HBR Sept/Oct 2019: Power couples

Harvard Business Review
September/October 2019
Annotated table of contents

1. Adi Ignatius, The tyranny of numbers

Adi Ignatius, editor in chief of HBR, highlights the feature article on misleading metrics and the danger they can represent for companies.

Idea watch

2. HBR Team, The #MeToo backlash

Definitions of sexual harassment in the work place are equally well understood by men and women, according to new research on the impact of the #MeToo movement. However, this clarity has not prevented an increase in fear of wrong accusations and defensive behaviours that try to eliminate any gendered ambiguity in social interactions. Unfortunately, excluding women from the workplace by not hiring them, especially if they are attractive, or not including them in certain work activities have become more acceptable. The fact that women are now coming forward about sexual harassment more has in other words led many men to blame them for the problem of sexual harassment in the work place.

3. Alison Beard, Experience doesn’t predict a new hire’s success

Beard interviews Chad H. Van Iddekinge of Florida State University about the results of his research indicating that a new hire’s success is not reliably predicted by her prior work experience. While previous experience might influence performance in the first few months after taking a new job, the effect wears off in time. This finding contradicts the common sense expectation that experience is crucial to performance, which informs hiring practices at many companies. The research investigated front line workers in 15 out of 23 job categories in the US and found that measures of experience tend to be quantitative – time spent in particular roles – rather than qualitative. The research suggests that robust hiring processes should probe more deeply to determine how experience has translated in problem-solving capability.

4. Dani Reiss, the CEO of Canada Goose, on creating a home grown luxury brand

Reiss explains his commitment to link the brand identity of Canada Goose to local production, and labour, quality and environmental standards. Despite high cost pressures, Reiss finds the resulting control over the integrity of the brand has many benefits, offering customers a reliable experience and allowing the company to develop roots in the community by investing in skilling the workforce. This strategy has also allowed Canada Goose to ‘swim upstream’, opening its own stores in Toronto and New York City, cementing relationships with loyal customers and finding new ones.

Spotlight: Power couples

5. Jennifer Petriglieri, How dual-career couples make it work

Petriglieri has conducted intensive interviews with 113 dual-career couples around the world, of different ages and at different stages in their relationship. In this article she maps the main stages in the evolution of a couple, identifying three transitions, broadly corresponding to the life cycle, from (youthful) coming together, to the middle-age need for reinvention and to embracing loss and opportunity later in life. As well as illuminating the challenges specific to each of these transitions, with the use of examples and case studies, Petriglieri offers a guide to couple contracting which includes discussion and agreement around values, boundaries and fears.

6. HBR Team, One couple’s perspective

Tamar Dane Dor-Ner (42) and Dan Krockmalnic (39) are a Boston-based dual-career couple, with jobs at Bain and the Boston Globe, who have two boys (8 and 6 years old). In this interview, they share their practical take on juggling the priorities of family and profession. Able to hire help, they have an au pair and a house manager, Tamar and Dan are well balanced, avoiding excessive investment in each other’s job and providing support as needed.

7. Jane Edison Stevenson, The spouse factor

Stevenson is a recruiter for global companies who has had the experience of changing roles in her own marriage and profession. Here she distils her insights about the factors that account for success in marriages where at least one of the partners has a global career requiring relocation. Children and spouses are often crucial in determining the ability to move for a job. In research carried out by Korn Ferry, one of the most striking conclusions was the importance of strong spousal support for male CEOs and for women who aspire to top jobs.

8. Ania G. Wieckowski, Living apart for work

Wieckowski interviews Danielle Lindemann, author of Commuter Spouses, about her research on couples who live apart for work. For people in certain lines of work, often those requiring graduate education, living apart is an accepted part of the process of securing a foothold in the profession. For younger couples who interact frequently, the chances that the relationship will survive seem robust. Aiming to live together again, taking advantage of the upsides of the temporary separation and accepting the need for a transition to readjust to living together again also contribute to a positive experience.


9. Michael Harris and Bill Tayler, Don’t let metrics undermine your business

Harris and Tayler discuss here the concept of surrogation, the tendency to treat metrics as though they are identical with the reality they purportedly measure, thus allowing metrics to substitute for strategy. All metrics are inherently imperfect approximations of complex, interacting phenomena. But when they are adopted as proxies for these phenomena, their relative aspect falls into the background and can be forgotten. By no means unusual in business, surrogation is illustrated through a discussion of the recent problems at Wells Fargo when enhanced client relationships became fraudulent account creation and other examples. The article also identifies the circumstances when surrogation is more likely to occur and suggests remedies.

10. Thomas W. Malnight, Ivy Buche and Charles Dhanaraj, Put purpose at the core of your strategy

What strategies do high growth companies pursue? What accounts for their rapid expansion? This article suggests that high growth is often the result of a focus on purpose, which allows companies to reconfigure their assets and orient their activities along two major dimensions. Companies use purpose to redefine the playing field as an eco-system in which they can tap into novel and unexpected opportunities. Equally, purpose can help companies reformulate their value proposition to respond to trends, building on the trust within their networks and understanding anew the customer pain points. Moreover, there are soft side benefits to focusing on purpose and the authors offer advice on how to develop and implement a purpose-driven strategy. They draw on examples from in-depth interviews with executives at 28 companies in the US, Europe and India.

11. Bart de Langhe and Philip Fernback, The dangers of categorical thinking

As necessary as sorting things and phenomena into categories is, providing us with a sense of order and structure and saving mental labour, its dangers are also apparent, especially when we lose sight of the process by which categories are created. De Langhe and Fernback help guard against this possibility by recalling the often arbitrary aspects of our category-making. They discuss the temptations to compress differences within categories, to amplify those between them, to create hierarchies and discriminate and to become unable to think anew, innovatively, when categories fossilise. For instance, the target customer might well be a myth; groups may be assumed to be more homogeneous than they are; statistical significance can be taken for granted; and all manner of data, including net promoter scores and correlations might be interpreted through distorting lenses. To counter these dangers, the authors propose a four-step process, including increased awareness, continuous data analysis, audits of decision criteria and regular ‘de-fossilization’ sessions.

12. J. Stewart Black and Allen J. Morrison, Can China avoid a growth crisis?

Economic growth normally depends on increases in productivity and population. In China, the advantages of starting from a low developmental level, with easily available opportunities for productivity gains and a large rural population, are now exhausted. As a result, the ability to maintain the high levels of growth of the last four decades might now depend on encouraging innovation and competitiveness among the leading Chinese firms, through the globalisation of their cultures and strategies. This is likely to be a long and arduous process, however, as Chinese companies tend to be overconfident and homogenous in terms of personnel and funding sources. Nonetheless, building global leadership capabilities should be possible through appropriate investment, adopting a posture of respect for other business cultures, promoting in-patriation and expatriation, and encouraging innovation outside China.

13. Heidi K. Gardner and Randall S. Peterson, Back channels in the boardroom

Running boards effectively is a high stakes endeavour with large consequences for the well-being of companies. It is also an art involving a delicate balance between interests, frank discussion, expertise and confidentiality. Gardner and Peterson elucidate the many perils of side-conversations between board members as these often rely on incomplete information, spread and intensify biases and undermine trust by leaving some colleagues out. Nonetheless, board side-conversations could become a source of strength for a company when managed well. This requires attention to preparation, the protection of trust during side-conversations and appropriate follow-up once they have occurred. The authors offer suggestions for how to achieve this and examples of good practice.

14. David Frydlinger, Oliver Hart and Kate Vitasek, A new approach to contracts

Corporate relationships might well have moved far beyond the old clarity and grace of the handshake as the moment when trust is established and all is (implicitly) agreed. Nonetheless, this article shows that contracting need not be a dry attempt to stipulate all eventualities and guard against liability under any circumstances. Discussing in detail the example of Vancouver Island Health Authority and South Islands Hospitalists, users and providers of medical services, the authors demonstrate how a formal relational contract could offer both the clarity and precision of legal enforceability and the foundation of trust and shared values that allows partners to resolve complex unexpected problems to mutual advantage. This requires a shared vision, common guiding principles and alignment of expectations and interests.

15. Michael G. Jacobides, In the ecosystem economy, what’s your strategy?

This article explores the implications of the fluid, changing nature of the economic environment for most companies, as regulatory protections are weakened, the conventional distinction between products and services loses its salience and technology is changing the relationship with customers. Jacobides argues that thinking in terms of eco-systems can help firms to position themselves in this landscape with more assuredness, depending on their answer to five guiding questions about the potential and interest in collaboration with other companies. In fact, offering alternative value propositions might become less important in the new economy than identifying new ways to collaborate and connect.

16. Matt Beane, Learning to work with intelligent machines

AI now provides solutions for many of the more repetitive and menial tasks that were once carried out by early-career professionals as part of their training. This article is based on research on the ad-hoc adaptations that have emerged to replace these more conventional opportunities to acquire and hone high-level specialist skills in medicine, policing, financial investing and others. They represent a form of rule-breaking ‘shadow learning’ that is yet to be fully understood, but it provides an important resource as organisations begin to rethink how they offer opportunities for on-the-job learning to their young professionals.


17. Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen van Oosten, Coaching for change

Intentional personal change is a time-consuming and difficult process. According to Boyatzis et al. it entails recognising the difference between the ideal and real self and fashioning a learning agenda to bridge the gap between the two. Nurturing the positive, focusing on existing strengths, passions and values are necessary starting points. Seeing things through requires support, a developmental network, experimentation and adoption of tactics and behaviours that work for you.

18. Sandeep Puri, Case study: Your star salesperson lied. Should he get a second chance?

When is a slip-up just a slip-up and when it threatens the integrity of the organisation? This case study of a sales person who falsified call sheets under pressure discusses the pros and cons of forgiveness as well as practical measures to prevent undesirable behaviours from taking root and becoming the norm.

19. JM Olerjarz, In praise of being unproductive

Olerjarz reviews three books that address the problem of productivity in the new context of the always-on attention economy. Being always connected is not the same as being productive, but negotiating one’s time away from continuous availability and tight responsiveness deadlines is by no means an easy matter.

20. Alison Beard, Life’s work: An interview with Daniel Boulud

Daniel Boulud is a French chef who has built a culinary empire comprising 16 ventures in the US. In this interview he explains how training under different chefs, in Lyon, Copenhagen and New York City allowed him to learn from their respective strengths and elaborates on the need for delegation, strong partnerships and trust, ambition and passion.