HBR’s 10 MUST Reads, 2023: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads: 2023
Various Contributors, including HBR Editors
Harvard Business Review Press (October 2021)

Definitive management ideas that can have the greatest value and impact in 2023

This is the latest volume in a series introduced in 2015. “HBR 10 Must Read” anthologies are published every autumn. Each consists of ten or eleven articles plus a “bonus” article, all previously published in Harvard Business Review. They have been carefully selected by HBR editors. If you were to purchase all 11 articles in the 20223 edition as individual reprints, the total cost would be about $100. You can purchase a copy of the paperbound edition from Amazon for only $22.41. That’s quite a bargain. In fact, it’s a steal.

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According to the HBR Editors: “When our editorial team met — some members on-screen, and some gathered around a conference table — to discuss the past year’s issues of Harvard Business Review, we were still adjusting to what we could assume was the new normal. During the past few years many organizations were in reactive mode., shifting how they worked as the changing environment — and the Covid-19 pandemic — dictated, for reasons of safety or out of a sense of urgency. But now leaders, managers, and individuals alike have an opportunity to define a different path, not by reacting to the present but by creating a new future. The 11 articles we’ve selected for this volume reflect that.”

Again this year as in previous years, the Editors’ selections are brilliant. Bravo!

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I thought you would also appreciate a few brief comments excerpted from these two articles.

In “The Future of Flexibility at Work,” Ellen Ernst Kossek, Patricia Gettings, and Karmoudi Misra share what they have learned from their rigorous and extensive studies of workplace flexibility during the last several years.

“We are researchers who study how organizations of all types — from professional services and IT firms to hospitals, retail stores, and manufacturing facilities — manage flexibility. Over the course of our work we have asked leaders to tell us how they do so (or not). Here is a range of typical responses:

I accommodate employee needs for time to go to the gym during lunch or take a class by allowing a special arrangement with respect to the work schedule.

If a family member is ill or someone has been in a car accident, it’s no issue to leave work.

Because of the way that the units are staffed and scheduled, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of flexibility.

I often resorted to mandatory Zoom meetings on Friday nights at 6 PM, because that was the only calendar opening for key staff members.

We can’t get enough staff on the weekends to run the production we need to run — even with eight different schedule options. That’s not a good thing. I don’t want that to be the reason we can’t produce.

These responses may sound familiar. The variation among them is notable. The first focuses on special arrangements for nonwork activities. The second is contingent on dire circumstances. The third expresses frustration about the barriers to flexibility. The fourth is flexibility at its worst. The last shows that flexible scheduling is a critical (yet unsolved) competitive issue for many organizations.”

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In “Unconscious Bias Training That Works,”  Francesca Gino and Katherine Coffman observe:

“Successful UB training gives people concrete tools for changing their behavior. It helps them better understand others’ experiences and feel more motivated to be inclusive.

Consider an approach that Patricia Devine of the University of Wisconsin and her colleagues have developed, called prejudice habit-breaking.’ Like conventional UB training, it teaches what implicit bias is, how it’s measured, and how it harms women and people of color. After being educated, participants take the Implicit Association Test, which demonstrates that we all fall prey to unconscious bias to a degree, and then get feedback on their personal level of bias. Next they’re taught how to overcome bias through a combination of strategies. These include calling out stereotyped views, gathering more individualized information about people, reflecting on counterstereotypical examples, adopting the perspectives of others, and increasing interactions with different kinds of people. After learning about each strategy, participants are asked to come up with examples of how they could use it in their own lives. They’re taught that the strategies reinforce one another and that the more they’re practiced, the more effective they will be.

Only 10% of training programs gave attendees strategies for reducing bias. Imagine a weight-loss program that told participants to step on the scale and left it at that.

This approach really works. In a longitudinal experiment, Devine and her colleagues had 292 college students participate in prejudice habit-breaking with a focus on race. Two weeks later the attendees noticed bias in others more than students who hadn’t participated did, and were also more likely to label that bias as wrong. Two years later the researchers went back to a subset of the students and found that those who had participated were still more likely to speak out against bias than students who had not.”

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Here is what the Editors have to say about the Bonus Article, “Persuading the Unpersuadable,” by Adam Grant:

“Many of us may be asking ourselves, how when people discount our views, we can persuade them to rethink their positions. Grant writes, ‘It is possible to get even the most overconfident, stubborn, narcissistic, and disagreeable people to open their minds.’ An organizational psychologist, he has spent time with people who succeeded in motivating the notoriously self-confident Steve Jobs to change his mind and has analyzed the science behind their techniques. He offers approaches that can help you encourage a know-it-all to recognize when there’s something to be learned, a stubborn colleague to make a U0-turn, a narcissist to show humility, and an argumentative boss to agree with you.”

The Grant article as well as each of the other ten — all by itself — is worth far more than the total cost of this volume.

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I highly recommend this book, both as a primary source when preparing for the new calendar year, and, as a uniquely thoughtful holiday gift for others who are also eager to accelerate their personal growth and professional development.

Timely and timeless business insights can have incalculable value but only if you always keep in mind this advice from Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

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