Good managers, not machines, drive productivity growth – John Van Reenen

MIT Sloan Professor John Van Reenen

From Bloomberg View

When people discuss what drives long-run productivity, they usually focus on technical change. But productivity is about more than robots, new drugs and self-driving vehicles. First, if you break down the sources of productivity across nations and firms there is a large residual left over (rather inelegantly named “Total Factor Productivity” or TFP for short). And observable measures of technology can only account for a small fraction of this dark matter.

On top of this, a huge number of statistical analyses and case studies of the impact of new technologies on firm performance have shown that there is a massive variation in its impact. What’s much more important than the amount spent on fancy tech is the way managerial practices are used in the firms that implement the changes.

Although there is a tradition in economics starting with the 19th-century American economist Francis Walker on the importance of management for productivity, it has been largely subterranean. Management is very hard to measure in a robust way, so economists have been happy to delegate this task to others in the case study literature in business schools.

Managers are more frequently the butt of jokes from TV shows like “The Office” to “Horrible Bosses,” than seen as drivers of growth. But maybe things are now changing.

Read More »

A new social contract for work – Tom Kochan and Lee Dyer

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From Boston Review

This Labor Day we could join those speaking out against Donald Trump’s many hypocrisies, chief among them the preposterous notion that he represents the American worker. We could point out that he is further dividing an already divided country, turning to Wall Street tycoons as his key economic advisors, advocating for the elimination of health insurance coverage for the poor in favor of tax cuts for the rich, rolling back overtime regulations, abandoning requirements that investment agents focus on the interests of the retirees that hire them, and appointing a Education Secretary who attacks public education, teachers, and their unions.

We could go on, but a better approach is to lay the foundation for what will need to be done in the post-Trump era, whenever that arrives, to repair the damage, regain the trust of workers, and unify employers, unions, government leaders, and all who share the responsibility for shaping the future of work. We can do so by laying out a positive vision and strategy built around a simple narrative: a new social contract for work capable of meeting the expectations and obligations that workers, employers, and society in general hold for work and employment.

A new and fresh approach is long overdue. It is now all too apparent that America is paying a severe penalty for failing to address several decades of growing income inequality and stagnant wages and deep social and political divisions between the winners and losers from globalization.

And things could get worse. If we don’t turn the digital revolution into an opportunity to increase the number of good new jobs it could offer, the gap between the haves and have-nots will grow. If we let this happen, the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren is a lower standing of living and the prospect of more violence.

The good news is thanks to innovations happening around the country we can see how a new and more inclusive social contract might be built.

Read More »

Intelligence + Maturity = Better Leaders – Court Chilton

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Court Chilton

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Court Chilton

From Xconomy

There are plenty of smart executives in the world, but they often make poor leaders. That’s because it takes both intelligence and maturity to excel at leadership. And when I say maturity, I don’t necessarily mean age, although generally more life experience is helpful. Maturity is the ability to manage oneself in challenging situations and to balance inquiry and advocacy about how to move forward.

It’s pretty easy these days to find examples of smart business leaders who lack maturity. Look at the irresponsible, off-the-cuff comments of Donald Trump and the messy wake his business dealings have left behind. Or, on the other side of the political aisle, Alan Grayson, who has been asked by other U.S. senators to end his bid for a Florida senate seat.

For a long time, researchers at MIT Sloan have talked about a 4-Capabilities Model of Leadership. The gist was that good leaders need to be able to do four things: visioning, relating, inventing, and sense-making. Visioning means providing direction and strategy; relating means connecting with people; inventing means creating processes, systems, and structures that enable execution; and sense-making is about understanding the world as a complex, dynamic place and trying to map it out with others.

Read More »

“Taken for granted” is not the new customer service norm – Lou Shipley

MIT Sloan Lecturer Lou Shipley

MIT Sloan Lecturer Lou Shipley

It’s been an extremely rough 30 days for three of the US airline industry’s largest carriers – United, American and Delta – whose rude and brutish treatment of customers was captured in smart phone videos that not surprisingly went viral.

In United’s case, the damage control was anything but as CEO Oscar Munoz immediately delivered a tone deaf, blame-the-victim response. His belated apology for United’s execrable behavior was of little help.

Friendly skies? Not so much.

The three high-profile airline debacles are stark examples of ham-fisted customer disregard and have given rise to the question: In an increasingly automated and technology-driven world, is being taken for granted the new customer-service norm?

Emphatically, no.  In fact, there’s ample evidence that it’s quite the opposite.

Savvy companies – global industry brands around the world – are investing in, listening to, and learning from customers because they realize that a relentless focus on their customers drives success and growth.

There are many excellent examples of companies that are putting a premium on delivering a consistently great customer experience to increase both revenue and customer loyalty.

Good examples of businesses that are both highly successful and customer-experience focused include Amazon, Netflix, UPS, Trader Joe’s, and the giant insurance provider USAA.

These thriving enterprises are in highly competitive markets and all of them are using customer service as a differentiator.

Read More »

The surprising way to come up with your next business idea — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

Scott Cook, founder and CEO of Intuit INTU -0.43% , didn’t come up with his concept for the popular Quicken money management software sitting behind the desk or spit-balling ideas in a brainstorming session. He first conceived of it while watching his wife grow increasingly frustrated preparing the family’s finances. From a single observation, combined with Cook’s understanding of computers, one of the world’s most successful financial software companies was born.

Consider all of the times you’ve asked yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Indeed, the world’s next pioneering innovation could be sitting in plain view for anyone to discover. But what is it that inspires some people to take the next step on something overlooked by others?

Our research of high-impact leaders shows about one-third of them fall into the camp of observers –carefully observing the world around them with all of their senses, and identifying common threads across often unconnected data to provoke unique business ideas. Observation has transformative power. Yet, in today’s 24/7 culture, many of us operate on autopilot, starving our brain’s creative capacity. Here are three ways to tune this critical discovery skill and increase the odds that your next observation adds up to great innovation.

Schedule It

The most obvious way to become a great observer is to actively observe. Take a page from Cook’s book and watch your spouse or child perform a task. Schedule observation excursions; pick a company to follow, or set aside 10 minutes to observe something intensely. Following observation periods, think about how that might lead to a new strategy, product service or production process.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management.