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The Research Exchange

Opportunities to work with HBS faculty on experimental field studies

The Research Exchange is a new way for faculty to find corporate participants who may wish to collaborate on a variety of field studies. The ultimate goal: to solve various dilemmas facing companies all over the world. By forming a collaborative partnership with an HBS faculty member, your firm could gain the competitive advantage of finding answers first—and, ultimately, make a difference for the world of business. More details about field research.



How to Break Tough News to Employees

Doctoral student Erin Frey is investigating how managers give difficult news to employees. Managers often have to give employees negative performance evaluations, tell employees about layoffs or organizational changes, or confront employees about inappropriate behavior. How managers deliver this information to employees has been shown to affect employees' performance and effort. This project will study different ways that managers deliver bad news, with the goal of identifying strategies that managers can use to improve the outcomes of these types of conversations.

This project is targeted toward large organizations in the United States. The study is ideal for organizations that A) have policies, systems, or training programs that help managers give both formal and informal feedback to employees, and B) are able to track employee performance over time.

If your organization is interested in participating in a field study designed to help managers deliver difficult news to employees, please contact Erin Frey at with the subject line "Manager Feedback Field Study."

Layoffs, Downsizing, and Workforce Flexibility

Professor Sandra Sucher is studying how companies can do a better job of balancing the needs for a highly motivated and committed workforce with the flexibility and cost competitiveness necessary to thrive in a constantly changing world. Professor Sucher is interested in talking to both senior and frontline managers who have conducted a layoff to learn about their experiences: What worked? What benefits did they get from the layoff? What would have happened if they hadn't laid people off? What didn't work? What hidden costs were found afterwards? What ideas do they have for how the layoff process can be changed to be more efficient and more humane?

She is also interested in talking to managers in companies that have developed innovative practices to manage recessions and other short term demand cycles that do not involve reducing the workforce.

Finally, Professor Sucher is interested in learning about the experiences of individuals who have been laid off - both positive and negative, and about the most successful methods they have found to recover from their layoff. Professor Sucher may incorporate these tales from the field into future research publications. However, names of individuals and companies can be disguised upon request.

If you are interested in sharing your layoffs story or workforce flexibility approach, please contact Professor Sucher at

How Rediscovering the Past Benefits the Future

Doctoral student Ting Zhang is conducting field studies in which employees rediscover their thought process and work from the past. This project will study how the process of rediscovering past experiences impacts how employees interact with one another, mentor new employees, perceive their own work, and evaluate others' work. This study is ideal for organizations that 1) already encourage employees to reflect on or evaluate their experiences and 2) have access to these records from the past.

If your organization is interested in participating in this field study on rediscovery, please email with the subject "Research Exchange Field Study."

How Managerial Communication Affects Employee Behavior

Need to make sure your efforts to improve your organization stick? A team of organizational psychologists from HBS, Harvard Kennedy School, and The Darden School of Business are currently studying how managerial communication affects the behavior of others in the organization, specifically to assess what kinds of communication lead to positive behavioral change. We are looking for organizations and leaders that are in the process of implementing change efforts and are willing to participate in a field study using lab-tested techniques for communication. If you are interested, please contact Francesca Gino at She will follow up with a few questions to assess your organization's fit with this project. Thank you.

Organizational Re-emergence and Identity Change

Assistant Professor Ryan Raffaelli is investigating how industries and organizations on the brink of collapse are able to re-emerge and thrive. He is particularly interested in understanding how organizations facing the threat of a new technology undergo a significant identity change as a strategy for survival. For example, he has previously examined how the Swiss mechanical watch industry shifted its core identity from precision craftsmanship, to fashion, and ultimately to luxury as a response to quartz technology. Building on this work, Professor Raffaelli is in the midst of a multi-industry study that aims to identify conditions that make some industries, organizations, and communities better suited than others for re-emergence.

If you think your company would be interested in pursuing a field study about successfully managing an identity change, or if your industry/organization has recently experienced a re-emergence, please write to Ryan Raffaelli at

Changing Organizational Practices & Implementing Strategic Initiatives

Doctoral Student Megan Bernard is studying the tradeoff companies face between continuing current operational and management practices and developing new ways of doing things--asking the question, how do companies maintain this balance between the present and future? We know that when evaluating their own strategy and means of execution, companies operate on a continuum between a focus on what is important for a competitive advantage today and a focus on what is important for a competitive advantage in the distant future. To the extent that organizations want to adopt new practices or initiatives, what factors affect the formulation of, early adoption of, and local adaptation of new practices throughout the organization? The goal of a study would be to better understand the nature of and improve upon the process of new practice adoption in large organizations.

If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study related to changing organizational practices, please write to Megan Bernard at (Note that this study will focus on companies with multiple sites.)

Transparency and Productivity

To enhance others' performance in organizations, when should we observe others, and when should we not? To enhance our own performance, when should we be observed, and when should we not? Answers to those two pairs of questions often remain asymmetrical: we demand transparency of others but want privacy for ourselves. And yet, if the goal is productivity, there must be a scientific answer to the question of how much observation is ideal versus too much or too little. Based on a proven methodology in his prior research, Assistant Professor Ethan Bernstein is pursuing additional field studies on how observability of employees--or, conversely, the presence of "boundaries" to constrain it--boosts productivity. He is particularly interested in non-manufacturing settings (e.g., health care, professional services, retail, finance, technology) in a wide array of geographies (e.g., North America, South America, Europe, India, Middle East, Asia).

If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study about the impact of transparency on productivity, please write to Ethan Bernstein at with the subject "Research Exchange Field Study."

Matchmaking and Productivity

Associate Professor Michael Norton is pursuing field studies in which employees are asked to play "matchmaker"—introducing employees whom they know but who do not know each other. Research shows that this kind of matchmaking increases people's well-being, and that companies with more densely-connected networks (i.e., more employees who know more employees) are more successful. The goal of the experiment would be to encourage some employees on some work teams to play matchmaker—introducing employees to each other—and measuring the causal impact on employee satisfaction and productivity.

If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study about matchmaking, please write to Michael Norton at

Improving Email Communication at Work

Increasingly, vital business interactions happen over email and other means of text-based communication, rather than in person or over the phone. However, these communications become ripe for misinterpretation due to the limited social and emotional cues in email. The costs of such misunderstandings can be severe. The goal of a new set of studies, organized by Doctoral Candidate Andrew Brodsky is to explore and improve the process through which employees, managers, and customers use email and other means of text-based communication to interact with one another.

If you think your company may be interested in a field study on this topic, please write to Andrew Brodsky at (Note that Brodsky is seeking companies with at least 200 employees, headquartered in countries where English is the primary spoken language.)

Social Adoption Incentives

Associate Professor Michael Norton is pursuing field studies in which employees are incentivized to hit some target—such as uptake (e.g., "completing HR survey, getting a flu shot"), physical activity (e.g., "10,000 steps per day"), or weight control (e.g., "losing or maintaining weight"). The higher the number of employees who meet the goal is, the higher the payoffs for all employees. Incentives will be based on group performance—and incentives will rise as more people hit the target. (The first 10% of employees who reach the target get $1, but when 20% hit the target, everyone gets $2, and so on). The idea is that early adopters are motivated to encourage later people to hit the target (because their payment goes up), and late adopters are motivated because the payoffs keep getting larger.

If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study about social adoption incentives, please write to Michael Norton at

"Restarts" and Productivity

Associate Professor Francesca Gino is studying how "restart effects" boost productivity during the workday. In contrast to more traditional breaks (for lunch or coffee), restarts are somewhat random changes in the environment that are not directly related to work. For example, the simple acts of rearranging office furniture or changing a screensaver have the potential to make employees more focused and increase their performance. The outcome measures in this study will be employees' productivity, creativity, performance and energy levels during the workday. More broadly, understanding the benefits of "restarts" can be helpful in designing work that increases organizational creativity and productivity.

If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study on this topic, please contact Francesca Gino at

The Hidden Costs of Luxury Pricing

Assistant Professor Ryan Buell is studying the extent to which the price you charge for service affects how much it costs you to provide that service. For example, a traveler charged a high price for a hotel room might use more towels and make a bigger mess than a similar traveler charged a low price for the same room. Understanding this dynamic should lead to better pricing decisions and improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study investigating whether price drives cost-to-serve among your customers, please write to Ryan Buell at


Companies hosting and participating in a field study must understand that they are agreeing to be part of a scientific experiment in which the researcher directs the process. Compared with a simple trial, an experiment provides a more accurate assessment of policy or procedural changes by including a "treatment" group of employees (who are testing out a new idea) and a "control" group of employees (who are conducting business as usual). The process enables conclusions to be drawn about whether any subsequent outcome differences result from the change itself or from other external factors. Results are owned by the researcher and intended for publication; participating firms can choose whether to be identified or remain unnamed in the published research. There is no charge for participating, and aggregated results will be provided for the participating company. While not always conclusive, studies are always educational and often fun. Company authorization is required for participation.

HBS researchers interested in listing a field study through The Research Exchange should send a note to Sean Silverthorne at