HBR July/Aug 2020: Emerging from the crisis

Harvard Business Review
July/August 2020
Annotated Table of Contents

1. Adi Ignatius, Finding resilience

Adi Ignatius, the editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review, highlights articles that address the business challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Idea watch

2. HBR Team, Why employee engagement initiatives fall short

This article discusses findings from a Gartner survey carried out in 2019 among 150 HR executives and 3,000 employees worldwide. Companies that took a shaping approach to their investment in employee experience satisfied 32% more of their employees compared to those that did not. A shaping approach is pro-active, calibrating expectations, personalising the experience and contextualising negative memories while re-enforcing the positive ones. An interview with Peter Vultaggio, the global head of talent development and change management at Silicon Valley Bank, offers additional practical insights on how to design and implement such an approach.

3. Ramsey Khabbaz, Research: CEOs from working-class families support less-labour-friendly policies

Khabbaz interviews Henrik Cronqvist of Miami Herbert Business School about his research, with collaborators, about the link between the social class of origin of CEOs of S&P 1500 between 1992 and 2017 and the friendliness of their labour policies. Socioeconomic background was determined according to parental occupations, in five categories: upper, professional, middle or working class and poor. Labour-friendliness was defined across three measures: employee litigation, occupational safety metrics and employee reviews. Even though the effect is more muted for CEOs younger than 60, the researchers found that lower class origins correlate with tolerance for harsher labour policies irrespective of geography (within the US) or sector. This suggests that early life experiences have a powerful effect in shaping enduring occupational norms.

4. Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, on adapting in response to a global crisis

Butterfield recounts the main events at the beginning of March as the onset of the pandemic was becoming clear in the USA, and the responses at Slack, in terms of managing the transition to remote working and dealing with large increases in consumer demand. Established in 2014, the company became public in 2019, partly to gain access to public debt markets, from which it raised $750 million in March this year. Despite increased uncertainty in the medium-term, due to the deteriorating economic outlook world-wide, the company is well positioned to adapt to new challenges and to use the crisis as an opportunity to innovate.

Spotlight: Emerging from the crisis

5. J. Peter Scoblic, Learning from the future

Scoblic revisits the history of scenario planning and argues that strategic foresight can make a large contribution to anticipating and overcoming crises. Typically, strategic foresight involves a variety of decision makers who work to imagine plausible but dramatically different futures. They then spell out in detail several disparate scenarios and identify the strategies that make sense across a number of them. Finally, the organisation implements these strategies and the process is reiterated at regular intervals. This methodology is presented through a detailed discussion of the work at the US Coast Guard, which started in 1998, creating the readiness for the prompt and effective response to the 9/11 attacks in New York.

6. Adi Ignatius, “What is the new normal going to look like?” a roundtable with five CEOs

Adi Ignatius interviews Kevin Sneader (McKinsey & Company), Nancy McKinstry (Wolters Kluwer), Tory Burch (Tory Burch), Geoff Martha (Medtronic) and Chuck Robbins (Cisco Systems) about adaptations to lockdowns and changing business conditions. Looking forward, the CEOs identify several significant, likely changes: increased role for digital transformation; stronger reputation impact of perceived ESG performance; greater collaboration between private companies and governments; pressure to operate at increased speed to respond to sudden changes; emphasis on resilience over efficiency; slowdown of globalisation and more on-shoring of operations.

7. David Kessler, Helping your team heal

Kessler draws on research about grieving to highlight the diversity of responses to the sudden loss of established work routines, ranging from denial, anger, and bargaining, to sadness, and acceptance. Moreover, employees will be affected to varying degrees, describing broadly three categories: the worried well, the affected and the bereaved. Accordingly, they will need different kinds of interventions, from focusing on the work, to accommodation, validation and specialist counselling support. By finding meaning, employees will be able to move beyond the damage inflicted by the pandemic and begin to heal.


8. Boris Babic, Daniel L. Chen, Theodoros Evgeniou and Anne-Laure Fayard, A better way to onboard AI

The introduction of AI programs has often led to suboptimal results, not least due to fears about losing employment, disempowerment, loss of autonomy and privacy. To facilitate a better integration of AI in the workplace, the authors propose that the roles filled by AI programmes be seen in a similar way to familiar roles usually filled by trainees and other support staff. They illustrate how an AI programme can be seen as an assistant, monitor, coach and even team mate in sectors such as airlines and asset management. To foster trust, employees should have a say in the definition of AI roles and rules of engagement, so they can be effectively understood and designed. Moreover, the black box of AI decision-making needs to be opened to explain decisions.

9. Elizabeth Long Lingo and Kathleen L. McGinn, A new prescription for power

Accruing and yielding power effectively is an art in which the visible assets, such as titles, roles, or control over resources, may not be nearly as important as the more subtle, and intuitive work of knowing the lay of the land and exploring the art of the possible. In this article, Long Lingo and McGinn shed light on the less obvious aspects of power, as they connect to situations, relationships and development over time. They also offer practical advice on questions to ask and tactics to deploy, through a rich array of examples of dilemmas and solutions worked out by a variety of individuals and organization in several fields.

10. Jonathan Hughes and Danny Ertel, What’s your negotiation strategy?

A strategic approach to negotiation side-steps the binary terms of reactive negotiation, in the way it defines the counterparts to a deal, their constituencies, the scope of the deal, the nature of leverage, links across negotiations, and timing and sequencing. For each of these elements, the article offers suggestions for widening out the perspective and forging less constricted, more rational and ultimately more productive, win-win solutions. The authors describe examples of high-stakes negotiations from a large spectrum of industries: semiconductors, IP in tech and the music industry, sharing of manufacturing capacity in the medical sector, joint ventures in oil and gas, financial services and more.

11. Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, Harnessing everyday genius

Hamel and Zanini discuss the process of responsabilisation, i.e. empowerment, within Michelin, the French company employing more than 110,000 people at 69 facilities in 18 countries to produce more than 166 million tyres a year. This process started with several volunteer teams on the frontline in 2012 and grew upwards in several steps to include whole departments and production units in different locations. It has led to new models for reconfiguring the responsibilities of workers, managers, functions and executives, levelling everyone up, up-skilling while delegating decision authority at the level most likely to have accurate and timely information and implementation capability. Three additional examples, the US steel-maker Nucor, the Dutch home health provider Buurtzorg and the Swedish bank Svenska Handelsbanken, illustrate how empowering workers to use their abilities and regulate their work can led to extraordinary results for their organizations as well.

12. Brad Bitterly and Alison Wood Brooks, Sarcasm, self-deprecation, and inside jokes: A user’s guide to humor at work

Clearly, when used well, humour has a beneficial impact on our likeability and success at work. This article distils and illustrates some of the more common types of humour and how they work in specific situations. For instance, insider jokes work well when they are inclusive and everyone can understand them. Sarcasm can boost creativity as it requires high-level thinking for decoding how the meaning is the opposite of what is being said; it lands well when there is sufficient trust in the group. Self-deprecation can neutralise negative information if the information is not too damaging. Humour may be used to dodge a difficult question, especially when the performance is an obvious demonstration that criticism is unwarranted. While humour can soften negative feed-back to the point of discouraging rectifying action, the message may become more memorable. And, in general, whether at work or outside it, seeing the humour in a difficult situation can help us cope better.

13. Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, Make the most of your relocation

Moving to different locations for work is widespread especially within multinational companies, and can bring many benefits in terms of developing problem-solving skills, innovation and creativity. As this article elucidates at length, any move will have regulatory, occupational, psychological and economic ramifications. However, there are a few general principles that can help to maximise the benefits and contain the costs of a move: early career timing is usually most beneficial; positions that offer significant challenges and stretch assignments are also more likely to prove worthwhile for career advancement; redefining how the job is done can create a better fit; maintaining cultural exchanges with home and visiting headquarters at strategic points can help to stay in the loop and secure resources; and considering the next move could anticipate road-blocks and long-term implications.

14. Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter, Fixing U.S. politics

Gehl and Porter offer an analysis of current dysfunction in US politics, conceived as an industry in which the Democrat – Republican duopoly has evolved practices in regards to selection of candidates in the primaries, plurality voting and the legislative process, that lead to a perverse effect: acting in the public interest makes politicians unelectable. Business has been one of the satisfied customers of the current political regime, which it influences through several mechanisms: lobbying, maintaining a revolving door between the public and the private sectors, donations for elections, interventions for or against direct ballots at state level, encouraging employees to make donations for favoured political candidates, and lack of transparency about these activities. The article also presents and discusses evidence of a growing awareness among HBR graduates of long-term harmful effects of political dysfunction on the business environment. It advocates for interventions that address the root causes of dysfunction, including final-five voting and zero-based rule-making in politics, and changing the rule-book for business to embrace shared value.


15. Richard G. Tedeschi, Growth after trauma

Tedeschi proposes several steps that can help ensure that we survive and grow after trauma. First, appreciate the nature of trauma, which is a disruption of core belief systems. Second, regulate emotions by recognising the negative ones and keeping them in check. Third, be open about the impact of the traumatic events and encourage others to share their own experiences. Fourth, craft a narrative that integrates the traumatic events, pointing out changes in priorities and opportunities for renewal. Finally, find ways to be of service to others, creating personal or shared missions that generate meaning. Thus, surviving trauma and growing in its wake can take many forms from increased personal strength, finding new possibilities, improved relationships through sharing and common effort, greater appreciation for life and spiritual development.

16. Marcello Russo and Gabriele Morandin, Case study: Stick with a bad new job or cut your losses?

How long would you need to be in a new job before you can reasonably decide whether it is the right one for you? In this case study, a new manager is struggling to assess the relevance of her first, somewhat disappointing, impressions of her new organisation and find a constructive way forward.

17. Alison Beard, True friends at work

The three books on friendship reviewed here concur that having friends, and even close confidants at work helps us be more productive and successful. Multiple time pressures can prevent us from forming deep friendships at work, but three conditions, proximity, similarity, reciprocity, can also help us overcome such obstacles.

18. Alison Beard, Life’s work: An interview with Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe is the team leader of the US women’s soccer team and an activist for gender and race equality. Here she speaks about her values and working-class roots and the outlook on sports and leadership she developed while playing for the national soccer team, offering a powerful sense of perspective and demonstrating emotional intelligence at work.