HBR May/June 2022: The digitally literate organisation

Annotated table of contents

1. Adi Ignatius, An antidote to the great resignation

Adi Ignatius, the editor in chief of HBR, highlights the article on love+ work in this issue which may offer an answer to the great resignation.

2. HBR 2021 McKinsey Awards

The McKinsey awards recognise some of the most impactful articles published in HBR last year.

Idea watch

3. HBR Team, Tap the talent your hiring algorithms are missing

Research shows that algorithm-based screening of job applications tends to exclude candidates with unconventional employment trajectories, a phenomenon that affects an estimated 27 million people in the USA. In the current tight labour market, employers may be interested to re-think their hiring strategies, especially since hidden workers have been shown to perform better than their peers. They have strong work ethic, higher productivity, quality of work and capacity for innovation. Companies could shift the metrics for hiring success towards long-term criteria, rewriting job descriptions to eliminate skills that can be learned on the job and focus on on-boarding. Ernie DuPont, senior director of workplace initiatives at CVS Health, describes their efforts to tap into overlooked pools of workers by opening recruitment centres in depressed economic areas.

4. Eben Harrell, Impostor syndrome has its advantages

Harrell interviews Basima A. Tewfik about her research suggesting that people who experience impostor syndrome tend to be more curious about others, are perceived as more adept at social relationships and thus become more successful in their careers. To test these connections, Tewfik constructed a new five-item psychological survey measure which asks interview subjects to rate how often they have thoughts that assume others overrate their competence. Interestingly, self-doubt of this kind does not appear to affect actual performance; it is distinct from feelings of exclusion and lack of belonging; and tends to be ignited more during periods of professional transition.

5. Steve Klinsky, the CEO of New Mountain Capital on using PE Management to ignite growth

Within a decade, Klinsky and his collaborators multiplied the value of the software company RedPrairie, renamed Blue Yonder, nearly 16 times, using private equity techniques he describes in this article: acquisitions, hiring and supporting a new management team, adopting a new growth strategy. Klinsky argues that this is a replicable process and shows how New Mountain Capital is deploying this expertise across several sectors and companies, offering the right mix of discipline and support, driving performance while providing resources from wider, experienced networks.

Spotlight: The digitally literate organization

6. Marco Iansiti and Satya Nadella, Democratizing transformation

Iansiti and Nadella define a roadmap for digital transformation, starting where many organisations find themselves today, with siloed, conventional responsibilities allocated to specialist departments, including IT. Between these and the native model, where all employees are skilled in tech and the business and technology are integrated seamlessly to generate innovative solutions, there are three other stages: bridge, hub, and platform. Pilot programs that step outside silos are the beginning of the transformation; organizations further along can share business insights across departments, while at the platform stage data tech and organizational capabilities are well-developed and integrated.

7. Tsedal Neeley and Paul Leonardi, Developing a digital mindset

Neeley and Leonardi explain what it takes to convince the labour force to adopt a digital mindset: not only the acquisition of relevant knowledge but also the motivation to act on it. Their adoption matrix uses two axes – belief that the digital transition matters and confidence in ability to learn – to identify four types of initial employee responses: oppressed, indifferent, frustrated and inspired. The article provides advice on how to help employees to become inspired, active participants in the digital transformation, irrespective of their starting point.

8. Vijay Govindarajan and N. Venkat Venkatraman, The next great digital advantage

Govindarajan and Venkatraman contend that the next digital advantage is increasingly taking the form of datagraphs, a method for capturing data within large, complex networks in continuous motion. They explain the advantages created by datagraphs and provide advice on how to get started, from developing a strategy to constructing proprietary algorithms, engendering trust, upgrading technology and monetisation.


9. Marcus Buckingham, Designing work that people love

This article draws on a large survey of 50,000 respondents carried out by ADP Research Institute. According to this research, three factors make the most difference for job satisfaction: being excited at work every day, the chance to use one’s strengths every day, and the chance to do what one is good at and loves. Buckingham argues that love of the actual content of work is crucial and suggests that when around 20% of work falls into this category employees are likely to feel the benefits of productivity without burnout. A whole host of practices could become more effective by incorporating this insight, including those for hiring and promotion, support for long-life learning, the choice of performance metrics, and a focus on teams as units in which individual characteristics can be allowed to manifest and thrive.

10. James Allen and Chris Zook, When your business needs a second growth engine

Allen and Zook contend that that a third of the growth in the value of large public companies, in the decade after the financial crisis of 2008, is due to the development of a second engine of growth. Three strategies have proved especially effective: expansion into adjacent sectors, next generation offering of core product and acquisition of a completely new line of business. This article draws on a variety of examples to argue that success depends on delivering in four areas: correctly identifying untapped, fast expanding market potential; leveraging proprietary assets to establish competitive advantage; allowing large decision-making discretion to the new, separate entity; and using effectively resources from engine one.

11. Robert Pearl and Brian Wayling, The telehealth era is just beginning

Pearl and Wayling review the state of play in the development of telehealth services in the USA. Having demonstrated its potential during the pandemic, telehealth can make enduring contributions to address systemic problems such as the excessive and expensive use of ER services, the chronic-disease crisis, inequalities in access to care, delays and inefficiencies, and availability of best doctors. The integration of multiple specialty medical groups and funding through capitation, a pre-aid value-based charging system, can bring these advantages to the fore and drive the transformation of healthcare provision. Employers who offer medical insurance are best placed to lead in this area and the article suggests next steps.

12. James D. White, How to build and anti-racist company

White draws on research and his own experience of leading companies to illustrate how organisational change, in this case around race, diversity and inclusion, could be encouraged at scale. Led from the top of the organisation, this process nonetheless needs to involve everyone. Listening and learning as well as engagement and discussion could ensure the cooperation of senior leaders as well as the rank and file. The specific blueprint for change needs to be informed by understanding how the culture is viewed by employees and other stakeholders; by measuring and documenting existing practices and benchmarks; and by creating teams that can test out new ideas and processes through action learning. Cultural change is a complex undertaking, and the article carefully explains the importance of good timing and skilful use of internal and external communication activities and channels over a number of years.

13. Wieke Scholten, Femke de Vries, and Tijs Besieux, A better approach to avoiding misconduct

Scholten and his colleagues present a behavioural risk management approach, using interviews, participant observation or shadowing sessions, and other available data to identify hot spots where risky actions occur regularly. The questions they ask and the theory they use to illuminate the significance of what they discover are distinctive: they emphasize the role of processes and organizational structures as triggers and facilitators of misconduct. As they show through detailed examples from the financial services sector, typically they identify root causes, which might include severe individual punishment for small mistakes or mistakes that are generated by the system, arbitrary promotions, lack of ownership over the risk assessment processes, or perceived lack of collaboration between departments. Scholten et al. then explain how they design and use workshops to arrive at solutions, often small adjustments embraced by employees, their managers, and the organization. The article also includes suggestions for further reading and practical applications.

14. Christoph Senn, Stop selling, start collaborating

Senn starts by showing that most activities around client account management have a strong element of (wishful) routine, including sales history, the competitive landscape, and the hoped for, pipeline. For more effective client engagement, and ultimately more satisfying, and profitable relationships, Senn recommends a higher-stakes process which gets to the truth of what works for both parties. This is a structured process he calls a ‘triple fit’, covering planning, execution, and allocation of resources, each with specific dimensions of their own. The first step is an evaluation of the relationship, where representatives from both the company and the client give scores to ten diagnostic statements. This creates a frank and realistic picture, helping to identify areas for improvement, develop solutions, schedule the necessary actions, and persuade all involved to contribute.

15. Stefan Thomke and Gary W. Loveman, Act like a scientist

Thomke and Loveman show how the scientific method can be used to good effect for a variety of practical problems in business, by following specific steps: question existing knowledge, investigate anomalies, formulate hypotheses, find hard evidence, articulate possible cause and effect. They illustrate with wide-ranging examples including determining marketing incentives at a hotel and casino company; finding trade-offs between number of units sold and price increases at a TV-maker; choosing optimal pay-outs and locations for slot machines; preventing customer irritation while waiting for service at a bank; deciding between in-house and outsourcing of manufacturing at a toy maker and so on.

16. Boris Groysberg and Robert Russman Halperin, How to get the most of peer support groups

We all depend on friends, confidants, and trusted colleagues for advice and support. In contrast, peer support groups are set-up deliberately to include people who are not normally in each other’s social circles, but have other significant attributes in common, such as age, level of seniority, workplace. The peer support group’ order of business is specifically to challenge participants to bring up in discussion issues they might normally avoid, creating bonds of camaraderie and providing motivation to tackle difficulties and overcome obstacles. Groysberg and Halperin draw on their deep fieldwork, including interviews, analysis of program materials, surveys of members as well as their own direct experience to offer insight on right composition, principles for participation, proven processes, and training for effective leadership.


17. Alice Boyes, How to stop procrastinating

Boyes identifies three types of factors that lead to procrastination, to do with habits, emotions and thought processes. These different types of causes operate through specific mechanisms and need different remedies. For instance, when strong work-supporting habits are absent, effort is always harder to initiate and sustain. And conversely, with strong habits for scheduling deep work consistently and for starting new tasks, we feel less strain and get into a task more easily. In terms of feelings and thought patterns, we need to understand which one is at work when we postpone a task. While individual feelings and thought patterns can be highly specific, even quirky, Boyes recommends a tactic or two for each type.

18. David S. Lee, Case-study: What does diversity mean in a global organization?

The leadership of a Toronto-based toy company grapples with the diversity implications of appointing their head of China-manufacturing and Asia distribution. Should it be a male expat who speaks Mandarin and has lived in the region for a few years? Should it be an ethnically Chinese American woman?

19. Alison Beard, The case for welcoming immigrants

Beard reviews five new books that investigate the dynamic and positive roles played by immigrants in the economy, society, and culture. They are often inspirational examples of fortitude and resilience, overcoming immense odds to build new lives in their adopted countries.

20. Alison Beard, Life’s work interview with Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri became famous at 32 by winning a Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award for her first novel, but she remains curious and humble. “It’s important to not always be in control, to be in communication with a part of you that is still insecure and trying to figure things – and yourself – out”, she says.