Leading Your Team

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Why Managers Still Matter

The role of managers needs to be redefined in today’s knowledge-based economy. Managerial authority remains essential in situations where decisions are time-sensitive, knowledge is concentrated and several decisions need to be coordinated. As well, an important task for today’s managers is to define the organizational goals and principles that they want employees to pursue. “From our perspective, the view that executive authority is increasingly passé is wrong,” write the authors.

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Bringing Fun and Creativity to Work

How do you inspire employees to become more motivated and perform better? By challenging them to test their creativity and collaboration skills through a team-based contest. “The contest provided a safe environment for participants to unleash their imaginations and form an emotional connection,” write the authors. “That, in turn, triggered an increased level of psychological ownership and positive feelings.“

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The 2014 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

This year’s winning article on planned change and organizational development is “Making Mergers Work,” by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly. The authors examine why mergers and acquisitions so often fail to achieve the results and synergies they promise. “Our work in this field has convinced us that there is no ‘one best way’ but rather four distinct paths that can be followed to achieve identity integration: assimilation, federation, confederation and metamorphosis,” they write.

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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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What to Expect From a Corporate Lean Program

“Lean” programs help many manufacturers boost productivity. But misplaced expectations of how quickly these programs can improve performance can make their implementation difficult. Better understanding of the rates at which lean programs produce improvements would make implementation go more smoothly — and lead to more increases in productivity. Managers should set targets that are appropriate to specific plants and be careful not to derail progress by using initial gains to lay off workers.

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The Dandelion Principle: Redesigning Work for the Innovation Economy

People who are “different,” either behaviorally or neurologically, can add significant value to companies. The authors, who studied the practices of innovative organizations and the experience of a Danish company working with people with autism, argue that companies can benefit from adjusting work conditions to embrace the talents of people who “think differently” or have “inspired peculiarities.” “Managing innovation is less about averages and more about understanding outliers,” write the authors.

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Own Your Time, Boost Your Productivity

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MIT Sloan’s Robert Pozen has an array of strategies to make work time more productive. In a session on “Maximizing Your Personal Productivity” at MIT Sloan Executive Education, Pozen explained that people often don’t articulate their biggest goals and don’t have the right tools to make them true priorities. “You’re unlikely to achieve your top goals if you haven’t written them down,” said Pozen. “If they’re vague and in your head, you haven’t crystallized things.”

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Leadership Lessons from the Boston Marathon Attack

As the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings draws near, the response of leaders in the public sphere offers some lessons for the effective use of social media — which has shown itself repeatedly in recent years to be the key means of communication during a crisis. Six specific lessons on how to manage crisis communications via social media can be drawn from the Boston Marathon crisis and its aftermath.

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The Surprising Benefits of Nonconformity

New research finds that under certain circumstances, people who deviate from a dress code or other norms in appearance are perceived as having higher status and greater competence. Studies found that nonconformity leads to positive inferences when it is associated with deliberateness and intentionality. On the other hand, nonconformance due to lack of awareness does not lead to positive inferences from others. And nonconformance is risky: It comes at the cost of abandoning a comfort zone.

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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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Avoiding Layoff Blunders

It’s surprisingly common for companies to make mistakes in their layoff decisions — and those mistakes can be expensive for both the individuals affected and the organization. Fortunately, simply by avoiding five common decision-related problems, businesses can do better.

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From the Editor: Decision Making in the Digital Age

Business executives today have access to far more data than any previous generation, and that transforms the way business decisions are made. The Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review features a special report investigating how, even with plenty of data, making wise decisions about topics like strategy can be challenging. No matter how much data we collect and analyze, our perspectives are still colored by human foibles.

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The Art of Strategic Renewal

What does it take to transform an organization before a crisis hits? How can leaders initiate major transformations proactively? The key often lies in strategic renewal — a set of practices that can guide leaders into a new era of innovation by building strategy, experimentation and execution into the day-to-day fabric of the organization. It’s not easy: leaders find it much easier to resist change than to embrace it.

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Are Companies Ready for the New Global Executive?

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HR executives believe that tomorrow’s leaders will need to be more diverse than today’s and that there are special challenges to that need. A survey of 197 human resource executives from global companies finds that “leaders from highly diverse backgrounds will need to work together more effectively.” The challenge is that diverse groups often have more disagreements than homogeneous groups, demanding proactive skill development in group dynamics.

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How to Be a Better Boss

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Asking reports if they would recommend their manager provides quick and efficient management assessment. A condensed question, which strips away the language and diluted focus of so many evaluations, is a more focused way of getting at the true quality of a manager. So argues Julian Birkinshaw, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School and the author of “Becoming a Better Boss: Why Good Management Is So Difficult” (Jossey-Bass, 2013).

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How To Develop a Useful “Why” Statement

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Asking why you’re embarking on a project before you begin raises the project’s chance of success. But “to our continuing surprise, we often discover these teams have not even discussed, let alone agreed on, why they are pursuing the project,” write Karen A. Brown, Nancy Lea Hyer and Richard Ettenson. But producing a good “why” statement often requires both a lot of work and heated debate.

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