How Companies Get Creativity Right (and Wrong)

Beth Comstock, the first female vice chair at General Electric, thinks companies large and small often approach innovation the wrong way. They either try to throw money at the problem before it has a clear market, misallocate resources, or don’t get buy in from senior leaders to enact real change. Comstock spent many years at GE – under both Jack Welsh’s and Jeffrey Immelt’s leadership – before leaving the company late last year. She’s the author of the book Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change.

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Is Office Politics a White Man’s Game?

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Love it or hate it, office politics is an inevitable part of organizational life. Many people associate political behavior with backstabbing and manipulation — but there is a constructive side to being politically savvy. Being able to negotiate, influence, engage, convince, and persuade others is how things get done in organizations — and how organizations decide what’s worth doing at all. Developing political skill reduces stress and enhances performance, reputation, promotability, and career progression at work. A 2008 survey of 250 managers in the UK revealed that 90% of them believed that political skill is required to succeed and to improve one’s career prospects. This has been further supported by numerous research studies that make the case for engaging in office politics. While the link between political skill and career success is firmly established, there is a problem: Office politics doesn’t work for everyone in the same way.

Although current

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Give Your Team the Freedom to Do the Work They Think Matters Most

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Since at least the time of Frederick Taylor, the father of “scientific management,” control has been central to corporate organization: Control of costs, of prices, of investment and—not least—of people.

Control, even a perception of it, can be comforting. Moreover, it feels like what a manager should be doing: Setting targets, monitoring adherence to procedures, directing, shaping the future of the business. Control feels essential—especially if you are the boss.

Except it turns out that far from being vital, top-down control carries serious costs, many of which have been hiding in plain sight. What is more, there is an alternative. And not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy conjured up on a whiteboard, but a real, working alternative. It has been practiced to varying degrees in companies around the world for decades. And in France in particular, it is taking on the character of a movement. Companies as

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Why Bcc-ing the Boss Is a Bad Practice

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Imagine you’re drafting an email about a sensitive project when you realize you need to keep your supervisor in the loop. You decide to Bcc her on the email. Later, the rest of the team finds out. How does this make them feel?

Email continues to be one of the most common ways people communicate at work — and one of the most common ways people miscommunicate at work. The Cc and Bcc functions can corrode trust and cloud intentions. To explore how senders and recipients interpret the use of these tools, we conducted a series of five experimental studies in which a total of 694 working adults participated.

In our first study, we wanted to explore how people perceive the use of Bcc relative to the use of Cc. We invited working adults (75 females and 41 males; average work experience of 10.75 years) via

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How to Motivate Frontline Employees

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One question that has long plagued organizations is how to improve performance among frontline workers, the people who actually drive customer experience. Our work with hundreds of companies offers a clear and simple answer.

To show how it works, we’ll walk you through an example. In 2016 the leadership team of a national retail organization asked us to help boost their frontline performance. They wanted to improve revenue, cost, risk, and customer satisfaction all at the same time. (They reached out to us because we wrote a book describing how these performance outcomes would be improved with an operating model that increases motivation.)

We’ve written before that why people work determines how well they work — that someone’s motive for doing a task determines their performance. Our work has shown that if a person’s motive is play (for example, excitement from novelty, curiosity, experimentation), purpose (the work

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How Discrimination Against Female Doctors Hurts Patients

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In August 2018 officials from Tokyo Medical University admitted to systematically altering medical school admission test scores to disadvantage female applicants. Since 2006 the university had been subtracting points from all exam scores, then adding up to 20 points to those of male applicants, with the explicit goal of reducing the percentage of women entering medical school. (The percentage of enrollees who were women had reached 40% in 2010, and now stands at approximately 30%.)

This systematic discrimination against female medical school applicants is not only sexist and scandalous in its own right — not to mention devastating for the women denied access to the profession they desired — but it constitutes a potential threat to patient safety and public health.

Accumulating evidence shows that women deliver superior care. For example, one study of over 1.5 million Medicare patients found that those who were treated by a

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4 Ways to Create a Learning Culture on Your Team

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Technology is disrupting every industry and area of life, and work is no exception. One of the main career implications of the digital revolution is a shift in demand for human expertise. For instance, LinkedIn’s talent research shows that half of today’s most in-demand skills weren’t even on the list three years ago.

As a result, there is now a premium on intellectual curiosity and learnability, the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable. What you know is less relevant than what you may learn, and knowing the answer to questions is less critical than having the ability to ask the right questions in the first place. Unsurprisingly, employers such as Google, American Express, and Bridgewater Associates make learning an integral part of their talent management systems. As a Bersin report pointed out: “The single biggest driver of business

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To Overcome Your Insecurity, Recognize Where It Really Comes From

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Raymond closed down. Sandra snapped. They both had solid records and promising career prospects, and yet they felt that something was not working. Their bosses, colleagues, friends could tell too, but they were equally puzzled. How could someone so talented get so lost, or lose it, in seemingly trivial discussions, for no obvious reason?

The answer is deceptively simple and widespread: insecurity at work. The nagging worry that we are not quite as smart, informed, or competent as we ought to be, or as others might think. The fear that we are not good enough, or simply not enough. The second thoughts about our ideas, observations, and even about our feelings. The constant concern about being judged.

Feelings of insecurity leave us overdependent on external factors — admiration, praise, promotions. But even then, the feeling of achievement is generally temporary. Soon after, we turn inward, digging inside

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Getting Doctors to Make Better Decisions Will Take More than Money and Nudges

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Research has repeatedly shown that U.S. patients receive recommended care only half of the time. It is also known that patients receive non-recommended or “low-value” care as much as 20% of the time. Despite the proliferation of evidence-based guidelines to improve clinicians’ practice patterns, clinicians often don’t respond to them. So healthcare leaders have long wondered: what’s the best way to change clinicians’ behavior and improve their quality and efficiency of care?

In recent years, there has been a lot of enthusiasm about approaches like financial incentives and behavioral “nudges” to help clinicians offer more evidence-based care. But clinical decision-making is far too complex to be consistently improved by applying these frameworks. When it comes to changing clinician behavior, leaders have to think more broadly about the local organizational culture clinicians work in.

What the Research Says

Let’s first look at financial incentives. Pay-for-performance (P4P),

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Research: How Sexual Harassment Affects a Company’s Public Image

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The wave of sexual harassment reports in recent months has resulted in the dethroning of high-profile men in media and entertainment, sports, business, and politics. At the same time, social media, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, have made public conversation about the issue hyper visible and easier to organize — as was the case for the #MeToo movement.

Unsurprisingly, companies are now frantically reevaluating their anti-harassment policies and introducing mandatory trainings — in part to prevent sexual harassment and subsequent public backlash, at any cost.  But what can research tell us about the general public’s responses to sexual harassment claims? How do sexual harassment claims shape perceptions of organizational gender equity broadly? How do sexual harassment claims differ from claims about other forms of misconduct, such as financial fraud? We sought to answer these questions in a series of experiments, with approximately 1,500 participants in the

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How to Make Sure Good Ideas Don’t Get Lost in the Shuffle

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Justin Tierney/EyeEm/Getty Images

In 2007 Joseph Golan, a division leader at Elop, an Israeli electro-optics company, faced a challenge.

As an experienced manager, he knew that his manufacturing and operation division’s success depended on getting creative ideas from his employees. But he also realized that the existing system was not working as needed. Only a relatively small group of employees submitted ideas through the system, which required them to prove the economic advantage of their ideas through a lengthy and complicated process. Over time, employees learned that developing and submitting new ideas was not worth the effort.

Over the past three decades, we have researched how leaders motivate their employees to come up with creative solutions to organizational problems. We’ve studied stereotypically “creative” firms, like design, R&D, and information technology companies, but we’ve also researched stereotypically “uncreative” environments, like Golan’s manufacturing plant at Elop (which is part of Elbit ISTAR). As you

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5 Practical Ways to Engage a Geographically Distributed Workforce – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM DATASTAX

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Like many technology companies, DataStax competes with some of the world’s largest enterprises for top talent. We’ve come to realize that much of that talent is located outside of Silicon Valley, and even outside of the typical urban areas where a company might naturally look for new talent.

Over the past seven years as CEO of DataStax, I’ve worked hard to understand the best ways to foster collaboration and leverage the talent of a distributed workforce. Below are the five steps that we believe companies must take to ensure that their teams can thrive and have a sense of belonging despite being geographically distributed.

1. Name It

If you want a distributed culture, it’s not going to happen by accident. The first step in being successful is to be intentional, and that means boldly declaring that you are a “distributed company.” Sounds trivial, right?

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Why Great Employees Leave “Great Cultures”

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“We have a great culture.” We have all heard it. We have all said it. But what does that mean?

Ping-Pong tables, free meals, and beer on tap? No.

Yoga, CrossFit classes, and massage chairs? I so need that, but no.

The promise of being part of a hip, equity-incentivized, fast growing team? Closer, but still no.

Culture is often referred to as “the way things are done around here.” But to be useful, we need to get more specific than that. I’ve been working in HR for over twenty years, and the best companies I’ve worked with have recognized that there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values. A great culture is what you get when all three of these are aligned, and line up with the organization’s espoused values. When gaps start

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Toxic Workplaces

If your workplace is toxic, can you change it? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Nicholas Pearce, an associate professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. They talk through how to transform a toxic culture, whether you’re a junior employee, a manager, or in charge.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale by David Novak — “One question I loved to ask is, ‘What would you do if you had my job?’ Maybe the response will be a useful suggestion, in which case you should

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How One Hospital Improved Patient Handoffs for the Long Term

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Janis Christie/Getty Images

Roughly 80% of serious medical errors (now the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer) can be traced to poor communication between care providers during patient handoffs, according to a 2012 Joint Commission report. This makes patient handoffs the most frequent and riskiest procedure in the hospital.

Despite the development of numerous techniques and tools to structure patient handoffs and improve the transfer of communication, we haven’t seen much improvement in reducing medical errors. The problem is two-fold: first, hospital administrators and managers struggle to effectively implement these tools. Second, they struggle to sustain change that’s made.

The perioperative unit at Midland Memorial Hospital (MMH) in Texas was in precisely that situation. Leaders noticed that the majority of patient handoffs had some level of missing information. While missing information was often not critically important or time-sensitive (e.g., patient

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Leaders, Stop Avoiding Hard Decisions

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HBR Staff

Too many leaders avoid making tough calls. In an effort not to upset others or lose status in the eyes of their followers, they concoct sophisticated justifications for putting off difficult decisions, and the delay often does far more damage than whatever fallout they were trying to avoid. In fact, hard decisions often get more complicated when they’re deferred. And as a leader gets more senior, the need to make hard calls only intensifies. In our ten-year longitudinal study of more than 2,700 leaders, 57% percent of newly appointed executives said that decisions were more complicated and difficult than they expected.

In my 30 years working with executives, I’ve heard leaders commonly use three rationalizations for putting off difficult decisions. By understanding the consequences of these excuses, you can work to avoid them.

“I’m being considerate of others.” For some leaders, the thought of estranging those they lead

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How to Establish Values on a Small Team

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When Tony Hsieh, founder of  Zappos, was asked what he’d do differently if he could restart his company from scratch, he responded with this: “If I could go back and do Zappos all over again I would actually come up with our values from day one.”

Developing your corporate values early in your company’s history can have a lasting and positive effect on your organization and its culture, and it’s easier to do when your team is small. After all, it’s much easier to steer a four-person speedboat than a 2,000-person cruise ship. Once your team grows larger, it may be challenging to reach consensus around what your values should be.

I’ve worked with a handful of small organizations as they’ve established the cultural tenets of their business — most recently, I went through the process of developing corporate values at my own tech startup. When

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You Don’t Have to Choose Between Fast, Cheap or Good. Instead, Change the Paradigm. – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM PWC

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How many times have you heard an executive assign familiar aphorisms to business challenges–and you just know it’s a means to justify bad behavior? They might say “business isn’t personal” as an excuse for sub-par treatment of others. Executives demand that employees “do more with less,” but then don’t allow people to focus on less. But the worst of them is one so many leaders seem to cling to: “Make a choice between fast, cheap or good.”

Old-school rhetoric like this produces the wrong answers and leads to more problems. Worse, for digital companies, it’s a practice that will keep the business and its people from truly transforming and competing.

The focus of an organization’s leaders can no longer center around compromising two out of three values. Instead, companies should focus on optimizing all of them. You can achieve all three when you’re working in the right ways

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Emergency Responders and the Dangers of “Masculinity Contests”

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Petr Svarc/Getty Images

During the horrific school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, one of the sheriff’s deputies on the scene did not enter the building to confront the attacker. The internet, Parkland officials, and politicians reacted swiftly. The deputy was criticized by his boss for his supposed inaction and was called a “coward” by the president of the United States.

The use of this specific word was not accidental. More than just failing to act as a first responder, “coward” implies a much greater transgression: failing to act as a man. As Alex Kingsbury writes in the Boston Globe, it plays into a timeless American narrative: “the idea that real men dispatch bad men with a pull of the trigger.” Because the bonafide requirements of first responders’ jobs closely align with traditional ideals of heroic manhood (“strong,” “brave,” “risk-taking”)—ideals deeply rooted in culture and psychology—men in

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Emergency Responders and the Dangers of “Masculinity Contests”

mar18-23-200335413-001-Petr-Svarc
Petr Svarc/Getty Images

During the horrific school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, one of the sheriff’s deputies on the scene did not enter the building to confront the attacker. The internet, Parkland officials, and politicians reacted swiftly. The deputy was criticized by his boss for his supposed inaction and was called a “coward” by the president of the United States.

The use of this specific word was not accidental. More than just failing to act as a first responder, “coward” implies a much greater transgression: failing to act as a man. As Alex Kingsbury writes in the Boston Globe, it plays into a timeless American narrative: “the idea that real men dispatch bad men with a pull of the trigger.” Because the bonafide requirements of first responders’ jobs closely align with traditional ideals of heroic manhood (“strong,” “brave,” “risk-taking”) — ideals deeply rooted in culture and psychology

Continue reading "Emergency Responders and the Dangers of “Masculinity Contests”"