HBR Nov/Dec 2019: The CEO 100, 2019 edition

Harvard Business Review

November/December 2019
Annotated table of contents

1. Adi Ignatius, The truth about CEO tenure

Adi Ignatius, the editor in chief of HBR, recommends the spotlight section in this issue, focusing on global CEOs, their ranking, tenure, retirement.

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2. HBR Staff, The secrets of successful female networkers

According to new research led by Inga Carboni, successful female networkers have four distinctive characteristics. Their networking is efficient, nimble, boundary-spanning and energy-balanced. Even though they tend to be open to collaboration, effective female networks recognise the opportunity costs of saying ‘yes’ and pick their commitments according to their priorities. They balance long-term relationship building with appropriate de-emphasizing of old connections in favour of new ones. Pro-actively, they seek to encompass a wide variety of contacts, across functions, geographies and business units inside and outside a company. And they are able to energise their networks: without downplaying their own qualities they demonstrate warm and build trust. Julie Lodge-Barrett, the chief talent officer at Ford, explains in an interview how these qualities can be cultivated over time.

3. Ania G. Wieckowski, For women in business, beauty is a liability

Wieckowski interviews Leah D. Sheppard (Washington State University) on her research with Stefanie K. Johnson (University of Colorado Boulder) about the link between attractiveness and perceptions of trust and competence. Their research suggests that there is a penalty in terms of trust for beautiful women at all levels of seniority and in all functions. At the same time, attractive women were perceived as equally competent to men. Interestingly, subjects primed to feel romantically secure in this experiment did not penalise attractive women. Further research would be necessary to establish whether distrust dissipates or persists on longer acquaintance in a real work context.

4. Rabea Ataya, the CEO of Bayt.com, on building an internet culture where there is no internet

Ataya, a Stanford-educated Lebanese-Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait, shares his experience of building several businesses in the Middle-East, in areas such as document management and recruitment. Bayt was one of the first Arabic language platforms, launched in 2000, just as the first internet boom in the West was coming to an end, and enjoying support from the Dubai Internet Initiative. Some of the early challenges included finding the right technical expertise to create the website, building a network and establishing rules for behaviour on the platform. Within a few years, the company opened 12 more offices across the region, learning to leverage the different opportunities in national markets, and adding services such as Evalufy, a video assessment platform used to screen employment applications, and vFairs, virtual job fairs.

Spotlight: The CEO 100, 2019 Edition

5. HBR Staff, The best performing CEOs in the world, 2019 edition

Environmental, social and governance criteria have been part of the HBR ranking of the best performing CEOs in the world for some time. This year, their weight has been increased to 30% (from 20%), the rest representing composite financial criteria. The most successful 100 CEOs have unusually long tenures and come from a variety of countries, with the combined EU holding up well to the US competition. Between them US-based and European CEOs represent nearly three quarters of the total. Within the EU, France is the clear leader, with 11 CEOs, followed by the UK with 7. In both the EU and the US, a notable number of CEOs are expats or immigrants. Overall, the number of women has increased to four this year.

6. James M. Citrin, Claudius A. Hildebrand and Robert J. Start, The CEO life cycle

This article reports on research that combines analysis of yearly financial performance during the whole length of the tenure for 747 S&P 500 CEOs and in-depth interviews with 41 CEOs and directors. It identifies five stages in the CEO tenure: the honeymoon (year 1); the sophomore slump (year 2); the recovery (years 3 to 5); the complacency trap (years 6 to 10); and the golden years (years 11 to 15). Individual exit is possible at any stage, and exit events are quite evenly spread across the years in this sample. Each stage presents opportunities and challenges as success and failure are constantly redefined and modulated. Successful CEOs think dynamically about time, anticipate and prepare for longer-term cycles, wait for initiatives to show results, and for trust and relationships to mature.

7. Bill George, The CEO’s guide to retirement

George outlines the dangers of staying on too long as a CEO, missing the opportunity to make a dignified exit and to prepare for life after the tenure has ended. He offers a number of questions to help CEOs assess when is the right moment for them to retire; suggests practical steps for crafting the next act, slowly and deliberately; and discusses the pros and cons of various options to stay active and continue to make a contribution after retirement.


8. Francesca Gino, Cracking the code of sustained collaboration

Francesca Gino is interested to determine the factors that account for a long-term, productive culture of collaboration. She argues that collaboration is a (composite) skill grounded in certain mental attitudes, such as respect, openness to experiment and try out ideas as well as sensitivity. Importantly, it can be taught. Specifically, she describes six areas of work that organisations who report success in sustaining collaboration have focused on. These include teaching people to listen, not talk; training for empathy; learning to receive feed-back comfortably; acknowledging the importance of both leading and following; speaking with clarity; and learning to fashion win-win conversations. All of these are broken down in smaller, focused suggestions and are shown in practice at Webasto, a global manufacturer of automotive equipment, and Pixar, among others.

9. Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber, The truth about open offices

Bernstein and Waber probe the assumptions surrounding the adoption of open offices and the hope that this set-up will foster collaboration. They discover that in fact individuals decide when and how they are available for interaction and use social cues to establish boundaries. At the same time, companies could determine actual patterns of interaction, an anatomy of collaboration, with the help of data gleaned from digital ‘breadcrumbs’ collected by sensors, email systems, enterprise software. Deciding how to use this data to encourage collaboration also requires taking into account the nature of the tasks and the relationships between productivity and interactions within and between teams. They report results from a wide range of experiments carried out by companies such as Mori (Japan), GlaxoSmithKline, and others, including several Fortune 500 companies.

10. Scott D. Anthony, Paul Cobban, Rahul Nair and Natalie Painchaud, Breaking down the barriers to innovation

This article is an extended case study of DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, which implemented a programme of change that led to its transformation into an agile technology company. It shows how behavioural enablers, artifacts and nudges (BEANs) can stimulate innovation by neutralising entrenched, perhaps outdated habits. In general, successful interventions are simple, fun, trackable, practical and reinforced. Moreover, their effectiveness depends on how sensitively they take into account the organisational context. To begin with, the process for devising interventions would specify the desired characteristics and identify blockers. It would then create BEANs that address the blockers, which in the case of DBS included awareness of context, lack of voice and lack of time.

11. Thomas J. Parenty and Jack J. Domet, Sizing up your cyber risks

Rather than creating general plans dealing with all types of cyber risk, Parenty and Domet suggest that the better approach is to start with a clear view of how the way you do business creates vulnerabilities. Thus, to create a cyber threat narrative specific to your company, shift the focus from software to operations, eliciting contributions from leaderships, operations, IT systems and relevant specialists. Further, it is important to consider concretely the likely types of attacks and consequences as well as likely cyber adversaries. A few examples and the case study of an attack on the water and sewage system of a shire in Australia bring this methodology to life.

12. Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular, The leader as coach

Leading, managing, coaching may have been understood traditionally as distinct activities, but increasingly a successful blend of these has become necessary to deal with higher levels of complexity, uncertainty and speed of change. Ibarra and Scoular argue that adding a coaching perspective can enable leaders/managers to get the best out of their people and themselves, but it requires a degree of humility about one’s own ability and competence as well as willingness to learn. They identify four different styles of coaching, with varying degrees of involvement and direction and describe in some detail the GROW model before addressing the wider organisational issues involved in making coaching into an organizational capacity. The article offers tips and examples, including the cultural change at Microsoft, under Satya Nadella, on how to make the case for coaching, model the behaviour, remove barriers and build capability throughout the organization.

13. Geoff Donaker, Hyunjin Kim and Michael Luca, Designing better online review systems

Trust in online review systems, increasingly a common element in purchasing decisions, can be difficult to create and sustain. Donaker et al. draw on recent data and experiments to offer advice on how to deal with three common issue areas: not enough reviews, selection bias and fraudulent and strategic reviews. To counter a paucity of reviews, especially at the beginning, platforms may seed reviews, offer incentives, or pool products. To counter the bias created by the self-selection of reviewers, it could be useful to require reviews, allow private comments, and use prompts. If the problems escalate, it might be necessary to set rules for reviewers and use moderators. Discussion of examples illuminates the strengths and limitations of such design choices.

14. Sally Blount and Paul Leinwand, Why are we here?

Articulating and following through consistently on purpose is an objective that companies find easy to embrace in principle and difficult to implement well in practice. Blount and Leinward offer a discussion of the role a statement of purpose could play in this process and articulate the specific questions such a statement would have to answer. Perhaps even more importantly, they articulate clearly what it takes to follow through consistently, to ensure that organisational processes and behaviours back the statement up fully, including in hiring, breaking down of silos, investment in purpose and effective modelling by leaders.

15. Erik Brynjolfsson and Avinash Collis, How should we measure the digital economy?

Erik Brynjolfsson and Avinash Collis offer a solution to a large problem that could have important implications for macro-economic policies on taxation and spending, the measurement of the digital economy. They report on experiments and procedures that might help governments put a number on the economic value created by platforms through their nominally free services. Added to the GDP, this GDP-B value could give policy makers and citizens a more realistic view of the size of the economy and the scope for public policy intervention.


16. Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo, How the best bosses interrupt bias on their teams

Attacking bias directly can make people more defensive, more cautious in covering their tracks, allowing structural inequality to continue. Williams and Mihaylo suggest that instead we start by recognising that bias manifests in day-to-day work interactions in often subtle ways: members of some groups are expected to prove themselves more, are allowed a narrower range of behaviours and can be pitted against each other because they follow different paths to assimilation. These often unspoken pressures can distort hiring, day-to-day managing and talent development. In all three areas, the article shows how bias can be pre-empted by being outspoken and clear about the criteria used for evaluation, by favouring objective and measurable performance indicators and by being inclusive, transparent and fair in allocating work and resources.

17. Simon Greathead, Case study: Did we expand too quickly?

This is a case study of a climbing gym chain. Successfully set-up in several cities in the US, the gym climbing model was then tried out in new markets including Singapore, UK and the Netherlands, encountering varying degrees of resistance and push-back in each location. The executives of the chain discuss the pros and cons of expansion and consolidation, with added comments from experts and members of the HBR community.

18. Eben Harrell, Persuasion – and resistance

Harrell dives into six recent books that explore the processes behind influence and resistance and offer advice for enhanced effectiveness, in either direction, ranging from attention to context, projection of confidence, the power of ethical commitment and story-telling.

19. Alison Beard, Life’s work: An interview with Julia Gillard

Gillard, a former prime-minister of Australia between 2010 and 2013 shares her insight about the struggle to make bureaucracies prioritize around a particular political agenda, forming alliances, speaking out on sexism. How did she cope with the pressure? She says: “by working on my own sense of self. I couldn’t feel good or bad depending on the headlines… It takes discipline and resilience, but I believe those are muscles. If you work them, they get stronger.”