Leading Change

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An Executive Guide to the Winter 2020 Issue

MIT Sloan Management Review’s Winter 2020 issue explores the dilemmas managers face in using blockchain, machine learning, and marketing analytics effectively; strategies to recognize potential threats to your business; the underpinnings of successful organizational transformation; and meeting the emotional and educational needs of your employees.

You’re Going Digital — Now What?

Plotting digital change is heady, exciting stuff. But success depends less on inspiration at the 30,000-foot level than on the way people on the front lines implement new digital tools. Most leaders aren’t laying a foundation for employees to succeed, largely because they don’t have any idea what really happens at the ground level. To avoid that fate, they must understand the phases of digital adoption and then plan in reverse to create the right conditions.

Making It Easier to Manage and Scale Digital Projects

  • Read Time: 10 min 

In studying agile approaches at more than 50 companies, the authors found that the organizations that achieve the most success with digital projects use processes that allow for continuous learning and that support critical business goals. With everyone following the same processes, companies do better at juggling multiple projects and reaping the benefits of scale. One of the companies studied, Johnson & Johnson, shares its approach.

How Digital Changes the Role of Leaders

Digital transformation often starts with leaders identifying a fundamental change in the competitive environment and moving quickly to counter a potential disruption. But as Jeanne Ross explains, even the most forward-looking strategies are bound to fall flat unless leaders themselves evolve — and in some pretty dramatic ways.

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Building Effective Corporate Engagement on LGBTQ Rights

  • Read Time: 7 min 

The corporate sector is becoming increasingly outspoken on LGBTQ rights. As more companies publicize their efforts, pressure is building on others to state their positions as well. Companies that approach LGBTQ issues thoughtfully with policies, culture, and activism can reduce some of the economic risks involved — while affecting public opinion.

A Manifesto for the Middle

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  • Read Time: 6 min 

The left-right political divide is strangling democracies. In many countries, the left has moved even further to the left and demonized the institution of business, while the right has moved further to the right and embraced a narrow view of business. We need a manifesto to create a middle — both a political and an economic one.

How Vigilant Companies Gain an Edge in Turbulent Times

In fast-changing business environments, companies need to stay vigilant and watch for threats from both internal and external sources. The most vigilant companies use systematic approaches to determine where to look for — and how to explore — potential disruptions.

Learning From Automation Anxiety of the Past

  • Read Time: 6 min 

AI and automation might benefit society at large, but there will be losers in the process, and at times even outright resistance, if people feel that their jobs and incomes are threatened. To avoid a backlash against the technology, governments must address its social costs and pursue policies that kick-start productivity growth while helping workers adapt.

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Employee Emotions Aren’t Noise — They’re Data

Within organizations, emotions reveal not just how people feel but also what they think and how they will behave. Emotional culture gets communicated non-verbally in people’s facial expressions, vocal tone, and body language. You see it expressed by the people around you, including—or even most of all—managers. For companies, emotions are an important lever for improving employee satisfaction and productivity.

Demystifying the Intelligence of AI

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  • Read Time: 7 min 

Three common trouble points impede companies moving toward using AI: Leaders are unclear what it means to adopt AI; systems are drawing from too much junky data; and there isn’t a careful balance between customer loss of privacy and the value returned. These problems can be resolved only when leaders pay close attention to the strategic challenges of bringing AI on and approach AI as an integrated element of their processes.

Should Businesses Stop Flying to Fight Climate Change?

It’s known as flight shaming: Everyone from Prince Harry to CEOs heading to Davos are being asked how they can care about carbon emissions and still climb aboard an aircraft. So should we all stop flying? The answer is a definitive “maybe”: There are good reasons to keep flying, especially in the service of tackling climate change, and for deeper reasons like connecting humankind when we need global cooperation.

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What Does It Mean to Lead?

Are management and leadership entwined in a digital world? Or are they distinct activities, one more important than the other? Can you be closely involved in day-to-day operations, as data-driven tools allow and encourage, without watching and directing employees’ every move? How do you cede top-down control without courting chaos? And how do you eliminate entrenched practices that obstruct change? Experts wrestle with these questions and share their perspectives on how leadership is evolving.

Take a Wrecking Ball to Your Company’s Iconic Practices

As they pursue digital transformation, most leaders know they must also orchestrate a cultural shift — from prioritizing flawless execution to valuing more agile learning and experimentation, from doing siloed work to fostering true interdisciplinary collaboration, and from evaluating people’s past performance to enabling their future development. Articulating the ambition is the easy part. Taking a wrecking ball to what’s really getting in the way is a lot harder.

Five Rules for Leading in a Digital World

To thrive in times of digital transformation and rapid change, organizations accustomed to siloed bureaucracy must become nimble and customer-centric; command-and-control models must give way to distributed leadership. Many leaders fear letting go, but they must evolve quickly or risk extinction. Research at the MIT Leadership Center suggests that executives and managers who do five things in particular are best equipped to navigate what lies ahead.

Will the Business Roundtable Statement Impact Workers?

This month’s MIT SMR Strategy Forum poll looks at the recent Business Roundtable Statement, which proposed a view of corporate purpose that includes the interests of employees, communities, suppliers, and customers in addition to shareholders. We ask our panel of strategy experts whether this shift may have an impact for American workers.

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