Harvard Business Review Special Issues Summer 2020

Harvard Business Review OnPoint makes it fast and easy to put HBR’s ideas to work. Handpicked by HBR’s editors to bring readers the most relevant ideas and insight on a single business topic, these collections include full-text articles, summaries of key points, and suggestions for further reading, plus content selected from hbr.org.

United States
Harvard Business School Publishing


confronting a changing world

OUR STAFF HAD INITIALLY set out to cover marketing in this Summer Special Issue, and we were readying those materials for the printer when the world changed. In the early spring it quickly became clear that the worldwide spread of the coronavirus would have vast implications for our careers, companies, economies, and psyches, even if many of those implications are still unfolding as we go to press. With problems and stakeholders clamoring, leaders are being forced to make some of the most important decisions of their careers to keep their people safe and their companies afloat, all without knowing what tomorrow will look like, much less next quarter. But though this crisis looks different from any we’ve faced, it’s not the first time leaders have had to confront a large-scale disaster,…

leadership in a (permanent) crisis

IT WOULD BE profoundly reassuring to view the current economic crisis as simply another rough spell that we need to get through. Unfortunately, though, today’s mix of urgency, high stakes, and uncertainty will continue as the norm even after the recession ends. Economies cannot erect a firewall against intensifying global competition, energy constraints, climate change, and political instability. The immediate crisis—which we will get through, with the help of policy makers’ expert technical adjustments—merely sets the stage for a sustained or even permanent crisis of serious and unfamiliar challenges. Consider the heart attack that strikes in the middle of the night. EMTs rush the victim to the hospital, where expert trauma and surgical teams—executing established procedures because there is little time for creative improvisation—stabilize the patient and then provide new vessels…

idea in brief

Are you waiting for things to return to normal in your organization? Sorry. Leadership will require new skills tailored to an environment of urgency, high stakes, and uncertainty—even after the current economic crisis is over. YOU’LL HAVE TO Foster adaptation, helping people develop the “next practices” that will enable the organization to thrive in a new world, even as they continue with the best practices necessary for current success. Embrace disequilibrium, keeping people in a state that creates enough discomfort to induce change but not so much that they fight, flee, or freeze. Generate leadership, giving people at all levels of the organization the opportunity to lead experiments that will help it adapt to changing times. You won’t achieve your leadership aims if you sacrifice yourself by neglecting your needs.…

crisis communication: lessons from 9/11

AT 8:45 am ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, John Murphy, the CEO of Oppenheimer Funds, was out for a run in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park. He was thinking about the company’s reorganization plan, which he had announced the day before, when suddenly he saw an explosion near the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center. He stopped to watch black smoke pour from the place of impact—an awful lot of smoke, it seemed, for what was probably a small plane that had lost its way. He thought of his own employees in the neighboring south tower and made a mental note not to renew Oppenheimer’s lease in that building. “First the bombing in 1993 and now a plane accident,” he thought. “What’s next?” He continued jogging, now in…

idea in brief

THE PROBLEM During a crisis, company leaders must prioritize employees’ safety and morale, not just the business’s needs. Communicating effectively ensures your people have the information they need to feel protected and supported. THE SOLUTION Five strategies can help you respond to the crisis. Be visible and update employees with the latest information. Use communication channels that will reach the greatest number of workers. Show people that doing their jobs right now can be useful and productive. Have contingency plans for when your usual communication channels break down. Let employees improvise in ways that draw on the company’s mission and values. THE RESULT Strong leadership during a catastrophe can bring employees closer together, building a sense of community that remains long after the catastrophe has ended.…

leading in times of trauma

ONCE IN A GREAT WHILE, tragic circumstances present us with a challenge for which we simply cannot prepare. The terrorist attacks of last September immediately come to mind, but managers and their employees face crises at other times, too. Tragedies can occur at an individual level—an employee is diagnosed with cancer, for example, or loses a family member to an unexpected illness—or on a larger scale—a natural disaster destroys an entire section of a city, leaving hundreds of people dead, injured, or homeless. Such events can cause unspeakable pain not only for the people directly involved but also for those who see misfortune befall colleagues, friends, or even total strangers. That pain spills into the workplace. The managerial rule books fail us at times like these, when people are searching for…