Human Psychology

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The 2015 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

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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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Should Employers Help Employees Turn Off Technology?

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Pervasive and near-continual use of organizational information technology systems is taking a toll on some employees’ health. Companies have to step in to help, argue Monideepa Tarafdar (Lancaster University), John D’Arcy (University of Delaware), Ofir Turel (California State University) and Ashish Gupta (University of Tennessee Chattanooga). “Even as they dream of escaping from IT, many employees also confess to feeling ‘addicted’ to some of these stress-causing technologies,” the authors write. “We may be entering an era in which human frailties begin to slow down progress from digital technologies.”

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Social Media’s Expanding Relationship Universe

Social psychologists studying technology have created new classes of relationships among people. To understand the potential value of social tools within the enterprise, technology platforms need to take into account four factors identified by researchers studying offline social networks — proximities, interactions, relationships and flows.

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Does Deciding to Seek Advice Signal Weakness?

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It’s common for people to worry that reaching out for advice will make them appear less competent, according to research from Harvard Business School and the Wharton School. But if the task is seen as difficult, the advice-seeker is actually viewed as more competent. In addition to establishing a connection between people’s willingness to ask for advice and others’ perceptions of their competence, the authors found that whom people ask for advice makes a difference in how they are viewed.

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For Many Decisions, Just Go With the Flow

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For many decisions, letting your mind wander to a choice that you feel drawn to — rather than laboriously weighing all the options — is more than ample. Researchers Colleen E. Giblin (Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University), Carey K. Morewedge (Boston University School of Management) and Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School) say that while mind wandering is probably not suited for making weighty decisions, it is a less onerous way to sort through options for many decisions.

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Detecting Bias in Data Analysis

Data analysts may have external agendas that shape how they address a data set — but Boston College's Sam Ransbotham argues that a savvy manager can identify biases by learning to question the underlying assumptions that go into dataset cleanup and presentation.

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How to Compensate For Overoptimistic Project Leaders

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Would you know if a project was heading off the rails? Too often, members of project teams are crossing their fingers and providing only the most hopeful updates. After reviewing 14 studies into the ways in which individuals report (and misreport) the status of information technology or software projects, the authors identified five specific areas for leaders to look out for to avoid being blindsided.

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Would You Wear Red Sneakers to Work? Should You?

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Being a little quirky in clothing choices leads to positive inferences of status, confidence and competence — when observers think the choices are made with deliberateness. From a psychological standpoint, intentional deviance can signal that one has the autonomy to act according to one’s own inclinations, write the authors, who are all affiliated with Harvard Business School. On the other hand, nonconformists do risk not having a comfort zone and “the benefits of following the crowd.”

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The Pitfalls of Project Status Reporting

Accepting five inconvenient truths about project status reporting can greatly reduce the chance of being blindsided by unpleasant surprises. For instance, many employees tend to put a positive spin on anything they report to senior management. And when employees do report bad news, senior executives often ignore it. Overconfidence is an occupational hazard in the executive suite, and executives need to examine their own assumptions and beliefs about project status reporting.

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What Unhappy Customers Want

Companies have tried for decades to improve customer complaint resolution — without notable success. Customer expectations are rising; customers now expect positive results and not just the chance to complain. Many customers want nonmonetary remedies, such as an apology or a chance to vent. In addition, companies must recognize that they must treat every customer interaction as if it were playing out on a Facebook page or a YouTube video, because it might be.

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Combining Purpose With Profits

It’s an old idea: If you want to build a company that truly motivates its employees, it has to have a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose that transcends making money can motivate employees. But to sustain both a sense of purpose and a solid level of profitability over time, companies need to pay attention to several fundamental organizing principles, including the need for support systems that reinforce goals.

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How to Build More Personal Power

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Executives who find themselves experiencing a power deficit have two strategies for overcoming it: they can either play the existing game more effectively or they can change the game. “Career counselors often advise people to shore up weaknesses, but the secret to becoming indispensable is consolidating strengths,” write Jean-Louis Barsoux and Cyril Bouquet.

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Is It Really Lonely at the Top?

There’s a business relationship that’s often overlooked: the relationships in between friends and allies — in other words, business relationships with people you enjoy being with. This article defines these people as chums and asserts that their importance too often goes unnoticed. Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends & Influence People is a practical classic on the art of cultivating chums — of inviting business allies into your courtyard while keeping them out of your kitchen.

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How To Feel More Time-Rich

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Research into the ways that people can feel less time-pressed and more time-affluent suggests that the answer lies in focusing attention on the present and away from the self.

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The Key to Social Media Success Within Organizations

Though the use of social media can be a valuable way to enrich a company’s culture and enhance its productivity, it isn’t a sure thing. The main reason some social media initiatives fail to bring benefits to companies is because the initiatives don’t create emotional capital — that is, a strong emotional connection between stakeholders and the company. That’s the main finding of a survey of 1,060 executives about their experience with social media, along with a number of in-depth case studies.

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In Defense of Delay

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A new book, “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay,” argues that while snap decisions can be important in times of danger, our brains need time to assess other factors and resist what economists call “present bias.”

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The Elements of Good Leadership

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There is no magic formula for successful leadership, says Deborah Ancona, director of the MIT Leadership Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Instead, each leader needs to figure out his or her own unique leadership signature — one that draws on his or her own strengths.

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