Research Highlight

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The 2015 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 2 min 

This year’s winning article is “Combining Purpose With Profits,” by Julian Birkinshaw, Nicolai J. Foss, and Siegwart Lindenberg. The authors examine a familiar question for managers: How can the tension between purpose and profits be best managed? The article explores the kinds of structures companies need to pursue "pro-social" goals. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.

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The Art of Managing Complex Collaborations

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 11 min 

The only way to move forward on society's biggest challenges may be through consortiums. But it's not easy to assemble such groups or to keep them together. The experiences of The Biomarkers Consortium, a nine-year-old public-private partnership in the health industry, presents five lessons in managing these kinds of complex collaborations. These lessons are useful for anyone trying to build consensus to address broad societal challenges among multiple stakeholders with both common and divergent interests.

Image courtesy of Mediatek

Developing Effective Intellectual Property Partnerships

All too often, companies from emerging and established economies talk past each other when discussing intellectual property. The result is that often fail to consider all their options for a productive collaboration. The authors detail five ways that companies can structure such IP partnerships, and say that it’s important for a company to choose the one that’s the best fit for the project: "The choice of IP business models is a strategic decision, not merely a legal matter."

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Integrating Supply and Demand

To compete in different strategic segments at the same time, companies need close coordination between the sales side of the company and supply chain operations. Just as importantly, joining the supply and demand sides of an enterprise presents an opportunity for efficiency and value creation. "A company may have an excellent sales and marketing team and a top-flight operations team and still deliver the wrong benefits to a customer," the authors note. This article includes an online questionnaire for assessing the current stage of your company’s demand and supply integration, with suggestions for how to improve.

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The Analytics Talent Dividend

In May 2015, co-authors Sam Ransbotham, David Kiron and Pamela Kirk Prentice presented the findings from the recent global sustainability study, “The Talent Dividend.” The study found that the integration of analytics talent into the organization is key to analytics success. The webinar speakers discuss the components of a human resources plan for analytics talent, and give guidance on how to implement that plan in your organization.

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When Consensus Hurts the Company

How do managers “decide how to decide”? Boards and management teams often try to gain consensus, but that’s not always the best course. Research offers insights into when consensus building is the right way to go and when it isn’t — and how leaders can determine the best form of decision making for a given situation. “By prompting a rule on how the decision will be made — by unanimity, majority or delegation — you can significantly influence what will be decided,” note the authors.

Image courtesy of Wal-Mart.

Sustaining an Analytics Advantage

Many companies have maintained a competitive advantage through analytics for many years — even decades. Those companies include Wal-Mart, ABB Electric, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Amazon. Peter C. Bell (Ivey Business School) writes that "research over a 30-year period suggests that there have been five basic ways in which companies have sustained an advantage generated through analytics." Tactics include keeping your company's analytics secret and applying analytics to the right problems.

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Revamping Your Business Through Digital Transformation

Large companies in traditional industries might think that digital transformation can wait — that a follower strategy is a safer route than trying to be a pioneer. "That kind of thinking, while tempting, is wrong," write George Westerman and Didier Bonnet. "In every industry we studied, companies are doing exciting things with digital technology and getting impressive business benefits."

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The Other Talent War: Competing Through Alumni

Companies increasingly recognize the value of maintaining good relationships with former employees. Recent research, however, reveals a new insight: It’s also wise to pay attention to what your competitors’ former employees are up to. "Many managers don’t typically think of previous employees in competitive terms (if at all), and have virtually no tools or frameworks to help them wage this talent war," write the authors.

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How Collaboration Advances Your Sustainability Efforts

In a webinar recorded in January 2015, the speakers present findings from the recent global study they co-authored, "Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability." The study, by MIT Sloan Management Review, The Boston Consulting Group and the United Nations Global Compact, shows that a growing number of companies are turning to collaborations — with suppliers, NGOs, industry alliances, governments and even competitors — to become more sustainable. The research found that companies are realizing that they can’t make the necessary impact acting alone.

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Why Sleep Is a Strategic Resource

Simple as it sounds, regular sleep is the best antidote for a fatigued or stressed-out workforce. But many modern workplaces condone practices that are not conducive to healthy sleep schedules, with leaders setting the expectation that others need to be at the office at all hours of the day and night. The authors argue that managers should “allow employees to separate from work when the workday is finished” and think of sleep as a strategic resource that is a key to human sustainability.

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Adapting to the Sharing Economy

Instead of buying and owning products, consumers are increasingly interested in leasing and sharing them. New strategies can help companies embrace this “collaborative consumption.” For instance, Ikea and Patagonia have found that helping people resell or give away products both enhances the companies' reputations and helps customers create space in their homes for new Ikea and Patagonia items. Companies have also found value in embracing opportunities to share existing assets and capacities.

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Why It Pays to Become a Rule Maker

Managers in some leading companies have pioneered a new approach to sustainability. In this approach, businesses have the potential to be rule makers as well as players in establishing environmental regulations. “There is an expression in Washington,” says DuPont’s Michael Parr, “that it is better to be at the table than on the menu.” Indeed, by engaging with government on the structure of the phaseout of air conditioning chemicals, DuPont helped bring an end to one profitable product life cycle and spawn another.

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Customizing Social Media Marketing

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for social media marketing. Instead, companies need to tailor campaigns to fit their products. Recent research suggests that one key question that can guide the approach is whether a company’s products are primarily useful or fun. For instance, consumers expect to encounter messages about fun products on platforms like Facebook. In contrast, they will only glance over recommendations for useful products. Because reactions differ, so too should the social sharing mechanisms used to promote these products.

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The Perils of Attention From Headquarters

Visits from corporate headquarters to operations in markets such as China are often seen as overly time-consuming and unproductive. According to one China country manager of a European luxury-goods group, “Not only do they come often, but they want to spend more time, and they all come on weekends! For my team, it means that nearly every weekend, there is somebody to entertain.” The authors offer a set of recommendations for healthier dynamics between corporate headquarters and affiliates.

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How Effective Is Location-Targeted Mobile Advertising?

New research shows that mobile advertising targeted to consumers based on their locations can be effective. This is particularly the case with customers who have shown a high level of interest in the type of product being shown to them. Researchers also think that some users might simply need more time to evaluate the trustworthiness of an app or offer — suggesting that marketers might see delayed responses to location targeted mobile ads.

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Getting Value From Your Data Scientists

Data scientists differ from other types of analysts in significant respects. To create real business value, top management must learn how to manage these “numbers people” effectively. To help executives avoid repeating some of the mistakes that have undermined the success of previous generations of analytical talent, the authors offer up seven recommendations for providing useful leadership and direction.

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The Upside to Large Competitors

New research suggests that a smaller company can benefit by making consumers aware that it competes against bigger corporations. In six lab and field studies, the authors explored the effects of having a large, dominant competitor and found advantages in highlighting a competitor’s size and proximity. “Small brands see consumer support go up when they are faced with a competitive threat from large brands,” write the authors. “This support translates into higher purchase intention, more purchases and more favorable online reviews.”

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Do-It-Yourself Leadership Training in China

In recent years, China’s economy has grown so rapidly — and changed so much — that demand for skilled business managers exceeds supply. A gap between Chinese companies’ unwillingness to invest in training and young managers’ hunger for an opportunity to learn may create an opening for companies with a strong tradition of employee education. Can leadership self-development programs help address that gap?

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Creating More Resilient Supply Chains

Global supply chains bring increased risks of disruption from events such as natural disasters. But by understanding and planning for such risks, Cisco Systems improved its own supply chain resilience. Its five-step process: identify strategic priorities; map the vulnerabilities of supply chain design; integrate risk awareness into the product and value chain; monitor resiliency; and watch for events. John Chambers, Cisco chairman and CEO, calls this type of risk management “a key differentiator.”

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