Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2008

Embracing Commitment and Performance: CEOs and Practices Used to Manage Paradox

by Tobias Fredberg, Michael Beer, Russell Eisenstat, Nathaniel Foote and Flemming Norrgren

Abstract

We tend to assume that great leaders must make difficult choices between two or more conflicting outcomes. In an interview study with 26 CEOs of top American and European companies (incl. IKEA, Campbell Soups, Nokia, H&M), we find that instead of choosing between conflicting outcomes such as long-term strategy or short-term performance drivers, top tier managers argue that their role is to embrace such paradoxes to make both things happen simultaneously. The study identifies five groups of practices that make this possible. Together, they reveal a systematic approach to managerial work at the top, which is seldom found in the literature. By building on the engagement of many in the development of the organization, the practices are important for our understanding of how a CEO facilitates the partaking of many in strategy making. The paper contributes to theory by relating the current findings to the literature on the connection between commitment and performance and on the strategic management literature that focuses on the proliferation of strategy and strategy as practice.

Keywords: Leadership; Managerial Roles; Performance; Strategy; Management Practices and Processes; Decision Choices and Conditions;

Citation:

Fredberg, Tobias, Michael Beer, Russell Eisenstat, Nathaniel Foote, and Flemming Norrgren. "Embracing Commitment and Performance: CEOs and Practices Used to Manage Paradox." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 08-052, January 2008.