First Look

August 31, 2010

Comparatively little attention has been given to how managers can allocate work across tasks and time to improve workers' performance, especially on repetitive tasks. Researchers Bradley R. Staats of the University of North Carolina and Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School introduce the concept of a "restart effect"-disruptions that can stimulate worker productivity and overcome the challenges of repetitive work. Read their working paper, The Task and Temporal Microstructure of Productivity: Evidence from Japanese Financial Services.

Although the economic doldrums have taken a toll on many industries, one that is thriving is the pet and pet supply business. The new case Sniffing Out Opportunities at PetSmart provides background and strategic positioning information for both PetSmart and PETCO to enable students to develop their own Balanced Scorecards and strategy maps for the two companies.

Employee forums can be valuable sources of new ideas and strategic innovation. The challenge: How to scale up a thriving community as the company grows and globalizes. David A. Garvin and Rachna Tahilyani explore one Indian company's response to such a challenge in the case Zensar: The Future of Vision Communities.

— Sean Silverthorne


Lying to Level the Playing Field: Why People May Dishonestly Help or Hurt Others to Create Equity


Unethical and dishonest behavior has increasingly attracted the attention of scholars from various disciplines. Recent work has begun to focus on a previously overlooked factor predicting dishonest behavior: the beneficiary or victim of dishonest acts. In two laboratory experiments, we manipulate the level of resources allocated to our participants (their "wealth") and investigate whether perceived inequity from wealth that is randomly or subjectively assigned leads individuals to cross ethical boundaries through helping or hurting others. The results show that dishonest behavior is influenced by positive and negative inequity that motivates helping and hurting acts. Furthermore, a third experiment shows that people tend to discount the wrongness of crossing ethical boundaries to hurt or help others when the action restores equity.

The Private Equity Advantage: Leveraged Buyout Firms and Relationship Banking


This paper examines the impact of leveraged buyout firms' bank relationships on the terms of their syndicated loans. Using a sample of 1,590 loans financing private equity sponsored leveraged buyouts between 1993 and 2005, we find that bank relationships are an important factor in explaining cross-sectional variation in the loan interest rate and covenant structure. Our results indicate that two channels allow leveraged buyouts sponsored by private equity firms to receive favorable loan terms. First, bank relationships formed through repeated interactions reduce inefficiencies from information asymmetry. Second, banks price loans to cross-sell other fee business. These effects are additive. A one standard deviation increase in both bank relationship strength and cross-selling potential is associated with a 17 basis point (5%) decrease in spread and a 0.4 point (7%) increase in the maximum debt to EBITDA covenant. This translates to as much as a 4 percentage point increase in equity return to the leveraged buyout firm.

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Business Groups in Historical Perspectives


Business groups—collections of legally independent firms interconnected by multiple economic and social linkages that exhibit widely diversified product portfolios—are viewed as the prototypical large-enterprise form in contemporary emerging economies. By exploring the evolution of the diversified business groups organized around British trading companies from the late eighteenth century until today, this chapter demonstrates that such organizational forms were also present in developed economies historically, and even today. In analyzing this historical evidence, the chapter first shows how organizational forms of business groups were employed over long time periods to control large and diversified multinational complexes. It then shows that these British business groups possessed competitive advantages and management skills residing in contacts, knowledge, information, and relationships that sustained long-lasting and successful international businesses and that gave them genuine efficiency-enhancing roles. A major contribution of this chapter is to demonstrate that its theoretical conclusion based on the historical experiences of business groups built up by the British-based trading companies with their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century origins comes close to mainstream assessments reached by the research on business groups in contemporary emerging markets.


One Report: Are You Ready?

An abstract is unavailable at this time.

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Working Papers

From Bench to Board: Gender Differences in University Scientists' Participation in Commercial Science


This paper examines gender differences in the participation of university life science faculty in commercial science. Based on theory and field interviews, we develop hypotheses regarding how scientists' productivity, co-authorship networks, and institutional affiliations have different effects on whether male and female faculty become "academic entrepreneurs." We then statistically examine this framework in a national sample of 6,000 life scientists whose careers span more than 20 years. We find sharp gender differences in participation in for-profit ventures, which we measure as the likelihood of joining the scientific advisory board (SAB) of a biotechnology firm. Compared to men, women life scientists are much less likely to advise for-profit biotechnology companies. We also identify factors that contour this gender difference, including scientists' co-authorship network structure and the level of support for commercial science at their universities. Surprisingly, we find that the (conditional) gender gap is largest among faculty members at the highest status institutions.

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Fluid Tasks and Fluid Teams: The Impact of Diversity in Experience and Team Familiarity on Team Performance


tIn this paper, we consider how the structures of tasks and teams interact to affect team performance. We study the effects of diversity in experience on a team's ability to respond to task changes by separately examining interpersonal team diversity (i.e., differences in experience across the entire team) and intrapersonal team diversity (i.e., whether individuals on the team are more or less specialized). We also examine whether team familiarity—team members' prior experience working with one another-helps teams to better manage challenges created by task changes and greater interpersonal team diversity. Using detailed project—and individual-level data from an Indian software services firm, we find that the interaction of task change with intrapersonal diversity is related to improved project performance, while the interaction of task change with interpersonal diversity is related to diminished performance. Additionally, the interaction of team familiarity with interpersonal diversity is related to improved project performance in some cases. Our results highlight a need for more nuanced approaches to leveraging experience in team management.

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The Task and Temporal Microstructure of Productivity: Evidence from Japanese Financial Services


Sustaining workers' productivity is critical to organizations' operational success. Yet, comparatively little attention has been given to how managers can effectively allocate work across tasks and time to improve workers' performance. In this paper, we use the learning curve framework to investigate how productivity varies within task and within time (i.e., over the course of a day) in contexts where work is repetitive in nature. We introduce the concept of a restart effect—task and temporal disruptions that stimulate worker productivity—as a means of addressing challenges of repetitive work. For our empirical analyses, we use two and a half years of transaction data from a Japanese bank's home loan application processing line, totaling nearly 600,000 observations of individuals completing work at a given step in the process. We find that productivity on the current task is most impacted by experience on the same day, but the benefits of such experience decrease with time. Additionally, we find evidence for beneficial effects of both task change and start-of-day restarts on worker productivity. Together, these results offer insight into the underlying structure of productivity and suggest new ways to improve performance through the effective allocation of work.

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Cases & Course Materials

Atlantis Paradise Island Resort & Casino: Improving Performance with a New Vision and Mission

Lynda M. Applegate, Chekitan S. Dev, and Gabriele Piccoli
Harvard Business School Case 810-140

Atlantis Paradise Island adopted a new vision and mission to provide its guests and employees an enhanced brand experience. The dilemma Atlantis faced was how to integrate the new vision and mission into all the brand touch points in order to improve customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

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Deworming Kenya: Translating Research into Action (A)

Nava Ashraf, Neil Buddy Shah, and Rachel Gordon
Harvard Business School Case 910-001

Karen Levy and her colleague, Margaret Ndanyi, have spent the last six months planning and preparing for a national Kenyan program to target school children most at risk for parasitic worm infection. One week after its launch, the program seemed to be going well, but Ndanyi and Levy knew that it still needed to be administered in almost 40 districts at thousands of schools. They wondered: Would they meet their goal of deworming over three million school children before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2009? Would they be able to do it for less than $0.50 per child?

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Deworming Kenya: Translating Research into Action (B)

Nava Ashraf, Neil Buddy Shah, and Rachel Gordon
Harvard Business School Supplement 910-027

Karen Levy and her colleague, Margaret Ndanyi, learn the results of their nationwide effort to rid Kenyan school children of parasitic worm infection.

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Heidrick & Struggles and Standard Chartered Bank: Managing Global Key Accounts

Robert G. Eccles and Kerry Herman
Harvard Business School Case 411-011

Daren Kemp, a partner at leadership consultancy and executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, is responsible for the firm's relationship with Standard Chartered Bank (Standard Chartered). Standard Chartered is one of 94 companies in Heidrick's strategic partners program (SPP). The purpose of the SPP is to build strategic, value-based relationships with clients. Kemp joined Heidrick in 2008 and by 2010 has successfully built a strong relationship with Standard Chartered. The case describes how Kemp and his team grew this relationship and raises questions about what can be learned from this experience and applied to the other accounts in the SPP.

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Zensar: The Future of Vision Communities (A)

David A. Garvin and Rachna Tahilyani
Harvard Business School Case 311-024

Zensar is a rapidly growing, mid-sized Indian IT services company with a collaborative management philosophy and innovative HR policies. One of its practices, Vision Communities, is an inclusive forum for innovation and strategy formulation. As the company grows, managers must decide how to scale the Vision Community process so that it retains its spirit of employee involvement and engagement while encompassing a larger, more geographically dispersed group of participants.

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Sniffing Out Opportunities at PetSmart

V.G. Narayanan and Lisa Brem
Harvard Business School Case 110-025

The pet and pet supply industry was one of the few bright lights in an otherwise dismal retail outlook in 2009. This case gives background pet retail industry information and strategic positioning information for both PetSmart and PETCO to enable students to develop their own Balanced Scorecards and strategy maps for the two companies.

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The Southeast Bank of Texas in the Financial Crisis

Robert C. Pozen and Benjamin Schneider
Harvard Business School Case 310-141

The Southeast Bank of Texas, like most other financial institutions in the U.S., has fallen on hard times during the financial crisis of the past year. Now, in March 2009, the bank is faced with several choices as a result of the new reforms spawned from the financial crisis: the FDIC's Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program and the U.S. Treasury's Capital Purchase Program. Additionally, the implementation of BASEL II has left new regulations in place for capital requirements for banks. Irwin Greff, President and CEO of the Southeast Bank, faces several decisions on how to proceed with these new policies that will surely shape the future of the bank.

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Tesco PLC: Fresh & Easy in the United States

John A. Quelch
Harvard Business School Case 511-009

Tesco, the world's third largest retailer, is facing problems with its launch of a new retail chain in the U.S

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