Entries in management theory (6)


Responsible Business Forum -- Presentations and Case Studies

The forum we recently hosted with Oxford's Said Business School started with the question, "Can a company do well by doing good?" We were driven to approach this with discipline and real world data, supplemented by the experience and viewpoints of executives with responsibility for profit and sustainable performance.

We are pleased to make the case studies and presentations from that forum available, and hope this information can inspire new ideas and business models.

The Forum was based on a series of cases that describe specific examples of the ways in which companies have attempted to adopt responsible approaches to business. Responsible companies in this context satisfy two criteria: (a) they expound explicit purposes or values that reflect objectives beyond pure financial performance, and (b) they demonstrate a serious commitment to implementing them through their ownership, governance, leadership, and management practices. These cases were presented in three sessions:




  1. Driving purpose from the top down. In this session companies pursue value-driven work via a mandate from leadership, integrating social practices through the business from the top down.
  2. Purposeful finance. In this session the featured case studies are focused on building the business through increasing financial inclusivity and access to banking. The session also looks at ethical investing and how to use investment to improve the lives of those living in poverty.
  3. Driving purpose from the bottom up. The case studies in this session are experimenting with innovative social programmes via business piloting, feeding information back into the main business to influence change from the bottom up.

Images source: Said Business School

-- Catalysts


Deloitte on realigning performance management

A new report from Deloitte highlights the strength of the trend away from traditional performance management systems -- some 89% of companies surveyed have recently changed their process or plan to change it within 18 months.  What's driving this movement?

Interestingly, it's often the desire to align the processes used to manage a company's human capital with its business strategy and culture. Traditional performance management systems do not address some of the biggest challenges companies face today, including employee engagement, retention, and capability development, and in many cases they were making things worse.

Deloitte has recently revamped it's own approach, as detailed in an HBR article this month. The new approach separates compensation decisions from day-to-day performance management, produces better insight through quarterly or per-project “performance snapshots,” and relies on weekly check-ins with managers to keep performance on course.

Image source: Deloitte

-- Segundo Saenz


What Andrew Hargadon teaches us about innovation

Many organization strive and struggle to innovate in order to grow (or stay alive). “Innovation” is arguably among the most popular and durable semantic fields in the business vernacular. We have to admit nevertheless, innovations that measurably affect their ecosystem (organizations, consumers, etc) are not as frequent and easy to produce as we would like.  Andrew Hargadon's excellent 2003 book, How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, gives us a number of powerful insights into the mechanisms involved in successful innovations:

  • They are not “inventions”, they usually leverage decade-old technologies
  • They are not heroic breakthroughs, they usually involve a heterogeneous network of people and organizations
  • Innovation is, according to Hargadon, a phenomenon that emerges when we are able to form new relationships between objects, ideas and people -- effectively combining previously unrelated capabilities and technologies. "Innovators are no smarter, no more courageous than the rest of us – they are simply better connected. They find ways to exploit the networked landscape”. The many examples in this book and articles illustrate this phenomenon in a very compelling way.

So where does this take us? This is arguably Hargadon’s most powerful and practical contribution: he goes on to codify the profiles (“nexus”) and capabilities (“nexus work”, “technology brokering") needed to improve and organization’s ability to innovate. This basically aims at taking advantage of the patterns that seem to be consistent symptoms of successful innovations (see above) and build the mindsets and capabilities to provoke and nurture them.

Behind Hargadon’s work, there are decades of keen observation of the major innovations (from penicillin to the iPhone). It is also a powerful practical extension of the Actor-Network Theory (Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law, etc), an approach to social theory and Science and Technology Studies. This theory supports the interpretation of major change as emerging network phenomena, providing a solid, fertile framework to understand and (attempt to) manage complexity for businesses faced with innovation challenges.

It is also a humbling framework as it flies in the face the the hero inventor and breakthrough success as the result of individual prowess.

You can read a short paper outlining Hargadon's thoughts on how breakthroughs happen here. His 2000 HBR article on Building an Innovation Factory, written with Robert I. Sutton is also of interest (and features the images, below).

-- Yassine El Ouarzazi


Weekly briefing -- interesting content from many sources

Each week we are scanning the horizon for interesting content on topics we like that we will post for your reading pleasure. These may be items that we agree with, or not, on issues that touch in some way on what we are working on in our labs. We hope you enjoy them, and that they provoke discussion and additional thought.

Click here for a link to our complete briefing, which includes abstracts and links to the original source material.



  • Automation's effect on jobs and the workforce: how mutual?
  • For BASF, new metrics of sustainability and driving growth
  • High school students create tree model that could combat climate change


  • Google's unorthodox way of solving company problems
  • Lack of strong culture #1 issue impacting today's workplace


  • An analysis of customer-centric Tesco's struggles
  • McKinsey debunks mobile strategy myths



Mutuality: Define, study, teach

In June of this year, Mars Catalyst and Oxford University's Said Business School entered into a multi-year partnership to explore the concept of mutuality in business and how to enact it.  The collaborative research program will build on the long experience of Mars, Incorporated, which has Mutuality as a core principle alongside Quality, Responsibility, Efficiency and Freedom.  It will also build on the breakthrough work of the company’s corporate think tank — Catalyst — in designing and testing new non-monetized metrics to help the business move from a profit maximization model to a holistic value optimization approach across People / Planet / Performance that could one day help Mars become the most mutual company in terms of fairness and shared benefits.  

Mutuality as a business concept is rapidly gaining support since the global economic crisis of 2008 and as consumers demand more demonstrated ‘values’  behind the value that they seek with their buying habits.  It is not enough, therefore, for one company to become more mutual in its business practices, as one cannot be mutual in a vacuum.  The Mars/Catalyst-Oxford/Said partnership, therefore, is about spreading the word to the next generation of MBAs and to rising business managers through executive education.

Specifically, the partnership will:

  1. Help define mutuality generically and develop a broad understanding of the values and principles of mutuality and their application in different business and economic contexts;
  2. Identify the management practices that can enact mutuality in different ways;
  3. Develop a business management theory based on mutuality; and
  4. Co-create MBA and executive management training curricula that will position ‘mutuality’ as a viable business model alternative to the current dominant Chicago School of Business Financial Capitalism approach.

Former Oxford Said Dean Colin Mayer is leading the Oxford side of the partnership with Mars/Catalyst along with former Harvard Business School Professor and current Said Dean Peter Tufano.  Prof. Mayer's essay on Mutuality and Morality in Business appeared in the January edition of The Brewery, a trade publication that featured writings on mutuality from Mars Chairman Stephen Badger, CEO Paul Michaels, Bruno Roche and myself from Catalyst, and other leaders from global businesses and government.

This partnership is the start of an exciting journey, whereby the world can become a better place through more mutual business practices.  Stay tuned!

--Jay Jakub