Masters of the Middle-Market Universe

The midsized companies in the U.S. that grow the fastest understand their strong suits and play their hands accordingly.

How Much Does Management Matter to Productivity?

More than you might realize. Research finds management practices account for 20% of variation in productivity among certain firms.

Freek Vermeulen

Benchmarking is by definition where companies look at the best-performing companies in their industry. What companies don’t look at is the bottom-performing ones. Companies therefore are inclined to imitate the practice and strategies of the top 10 performing companies — whichever they pick in the benchmarking exercise. But of course different strategies and practices are often associated with different risks. Some strategies may, on average, … [ Read more ]

Scott Keller, Mary Meaney

To most leaders, the speed and flexibility that drive innovation lie at the opposite end of the spectrum from standardization and centralization, which promote efficiency and control risk. Not so. Rita Gunther McGrath’s research sheds light on agile organizations. Large companies that raise their income disproportionately, she found, have two main characteristics: they are innovative and experimental and can move quickly but also have consistent … [ Read more ]

Duff McDonald

Each year, scores of management books claim significant new scientific findings in the pursuit of an unchanging goal: how to perform better, both individually and in groups. But most of those so-called findings are neither scientific nor new. The majority of management writers simply offer up freshly tossed word salads in hopes of coining that year’s business buzzword.

The Journey to Exceptional Performance

When it comes to corporate financial performance, we typically think in absolute terms, measuring ROA in percentage points. We are less accustomed to thinking of corporate performance in relative terms, but knowing a company’s relative performance is essential to setting and achieving performance improvement targets and, eventually, exceptional performance.

The Case Against Corporate Short Termism

Despite strong pressures to focus on the short term, it is possible to manage for the long term and reap considerable rewards.

Camilo Becdach, Shannon Hennessy, Lauren Ratner

Managers either love or hate benchmarks. Those in the former camp see benchmarks as valuable metrics for understanding the competitive landscape and for triggering important internal discussions; they believe companies should strive to meet or exceed benchmarks. Those in the latter camp argue that every company is unique and that it’s therefore unhelpful and illogical to compare one company’s decisions, structure, and head count to … [ Read more ]

What Makes a CEO ‘Exceptional’?

We assessed the early moves of CEOs with outstanding track records; some valuable lessons for leadership transitions emerged.

Shannon Hennessy

Everyone loves to hate on benchmarks, and I can understand where that comes from. There are people who have deep scars from watching benchmarks get misused and from trying to compare one company to another in a way that they aren’t similar.

That said, I have not seen anything be as effective as benchmarks in triggering some hard questions, such as “Why does it take 50 … [ Read more ]

Steven Sinofsky

Business is a social science which leads to lots of crazy advice that arises from doing whatever seems to be working at a given moment for a visible and successful company. […] Conversely, if something isn’t going well then it won’t be long before the collective wisdom concludes that you need to go with the other end-point of the pendulum.

Duncan Watts

You’re trying to understand what makes something successful, but you’re only studying successful things. But of course, most of the things that successful people do are also done by unsuccessful people. So all successful people have breakfast, right? Maybe having breakfast is the key to being successful. Well, it turns out that’s not a very predictive feature. But you already know that if you study … [ Read more ]

Agility: It Rhymes with Stability

Companies can become more agile by designing their organizations both to drive speed and create stability.

How Aligned Is Your Organization?

Most executives today know their enterprises should be aligned. They know their strategies, organizational capabilities, resources, and management systems should all be arranged to support the enterprise’s purpose. The challenge is that executives tend to focus on one of these areas to the exclusion of the others, but what really matters for performance is how they all fit together. Consider the following questions, ideally with … [ Read more ]

What Great Managers Do Daily

Most companies understand the importance of having highly effective managers, but few invest heavily in training to help them get there. One reason is that it’s difficult to measure and quantify what good management actually looks like. While there has been a lot of great work done to identify qualitative traits of great managers — they create trust, focus on strengths, instill accountability, avoid politics, … [ Read more ]

Are You a Superboss? Here’s How to Tell

You’re a good boss. You care about your people. You have vision. You inspire others. But do you have what it takes to be a “superboss”?

The 5 Elements of a Strong Leadership Pipeline

Investments in traditional leadership development are often misguided and a waste of money. It’s not that development itself isn’t important. But there’s little evidence that much of it works. I’ll share some findings from a study my colleagues and I just completed at Deloitte. We surveyed and interviewed executives from more than 2,000 companies, asking extensive questions about how they develop leaders, how their companies … [ Read more ]

Eric J. McNulty

It can be easy to reduce malfeasance to the acts of a few bad apples. This kind of thinking absolves the organization, and even the larger system, of blame — it’s a comfortable place for those invested in the status quo. I take a lesson from a healthcare system where I conducted a number of interviews earlier this year. Their quality ratings had gone from … [ Read more ]

These Management Practices, Like Certain Technologies, Boost Company Performance

Management practice acts exactly as a new technology might in giving companies competitive advantage—and there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, says a new study by Raffaella Sadun and colleagues.