Summary: A weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in business and management.
Ed Stack, the chief executive of Dick's Sporting Goods, decided after the Parkland school shooting to pull assault rifles and high-capacity magazines from all of his company’s stores. The controversial choice hurt revenues. But the retailer weathered the storm, thanks to inclusive and thoughtful decision-making, careful communication with all stakeholders, and a strategic shift to new product lines. Stack explains why he chose to take such a public stance on a hot-button social issue and how it has affected him personally and professionally. He is the author of "It's How We Play the Game: Build a Business. Take a Stand. Make a Difference."
Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of Pivotal Ventures, is committing $1 billion over the next ten years to advance gender equality. She says evidence shows it's the best way to drive economic development in nations and performance in companies. She shares her own stories as a female executive at Microsoft, a working mother, and a nonprofit leader learning from women around the world. Gates is the author of the HBR article "Gender Equality Is Within Our Reach."
Dave Ulrich, professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, argues today's companies need to replace old hierarchical models with he calls a “market-oriented ecosystem.” From research at Alibaba, Google, Huawei, Supercell, and others, he shows the impressive results of orienting teams and processes toward market opportunities. Ulrich is the coauthor, along with Tencent senior advisor Arthur Yeung, of “Reinventing the Organization: How Companies Can Deliver Radically Greater Value in Fast-Changing Markets.”
Nir Eyal, an expert on technology and psychology, says that we all need to learn to be less distracted into activities that don't help us achieve what we want to each day. Unwelcome behaviors can range from social media scrolling and bingeing on YouTube videos to chatting with colleagues or answering non-urgent emails. To break these habits, we start by recognizing that it is often our own emotions, not our devices, that distract us. We must then recognize the difference between traction (values-aligned work or leisure) and distraction (not) and make time in our schedules for more of the former. Eyal also has tips for protecting ourselves from the external distractions that do come at us and tools to force us to focus on bigger-picture goals. He is the author of the book "Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life."
Andrew McAfee, co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, explains how the U.S. economy is growing and actually using less and less stuff to do so. Thanks to new technologies, many advanced economies are reducing their use of timber, metals, fertilizer, and other resources. McAfee says this dematerialization trend is spreading to other parts of the globe. While it’s not happening fast enough to stop climate change, he believes it offers some hope for environmental protection when combined with effective public policy. McAfee is the author of the book “More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens Next.”
Richard Boyatzis, professor at Case Western Reserve University, says that every professional can benefit from having a coach — and serving as one for someone else. He says that a coaching relationship moves beyond mentoring or sponsoring in that it focuses on long-term values and aspirations. The best coaches encourage a positive mindset and ask probing questions to help people make the best choices, not only in their careers but also in their personal lives. Boyatzis is coauthor of the HBR article "Coaching for Change."
Oliver Hart, Nobel-winning Harvard economist, and Kate Vitasek, faculty at the University of Tennessee, argue that many business contracts are imperfect, no matter how bulletproof you try to make them. Especially in complicated relationships such as outsourcing, one side ends up feeling like they're getting a bad deal, and it can spiral into a tit for tat battle. Hart and Vitasek argue that companies should instead adopt so-called relational contracts. Their research shows that creating a general playbook built around principles like fairness and reciprocity offers greater benefits to both businesses. Hart and Vitasek, with the Swedish attorney David Frydlinger, cowrote the HBR article "A New Approach to Contracts."
Laura Morgan Roberts, professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, says that organizations are still falling short on promoting racial diversity, particularly in their most senior ranks. While many large companies have "inclusion" initiatives, most leaders still shy away from frank discussions about how the experiences of their black employees and executives -- including their feelings of authenticity and potential for advancement -- differ from those of their white peers. She points to several ways we can change these dynamics. With David Thomas and Anthony Mayo, Morgan Roberts is co-author of the book “Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience.”
Julie Zhuo, Facebook’s VP of product design, started at the company as its first intern and became a manager at the age of 25. Like many first-time bosses, she made many missteps and acted how she thought managers were supposed to act. Eventually, she grew to find joy in the role and today she leads hundreds of people. She says that becoming a great manager also helps you know yourself better. Zhuo is the author of the book "The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You."
Daisy Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, says that moms and dads with jobs outside the home don't have to feel stressed or guilty about trying to balance their professional and personal lives. The key is to tease apart the different challenges -- from coping with feelings of loss to managing practicalities -- and to adopt strategies to better guide you through each. She points out that while a lot of emphasis is placed on parental leave, and especially new mothers, people at all stages of parenting need practical, immediate, and effective solutions they can implement themselves. Dowling is the author of the HBR article "A Working Parent’s Survival Guide."
Matt Beane, assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, finds that robots, machine learning, and AI are changing how we train for our jobs — not just how we do them. His study shows that robot-assisted surgery is disrupting the traditional learning pathway of younger physicians. He says this trend is emerging in many industries, from finance to law enforcement to education. And he shares lessons from trainees who are successfully working around these new barriers. Beane is the author of the HBR article “Learning to Work with Intelligent Machines.”
Ranjay Gulati, professor at Harvard Business School, says the most successful organizations tend to have one thing in common: a soul. Moving beyond culture, the "soul" of a growing start-up -- or a more established company -- is built on clear business intent, a strong connection to customers, and a stellar employee experience. Gulati says that leaders must think hard about preserving all three elements of the soul even as they scale and never lose sight of what makes their company special. He's the author of the HBR article "The Soul of a Start-Up."
Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of the Reboot Foundation, believes that a lack of critical thinking is responsible for many business failures. She says organizational leaders often rely too heavily on expertise and then jump to conclusions. Instead, leaders should deliberately approach each problem and devote time thinking through possible solutions. The good news, she says, is that critical thinking skills can developed and practiced over time. Bouygues is the author of the HBR.org article "3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking."
Spencer Harrison, an associate professor at INSEAD, says that managers in any industry can learn from the success of the Marvel movie franchise. While some sequels lack creativity, Marvel manages to make each of its new releases just different enough, so consumers are not just satisfied but also surprised. Research shows that several strategies drive this success; they include bringing in different types of talent while also maintaining a stable core creative team then working together to challenge the superhero action-film formula. And, Harrison argues, leaders in other industries and functions can easily apply them to their own businesses. He is the co-author of the HBR article "Marvel's Blockbuster Machine."
Deborah Ancona and Kate Isaacs, researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management, say many companies struggle to be nimble with a command-and-control leadership culture. They studied Xerox’s R&D outfit PARC and the materials science company W.L. Gore & Associates and found these highly innovative organizations have three kinds of leaders: entrepreneurial, enabling, and architecting ones. These roles work together to give direction and avoid creative chaos. Ancona and Isaacs are coauthors of the HBR article "Nimble Leadership."