The Ideas that Shaped Management in 2013

photoIt’s always tempting at this time of year to try to make a definitive list of the best ideas from the past 12 months. But then we end up debating what counts as best — important? useful? original? all three? — and compiling extremely long lists, struggling to shorten them, and over-thinking it all, when the point should just be to gather some really good reading for you for any free time you happen to find over the holiday. So this year, instead, we thought about the pieces that most surprised us or provoked us to think differently about an intractable problem or perennial question in management, we reviewed the whole year of data to remind ourselves what our readers found most compelling, and we looked for patterns in the subjects our authors raised most frequently and independently of our editorial urging.  The result, I think, is a set of ideas that together are important, useful, and original, and that feel like quite an accurate account of the management concerns many of us shared in 2013.

Here’s the list.  See what you think:

1.  Leaning in will only get us so far.  If the workplace is going to work for women — and for families — men need to change, and so do our expectations of them.  Their tendency toward overconfidence is often mistaken for competence and rewarded with promotions, and their masculine identities require that they work too many hours and get too little sleep, putting extra pressure on women whose greater home- and kid-related responsibilities prevent them from competing on quantity.  The good news is that millennial men are changing the way they define leadership and demanding work that fits around their families.  And the seven policy changes Stew Friedman recommends would benefit all working Americans.  Note: the majority of the pieces below were written by men.

2.  If your knowledge-based industry hasn’t been disrupted yet, get ready. According to Clay Christensen and his coauthors Dina Wang and Derek van Bever, the strategy consulting industry is about to blow up the same way the legal world just did.  McKinsey may have been hired in 2013 by the Vatican, the Bank of England, and the owners of the Rangers and Knicks, but they’re also acting to stave off threats to their business model. Meanwhile, Michael Porter explains exactly how health care needs disrupting, professors from INSEAD and MIT debate the merits of the MOOCs that might upend higher education, and our own Sarah Green tells publishers to quit whining about disruption and start enjoying the innovation that goes along with it.

3.  The right kind of project management — and project manager — really matters.  It’s impossible to get through another sentence, of course, without mentioning Healthcare.gov, though it sounds like project management was only one of that initiative’s many management problems. But to be fair to the U.S. government, excellent project management is extremely rare.  Its practitioners are the modernization of the much-maligned yet depended-upon middle manager.  Research and examples published in HBR this year — including an account of a much more effective government agency’s approach to solving problems — prove how critical they are to innovation.

4.  The rest of us still have a lot to learn from Silicon Valley.  American tech entrepreneurs earned some bad press this year, but in HBR, they proved why more established firms should not stop watching them closely.  In “Why the Lean Start Up Changes Everything,” Steve Blank outlines how big companies including GE are adopting the minimal, iterative approach to nearly every aspect of launching new enterprises and how, if adopted more widely, lean start up methods could lead to a more entrepreneurial economy overall.  And the applicable lessons aren’t just about innovation — many of the best new ideas in people management, from hiring practices to leadership development, are emerging from places like LinkedIn, Google, and Netflix.

5.  Technology offers real hope for Africa’s economic future.  In a column in the March issue, Richard D’Aveni predicts that 3-D printing will precipitate China’s fall from manufacturing grace, sending economic power back to the West. Ed Bernstein and Tim Farrington from the Industrial Research Institute imagine the global realignment differently; they see Africa, with its valuable natural resources and a young and increasingly educated population, building an immense black market for 3-D printed goods and coming to dominate the global economy.  We also found seven other reasons Africa’s economy might leapfrog the economies of more developed nations.

6.  Being nice makes you a better leader and your company more profitable – new research proves it.  Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger answered Machiavelli’s question:  is it better to be loved or feared?  The best way to influence and lead others, they say, is to begin with warmth.  And that’s not all:  Generous behavior is associated with higher unit profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, along with lower costs and turnover rates.  The best leaders favor oxytocin and its effects over adrenaline and dopamine.  And rudeness in the workplace hurts the bottom line. Luckily, Susan David and Christina Congleton explain how you can learn to do a better job of managing your thoughts and emotions in “Emotional Agility”.

7.  It’s possible to make more time in the day after all.  It took three years for Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen to figure out how to free up 20% of your work day.  And a group of researchers in the UK found that organizations can dramatically reduce the amount of time their employees spend on email, if they can convince executives to stop emailing so much.  Finally, there’s one more thing you can do to save time:  stop complaining so much about how busy you are.  Meredith Fineman’s rant on the subject struck many of our nerves — it was one of the most popular posts of the year.

By Katherine Bell – Editor of HBR.org.

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