Tag Archives: Harvard Business Review

HBR: Where Boards Fall Short

HBR 2014 JanBoards aren’t working. A mere 34 percent of the 772 board members of historic sites surveyed by Engaging Places in 2013 agreed that the boards on which they serve fully comprehended their museum’s strategies. Only 22 percent said their boards were completely aware of how their museums fulfilled their mission and just 16 percent claimed that the board had a strong understanding of the dynamics of the museum field. When it comes to strategy and planning, organizations emphasize the short-term at the expense of the long-term.

You’re probably not surprised by these results–but you may be surprised that this actually describes major corporations based on studies conducted by McKinsey and Company, a national consulting firm. Governance is not just a challenge for nonprofits but the business world as well.

So how can the situation improve? In “Where Boards Fall Short” in the January-February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Dominic Martin and Mark Wiseman claim that a fundamental issue is that boards don’t understand their “fiduciary duty,” which consists of two core components:

  • loyalty (placing the company’s interest ahead of one’s own)
  • prudence (applying proper care, skill, and diligence to business decisions).

“Loyalty and prudence” encourages boards to focus on the long-term to help the organization thrive for years into the future. Keeping in mind the big distant goal (otherwise called a vision) clarifies choices and directs board actions. From my observations of nonprofit boards, there’s often confusion about fiduciary responsibilities and rarely a vision (but usually a mission–but so vaguely worded to be nearly useless for making decisions). To help clarify fiduciary duty, it’s a good idea to explain it during recruitment and orientation (don’t assume they’ll support it) and consider an annual commitment agreement and planning retreat for both board and executive staff.

In addition to addressing fiduciary duty, Martin and Wiseman suggest four ways to improve board performance.  Here are their key ideas from their article along with my translation for the non-profit environment):

1. Select the right people. “Having a diversity of perspectives and proven experience building relevant businesses as well as the functional knowledge is critical. But if our surveys are any indication, too many directors are Continue reading

HBR: The Truth About the Customer Experience

Harvard Business Review, September 2013

Harvard Business Review, September 2013

The September 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review features four articles on women in leadership, which will be of interest to many people who work at historic sites and museums.  The first is on the subtle gender bias that obstructs women’s access to leadership in even the most well-meaning organizations (and how to correct the problem), the second article describes companies who have successfully incorporated inclusivity, and the third reveals the way women make buying decisions differently in a business-to-business (B2B) setting from men.  The fourth article is a roundup of recent research on women in the workplace, such as women receive less criticism but also less challenging assignments.  Of course, the museum and historic site field is dominated by women, so I wonder what these statistics would look like for us.

There’s also a good article on “customer journey mapping.”  It’s a relatively new method of studying a customer’s buying experience by identifying all the places that a company interacts with a customer and evaluating each of these “touchpoints.”   By mapping the customer’s journey to buy a product from their initial search for information to its delivery and installation, a company can better understand the Continue reading

What CEOs Really Think About Their Boards

Harvard Business Review, April 2013

Harvard Business Review, April 2013

Non-profit organizations often grumble about the inefficiencies of the typical board-executive director governance model, but it appears that corporate boards share many of the same frustrations. In the April 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Jeffery Sonnefeld, Melanie Kusin, and Elise Walton analyze the opinions of dozens of CEOs and distilled them into five pieces of advice for board members:

1. Focus on the risks that are the most crucial to the future of the enterprise.
While boards should serve to rein in the “cowboy CEO,” they often are much more timid and rein in any form or shape of risk. “Boards often lack the intestinal fortitude for the level of risk taking that healthy growth requires” and ironically, this timidity increases with organizational growth and capacity. Young organizations are more flexible, courageous, and bold. Why avoid risk? Surprisingly, it seems that boards “too often put self-interest and self-preservation ahead of shareholder interests”—translated into the non-profit world, they care more about their seats in the boardroom than they do about the audiences they are supposed to represent and serve. “You need to make sure both management and the board are always Continue reading

HBR: Working with Crowds to Innovate or Solve Problems

Harvard Business Review, April 2013

Harvard Business Review, April 2013

TrendsWatch 2012 identified crowdsourcing as one of the seven major trends affecting museums, allowing more people to volunteer in meaningful work.  If you’re not familiar with crowdsourcing, it’s a “process of soliciting content, solutions, and suggestions from an undefined set of participants via the Internet.”  The April 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review includes two articles on working with crowds in different ways:  one to innovate and the other to solve problems.

In “Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner“, authors Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani claim that “for certain types of problems, crowds can outperform your company.  You just need to know when–and how–to use them.”  If you’re hesitant to work with large groups on a project, the authors have identified four ways that best use crowd-powered problem solving and how to manage them:

  1. Contests (example: Longitude Prize)  “The most straightforward way to engage a crowd is to create a contest.  The sponsor (the company) identifies a specific problem, offers a cash prize, and broadcasts an invitation to submit solutions.  Contests have cracked some of the toughest scientific challenges in history, including the search for a way to determine longitude at sea.”
  2. Collaborative communities (example:  Wikipedia).  “Like contests, collaborative communities have a long and rich history.  They were critical to the development of Continue reading

HBR: To Engage Your Visitors, Keep it Simple

"To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple" by Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman (Harvard Business Review, May 2012)

The May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review arrived a little early to my mailbox, but I couldn’t stop from sharing a great article on engaging customers in business world that can easily be translated to engaging visitors and building support for historic sites and museums.  In “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple,” Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman note the paradox of today’s promotional techniques:

Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers.  But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering–it’s overwhelming.  Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.

This conclusion is based on multiple surveys of more than 7,000 consumers which were then compared to interviews with 200 marketing executives representing 125 brands.  Their pointed out that what consumers what and what companies think consumers want didn’t correspond to each other, or in biz speak, it’s a Continue reading

HBR: What Virals Ads can Tell Us About Engaging Visitors

Evian's Roller Babies commercial demonstrates what makes an ad go viral.

The March 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review focuses on U. S. business competitiveness in the world and won’t interest most readers of EngagingPlaces.net, however, there are a few smaller stories scattered around that are relevant.  Thales Texiera’s article on “The New Science of Viral Ads” lays out five techniques that encourage people to watch and share their commercials (in other words, “go viral”) and I’ve modified three of them to address the needs of visitors at historic sites:

  • Play down the logo, play up the brand.  If your logo is too dominant or intrusive, visitors will be turned off by this obvious attempt to manipulate them.  A few places are fine and expected (e.g. letterhead, entrance sign, mugs in the store) but I’ve visited sites where a logo is on every sign, including the one pointing to the bathroom.  It may make your board happy, but it’ll turn off your visitors.  Instead, unobtrusively weave your brand (not logo) throughout the visitor experience.  Texiera uses Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Factory” ad as an example (how was the Coca-Cola logo used?).
  • Create joy and surprise right away.  Visitors stay engaged in large part if they encounter joy or surprise.  So in tours, for example, add an element of joy or surprise into the introduction rather than saving it only for the conclusion.  Each site will need to figure this out for themselves, but it can be a surprising fact or an earnest welcome. Bud Light’s “Swear Jar” ad is an example of delivering humor and surprise to maintain viewers’ interest (and just a warning, this ad may offend some people and because it promotes the drinking of alcohol, you’ll need to register as an adult on YouTube to view it).
  • Build an emotional roller coaster.  Just as in a good novel, the rhythm or flow helps carry the visitor along and keeps them engaged with fresh twists and turns.  Tours too often are presented as just one fact/object/room after another.  Instead of building a tour solely on cognitive elements (e.g. facts, names, and dates), integrate some affective ones (e.g., humor, surprise, suspense, drama, fun)–just make sure it’s appropriate, authentic, and based on fact.  Evian’s “Roller Babies” cuts between scenes for an emotional roller coaster of continual surprises.  With more than 50 million views on YouTube, it’s a major hit.

For more, read Thales Texiera’s article on “The New Science of Viral Ads” online or watch the five-minute interview that accompanies the story.

HBR: If People Are Your Most Valuable Asset, Do You Show It?

The January/February 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review includes an article on building a team in which author Kevin Ryan, CEO of Gilt Groupe, argues that businesses succeed not because of ideas, but because of its people:

Execution is what matters, and execution relies on human talent.  Every company thinks it’s doing a good job of managing its people.  They all say, “People are our most important asset.”  But most companies don’t act that way.  Here’s a simple test:  Ask the CEO if he or she spends more time on recruiting and managing people than on any other activity.  For me, the answer has always been yes.

He admits this situation can only apply to organizations with more than 50 people because in smaller organizations the CEO has to tackle lots of other important issues to succeed.  But Ryan does offer many other provocative approaches for finding and retaining great employees and you’ll want to read the article if you’re an executive director, manager, or boardmember.  Here are some highlights:

  1. Some managers prefer that executives check with them before talking with their people.  That’s not going to happen here.  Continue reading

Is an Organizational Hybrid for Non-Profits and For-Profits on the Horizon?

In my work with historic sites, financially sustainability is one of the major challenges, and many are seeking advice from business leaders to increase their earned income.  It’s often an awkward situation because business owners don’t share the same values for preservation and history, and non-profits are uncomfortable with the risks associated with entrepreneurship.  Much time is spent explaining and defending various practices, and making decisions is incredibly slow.  But there may be an answer.  This month’s issue of the Harvard Business Review predicts that the growing desire to meld non-profit mission and for-profit entrepreneurship will create a new form of organizational structure:  the for-benefit enterprise.

For-benefits are a new class of organization.  Like non-profits, they can pursue a wide range of social missions.  Like for-profits, they can generate a broad range of products and services that improve quality of life for consumers, create jobs, and contribute to the economy.  Combining social and commercial ends is not new–think of hospitals, universities, arts organizations, Goodwill.  But the for-benefit model does much more than that.  It redefines fiduciary duty, governance, ownership, and stakeholder relationships in fundamental ways.

Author Heerad Sabeti calls this a fourth sector of the economy, distinct from government, non-profits, and commercial businesses, with the following characteristics: Continue reading