The 2018 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development published from fall 2016 through fall 2017.

This year’s award goes to the spring 2017 MIT SMR article “The Corporate Implications of Longer Lives,” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

This article explores the impact of longer life spans both on employees and on the policies and practices of organizations. The authors found that the traditional work-life stages, progressing from full-time education to full-time work to “hard stop” retirement, no longer apply to much of today’s workforce. With longer life expectancies, men and women may want or need to be productive for longer, which will necessitate more (and different) life stages and continuous learning. Yet, as the authors point out, most corporations are out of sync with those needs.

Gratton, a professor of management at London Business School, and Scott, an LBS professor of economics, offer a framework and recommendations to help organizations rethink the arcs of employees’ careers and allow for more flexibility and change.

The authors suggest that, rather than adhering to linear career models that emphasize the accumulation of financial assets, employers must incorporate “intangible” factors into the equation and should, for example, pay attention to employees’ needs for “productive assets” like skills and knowledge, “vitality assets” like health and work-life balance, and “transformational assets” like self-knowledge and diverse relationships. Those assets will depreciate if people don’t have the opportunity to actively build and maintain them throughout their careers, Gratton and Scott explain.

In choosing this article, the judges said Gratton and Scott brought a fresh and valuable perspective to a critical challenge facing organizations today. In particular, they saw the authors’ conclusion — that it’s time for companies to rethink their HR practices to reflect the changing workforce — as having major implications for recruitment, retention, learning, training, compensation, promotions, and retirement, affecting how companies will design jobs for people into their 70s and beyond. In the judges’ view, the article’s core thesis was well-aligned with the thinking of Richard Beckhard, and “he would have jumped at the opportunity to advise on implementing such changes.”

This year’s panel of judges consisted of the following distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen, adjunct associate professor of operations management Zeynep Ton, and retired senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson.