Research Feature

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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.

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.

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.

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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The Long-Tail Strategy for IT Outsourcing

No longer just a cost-saving measure, IT outsourcing has emerged as an important strategic tool for acquiring cutting-edge ideas. Many companies are expanding their portfolios of IT suppliers to include smaller, highly innovative companies. But this expansion increases the complexity of managing supplier portfolios. To take full advantage of the innovations that diverse suppliers provide, organizations need to reimagine their strategies to be dynamic, diversified, and still disciplined.

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Preparing for Disruptions Through Early Detection

In an adaption from his new book The Power of Resilience, MIT’s Yossi Sheffi explains how companies are learning to more quickly detect unanticipated problems that can interfere with their global operations. Sheffi looks at how leading companies are using an array of detection and response techniques, from sensors to supply chain control towers. These tools are helping companies become more resilient to disruptions such as hurricanes, the discovery of product contamination, and political events.

Developing the Next Generation of Enterprise Leaders

Aspiring corporate leaders first learn to build and implement visions for their individual business units. But as they advance in their careers, executives also must learn how to lead with an enterprise perspective. The essence of enterprise leadership lies in the need to combine two often incompatible roles: being both an advocacy-oriented builder who can develop a unit’s vision, and an integration minded broker who can integrate the unit’s vision into the wider corporate vision.

Image courtesy of Southwest Airlines Co.

The Leaders’ Choice

The next generation of business executives will face a choice: What kind of companies do they want to lead? Organizations that will treat most employees as costs to be minimized — or ones where both employees and the company prosper together? So-called “high-road” companies begin with different values and assumptions about the workplace. But few MBAs are learning about high-road strategies in their courses, and they don’t learn that they will have distinct choices in how to compete.

Image courtesy of Flickr user A. Strakey.

How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?

Clayton M. Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation has been very influential. But how well does the theory describe what happens in business? The authors of this article surveyed industry experts for each of 77 case examples of disruptive innovation found in two of Christensen’s seminal books. The results suggest that many of the cases do not correspond closely with four elements of the theory of disruptive innovation — and the theory may not fit as many situations as is often assumed.

What High-Potential Young Managers Want

Today’s talented young professionals have a different approach to their careers — and a very different attitude toward organizational loyalty — than earlier generations. Although they may seem engaged and committed in their jobs, they nevertheless job hunt routinely and are not averse to job hopping. Those whose companies offer development practices such as training and mentoring job hunt less, and those who are given a high-stakes job show a higher commitment to the organization as well.

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Aligning Corporate Learning With Strategy

Too many corporate learning and development programs focus on the wrong things. “The word ‘learning,’ which has largely replaced ‘training’ in the corporate lexicon, suggests ‘knowledge for its own sake,’” write the authors. “However, to justify its existence, corporate learning needs to serve the organization’s stated goals.” Understanding the strategic agenda of the CEO should be a top focus of learning leaders, who can then developing an agenda that is reflective of the CEO’s priorities.

Is Your Business Ready for a Digital Future?

Successfully incorporating today’s digital technologies requires companies to operate in new ways. However, research by MIT SMR shows that being able to effectively incorporate digital strategy is strongly associated with a company’s overall digital maturity. There’s also an important HR component to digital strategy: Respondents expressed a strong preference for working for a digitally mature company, but many were dissatisfied with how their own companies were reacting to digital trends overall.

Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem

Research from MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Information Systems Research says that to prepare for a future of digital disruption, companies need to consider which of four business models to adapt. “Given the amount of turmoil digital disruption is causing, it’s time for companies to evaluate these threats and opportunities and start creating new business options for the future — the more connected future of digital ecosystems,” write Peter Weill and Stephanie L. Woerner, both of CISR. Companies also need to develop new capabilities in two areas: learning more about their customers and becoming “more of an ecosystem.”

Measuring the Benefits of Employee Engagement

It’s well known that employees’ attitudes toward the organization have a significant effect on how they approach their jobs and how they treat customers. But recent research suggests that high levels of employee engagement are also associated with higher rates of profitability growth. While the products and services many companies offer can appear quite similar on the surface, exceptional service can be a competitive advantage. “Although we recognize that the ultimate focus of most organizations is on customers,” write the authors, “companies can benefit from adding employee engagement to their list of priorities.”

How Global Is Your C-Suite?

New research shows that the vast majority of the world’s largest corporations are run by CEOs native to the country in which the company is headquartered. Does that matter? Some studies indicate that national diversity in the top management team can be associated with better performance. What’s more, the presence — or absence — of nonnative executives in a company’s top management team can send a signal to employees outside the home country: It indicates the long-term career prospects for foreign middle managers already in the company as well as for potential hires.

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Creating Online Videos That Engage Viewers

The Holy Grail of modern online marketing is video content that “goes viral.” So how does it happen? New research shows that engagement with online video content depends less on what the video shows than how the video shows it. A study of viewer reactions to online videos suggests that the key is to juxtapose content elements in incongruous combinations or to create original or exaggerated content that makes an emotional connection with the viewer — to create emotionally surprising videos.

Staying in the Know

In an era of information overload, getting the right information is a challenge for time-pressed executives. How can they best distinguish usable information from distracting noise? New research argues that to remain appropriately and effectively knowledgeable, executives need a personal and organizational capability to continually “stay in the know.” And that means assembling and maintaining a “personal knowledge infrastructure” built on both technologies and conversation.

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How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas

New research shows a link between the amount of diversity in employees’ Twitter networks and the quality of their ideas. “A diverse network provides exposure to people from different fields who behave and think differently,” write Salvatore Parise (Babson College), Eoin Whelan (National University of Ireland) and Steve Todd (EMC Corporation). They found that the more diverse a person’s social network, the more likely that person is to be innovative. They also found that Twitter users who are both idea scouts and idea connectors are especially valuable in the workplace.

The New Mission for Multinationals

Something strange is happening as globalization marches forward: Increasingly, powerful local companies are winning out against multinational competitors. Some 73% of executives at large multinational companies say that “local companies are more effective competitors than other multinationals” in emerging markets. To compete effectively, multinationals need to let go of their global strategies and embrace a new mission: Integrate locally and adapt globally. That means becoming embedded in local distribution, supply, talent and regulatory networks as well as in the broader society.

How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success

In each stage of a project’s life cycle, two or three behaviors have significant impact on the project’s likelihood for success. These behaviors, by the executive who is sponsoring the project, ensure effective partnerships with project managers and require a great deal of informal dialogue. They include setting performance goals, establishing priorities, ensuring quality and capturing lessons learned.

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