MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

Q&A webinar follow-up with Michael Schrage

Guest post by Elaine Santoyo Goldman

These days, heading into the office and seeing your team typing away on their laptops, huddled in meeting rooms, or making important phone calls may feel like a hazy memory. Where is everyone? Most likely, working from home. Are they really working from home though? I mean, we think they are – projects are getting completed, we’re having Zoom meetings, and at check-ins everyone says things are “fine.” Remote work is working, but how?

The pandemic has provoked new recognition around both the potential and real value of high-performance ‘workplace analytics.’ However, to understand and measure the performance of this new dispersed digital workforce, you need to focus on the new AI - ‘Augmented Introspection.’

Michael Schrage’s webinar earlier this month - Getting Beyond Remote: Empowering ‘The Next AI’ –emphasized three important themes:

  • the need for greater situational and organizational awareness in digitally dispersed environments
  • the role data and analytics can (and should play) in improving performance and performance management
  • making “greater transparency” a core cultural, operational, and leadership value

Addressing each of these in your organization can ensure your organization thrives - not merely survives - within remote work constraints.

At the heart of it all is AI (Augmented Introspection) - using technology to get greater insight into ourselves and our teams. Self-knowledge is key to self-improvement. We need data. Similar to a fitness tracker, organizations need to determine what they want to digitally measure and learn about their teams - and why. Then it’s a matter of finding the best tools to accomplish your objective: There is no silver bullet. You will need trial and error and experiment – which will either affirm your current processes or give further insights to keep improving.

During the webinar, 80% of participants admitted their organization is not employing any metrics to measure performance during this “new normal.” This is a disappointing statistic – and, in retrospect – Michael wishes he had gotten the ‘new’ metrics’ from that 20%. In today’s challenging competitive landscape, it’s all the more reason to begin prioritizing data as the asset it truly is to obtain sustainable, measurable insights into improvement for your organization.

While Michael covered a lot of ground in 30 minutes, there were many wonderful questions from participants that we couldn’t address in that timeframe. However, we collected them and curated their answers from Michael. He dives deeper into the concepts on which participants had the most questions below.

AI (Augmented Introspection)
Q: A lot of questions were centered around where to even start with implementing the new AI. Any advice for people still trying to wrap their heads around the concept?

A: Start here: Do you want to get better at your job? Along what dimensions? How can you know? What are the two simplest, easiest and most important things I can measure that will give me actionable insight on how to get better? Answer these questions well, and you’ll soon have a ’training set’ of data to help you begin automating tasks for improved performance.

The Role of Data
Q: Many participants had questions regarding the universal metrics they should be monitoring when they start – or simply your favorite metrics to focus on. Is there such a thing as standardized metrics that are evergreen across organizations?

A: First, organizations should not ‘measure for the sake of measuring’ (any more than we should look into the mirror for the sake of seeing our reflections). There should be a purpose; there should be a reason; there should be a metric telling us where we are ‘right now’ and what we could/should do next. Period. I believe introspection matters a lot. Good data - like a good mirror or telescope or microscope - literally lets you see things you couldn’t see before. What is it that we need to see about ourselves and our teams and our performance that can - and should - make a measurable difference?

Yes, too many managers in too many organizations measure the wrong - or foolish - things. Surely we should treat this pandemic as an opportunity to revisit and revise the fundamentals about what we want - and need - to measure so we can get better at getting better.

For example, does measuring time actually improve quality of work/performance? Of course not! But if you are not prepared to discover what portions and proportions of time are correlated with the best - and worst - quality of your output, then forgive me for not wanting to hire you.

Q: As a leader – what is the most important thing you can do on day 1 to ensure collective buy-in from your team in prioritizing greater situational and organizational awareness?

A: Bluntly, there are three clear ’things’ serious leaders should embrace and communicate from Day 1.

The first is clearly define and align their ‘purpose’ and ‘vision’ – “this is why we should must do this; these are the desired outcomes from that commitment.” But those are ‘just words.’

So, the second priority is defining measures, metrics and methods for determining how well we are delivering upon our declared purpose and the vision we’ve chosen. I think it’s dishonest - even cheating - if we don’t seek quantitative, as well as qualitative, ways to hold ourselves accountable. KPIs and OKRs are mechanisms for both creating situational awareness and better navigating the future.

The third priority emphasizes YOU. How do you lead by example? How do your choices - your behaviors - model how your colleagues should step up and deliver for their customers and for each other? If we talked to your colleagues, what examples of yours would they favorably cite?

Q: That last answer actually ties in nicely with the next theme of transparency. Most of the questions we received centered on trust. Variations of how do you trust leadership with the data? How can leaders demonstrate they can be trusted? Everyone’s dealt with a micromanager and is concerned about privacy and overstepped boundaries. Are there times when monitoring data can do more harm than good?

A: These are terrific and legitimate questions! As a leader, be transparent. Be visible. Be open. Be trustworthy. Write a manifesto - or mission statement or contract - about what trust should mean. Identify the role and purpose of data/analytics in making people more valuable, as opposed to making people feel more ‘monitored’ and ‘managed’ and/or ’surveilled.’ .

In my professional opinion and perspective, ‘best practice’ begins with the Hippocratic admonition: 'first, do no harm.’ That is, avoid going all in on the wonders of data-driven productivity and growth. First, help your people understand that your efforts and investments will first go into assuring that nothing gets worse or hurtful. My one caveat though: If you have an unhealthy or dysfunctional culture - if people confuse and conflate ‘accountability’ with ‘blame,’ - you have bigger problems than I can deal with in this blog post!

Michael's Additional Resources:

Executive Program in General Management.

The Innovator's Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More than Good Ideas
Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?
And coming out Sep 1, 2020:
Recommendation Engines

This entry was posted in on Wed Jul 22, 2020 by


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