know What Really Drives Your Business’s Performance?

Although intuitively appealing, strategy maps and models such as the service profit chain have a common pitfall: They encourage managers to embrace general assumptions about the drivers of financial performance that may not stand up to close scrutiny in their own organizations. A more rigorous analytic approach called performance topology mapping may help managers avoid these assumptions, as well as the strategic mistakes they promote.

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What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless

When employees find their work meaningful, there are myriad benefits for their productivity — and for their employers. Managers who support meaningful work are more likely to attract, retain, and motivate the talent they need to ensure future growth. But can companies ensure this experience for their employees? A groundbreaking study identifies five factors that support meaningful work — and the seven management sins that can destroy it.

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Why Great New Products Fail

Many innovative new products don’t succeed. One common reason: Companies don’t focus on understanding how customers make purchase decisions. But paying attention to how customers search for information about what to buy, and how they make guesses about details they can’t easily find, helps predict whether customers will embrace certain product innovations. Companies need to focus on innovations that customers will easily recognize or find ways to alert them to innovations they may not detect on their own.

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Finding the Right Role for Social Media in Innovation

Social media provides a game-changing opportunity to support new product development. But taking advantage of the opportunity requires more than just a Facebook presence with a loyal base of “friends.” To use social media for innovation, organizations need clear strategies and objectives. They also should look beyond social media used by the general public to lesser-recognized platforms, such as special user forums or expert blogs, for especially valuable user-generated feedback.

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Developing New Products in Emerging Markets

How can multinational companies turn ideas from their emerging-market subsidiaries into global products? A successful innovation developed by Cisco’s R&D unit in India offers practical insights into how to make that process work effectively. Key enablers in the Cisco case included well-developed R&D capabilities at a company center in Bangalore, a large market opportunity, and the support of executive champions. The process also demanded clarity about what product to develop, and how — including working on a shoestring budget.

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Why Learning Is Central to Sustained Innovation

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.

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The Metrics That Marketers Muddle

Well-defined metrics are critical to effective marketing. However, despite their widely acknowledged importance, five of the best-known marketing metrics — market share, net promoter score, the value of a “like,” customer lifetime value, and ROI — are regularly misunderstood and misused. This confusion undermines the marketing discipline’s reputation for delivering results. The authors present Do’s and Don’ts for using these metrics and flow charts with detailed advice for developing each metric.

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Keep Calm and Manage Disruption

Disruption can be averted, and many businesses manage through it by beating the new competition, joining them, or waiting them out. “To be sure, facing disruption is no picnic,” writes Joshua S. Gans, author of The Disruption Dilemma. “But it also isn’t the existential threat that so many see it as.” Many businesses are finding ways to weaken disruptive events, sometimes by investing aggressively in the new innovation after entrants had brought it to market or by acquiring the entrants and the actual disruption.

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Fighting the “Headquarters Knows Best” Syndrome

Belief that headquarters knows best can be damaging to the long-term success of a company operating in global markets. One company’s solution: a decision to operate out of dual headquarters, in the Netherlands and China. “No longer a prisoner of its home base, the top team was viewed as mobile, agile, and geographically dispersed,” write Cyril Bouquet et al. “The company was able to make more effective resource-allocation decisions informed by diverse thinking and divergent points of view.”

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Lessons From Hollywood: A New Approach To Funding R&D

Could science-based industries benefit from a financing model similar to one used to make Hollywood movies? “We propose that a form of governance centered on the project rather than the company may be a more efficient way to organize innovation in science-based industries,” write the authors. Their proposal addresses the fact that traditional venture capital “wasn’t designed to deal with the costs, risks, and slow payout of science-based industries.”

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How CEOs Can Leverage Twitter

Rather than waiting for impressions about a company to be driven by others in social media, CEOs of large companies can help shape the conversation by becoming active on Twitter. Journalists often check a CEO’s Twitter account before covering the CEO or the company, and certain types of business-related CEO tweets — including tweets about new management initiatives; strategy and performance; and new products and services — have even correlated with positive movement of company stock prices.

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Leading in the Age of Super-Transparency

Thanks to social media and an increasing flood of data, the capacity to generate causes and controversies almost instantly has become the new norm in today’s “super-transparent society.” Individuals and organizations produce a voluminous, mostly involuntary, “digital exhaust,” which reveals much more about them than they think it does. Most business leaders have not yet come to grips with the new reality — and what it means for their organizations.

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What’s Your Strategy for Supply Chain Disclosure?

How much information should a company disclose about its supply chain? In addition to having to be lean, agile, and sustainable, today’s supply chains are increasingly the focus of growing attention from a variety of external stakeholders. These stakeholders often want information beyond what the company is legally obliged to disclose. But many companies have limited visibility of their supply chain information and have not fully considered their disclosure strategy.

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When Customers Become Fans

Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. has actively involved enthusiastic customers — known as “Mi Fans” — in both software and hardware development processes. Tech-savvy users test interfaces and products as volunteers, doing much of their communication on the Internet. Customer involvement in the product development life cycle has not only helped Xiaomi reduce R&D costs but also enabled the company to cultivate a sense of participation and pride among lead users.

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Using Social Media in Business Disputes

An emergent defensive strategy is being used by both upstart players facing established competitors and by newcomers (such as Tesla, Airbnb, and Uber) facing government regulators. Called “lawsourcing,” the strategy advances legal and public relations goals through social media campaigns, online petitions, and boycotts to draw attention to disputes. These tactics are often framed in moral and ethical terms, and they are being initiated by even very small players.

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