Asst. Prof. at INSEAD and former MIT Sloan Lecturer Andy Yap
From WBUR Cognoscenti
Stress used to be a dirty word. Study after study has shown that stress makes workers less productive, less satisfied, less healthy — and, therefore, more likely to call in sick. For many years, the message to managers was simple: Stress causes burnout; avoid it for yourself and for those who work under you at all costs.
Nowadays, however, the message is more complex. A growing body of research indicates that some stress is good for workers. Perhaps more important, studies have found that too little stress can be bad. Stress related to boredom leads employees to engage in counterproductive work behavior, such as spending aimless time on the Internet for non-work reasons, gossiping about colleagues, and taking way too much time completing work assignments.
So: Excessive stress leads to mental exhaustion and poor health, but not enough stress results in boredom and demotivation. What’s a manager to do? The answer lies in the Goldilocks Principle. The optimal level of stress is not too much, not too little, but an amount that’s just right.
It’s time all stakeholders — employees, business leaders, government officials, and educators — have a serious discussion about how the nation can create better jobs for the next generation.
Wal-Mart has been getting good press recently for its decision to raise its associates’ wages to a minimum of $9 per hour. And it should. So should the unions and community groups that have been pressuring the U.S. retailer to do just that. They also deserve some of the credit for exposing Wal-Mart’s low wages, reliance of associates on food stamps and other public assistance, anti-union tactics, and bottom of the industry ratings on customer service and employee satisfaction.
It’s been a rough year for General Motors. The company has recalled more than 28 million vehicles worldwide and is liable for billions of dollars in automotive repairs and victim compensation. It suffered an 85% drop in its second-quarter earnings and faces multiple state investigations, not to mention class-action lawsuits related to safety issues. Can GM recover from this massive crisis?
It can make a comeback, but the recovery hinges on changing the organization’s culture. For years, GM focused on cost-effectiveness and the bottom line, creating what the new CEO Mary Barra calls “a pattern of incompetence and neglect.” To address the current crisis, she of course needs to fix the safety problems, but she also needs to create a new company culture. Safety must become the priority over cost savings in order to regain consumer and market trust, and GM’s focus needs to be on the customer.
So far, Barra, who inherited the crisis when she was promoted to CEO this past January, is moving in the right direction. By firing 15 employees who were involved in the lack of communication about safety issues, she sent a powerful message both within and outside of the company about the company’s changing priorities.
There’s been quite the brouhaha lately about disruptive innovation. On one side is Harvard Prof. Clay Christensen (author of The Innovator’s Dilemma) and his long-prevailing theory about how disruptive innovation drives incumbents out of the market. On the other side is Jill Lepore and her attack of Christensen’s theory in The New Yorker. It’s an interesting issue: Do disruptive innovations almost always lead to the downfall of incumbent companies? Is their only hope to “disrupt” themselves?
Along with Joshua Gans of the University of Toronto and David Hsu of Wharton, I conducted a study on the speech recognition industry over the last 58 years. We found a surprising pattern among entrants that adopted disruptive technologies: Instead of always going head-to-head with incumbents, they often adopted a dynamic commercialization strategy in which they started out competing against them, but later switched to cooperating with them (e.g. by licensing their technology). To understand how this can happen, we need to review what it means for a technology to be “disruptive.”
Think back to your last project. Was it set up to maximize learning? Did you uncover valuable insights along the way? Did you deliver what you set out to? And once it was over, did your team reflect, or did you move straight to the next thing?
A systematic method for managing your projects can set up your team for useful epiphanies at every step. In the end, it can help you to create better deliverables with more lasting and further-reaching impact.