First Look

August 29, 2017

Among the highlights included in new research papers, case studies, articles, and books released this week by Harvard Business School faculty:

How social class shapes high-performing women

Women from diverse social classes ride different paths to elite organizational roles, according to new research. For example, women from upper-class backgrounds often point to serendipity as a main reason for attainment while those from lower social class backgrounds narrate their success “using extreme levels of agency typically associated with men,” according to researchers Judith A. Clair, Kathleen L. McGinn, Beth K. Humberd, and Rachel D. Arnett. Class Matters: The Role of Social Class in High-Achieving Women's Career Narratives.

The problem with knowledge repositories

In theory, knowledge repositories should offer a mechanism for people to share their knowledge inside an organization. But in the real world, it often doesn’t turn out that way, according to a recently updated study. Instead, people on the organizational periphery don’t or can’t make as much use of them. "Unexpectedly, we find that individuals whose experience and position already provide access to vital knowledge use a KR more frequently than individuals on the organizational periphery." The report was written by Melissa A. Valentine, Tom Fangyun Tan, Bradley R. Staats, and Amy C. Edmondson. Inequality in Knowledge Repository Use in Scaling Service Operations.

Starting a high-frequency-trading hedge fund

A recent case study explores how the principals of Domeyard decide basic questions about their new high-frequency-trading business including which markets to trade on, how to raise capital, and from whom. The case was written by Lauren Cohen, Christopher Malloy, and Matthew Foreman. Domeyard: Starting a High-Frequency Trading (HFT) Hedge Fund.

Other new publications from Harvard Business School faculty are listed below.

— Sean Silverthorne
  • August 14, 2017
  • Harvard Business Review

Study: More Frequent Sales Quotas Help Volume but Hurt Profits

By: Chung, Doug J., and Das Narayandas

Abstract—No abstract available.

Publisher's link:

  • July 2017
  • Psychological Science

Dying Is Unexpectedly Positive

By: Goranson, Amelia, Ryan S. Ritter, Adam Waytz, Michael I. Norton, and Kurt Gray

Abstract— In people’s imagination, dying seems dreadful; however, these perceptions may not reflect reality. In two studies, we compared the affective experience of people facing imminent death with that of people imagining imminent death. Study 1 revealed that blog posts of near-death patients with cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were more positive and less negative than the simulated blog posts of nonpatients—and also that the patients’ blog posts became more positive as death neared. Study 2 revealed that the last words of death-row inmates were more positive and less negative than the simulated last words of noninmates—and also that these last words were less negative than poetry written by death-row inmates. Together, these results suggest that the experience of dying—even because of terminal illness or execution—may be more pleasant than one imagines.

Publisher's link:

  • in press
  • Current Opinion in Psychology

(Mis)perceptions of Inequality

By: Hauser, Oliver P., and Michael I. Norton

Abstract—Inequality is arguably the defining societal issue of the 21st century. The debate over “who gets what’ underlies policy debates ranging from taxation to health care to wages and permeates society at all levels, attracting increasing interest from policymakers, academia, and the general public (1,2). Most scholars agree that the level of economic inequality within Western societies is at its highest in almost a century; in the U.S., for example, inequality is at its highest peak since before the Great Depression (3–5). Furthermore, the incomes of the top 1% in many countries around the world is rapidly increasing (6). Documenting the actual levels of inequality within and across countries is generally considered a critical input to the design of economic and social policy (7–10); we suggest that assessing laypeople’s understanding of those levels, and how that understanding predicts their policy preferences, attitudes and behaviors, is also critical. In this review, we document the often large differences between actual levels of inequality and citizens’ (mis)perceptions of those levels. This inaccuracy extends to people’s beliefs about the distributions of income, wealth, and social mobility, as well as their beliefs about their place in these distributions. We focus on potential causes that lead to these misperceptions and discuss the implications that misperceived inequality—but not actual inequality—have for policy and redistribution preferences. We conclude by highlighting research exploring the consequences of correcting these erroneous beliefs.

Publisher's link:

Abstract—Three studies, using original experimental as well as field data from the city of Boston, Massachusetts, show that revealing the “submerged state”—ensuring that citizens can see the often-hidden work that government performs—enhances both perceptions of and engagement with government. In Study 1, viewing a video highlighting the work performed by the government of an archetypal American town increased trust in government and support for government services. In Study 2, Boston residents who interacted with a website that visualized both service requests (e.g., potholes) and efforts by the city government to address them became more supportive of government. Study 3 leverages proprietary data from a mobile phone application through which residents can submit service requests to Boston government. Users who received photographic evidence that their service requests had been addressed were more likely to continue to engage with government than users who did not receive such evidence.

Download working paper:

Class Matters: The Role of Social Class in High-Achieving Women's Career Narratives

By: Clair, Judith A., Kathleen L. McGinn, Beth K. Humberd, and Rachel D. Arnett

Abstract—Our study explores the career narratives of women from diverse social class backgrounds as they describe how they ascended to elite organizational roles despite severe gender underrepresentation. We illuminate the varied ways that high-achieving women understand and retell their career stories, identifying five broad approaches to narrating their ascent against the odds: serendipity, competence, social ties, maneuvers, and aggressive action. We demonstrate the role that social class origins play in shaping the career narratives of these high achieving women. Women from lower social class backgrounds employ highly agentic narratives to fuel their success against the double obstacles of gender and class. In contrast, women from middle- and upper-class origins were constrained in their use of agentic narratives and were more likely to describe their success in terms of serendipity. The present findings shed light on the variation in women’s career narratives and demonstrate that some women deviate significantly from gender stereotypes by narrating their success using extreme levels of agency typically associated with men.

Download working paper:

Inequality in Knowledge Repository Use in Scaling Service Operations

By: Valentine, Melissa A., Tom Fangyun Tan, Bradley R. Staats, and Amy C. Edmondson

Abstract—To scale service operations requires sharing knowledge across the organization. However, prior work highlights that individuals on the periphery of organizational knowledge sharing networks may struggle to access useful knowledge at work. A knowledge repository (KR) has the potential to help peripheral individuals gain access to valuable knowledge because it is universally available and can be used without social interaction. However, for it to serve this equalizing function, those on the periphery of the organizational knowledge sharing networks must actually use it, possibly overcoming barriers to doing so. In this paper, we develop a multi-level model of knowledge use in teams to explore how individuals on the periphery of knowledge networks—due to inexperience, location, lack of social capital, gender, and role—access knowledge from a KR. Unexpectedly, we find that individuals whose experience and position already provide access to vital knowledge use a KR more frequently than individuals on the organizational periphery. We argue that this occurs because the KR—despite its appearance of equivalent accessibility—is actually more accessible to central than peripheral players. Thus, KR use is not driven primarily by the need to overcome limited access to other knowledge sources. Rather KR use is enabled when actors know how to reap value from the KR, which ironically improves with increasing access to other sources of knowledge. We conclude that KRs are unlikely to scale service operations without additional intervention.

Download working paper:

The principals at Domeyard, a start-up high frequency trading (HFT) hedge fund based in Cambridge, faced a myriad of important decisions: which markets to trade on, how to raise capital, and from whom to raise capital. Many of these decisions were standard for start-ups, but some were unique to hedge funds—among them choosing the right fund structure, as well as how to raise capital for the management company versus raising capital to invest. Given the recent backlash against HFT, the question of whether they should delay any launch also loomed large.

Purchase this case:

GTC is the first company in the animal world to receive FDA approval of a transgenic pharmaceutical. What are the implications for other firms in plants and animals and their opportunities to produce new medicines in an economical and safe fashion?

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 816-063

Omada Health: Riding the Clinical and Regulatory Waves

No abstract available.

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 410-139

Managing the Client Portfolio

The German country managing partner of a global law firm must decide how to respond to a corporate mandate to restructure its client portfolio. The case enables a discussion of different types of clients in a global professional service firm in terms of relative revenues, profitability, and strategic significance. It also highlights the tensions between local subsidiaries and corporate headquarters with respect to managing client portfolios.

Purchase this case:

  • Harvard Business School Case 317-121

Pho Hoa Dorchester

Pho Hoa is a traditional, family-owned Vietnamese restaurant in Dorchester, Massachusetts that opened in 1992. As he approached retirement in recent years, the founder/owner has scaled down his involvement in the day-to-day operations, leading to a number of operational and financial issues, including variable food quality and deficient wait staff service. The restaurant is about to transition from 1st to 2nd generation ownership, and Tam Le, the son of the founder, realizes that major operational and financial changes are required to maintain the restaurant’s long-term viability. This case is intended to provide students with a better understanding of the personal, professional and cultural challenges facing small business owners. Using the context of a family-owned Vietnamese restaurant, it examines the operational changes associated with transitioning ownership from the founder to his son, including formalizing equity stakes and internal processes, establishing a clear organizational structure and improving customer service. It also explores the personal motivations and ambitions of Tam Le, who is simultaneously assuming control of the restaurant and exploring a number of other commercial ventures unrelated to the legacy family business.

Purchase this case: