First Look

First Look summarizes new working papers, case studies, and publications produced by Harvard Business School faculty. Readers receive early knowledge of cutting-edge ideas before they enter the mainstream of business practice. For complete details on faculty research, see our Working Papers section.

July 3, 2012

The Power Of Talk

Call it management by conversation. In their new book, Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations, Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind urge firms to rediscover the power of talk for raising employee engagement and developing and executing strategy. The book "offers provocative insights and user-friendly tips on how to make organizational culture more intimate, more interactive, more inclusive, and more intentional—in short, more conversational," according to the publisher.

Teams They Are A-changin'

According to "The Changing Ecology of Teams: New Directions for Teams Research," a paper published in the April issue of Journal of Organizational Behavior, many new forms of teams are replacing traditional models. "Much of the published work in teams research … is still focused on the archetypal team that has well-defined membership, purposes, leadership, and standards of effectiveness—all characteristics that are being altered by changes in the larger context of collaboration," according to authors Ruth Wageman, Heidi K. Gardner, and Mark Mortensen. "This article explores what the teams research community has to gain by researching, theorizing, and understanding the many new forms of contemporary collaboration."

Go Broad Or Go Deep?

The dilemma is easily recognized by many organizations that have met with an early flush of success. For an encore, should the entrepreneurs go broad (branch out into new areas) or go deep (further refining their current expertise)? Prabjot Nanua asks this very question even as General Motors recognizes the great work of his Technical Center India—Powertrain Engineering group. Going broad might eventually mean program ownership for an entire vehicle, but is that the best outcome for GM?, Nanua wonders. Check out the new case, "General Motors Technical Center India—Powertrain Engineering."

— Sean Silverthorne


Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations


How can leaders make their big or growing companies feel small again? How can they recapture the "magic"-the tight strategic alignment, the high level of employee engagement-that drove and animated their organization when it was a start-up? As more and more executives have discovered in recent years, the answer to this conundrum lies in the power of conversation. In Talk, Inc., Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind show how trusted and effective leaders are adapting the principles of face-to-face conversation in order to pursue a new form of organizational conversation. They explore the promise of conversation-powered leadership-from the time-tested practice of talking straight (and listening well) to the thoughtful adoption of social media technology. And they offer guidance on how to balance the benefits of open-ended talk with the realities of strategic execution. Drawing on the experience of leaders at diverse companies from around the world, Talk, Inc. offers provocative insights and user-friendly tips on how to make organizational culture more intimate, more interactive, more inclusive, and more intentional-in short, more conversational.

Order the book:

The Embeddedness of Social Entrepreneurship: Understanding Variation across Local Communities


Social enterprise organizations (SEOs) arise from entrepreneurial activities with the aim to achieve social goals. SEOs have been identified as alternative and/or complementary to the actions of governments and international organizations to address poverty and poverty-related social needs. Using a number of illustrative cases, we explore how variation of local institutional mechanisms shapes the local "face of poverty" in different communities and how this relates to variations in the emergence and strategic orientations of SEOs. We develop a model of the productive opportunity space for SEOs as a basis and an inspiration for further scholarly inquiry.

Order the book:

Egalitarianism, Cultural Distance, and FDI: A New Approach


This study addresses an apparent impasse in the research on organizations' responses to cultural distance. Using historically motivated instrumental variables, we observe that egalitarianism distance has a negative causal impact on FDI flows. This effect is robust to a broad set of competing accounts, including the effects of other cultural dimensions, various features of the prevailing legal and regulatory regimes, other features of the institutional environment, economic development, and time-invariant unobserved characteristics of origin and host countries. We further show that egalitarianism correlates in a conceptually compatible way with an array of organizational practices pertinent to firms' interactions with non-financial stakeholders.

The Changing Ecology of Teams: New Directions for Teams Research


The nature of collaboration has been changing at an accelerating pace, particularly in the last decade. Much of the published work in teams research, however, is still focused on the archetypal team that has well-defined membership, purposes, leadership, and standards of effectiveness-all characteristics that are being altered by changes in the larger context of collaboration. Each of these features is worth attention as a dynamic construct in its own right. This article explores what the teams research community has to gain by researching, theorizing, and understanding the many new forms of contemporary collaboration.


Working Papers

How Do Risk Managers Become Influential? A Field Study of Toolmaking and Expertise in Two Financial Institutions


In this study, we examine transformations in the influence of risk managers in two large U.K. banks over a period of six years. Our analysis highlights that a process we term toolmaking, whereby experts create, articulate, and shape tools that embody their expertise, is central to the way in which the risk managers in our study garner influence in their organizations. Based on our field study, we identify two dimensions that help to explain experts' organizational influence: their ability to (a) incorporate their expertise into highly communicable tools and (b) develop a personal involvement in the deployment and interpretation of those tools in important decision-making forums. Based on experts' ability to combine and balance these two processes, we distinguish analytically among four positions of influence they can occupy-compliance expert, technical champion, trusted advisor, and engaged toolmaker-and trace the movements of experts between these positions. Our empirical findings and theoretical framework contribute to our understanding of the nature of expert influence and how and why functional groups, such as risk managers, can become influential.

Download the paper:


Cases & Course Materials

Note: Net Cash, Share Repurchases and EPS Growth

William E. Fruhan Jr.
Harvard Business School Background Note 212-101

How companies with large net cash positions can enhance earnings/share through share repurchase in an environment of low interest rates.

Purchase this note:

Cahiers du Cinéma and The French Film Industry

Mukti Khaire, Elena Corsi, and Emilie Billaud
Harvard Business School School Background Note 812-125

The French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma contributed to strengthening the characterization of film as art in France. The note provides background information on the magazine's history, on the French film industry, and on French film magazines.

Purchase this note:

Schön Klinik: Eating Disorder Care

Michael E. Porter, Emma Stanton, Jessica A. Hohman, and Caleb Stowell
Harvard Business School Case 712-475

The Schön Klinik is a private, for-profit German hospital group trying to establish itself as a premium health care provider in a competitive German market. The case details Schön Klinik's founding, its early focus on measurement and improvement, and the design and implementation of a system-wide structure for measuring and reporting actual health outcomes. The case details the care cycle for eating disorder patients and highlights the role outcomes measurement has played in improving eating disorder care over time. It ends with a discussion of Schön's innovative bundled reimbursement models and challenges the reader to explore how to develop new pricing and care delivery models that encourage integration of care around patient medical conditions. The case also discusses the German health care system, its regulatory constraints, and Schön's attempts to change the paradigm of competition in the sector.

Purchase this case:

SecondMarket - Providing Liquidity for Shareholders of Privately Held iContact

William A. Sahlman, Ramana Nanda, and James McQuade
Harvard Business School Case 812-072

In 2011, SecondMarket was an online platform that facilitated secondary transactions of illiquid assets, including private company stock. This case explores reasons for the decline in small-cap IPOs in the United States from the 1990s to the 2000s and how the emergence of SecondMarket provided liquidity to privately held companies like iContact, an email and social marketing software-as-a-service (SaaS) company.

Purchase this case:

General Motors Technical Center India - Powertrain Engineering

Willy Shih, William Jurist, Brian McIntosh, and Helen Wang
Harvard Business School Case 612-074

Prabjot Nanua was proud of the growing capabilities of the General Motors Technical Center India Powertrain Engineering group that he oversaw. Since 2003, engineers there had expanded the center's capabilities, developing a reputation within GM for completing high-quality design and analysis projects for other Technical Centers at a substantially lower cost. In areas such as tolerance stacking analysis, GMTCI-Powertrain was now the only location in GM worldwide that performed this type of work. Nanua thought about the next stage of development for the center. Should they "go deep" and focus on more areas of technical competency where the center had developed a competitive advantage? GMTCI could become the center of expertise for a narrower set of methods and capabilities like they had done in tolerance stacking. Or should they "go broad" and continue to lobby headquarters for more complex assignments that might ultimately lead to program ownership for an entire vehicle? Each scenario had different implications for how GMTCI fit within the network of Technical Centers and corporate GM. If they did the former, they might be faced with the perception that GMTCI was limited to back-office analysis for GM's products. But when Nanua put on his headquarters "hat," he wondered if that shouldn't also be the corporation's priority for them.

Purchase this case: