- Research Feature
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Hierarchies are often seen as obstacles to innovation. However, a growing body of research shows that the right kind of hierarchy can help teams become better innovators and learners.
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Like pottery, entrepreneurship is a craft that blends both science and art. Both pottery and entrepreneurship are accessible to anyone, learnable, built on fundamental concepts — and best learned through on-the-job training. To inspire today’s generation of company builders, entrepreneurship education needs a common language to ground students in fundamental concepts, and it needs to offer apprenticeship opportunities.
When presented with complex decisions, many executives turn to the tried-and-true decision matrix, spelling out the pros and cons of various options. One flaw in this method, however, is that executives don’t take the time to thoroughly frame the decision and explore the full scope of options. But the matrix’s real value is when it is also used as a process tool that helps executives expand their set of options and criteria.
The Winter 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review explores how increased transparency — and, in particular, the ready flow of information in a digital world — is changing the environment in which corporations operate. Transparency also is changing the distribution of power between large organizations and those who challenge them. Executives need to anticipate the possibility that any issues related to their company could someday be public knowledge.
Too many corporate learning and development programs focus on the wrong things. “The word ‘learning,’ which has largely replaced ‘training’ in the corporate lexicon, suggests ‘knowledge for its own sake,’” write the authors. “However, to justify its existence, corporate learning needs to serve the organization’s stated goals.” Understanding the strategic agenda of the CEO should be a top focus of learning leaders, who can then developing an agenda that is reflective of the CEO’s priorities.
In an era of information overload, getting the right information is a challenge for time-pressed executives. How can they best distinguish usable information from distracting noise? New research argues that to remain appropriately and effectively knowledgeable, executives need a personal and organizational capability to continually “stay in the know.” And that means assembling and maintaining a “personal knowledge infrastructure” built on both technologies and conversation.
While analytical skills are improving among managers, the increasing sophistication of analyses is outpacing the development of those skills. The resulting gap creates a need for managers to become comfortable applying analytical results they do not fully understand. A 2014 survey by MIT Sloan Management Review, in partnership with SAS Institute Inc., highlights the ways that companies can address this problem by focusing on both the production and consumption sides of analytics.
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.
In recent years, China’s economy has grown so rapidly — and changed so much — that demand for skilled business managers exceeds supply. A gap between Chinese companies’ unwillingness to invest in training and young managers’ hunger for an opportunity to learn may create an opening for companies with a strong tradition of employee education. Can leadership self-development programs help address that gap?
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.”
Executives who find themselves experiencing a power deficit have two strategies for overcoming it: they can either play the existing game more effectively or they can change the game. “Career counselors often advise people to shore up weaknesses, but the secret to becoming indispensable is consolidating strengths,” write Jean-Louis Barsoux and Cyril Bouquet.
There’s a business relationship that’s often overlooked: the relationships in between friends and allies — in other words, business relationships with people you enjoy being with. This article defines these people as chums and asserts that their importance too often goes unnoticed. Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends & Influence People is a practical classic on the art of cultivating chums — of inviting business allies into your courtyard while keeping them out of your kitchen.
There is no magic formula for successful leadership, says Deborah Ancona, director of the MIT Leadership Center at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Instead, each leader needs to figure out his or her own unique leadership signature — one that draws on his or her own strengths.
Google VP Marissa Mayer exemplifies the key traits of an idea connector, a person who links up idea scouts who have limited internal company networks with R&D engineers and others. One mechanism she uses: she holds three weekly sessions where she is accessible to all Google employees who want to pitch a new idea.
Successful strategy emerges from a decision process in which executives develop collective intuition, accelerate constructive conflict, maintain decision pacing and avoid politics. As well, in rapidly changing markets, decisions that change a company’s direction arise much more often.
Almost all companies polled by the authors in a three-year study that spanned firms in Europe, North America and Asia claim they lack an adequate number of globally competent leaders. The authors outline four strategies that are particularly effective in developing global leaders, who, their work reveals, cannot succeed without several core characteristics.
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