Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.Donate
07 Apr. 2014 | Comments (0)
Good news, all you talented office comics. New research out of the London Business School confirms what you’ve likely thought: When you tell very funny jokes, your staff thinks more of highly of you, and employees are motivated to work harder. They also feel they have a brighter future in the company. Well, at least if you’re managing a coffee house or restaurant (that’s where doctoral student Gang Zhang did his research). But the operative words here are very funny. The funnier the leader, the better the effect, Zhang found. Telling unfunny jokes has the opposite effect — lowering followers’ respect for their leaders, hindering performance, and even dimming employees’ view of the company’s prospects. Perhaps most surprising here is Zhang’s further finding that self-deprecating humor, whether funny or not, doesn’t increase followers’ evaluation of a leader. So there’s a risk in encouraging your employees to laugh at you, rather than with you. —Andrea Ovans
Is the prospect of future revenue from an increased emphasis on health worth the loss of $2 billion a year? CVS is betting that the answer is yes, and that’s why it will discontinue the sale of cigarettes in its stores by October of this year. The change comes amid the rise of retail health clinics, which are quicker and cheaper alternatives to doctors' offices and emergency rooms. It also reflects an acknowledgment that more people may be seeking basic care after getting coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In the grand scheme of things, eliminating the strange dichotomy of having a pharmacy at one end of a store and a cigarette display at the other makes a lot of sense — and by doing so, CVS will be in a better position to persuade doctors and hospitals to work out deals with the chain to help their patients become healthier. And, of course, there's always this message from CVS president and chief executive Larry Merlo: "This is the right thing to do." Now about that soda…
Yeah, yeah, we all recycle a few beer bottles and soda cans, but we still live in the Disposable Society, right? A society where "consuming" a product means using it for a while, then throwing it out? If that's your viewpoint, you're not familiar with the Circular Economy, a new way of thinking about making and selling products that takes into account the need for sustainability in resources. Renault, for example, not only recycles materials from worn-out vehicles, it also manufactures certain components so as to make them easier to disassemble and reuse. The positive financial results of Renault’s focus on conserving resources indicate that there are real business opportunities in replacing the disposability mind-set with the idea of "restoration," McKinsey says. The goal of a circular system is to ensure that a product’s consumable components are so pure and nontoxic that they can be safely returned to the biosphere, while durable parts can be reused. Encouraging news from the industrial world. —Andy O'Connell
We're all familiar with the research: Women earn less than men. Mothers earn less than childless women. And moms who return to work get dead-end assignments. A lot of this is based on stereotypes, including the pernicious one that people stop working hard once they have kids.
But in one particular sector, research shows that people with children are at least as productive as their childless peers. We’re talking about the productivity of economists, as measured by how many research papers they’ve published. A few caveats, though: Mothers, but not fathers, do become less productive right after the birth of a child. Women without partners see a research-output decline of one-third during their children's first three years of life. And bear in mind that because economists are "left-brain beings," they may be more likely to plan ahead for their children's first few years by cranking out more papers beforehand. But overall, the finding that economists with at least two children are more productive than those with at most one child offers a ray of hope to would-be parents who’d prefer not to think of kids and job success as an either-or proposition.
This may be the only time a Keanu Reeves movie has inspired a business plan. When Edgar Gonzalez saw A Walk in the Clouds, in which Reeves's character follows a lady friend to her father's winery, he got an idea: Why not start a distillery? His tiny Oaxacan town wasn't exactly hospitable to a start-up — there was only one phone, at a central office, and anyone who got a call would be paged over a loudspeaker — but it was fertile ground for agave, the plant that's used to make mezcal. Now, after nearly 10 years of effort, Edgar and his cousin and business partner Elisandro have exported their first 2,000 bottles of the smoky liquor and created a handful of jobs. In an age when any Silicon Valley app designer can call himself an "entrepreneur," a story like this reminds us just how hard starting a dream business can really be. —Sarah Green
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 2/7/2014.