Fall 2018 Issue
Volume 60, Issue # 1

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Special Report: What’s Next With Blockchain?

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From the Editor

The High Cost of the Actions We Don’t Take

July 31, 2018 | Paul Michelman

We can choose not to engage in improving the world. We can seize on every advantage available to us and our companies without thought to the consequences. We can act as if the planet and the global economy are not among our most critical stakeholders. We can join the crush of others who are just hoping to play out the string: keep our heads down, meet our numbers, collect our bonuses, and abdicate long-term responsibility to the next generation. But when we make those choices, we do violence against the future.

Features

Breaking Logjams in Knowledge Work

How organizations can improve task flow and prevent overload.

Selling Solutions Isn’t Enough

B2B companies need to develop ways to help specific customers achieve better outcomes.

How to Launch Products in Uncertain Markets

Before your next large-scale product launch, try leveraging uncertainty for competitive advantage.

Why People Believe in Their Leaders — or Not

Credibility hinges on perceptions of competence and trustworthiness, drawn from specific behaviors.

Panel Auto Draft

A More Profitable Approach to Product Returns

Retailers can boost profits and prevent abuse by tailoring their return policies with analytics.

Building an Ethically Strong Organization

Large-scale misconduct starts small, so prevention should focus on how employees make decisions.

When Communication Should Be Formal

Formal communication protocols may seem outdated, but they offer crucial performance advantages.

The 2018 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

The 2018 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

September 11, 2018 | MIT Sloan Management Review

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded annually to the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development. The 2018 award goes to “The Corporate Implications of Longer Lives,” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, both professors at London Business School.

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Frontiers

Exploring the Digital Future of Management

How AI Can Amplify Human Competencies

The future of AI looks much like the present, with machines helping humans to do their jobs better, not replacing them.

Frontiers

Exploring the Digital Future of Management

Columns

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Gender Discrimination Still Exists — Now What?

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 5 min 

In both practice and research, we are doing a better job at bringing attention to the problem of gender bias. But we haven’t established enough tangible suggestions for how to challenge it. New research has begun to investigate the efficacy of ‘scripts’ — a set of words or phrases, such as, “Can you repeat what you just said?” that would signal to a peer that he has crossed a line, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

When Communication Should Be Formal

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 10 min 

Formal communication channels, such as protocol-guided meetings, are often eschewed by today’s managers and employees, who prefer the ease of email and apps. But informal avenues can lead to oversights and inefficiencies that hurt performance. That’s the central finding of research from IE Business School on manufacturers of high-tech machinery. Fortunately, formal communication protocols can be designed to both maximize performance and overcome people’s resistance to adopting them.

Technical Debt Might Be Hindering Your Digital Transformation

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 6 min 

Data reveals the C-suite recognizes that technical debt — the “price” companies pay for short-term technological fixes — hinders their ability to innovate and adapt in the digital age. One strategy to combat technical debt? Digital decoupling.

Master the Challenges of Multichannel Pricing

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 6 min 

Retail customers may accept different prices on different channels — but retailers need to manage new complexities to make it work. These include understanding what customers value in each channel and how that affects what they will pay, giving store employees the right language for talking about price differences, and working out operational challenges. Getting it right has a real payoff: Retailers that effectively price differently across all channels see bottom-line growth of 2 to 5%.

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Preparing for a Blockchain Future

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 5 min 

With the rise of blockchain and adoption of cryptocurrencies, companies across different industries can benefit from the increased trust and transparency these emerging technologies provide. Most executives recognize the need to prioritize blockchain as part of their business strategy, but the question of how to adopt and reskill can be daunting.

Breaking Logjams in Knowledge Work

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 21 min 

Despite the well-documented costs of overload, many leaders still think organizations thrive under pressure. They have a lot to learn from manufacturing, where managers have adopted a “pull” system to manage task flow, improving productivity and performance. This concept can be used to prevent overload in knowledge work, too. And “visual management” techniques make it easier to apply pull thinking to a portfolio of projects by rendering nonphysical tasks tangible. Two recent changes at the Broad Institute, an MIT-affiliated biomedical and genomic research center, illustrate how.

Digital Transformation Opens New Questions — and New Problems to Solve

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 8 min 

Modest questions about how today’s problems could be solved more effectively lead to applications of technology with easily foreseeable gains. But when people start asking bigger, bolder questions that challenge basic assumptions about how a problem has been framed, they open up space for breakthrough innovations. That’s been the pattern in many digital realms, including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things.

The 2018 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 2 min 

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded annually to the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development. The 2018 award goes to “The Corporate Implications of Longer Lives,” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, both professors at London Business School.

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Four Ways Jobs Will Respond to Automation

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 8 min 

The robots are coming! But counter to popular belief, it’s not just low-paying jobs that are at risk of automation. According to research by Scott Latham and Beth Humberd, predicting which jobs are vulnerable requires analyzing the type of value job holders deliver and the skills they use to deliver it. Workers must understand four paths of job evolution — and factors behind each path — if they hope to adapt.

How AI Can Amplify Human Competencies

  • Interview
  • Read Time: 7 min 

The fear of robots eclipsing human power in society, in particular the workforce, has persisted for decades despite the moderate progress of artificial intelligence systems. For professor and robotics researcher Ken Goldberg, a hybrid human-machine workforce is much more likely to take shape, and in many industries, it has already begun.

How to Launch Products in Uncertain Markets

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 9 min 

How should companies launch products in times of uncertainty? Should they “wait and see” until uncertainty resolves — or commit to a full-scale launch and ride it out? Conventional wisdom says being early to market is the right choice, but that is not always the case. Many companies can benefit from a mixed, “act and see” approach.

Selling Solutions Isn’t Enough

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 14 min 

Rather than trying to sell standardized products or services to the biggest possible set of buyers, B2B companies need to develop ways to help specific customers achieve better outcomes. Instead of describing their solutions, companies first need to understand customers’ specific challenges, objectives, operating practices, and competitive environment, then create offerings to deliver value within a customer’s specific business context and culture.

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The High Cost of the Actions We Don’t Take

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 2 min 

We can choose not to engage in improving the world. We can seize on every advantage available to us and our companies without thought to the consequences. We can act as if the planet and the global economy are not among our most critical stakeholders. We can join the crush of others who are just hoping to play out the string: keep our heads down, meet our numbers, collect our bonuses, and abdicate long-term responsibility to the next generation. But when we make those choices, we do violence against the future.

A More Profitable Approach to Product Returns

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 9 min 

A relatively small number of purchase and return metrics can accurately predict customer profitability — and the likelihood of policy abuse. By using analytics to identify the few customers who cost the company the most money by abusing return policies before they make their next purchase, companies can prevent abusive returns, avoid PR disasters, and boost their profitability.

Building an Ethically Strong Organization

  • Research Feature
  • Read Time: 18 min 

Unethical behavior and misconduct has been a persistent problem in the business world. A company’s ethical norms are a cumulative outcome of how daily ethical dilemmas are addressed in the workplace. Over time, these micro-level issues can evolve into a corporate ethics scandal — unless organizations work to help employees make ethical choices day to day.

Platforms That Grow Are More Than Matchmakers

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 8 min 

Platform businesses, like Airbnb or Lyft, often talk about themselves as if they’re merely matchmakers. That’s a smart pitch — when a company is negotiating with investors. But any platform that wants to succeed will have to learn something Airbnb did: Matchmaking isn’t everything. Success also depends on identifying and mitigating risks for your buyers and sellers. The quantity and quality of goods or services bought and sold on your platform will be proportional to the amount of risk mitigated.

Finding the Middle Ground in a Politically Polarized World

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 7 min 

Consumers and employees increasingly expect companies to engage with social, environmental, and economic issues. But business leaders can find themselves between a rock and a hard place, especially when corporate political activism is framed as “take a stand or be silent.” The reality is that companies need a more nuanced set of options.

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Five Ways to Improve Communication in Virtual Teams

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 8 min 

If you think sophisticated communication technologies are the ticket to your virtual team’s success, think again. It’s not the tech that matters — it’s how people use it. New research reveals five strategies for conquering distance and improving communication and performance in dispersed teams. The same strategies can help colocated teams, which depend increasingly on virtual collaboration tools to get work done.

Why Tech Companies Don’t See Their Biggest Problems Coming

  • Blog
  • Read Time: 4 min 

Technology companies, such as Facebook, often fail to make crisis management a central feature of their operations, thanks to five blind spots to which they are especially susceptible. Recognizing these shortcomings is the first imperative; the next is developing a well-designed crisis-management program that includes several key features. All tech companies should take heed, because failing to reflect — and then act — can worsen the consequences of crises that come down the pike.

Why AI Isn’t the Death of Jobs

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 6 min 

When pundits talk about the impact that artificial intelligence will have on the labor market, the outlook is usually bleak, with the loss of many jobs to machines as the dominant theme. But that’s just part of the story — a probable outcome for companies that use AI only to increase efficiency. As it turns out, companies using AI to also drive innovation are more likely to increase headcount than reduce it.