MIT Sloan Management Review Winter 2020

MIT Sloan Management Review leads the discourse among academic researchers, business executives and other influential thought leaders about advances in management practice, particularly those shaped by technology,  that are transforming how people lead and innovate. MIT SMR disseminates new management research and innovative ideas so that thoughtful executives can capitalize on the opportunities generated by rapid organizational, technological and societal change.

United States
MIT Sloan Management Review
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min
what does it mean to lead?

What constitutes management and leadership has long been a topic of debate. Some experts blur the line between the two — saying, for instance, that 21st century work calls for hands-on leaders who are closely involved with day-to-day operations. Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and his coauthor Tricia Gregg make essentially that point in their contribution to our (Re)Learn to Lead series in this issue of MIT SMR. Their analysis shows that the most visionary tech CEOs are those who innovate alongside their employees. For such leaders, Groysberg and Gregg suggest, doing, seeing, and guiding are all part of the same ball of wax. Other experts, like Seth Godin, view leadership and management as distinct activities. Godin casts leadership as the stuff of breakthroughs, best exercised through human connection, and…

3 min

What It Means to Be a Tech Company WeWork’s rapid reversal in fortune in September caught some analysts by surprise. The high-flying office-sharing company, then favored by gig workers and the tech elite, was gearing up for an initial public offering that was widely expected to raise upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, within a few days it became a poster child for investor herd mentality gone amok and was scrambling for cash. WeWork’s free fall (the company’s valuation has dropped more than 80% since January 2019) has fed a spirited discussion over what it means to be a young “tech company.” Although WeWork’s core business model — renting empty offices in bulk and turning them into coworking spaces with amenities such as yoga classes and kombucha for companies and…

9 min
five rules for leading in a digital world

For years now, everyone has been talking about VUCA, the U.S. military’s acronym for the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world we live in. However, we now have VUCA on steroids as we try to keep up with the increasing speed of change in a business environment where the amount of data generated doubles every two years, reflecting a 50-fold growth from 2010 to 2020.1 To thrive in this landscape, organizations that have long been siloed and bureaucratic must become nimble and customer-centric, and command-and-control models must give way to distributed leadership. However, many leaders fear letting go. They don’t want to lose power, which is integral to their identity in an organization. They also worry that chaos will ensue if they loosen the reins. And they tend to shy away from…

7 min
leaders don’t hide behind data

One hundred and thirty years ago, a jeweler named Willard Bundy changed the world of management: He invented the employee time clock. It was a natural consequence of the times. Management had fueled industrialism (and vice versa). Without management, there was no chance to coordinate the workforce, to be sure the work was getting done, and to ensure quality. Management not only worked to contain the costs of our most expensive input (labor); it created a command-and-control regime that allowed us to increase productivity and quality. Then Frederick Taylor came along and took things to the next level. Taylor was the Madame Curie of industrial management. His breakthrough work on scientific management created a movement that persists to this day. The theory is simple: With a clipboard and a stopwatch, you…

12 min
take a wrecking ball to your company’s iconic practices

Most leaders today are trying to do the same things: help their organizations become more agile, more innovative, more digitally savvy, and more customer-centric. Sooner or later, though, they come up against entrenched values and behaviors, and progress stalls. That’s particularly true with digital transformation. Experts concur that traditional mindsets and “ways of doing things around here” — the lay definition of culture — are the primary culprits hindering the fundamental transformation that emerging technologies are meant to enable.1 But organizational culture is hard to change. It’s intangible; there are no direct levers for controlling it. As MIT’s Ed Schein has noted,2 what an organization’s leaders pay close attention to and shower with time — not what they say — will provide the best clues about its culture. Think about it as…

9 min
leading remotely

Shortly after the turn of the century, I left Wall Street to work from home. My husband had finished his Ph.D., and his best job opportunity was in Boston, not New York City. Well established in my career as an investment analyst, with an Institutional Investor ranking, I wanted to continue to work for Merrill Lynch and was able to persuade my boss to let me work from our new home in Boston. This doesn’t sound especially exotic today, but it definitely was then. Relatively few people were working remotely; fewer still were working for large, fast-paced, team-collaborative companies that way. The technology was available, of course, but compared with the tools of today, it was primitive. A tech specialist from Merrill Lynch had to come to my home and spend a…