Organizational Behavior

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A New Era of Corporate Conversation

Social media technology is changing how managers and employees communicate and is breaking down traditional corporate heirarchy. To gain advantage from this trend, executives must recognize the value of dialogue and employees need to know that their leaders won’t punish them for expressing dissenting opinions. Executives will also need patience and a thick skin — but leaders who invest in truly open dialogue with their workforce will reap the long-term benefits.


Why Digital Transformation Needs a Heart

Digital innovation is transforming every part of the company, from customer experience to business models to operational management. But it’s people who make companies work. The digital economy shouldn’t be one where automation squeezes workers — and managers — out, but one where computers help employees to collaborate fluidly, make decisions scientifically, and manage better with automation than they ever could without it.


The Three New Skills Managers Need

As digital technologies evolve, managers and employees will need to learn three important skills: partnering with new digital “colleagues,” creating a mindful relationship with omnipresent digital technologies, and developing empathy for the varying technology preferences of their human coworkers. Organizations, for their part, will need to design processes to support these efforts, and managers will need to be both flexible and thoughtful in how they respond.


The 2016 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

This year’s winning article is “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help,” by Fabian J. Sting, Christoph H. Loch, and Dirk Stempfhuber. The authors examine project planning and execution challenges and describe a case study of a company that designed a help process to encourage workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.



Achieving Meritocracy in the Workplace

Rewarding employees based on merit can be more difficult than it first appears. Even efforts to reduce bias can backfire; disparities in raises and bonuses by gender, racial, and other characteristics persist in today’s organizations not only despite management’s attempts to reduce them but also because of such efforts. The author describes how a simple analytics-based approach can address these concerns and produce a truly meritocratic workplace.


In Boardrooms, the Same Is a Shame

Corporate boards around the world present a uniformly white, male face — and this is a problem when it comes to how firms approach the global marketplace. When too many people at the top look at the business landscape through the same lens, they are likely to miss both impending problems and potential opportunities. Institutional biases that suppress diversity in the C-suite create a hidden risk factor — one that boards can address by taking a long, hard look in the mirror.


The Lost Art of Thinking in Large Organizations

Making the transition from management to leadership requires managers to exercise skills in strategic thinking — skills they don’t often get to practice in the action-oriented environment they know best. Managers moving into senior leadership must learn to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty and learn the importance of taking time to think things through.


What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless

When employees find their work meaningful, there are myriad benefits for their productivity — and for their employers. Managers who support meaningful work are more likely to attract, retain, and motivate the talent they need to ensure future growth. But can companies ensure this experience for their employees? A groundbreaking study identifies five factors that support meaningful work — and the seven management sins that can destroy it.



Managing the Bots That Are Managing the Business

We are just at the beginning of the transformation from an economy dominated by human workers to one dominated by electronic workers. The great management challenge of the next few decades will be understanding how to get the best out of both humans and machines, and understanding the ins and outs of who manages whom.


Managing Tensions Between New and Existing Business Models

Exploring new business models may be a good way to stay competitive, but doing so can create tensions internally, in areas such as organizational structure and competition for resources. Companies exploring business model innovation may not recognize the inevitability of these tensions and thus be poorly prepared to manage them. But understanding these issues may lessen some of the organizational challenges associated with business model innovation.


Building a Better Car Company With Analytics

Using data and analytics to understand the complexities of modern business has become not only common, but essential. Gahl Berkooz joined Ford Motor Co. in 2004, eventually becoming head of data and governance and a member of the company’s global data insights and analytics skill team. Berkooz became acutely aware of how important analytics is to the company’s ability to thrive in the global marketplace. “What it boils down to,” he told MIT SMR’s Michael Fitzgerald, “is that we know how to make decisions. It’s about finding the opportunities to bring data and analytics to make better decisions.”


Halting the Corporate Brain Drain

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Companies often don’t know what their employees’ experience contributes until employees leave, taking their unique knowledge assets with them. But digital tools have the potential to reshape the relationship between organizations and retiring employees. First, when used for collaboration, advanced social media platforms can record all interactions between employees and preserve them for later use. And second, digital platforms introduce the possibility of redefining the relationship companies have with retired staff.


Fighting the “Headquarters Knows Best” Syndrome

Belief that headquarters knows best can be damaging to the long-term success of a company operating in global markets. One company’s solution: a decision to operate out of dual headquarters, in the Netherlands and China. “No longer a prisoner of its home base, the top team was viewed as mobile, agile, and geographically dispersed,” write Cyril Bouquet et al. “The company was able to make more effective resource-allocation decisions informed by diverse thinking and divergent points of view.”



Getting Workplace Safety Right

Companies aiming to be competitive in the long term do not see safety and productivity as trade-offs. Research drawn from multiple studies conducted with the support of companies, unions, and regulators in the United States and Canada finds no evidence that protecting the workforce harms competitiveness. “Once companies understand that safety is not the enemy of efficiency,” the authors write, “they can begin to build organizational safety capabilities.”


What Email Reveals About Your Organization

By studying data from email archives and other sources, managers can gain surprising insights about how groups should be organized and about which communications patterns are most successful. Anonymized analysis of internal information communication found that creative people, for instance, work more productively on projects with strong leaders than on collaborations without a clear leader. In addition, in many situations, groups of leaders taking turns worked better at sparking creativity.


Has Your Office Become a Lonely Place?

With increasing amounts of work getting done outside the traditional corporate office — for example, through employees working at home — those left in the office may face a lonelier, and even less productive, office environment. In fact, working remotely may be contagious, because if many people on a team aren’t in the office much, coming into the office has less benefit for the remaining employees. “Once a certain number of individuals are working offsite, everyone is isolated,” write researchers.


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.


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.

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