HBR Sept/Oct 2022: Choosing the right platform for your brand

Harvard Business Review

September/October 2022

Annotated table of contents

  1. Adi Ignatius, Antidotes to cynicism

Adi Ignatius, the editor in chief of HBR, highlights the feature article on cynicism in this issue and recalls recent articles on the broader topic of conflict in the workplace.

Idea watch

2. HBR Team, Why your mentoring program should be mandatory

Recent experiments measuring the impact of mentoring on performance and retention of new hires at a calling centre show that mandating participation is more impactful than allowing self-selection. This suggests that people who most need support tend not seek mentoring on their own. The article discusses the potential relevance of these findings for the design of mentoring programs at calling centres and more broadly. In addition, Priya Priyadarshini, general manager of global talent at Microsoft describes the mentoring culture developed at the company, including employees at all levels of seniority and across different locales.   

3. Amy Meeker, To keep people from procrastinating, don’t give them a deadline

Meeker interviews Maroš Servátka about his research with colleagues on response rates to online surveys. Promising a reward of a small donation to charity, the three versions of the email request varied by giving one week, one month or no deadline for the response. The no-deadline request received most responses (8.3%), followed by the tight one-week deadline (6.6%); the one-month deadline elicited least responses (5.5%). Communicating urgency implicitly by avoiding specifying a deadline has been the most effective tactic in this case, while a tight deadline led to prompt action, reducing the tendency to procrastinate.

4. Andrea Illy, the Chair of Illycaffe, on creating virtuous agricultural eco-systems

Illy is a third-generation family business established in 1933. Led by Andrea Illy, it remains influenced by its ascetic, Waldesian values where what you achieve and how you do it are equally important. Andrea explains the challenges confronted by his grandfather and by his father, from establishing a viable business model to supply coffee for public establishments, to innovating methods of packaging and brewing, developing a chain of own cafes, and establishing deep relationships with coffee growers to ensure greater quality and productivity. The effects of climate change are already visible, and Andrea Illy and his company are active participants in global efforts to anticipate and adapt, from migrating the cultivation of coffee to new geographies to developing more resilient grains.  

Spotlight: Choosing the right platform for your brand

5. Ayelet Israeli, Leonard A. Schlesinger, Matt Higgins, and Sabir Semerkant, Should your company sell on Amazon?

This article discusses the many factors that can impact performance when brands choose to sell on Amazon. It presents a scorecard including nine criteria and related scoring protocols: product restrictions; customisation and personalisation; shipping, storage and handling; product category; brand position; customer data; gross profit margin; distribution; and brand enforcement and control. For the brands that do sell on Amazon, the authors provide several recommendations for increasing the odds of success.

6. Julian R.K. Wichmann, Nico Wiegand, and Werner J. Reinartz, Building your own brand platform 

Wichmann et al. investigate the experience of brands that built platforms of their own, combining how participants create value among themselves (crowdsourcing) and how they provide value to the platform and to other participants through products, services and content (crowdsending). They define four types of platform: as an instrument, with ad-hoc participation by members; as a guide, in which expertise and content is provided by the company and other third-parties; as a canvas, in which the participants exchange information and ideas mostly among themselves; and as a companion in which both crowdsourcing and crowsending are strong. Each type has a particular balance of opportunities and risks which are discussed through typical examples, such as Philips Sonicare, Mars Whistle, Lego Ideas and Bosch DIY & Garden.   

7. Thomas S. Robertson, Selling on TikTok and Taobao

Robertson discusses current experience with livestreaming commerce, which is highly developed in the Chinese markets reaching $200 bn in sales in 2020. In the USA this sales method generated $6 bn in 2020 and $11 billion in 2021. Livestreaming is a reinvention of shopping cable channels for the internet era, benefitting from the increasing popularity of video and the ubiquity of platforms such as TikTok and YouTube. Companies have much to gain from livestreaming, including immediate sales, developing new consumer segments, introducing new products while educating consumers and generating buzz. Further, the article provides a guide for companies adopting livestreaming, looking at integration with the marketing strategy, the selection of platforms and influencers, and measurement and evaluation.


8. Michael Mankins and Mark Gottfredson, Strategy-making in turbulent times

Conventional approaches to strategy-making typically focus on defining a likely future state and the necessary steps for reaching it over time. However, increasingly, the large number of interacting factors that would need to be considered has meant that such an approach is both too difficult to implement and prone to error. Instead, Mankins and Gottfredson propose that companies define a set of extreme but plausible scenarios for the future and use them as reference points to navigate from the current position, constantly adjusting along the way to find new ways to compete and win in changing circumstances. Such scenarios will allow companies to identify ‘no regret’ moves and strategic hedges and options to stay flexible, to design experiments, and to determine trigger points for certain actions, signposts, and metrics as well as prescriptive surveillance. Companies from the energy, auto, entertainment and high-tech sectors serve to illustrate these arguments.

9. Jamil Zaki, Don’t let cynicism undermine your workplace

General and workplace surveys suggest that a majority of people believe that cynicism prevails at work and in society and politics. As Zaki explains, a few mechanisms deeply rooted in human nature and psychology contribute to create cynicism traps: the inclination for our cheater detectors to play safe and overestimate the dangers coming from others’ selfishness, greed, and dishonesty; the tendency to use pre-emptive strikes, starting a negative cycle of retaliation and cruelty; and the belief that cynics are more likely to win and thus are smarter than others. Within the workplace, zero-sum leadership and micromanaging can exacerbate such tendencies, creating and sustaining cynicism. However, there is nothing inevitable about these processes. Recognising that individuals and organizations thrive in a climate of trust and collaboration, Zaki describes behaviours that can reverse cynicism, redirecting the culture, modelling trust and teaching anti cynicism.

10. Tina Opie and Beth A. Livingstone, Dig, bridge, collectively act

Opie and Livingstone draw on their work with large and medium organisations and with individuals to describe how action at the individual level can help tackle systemic discrimination. They recommend starting with personal work that uncovers how our identities – in terms of gender, race, ethnicity – are structured by our social trajectories and circumstances. Grounded in such understanding, it is possible to establish genuine, authentic connections with others, to build bridges and gradually create the basis for collective action for social change.

11. Keith Ferrazzi, A new social contract for teams

Ferrazzi discusses in detail the case study of cultural change at NI, a Texas-based engineering firm, to illustrate his approach to building productive team behaviours. To achieve buy-in across the organisation, Ferrazzi recommends the use of a diagnostic tool, with a series of probing questions that can surface prevalent features of how teams are functioning now. Upon collective reflection and discussion, the teams can determine desirable behaviours that have most impact on effectiveness. These might include collaborative problem solving; bullet-proofing of initiatives through thorough consultation before they are finalised; candor; and open, 360-degree reviews. The article contains detailed suggestions for cultivating such behaviours.  

12. Alexandra Kalev and Frank Dobbin, The surprising benefits of work/life support

Kalev and Dobbin have surveyed 829 US firms and their workforce composition data to determine the impact and effectiveness of policies such as flexitime, 12 weeks of parental leave, and childcare support. They have found that while white women benefit from some of these, the main beneficiaries are people of colour – black, Hispanic, Asian – of both genders, and the support they receive is reflected in their greater numbers in the managerial ranks. This data also shows that effective flexitime policies are inclusive of everyone; they are explicit and supported by good scheduling processes and commitment from managers. The availability of family leave also influences company performance through higher productivity and retention. Even a minimal level of childcare support, through referral services, has a positive impact on DEI, but a combination of vouchers for childcare and company childcare centres would be most effective, with the possibility of recovering some costs via tax reductions.

13. Prabhakant Sinha, Dharmendra Sahay, Arun Shastri, and Sally E. Lorimer, How to digitalize your sales organization

Making full use of technology, data and analytics to design business processes is still in its infancy at many companies. For the sales function, creating comprehensive solutions to customer needs requires that the customer data normally available in different departments is pooled and analysed to generate actionable insights, freeing up sales reps to spend more time with customers, converting leads into opportunities. Based on the successful experience of several companies, such as Microsoft and UCB (pharma), this article offers a comprehensive overview of how the digitalisation of sales can be accomplished. This covers five areas – leadership, accountability, team makeup, agile approach and change management – and three stages: preparing the organization, implementing the digitalization initiative, and ensuring sustainability.

14. Heidi K. Gardner and Ivan Matviak, Performance management shouldn’t kill collaboration

Performance metrics are powerful tools with a large impact on the motivation, behaviours and outcomes of individuals, teams, and organisations. In this article, Gardner and Matviak suggest that to align the organisation around common, cross-silo goals, teams and functions should include such goals in their performance scorecard. In their view, this component should weigh as much as 40% of performance evaluation, with the reminder spread between team goals (30%), individuals goals (15%) and participation in long range programs (15%). The article illustrates the transformative effectiveness of introducing such a well-designed performance scorecard at a maker of marketing analytics software and other companies, where the sales, implementation and client services departments achieved high levels of collaboration, leading to increased sales and client satisfaction.

15. Mark R. Kramer and Marc W. Pfitzer, The essential link between ESG targets & financial performance

Kramer and Pfitzer offer a six-step guide for companies interested to make sustainability an essential component of their corporate strategy. They should start by identifying the ESG factors material to performance, building on existing international expertise in this area to articulate and implement a strategy, rather than merely building reporting processes. Further, product design, product access and operational footprint should also be evaluated taking account of ESG factors.  Through collaborative solutions, it might be possible to avoid trade-offs between profit and societal benefit. Having reshaped the strategy, companies then need to redefine key roles and communicate effectively with investors to maintain their support. Examples of successful practice are drawn from several Fortune 100 companies including Enel, BoKlok, Nestlé and Mars Wrigley.


16. Amy Gallo, How to navigate conflict with a co-worker

Gallo distils seven rules of thumb for approaching relationships with co-workers, especially when they are difficult. She encourages firm grounding in a realistic view of yourself and the workplace, accepting that your perspective is one among many and you may be biased like everyone else. Strategically, avoid polarization of positions and seek a middle-ground solution. To work out the trade-offs, it is important to keep in mind your own realistic goals. Further, Gallo recommends finding a way to share insight and observations about colleagues without too much recourse to venting or gossip. Social situations are typically more fluid than at first thought, so it makes sense to try to experiment with different behaviours and to be and stay curious about the possibilities of positive change.

17. Jon M. Jachimowicz and Francesca Gino, What is the right career move after a public failure?

A former CEO of a fitness company, who has had to take the fall after an unexpected decline in revenue, contemplates her next move in conversations with family and friends, long term mentors and colleagues. Should she try to secure another CEO job now? Should she remain in the sector, and perhaps rebuild her career from a lower level of seniority?

18. Dagny Dukach, Understanding the rise of tech in China

Dukach discusses five new books dealing with aspects of the rise of digital capitalism in China, focusing on companies (such as Tencent) or sectors (Finance, AI, chips) as well as the geopolitical implications of rivalry with the USA. Clearly, the rise of tech in China is immensely consequential for the world and demands careful, nuanced examination and understanding.

19. Alison Beard, Life’s work interview with Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice, who set multiple records during his career as a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, winning three Super Bowls with the team, speaks to Beard about his approach to teamwork and the values and beliefs that have kept him going through the highs and lows of his career in professional football and beyond. A strong work ethic, being able to accept feed-back and adjust, solidarity with the team and camaraderie stand out.