MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Category: Management and Leadership

Coaching millennials has its hurdles—and it's time to get over them

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 5 days ago

Leadership programs for millennials, management, and senior executives at MIT Sloan Executive Education

Today's workforce is a mix of four generations—Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y—sometimes collaborating, other times colliding. Stereotypes for how these different age groups act, interact, and conduct themselves in the workplace are plentiful, but most would agree that Gen Y—the millennials—are currently, for better or worse, the center of attention. Why all the commotion?

For starters, millennials have officially surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, typically defined as those ages 19-35 in 2016 (born 1981-1997), are now 75 million strong.

But most importantly, Millennials will soon lead the world of business, and after them their successors, Gen Z. They will be leading in a world that has grown increasingly global, complex, and even tumultuous. Today’s business world requires more of leaders than ever before. MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen, an organizational theorist, uses an acronym to describe this world of which millennials will be at the helm: VUCCA. It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, chaotic and ambiguous (with one more C than the more common VUCA), and it's a big part of why today's leaders need to teach tomorrow's.

"We don't know where big data is taking us. We don't know what's happening with climate change, political instability. It is an unknown world," Van Maanen said during a panel discussion on leadership at the MIT Sloan CFO Summit last fall. It’s evident that teaching leadership skills is critical in a changing world, but coaching Millennials comes with a set of unique challenges.

  1. Millennials are moving targets for training. “Millennials expect to work for 12 to 15 organizations over their careers, versus three or four 20 years ago,” Van Maanen said (see Gallup for more).
  2. Leadership is becoming more and more distributed. Many organizations’ hierarchical structures are flattening. Companies are becoming more flexible and diverse, with employees working from around the world. When there are technically no titles and no bosses, everyone needs to step up and be the leader. Also, leadership lessons that work in the U.S. or Europe might not apply as easily in countries that have been through political or cultural upheaval, have different cultural norms, or use technology to a different or lesser extent.

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Are “Good Jobs” finally becoming fashionable in retail?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 2 days ago

Zeynep Ton's Good Jobs Strategy in Retail

Retail jobs have long been considered undesirable. Back in 2013, Zeynep Ton, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and author of The Good Jobs Strategy, told a TedxCambridge audience that retail jobs “are not just bad because they offer low wages and chaotic schedules, but because they make workers feel meaningless.” She shared how one retail worker had told her, “We are throwaways who are a dime a dozen.”

Thankfully, albeit slowly, the retail industry is changing how it views, treats, trains, and ultimately retains its employees. The President and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), Matthew Shay, recently published a piece on LinkedIn titled, “Good Jobs Change Lives.” In this post, Shay unveiled a new initiative by the NRF to help workers secure jobs in retail and advance in their careers. The program provides hands-on training in topics such as retail tools and technologies, customer service, and retail math. Participants receive credentials they can put on their resumes and cite during their job searches. More than 30 retailers, foundations, and non-profits are collaborating in this initiative.

The NRF itself has approximately 700,000 entry-level openings. According to the organization, “individuals who hold a certification or license are significantly more likely to be employed and have 34-percent higher earnings.”

Training is a proven cornerstone of Zeynep Ton’s Good Jobs Strategy. In her recent Harvard Business Review article, “How 4 Retailers Became ‘Best Places to Work’,” Ton and co-author Sarah Kalloch share strategies and policies that have made HEB, Costco, TraderJoe’s and QuikTrip successful, innovative companies staffed by employees who are happy and eager to work hard.

“For Costco founder Jim Sinegal, retailing is fundamentally a people business, which means it has to get the people part right,” writes Ton. “Costco hires good people, teaches them and pays them well, and gives them opportunities to advance. In return, Costco gets better productivity.”

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Workplace negativity? Difficult conversations? Turn to improv

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 7 days ago

Improv for business leaders

At first blush, improv may not seem like an obvious leadership tool. Business often works best when knowledgeable leaders follow a script for getting feedback and fostering buy-in, notes MIT Sloan's Daena Giardella. But business leaders also need to be able to shift their sensemaking skills into high gear–especially in today’s complicated political environment, where leadership and communication cues from the White House may not be the best approach for corporate leaders. Improvisation leadership skills may be required, writes Giardella in a blog post for The Hill.

In a time of governmental volatility and inconsistency, CEOs should "focus on your own stakeholders and pay attention to your real audience," Giardella writes. Improvising means cultivating the ability to react with agility, creativity, and flexibility. It also means developing a mindset that includes curiosity, high-stakes listening, and resilience.

In teaching improv to business leaders, Giardella pushes them out of their comfort zones and sets them up for potential failure as they learn. "And as soon as I say that, usually I get so many eyebrows going up, because of course in a business environment, and certainly an academic environment, use the word fail and people take notice," Giardella tells NPR. "But as an improviser, you gotta know how to rebound. It's not about whether you make the perfect offer, it's about how you rebound if you don't."

Cultivating a "Yes, and" mindset

Improvisers know that there are shifts in status within each conversation, and they use them to their advantage to progress the action of the scene. A hallmark of improvisational leadership skills is the "Yes, and" approach, where one moves the scene forward by creating a collaborative spirit—as opposed to "Yes, but," which creates roadblocks, as Giardella explains in this Quartz blog post. “Yes, but” translates to “Yeah, but that's not really valid because here is the better point."

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At the CHRO Summit, Hal Gregersen made people uncomfortable, and that's a good thing

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 25 days ago

Hal Gregersen at CHRO Summit

MIT Sloan's Hal Gregersen gave the morning keynote at the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) Summit in Boston on June 7. "Banish Your Blindspots by Asking the Right Questions" was the theme of his talk, and he asked attendees to examine not what they knew, but what they didn’t know. "What are the uncomfortable questions in your work and life that you are not asking yourself or others?" he asked.

Gregersen is the Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he pursues his vocation of executive teaching, coaching, and research by exploring how leaders in business, government, and society discover provocative new ideas.

His best-selling book, The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, flows from a path-breaking international research project (with Jeff Dyer & Clayton Christensen). They explored where disruptive innovations come from by interviewing founder entrepreneurs and CEOs at 200+ of the most innovative companies in the world.

You don't know what you don't know

Walt Bettinger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Charles Schwab, said during his interview with Gregersen, "When you reach the upper echelons of management, people start telling you what they think you want to hear and are too afraid to tell you what you really need to know."

Of his 200+ interviews, Gregersen found this sentiment to be a common theme: many leaders reported that they found themselves precariously protected from "bad news" within their own companies. A "dangerous disconnect," Pixar Founder Ed Catmull called it. Being in this "isolated tower" prevented these leaders from getting a true sense of corporate performance, innovation, culture, morale, outcomes, and other critically important information.

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Industry leaders share wisdom on leading, innovating, and disrupting

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 7 days ago

Ray Wang speaking at MIT

What defines the path to success in today's business world? From lessons about embracing failure and passion to the importance of mentorship, top executives share their views on success and more as part of the Innovative Leadership (iLead) Series, presented by the MIT Leadership Center and MIT Sloan. The iLead Series was developed to give a platform to a diverse set of thought leaders in problem-focused leadership. The series celebrates innovators who make a difference by finding solutions to tough, edgy problems in a complex, fast-moving world.

The following talks from the 2016 and 2017 iLead Series can be viewed on the iLead website and on the MIT Leadership Center's YouTube channel.

Embracing digitization and mentors: When John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., was recovering from tumultuous times at his company in 2011, he looked for a mentor and found former General Electric Company chief Jack Welch, who told him that those tough times could be the best years of leadership. Today, he is an enthusiastic supporter of digitization, cautioning that the U.S. is the only major country without a strong digitization plan and is at risk of losing its economic power. "Either you disrupt or you get left behind. There’s no entitlement just because we led before." Watch the video.

Learning from failure: Andy Plump, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A. Inc., says whether you lead or follow it helps to embrace failure, and that partnerships with outside companies will make it easier to fail fruitfully. He calls it "honorable failure" and adds, "When we have a failure now, we bring it to a public setting and we learn from it." Watch the video.

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What makes MIT Sloan's Advanced Management Program different? Ask Joe Hartz.

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 15 days ago

If you're a senior executive seeking improved performance and confidence at managing organizations, then you may be exploring advanced management programs (AMPs). Why select MIT?

In 2016, Joe Hartz, then COO (now CEO) of UGI Energy Services, asked himself the same question. In pursuit of an exceptional advanced management program that would meet his needs and fit his schedule, he narrowed his choices to Columbia, Wharton, and MIT. "I felt that MIT was the most comprehensive offering in the time period that fit my schedule best," says Hartz.

Hartz was part of a succession plan for his company and preparing for the role of CEO at the time he began his AMP search. His executive management team thought it would be good for him to spend a few weeks away from the office to think about new trends in businesses and get an up-to-date, holistic, executive learning experience.

Smaller class size leads to big payoffs

When Hartz arrived at MIT, he realized that while several other participants were in similar transitions, each member of the cohort was unique, and that the class size was small and highly selective. "We were 20 extremely different people," said Hartz. "There were only a couple of Americans in the class. I met folks from different parts of the world, from different businesses and roles--it was a very diverse and talented group. That setting was an incredible experience for me."

The selective cohort of international participants is a differentiating factor for MIT Sloan's Advanced Management Program. Each year, AMP is limited to 35 participants and is often smaller, as it was for Hartz's 2016 program. This smaller size promotes interaction between faculty and participants and enables great collaboration and rapport to develop over the span of the month-long program. "Our conversations--both in the classroom and over beers after class--were extremely thought provoking." Says Hartz.

Seasoned executives hail from around the world, with the majority traveling from Europe, Asia, and South America. Also due in part to the small size of the group, participants develop meaningful friendships--and even successful business partnerships--with their global peers.

"On the weekends during the program, we stuck together. We went sailing, we took the catamaran to Cape Cod one Sunday. We had some long walks around Boston, and we did the museum tours," said Hartz.

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What makes a high-performing team? The answer may surprise you.

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 4 months and 25 days ago

More women make teams smarter according to MIT's Thomas Malone

What sets high-performing teams apart? Strong leadership? Skilled team members? Shared goals? Maybe. But what if we told you that one of the key drivers of team performance was how many women were on the team?

Numerous studies continue to show the value that gender diversity has proven in boosting productivity and the bottom line within all levels of a company, from entry level to the boardroom, as well as the critical role women play in enhancing the collective intelligence of groups--as demonstrated by the research of MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone.

Malone, who is the head of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, says that when it comes to team performance, the more women the better. Research by Malone and his colleagues, Anita Woolley and Christopher Chabris, shows that the collective intelligence of a group rises when there are women involved in that group. And in fact, the more women, the better.

"In our study, if there were more women in the group, the group performed better," says Malone. In their New York Times article, "Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others," Malone and his colleagues wrote of their study, "Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not 'diversity' (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at 'mindreading' than men."

By "mindreading," Malone is refering to the skill of social perception. Social perceptiveness is a kind of social intelligence; it's the ability to discern what someone is thinking through some means of human observation, especially if they are good at reading emotions from other people's eyes. Malone's research suggests that the performance of teams (and companies) can be dramatically improved when members can improve upon this skill, regardless of the industry.

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Three perspectives on organizational change: more answers from MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 5 months and 30 days ago

John Van Maanen

Over 3,500 registrants signed up for our most recent webinar, Three Perspectives on Organizational Change. During the event, MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen discussed innovative approaches to change management and delved into three different perspectives embraced by most organizations: strategic, political, and cultural. In this post, Professor Van Maanen responds to some questions from webinar attendees that were not addressed during the live event.

With the rapid pace of technological advancement, as well as increasing globalization with its accompanying challenges, which lens is the most undervalued or most challenging to get right? Which lenses most commonly contribute to failures for organizations to execute well on change management strategies?

The cultural lens is the most difficult to "get right" in the sense of having a culture that fits the challenges the organization is presently facing. It certainly is the most vexing to both diagnose and alter, in terms of difficulty and time. Change that threatens valued professional or occupational identities is particularly problematic. My sense is that if you can figure out a way to work within and with respect for the various cultures represented in the organization, change is somewhat easier. Culture is not a variable that one tunes up or down. It is a set of deeply embedded habits and ways of looking at the world that works and works well for cultural members. So, there are limits, serious ones, to the extent which cultural change can be directed and hastened.

Can organizations survive if there are competing perspectives between workgroups? E.g., if one department is politically powerful and another is strategically powerful, is it best to lean towards one or the other method?

To some extent this on-going battle for power and control of strategic moves is built into organizational life. It contributes motivation, ambition, innovation, and drama, and works at the individual and group levels. One fights for what one thinks is best for the organization (strategy) and marshals all the evidence one can collect in its support. The loyal opposition does the same. If power--the ability to get things done--is not so imbalanced, things generally work out and adjustments can be made. Tinkering is continual.

Over time, culture usually helps select which groups have power, and those groups select strategic designs that support their position. When the lack of fit with the environment is apparent to all (falling revenues, unmet goals, customer abandonment, etc.), a change movement (from outside or inside or both) typically forms to shift the power balance. If successful, strategic design changes usually follow in its wake. To cling to one lens or the other is a recipe for failure.

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