Leading Your Team

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From the Editor: In Praise of Humility

The Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review highlights decision making, in “The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions” and “Using Simulated Experience to Make Sense of Big Data.” It also celebrates acknowledging when you don’t have all the answers, in “Embrace Your Ignorance.” Other articles look at “technostress,” why product category labels matter and why "benevolent" mobile apps may be best at brand-building.

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Why You Decide the Way You Do

Curiosity about the decision-making process has heated up, attracting academics from neuroscience, management, behavioral economics and psychology. Researchers have found, for instance, that a willingness to ask for advice on difficult problems can increase a person’s perceived competence, and that too many choices can cause people to make less-than-optimal choices. Here, we highlight six scholarly articles that have intriguing insights into the factors that can affect decision-making.

Image courtesy of Spanx, Inc.

The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions

Good strategic thinking and decision making often require a shift in perspective — particularly in environments characterized by significant uncertainty and change. Managers can make better decisions by examining both broad market trends and less visible undercurrents. But the questions leaders pose sometimes get in the way of solving the right problem or seeing more innovative solutions. Here, the authors present six questions that challenge executives to incorporate broader perspectives.

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Using Simulated Experience to Make Sense of Big Data

As data analyses get more complex, how can companies best communicate results to ensure that decision makers have a proper grasp of the data’s implications? Research has found that letting decision makers gain experience on the outcomes of different possible actions by interacting with simulations helps those executives make better decisions. Simulations narrow the often a large gap between what analysts want to share and what decision makers understand, and more clearly illustrate complex statistical information.

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The Dark Side of Information Technology

All of our wonderful mobile devices don’t always make us good at managing what we do with them. Handling information flows can take a toll on employee well-being, with some employees experiencing “technostress” from the pressure to multitask and to respond to Emails quickly. But there are steps executives can take to counter the negative effects of IT use. These steps encourage employees to step back and examine their personal relationships with IT.

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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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Embrace Your Ignorance

The overconfidence of presumed expertise is counterproductive. Instead, data trumps intuition.
Serious innovators take data seriously, argues Michael Schrage: “Organizations may be confident they know their customers, but they’re very likely to be overconfident. Most executives aren’t nearly as smart, perceptive or customer-centric as they believe." Successful innovators, he writes, “have the courage of their curiosity” and run experiments that challenge their assumptions.

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The Sustainability Insurgency: Missives from the Front Lines, Part 2

In part two of two, Gregory Unruh talks to Emma Stewart, Autodesk’s head of sustainability, about how social intelligence helps CSR advocates in the company to win colleagues’ buy-in. The use of such intelligence supports CSR managers’ ability to create a sustainability business case.

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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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Short on Analytics Talent? Seven Tips to Help Your Company Thrive

Companies are having a tough time finding the data scientists they need — they just aren’t being trained fast enough to meet market demand. While it may be challenging to keep ambitious analytics projects in development without employees with the necessary skill sets, that doesn’t mean those projects need to halt altogether. Sam Ransbotham offers seven tips for making progress when you don’t have enough analytics talent on board.

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At Amadeus, Finding Data Science Talent Is Just the Beginning

Everyone wants to hire skilled data scientists — especially Spain’s Amadeus, a travel sector technology company. Amadeus has brought more than forty new hires into this post since 2013. But locating talent is just the beginning. In an interview with MIT Sloan Management Review, Amadeus’s Denis Arnaud describes the steps he takes to not only identify data science talent, but to make sure they integrate well into the company, too.

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The Sustainability Insurgency: Missives from the Front Lines, Part 1

Emma Stewart, Autodesk’s head of sustainability, says that social intelligence helps CSR advocates in the company win colleagues’ buy-in. “In order to be a legitimized contributor to the business, you have to be as smart or smarter about your customers or other stakeholders as other business units,” Stewart says. The use of social intelligence, such as systematically calling on leading customers and “market-shapers” such as regulators, supports CSR managers’ ability to create a sustainability business case.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Frank Hebbert https://www.flickr.com/photos/f-r-a-n-k/244365325
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When an IT Project “Goes Red”

Declaring that a project everyone is excited about is in trouble can be demoralizing. But it’s exactly what can turn things around. That’s what health care insurer WellPoint found when it ran into trouble changing its provider payment system and put the project into “Status Red.” Sending the warning message up the organization ended up having a positive effect, even if team morale initially took a hit. Four steps in particular helped set a better course.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Tristan Martin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mukumbura/4043364183)
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Why the Non-Superstar Might Be the Most Important Team Member

Hot shots get all the attention, but other team members can be the ones who make a group really tick. “Plus/minus” analysis, which is used by some professional sports teams, lets organizations understand, through data, not just individual performance but performance in context. Research by Thomas H. Davenport details how the goal is to understand how a team performs when one person is part of the mix, and when they’re not.

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Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives

In rapidly changing industries, it can be hard for established companies to build momentum for new strategic directions. But by rethinking the past and present and reimagining the future, managers can construct strategic narratives that enable innovation. A new study helps to understand how managers actually make strategy in conditions of considerable uncertainty, and do it in a way that is coherent, plausible and acceptable to most key stakeholders in the organization.

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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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What It Takes to Reshore Manufacturing Successfully

The process of bringing assembly work back to U.S. factories from abroad is more challenging than the economics would predict. In the United States, many key resources, including the manufacturing workforce, have atrophied. Author Willy C. Shih (Harvard Business School) recommends that to reduce turnover, companies that embrace reshoring — bringing assembly work back from abroad — encourage workers to complete training and certification.

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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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