Ethan S. Bernstein

Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Berol Corporation Fellow

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Unit: Organizational Behavior

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Ethan Bernstein (@ethanbernstein) is an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior unit and the Berol Corporation Fellow at the Harvard Business School. He has taught the first-year MBA course in Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD), a PhD course on the craft of field research, and various executive education programs. 

Professor Bernstein studies the impact of workplace transparency—the observability of employee activities, routines, behaviors, output, and/or performance—on productivity, with implications for leadership, collaboration, organization design, and new forms of organizing.

Professor Bernstein’s research has been published in journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Science, Academy of Management Annals, Harvard Business Review, Research on Organizational Change and Development, and People + Strategy, and it has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Boston GlobeNPRInc.ForbesFast CompanyBusinessweekEsquireNikkei BusinessNikkei ShimbunLe MondeMaeil Business (Korea), and TEDx Boston, among others. He is a 2014 HBR McKinsey Award Finalist, and his research has won awards including the inaugural J. Richard Hackman Dissertation Award, the Academy of Management’s 2013 Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior award, the Academy of Management’s 2013 Best Publication in Organization and Management Theory award, the Academy of Management's 2014 Outstanding Practitioner-Oriented Publication in Organizational Behavior award, the Academy of Management's 2014 Best Paper Based on a Dissertation Award, the INGRoup 2014 Best Paper award, the 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association, the HBS Wyss Award, and the Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award.

Prior to joining the faculty, Professor Bernstein spent a half-decade at The Boston Consulting Group in Toronto and Tokyo. Tapped by Elizabeth Warren to join the implementation team at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he spent nearly two years in executive positions, including Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy Assistant Director of Mortgage Markets, at the newest United States federal agency.

Professor Bernstein earned his doctorate in management at Harvard, where he also received a JD/MBA degree. While a doctoral student, he was a Kauffman Foundation Fellow in Law, Innovation, and Growth, and he remains a member of the New York and Massachusetts Bar Associations. He holds an AB in Economics from Amherst College, which included study at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

Professor Bernstein is a self-declared culinary adventurer and avid cyclist, runner, skier, reader, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me listener. Originally from Los Angeles, he lives in Newton with his wife, Maly (HBS MBA 2006), and young son.

Featured Work

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. Making Transparency Transparent: The Evolution of Observation in Management Theory

    Ethan Bernstein

    Observation is key to management scholarship and practice. Yet a holistic view of its role in management has been elusive, in part due to shifting terminology. The current popularity of the term “transparency” provides the occasion for a thorough review, which finds (a) a shift in the object of observation from organizational outcomes to the detailed individual activities within them; (b) a shift from people observing the technology to technology observing people; and (c) a split in the field, with managers viewing observation almost entirely from the observer’s perspective, leaving the perspective of the observed to the realm of scholarly methodology courses and philosophical debates on privacy. I suggest how the literature on transparency and related literatures might be improved with research designed in light of these trends.

    Keywords: transparency; privacy; observation; tracking; Monitoring; surveillance; learning; control; disclosure; process visibility; Organizations; Theory; Information Technology; Relationships; Measurement and Metrics; Management Practices and Processes; Leadership; Law; Knowledge; Human Resources; Communication;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan. "Making Transparency Transparent: The Evolution of Observation in Management Theory." Academy of Management Annals 11, no. 1 (2017): 217–266. View Details
  2. Beyond the Holacracy Hype: The Overwrought Claims—and Actual Promise—of the Next Generation of Self-Managed Teams

    Ethan Bernstein, John Bunch, Niko Canner and Michael Lee

    Holacracy and other forms of self-organization have been getting a lot of press. Proponents hail them as "flat" environments that foster flexibility, engagement, productivity, and efficiency. Critics say they're naive, unrealistic experiments. We argue, using evidence from a multi-year research agenda at several mainstream organizations that have adopted these forms, that neither view is quite right. Although the new forms (built upon a half-century of research on and experience with self-managed teams) can help organizations become more adaptable and nimble, most companies shouldn't adopt their principles wholesale. A piecemeal approach usually makes sense. Organizations can use elements of self-management in areas where the need for adaptability is high and traditional models where reliability is paramount.

    Keywords: Self-Managed Organizations; Self-Managed Teams; reliability; adaptability; holacracy; organization design; organization structure; organizational design; Organizational Charts; organizational architecture; organizational forms; organizational structure; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Performance Effectiveness; Performance Productivity; Management Practices and Processes; Management Systems; Managerial Roles; Human Resources; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Retail Industry; Public Administration Industry; Technology Industry; North America;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, John Bunch, Niko Canner, and Michael Lee. "Beyond the Holacracy Hype: The Overwrought Claims—and Actual Promise—of the Next Generation of Self-Managed Teams." Harvard Business Review 94, nos. 7-8 (July–August 2016): 38–49. View Details
  3. Can You Cut 'Turn Times' Without Adding Staff?

    Ethan Bernstein and Ryan W. Buell

    The president of RSA Ground, the subsidiary of Rising Sun Airlines responsible for servicing its planes at airports across Japan, goes undercover as a service crew member to discover how and whether his employees can speed up cleaning, checking, restocking, and refueling. Expert commentary comes from Atilla Korkmazoglu, president of ground handling and cargo operations at Celebi Aviation Holding, and Vikram Oberoi, managing director and CEO of EIH Ltd.

    Keywords: service operations; Employee empowerment; employee motivation; leadership; turnaround; Service Operations; Employees; Motivation and Incentives; Leadership; Air Transportation Industry; Japan;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan W. Buell. "Can You Cut 'Turn Times' Without Adding Staff?" R1604K. Harvard Business Review 94, no. 4 (April 2016): 113–117. View Details
  4. Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces

    Jesse Shore, Ethan Bernstein and David Lazer

    Using data from a novel laboratory experiment on complex problem solving in which we varied the structure of 16-person networks, we investigate how an organization's network structure shapes performance of problem-solving tasks. Problem solving, we argue, involves both exploration for information and exploration for solutions. Our results show that network clustering has opposite effects for these two important and complementary forms of exploration. Dense clustering encourages members of a network to generate more diverse information, but discourages them from generating diverse theories; in the language of March (1991), clustering promotes exploration in information space, but decreases exploration in solution space. Previous research, generally focusing on only one of those two spaces at a time, has produced an inconsistent understanding of the value of network clustering. By adopting an experimental platform on which information was measured separately from solutions, we bring disparate results under a single theoretical roof and clarify the effects of network clustering on problem-solving behavior and performance. The finding both provides a sharper tool for structuring organizations for knowledge work and reveals challenges inherent in manipulating network structure to enhance performance, as the communication structure that helps one determinant of successful problem solving may harm the other.

    Keywords: networks; experiments; clustering; problem solving; exploration and exploitation; knowledge; information; communication; search; collaboration; Collaboration Structures; transparency; Communication; Communication Technology; Information; Knowledge Use and Leverage; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Performance Effectiveness; Theory; Information Industry; Information Technology Industry; Public Administration Industry; Technology Industry; Service Industry;

    Citation:

    Shore, Jesse, Ethan Bernstein, and David Lazer. "Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces." Organization Science 26, no. 5 (September–October 2015): 1432–1446. (Won 2014 INGRoup Outstanding Paper Award.) View Details
  5. The Transparency Trap

    Ethan Bernstein

    To get people to be more creative and productive, managers increase transparency with open workspaces and access to real-time data. But less transparent work environments can yield more-transparent employees. Employees perform better when they can try out new ideas and approaches within certain zones of privacy. Organizations allow them to do that by drawing four types of boundaries: around teams of people (zones of attention), between feedback and evaluation (zones of judgment), between decision rights and improvement rights (zones of slack), and for set periods of experimentation (zones of time). By balancing transparency and privacy, organizations can encourage just the right amount of "deviance" to foster innovative behavior and boost productivity.

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan. "The Transparency Trap." Harvard Business Review 92, no. 10 (October 2014): 58–66. View Details
  6. The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control

    Ethan S. Bernstein

    Using data from embedded participant-observers and a field experiment at the second largest mobile phone factory in the world, located in China, I theorize and test the implications of transparent organizational design on workers' productivity and organizational performance. Drawing from theory and research on learning and control, I introduce the notion of a transparency paradox, whereby maintaining observability of workers may counterintuitively reduce their performance by inducing those being observed to conceal their activities through codes and other costly means; conversely, creating zones of privacy may, under certain conditions, increase performance. Empirical evidence from the field shows that even a modest increase in group-level privacy sustainably and significantly improves line performance, while qualitative evidence suggests that privacy is important in supporting productive deviance, localized experimentation, distraction avoidance, and continuous improvement. I discuss implications of these results for theory on learning and control and suggest directions for future research.

    Keywords: transparency; privacy; organizational learning; Operational Control; organizational performance; Chinese Manufacturing; field experiment; Rights; Interpersonal Communication; Management Practices and Processes; Ethics; Corporate Disclosure; Performance Productivity; Boundaries; Organizations; Social and Collaborative Networks; Labor and Management Relations; Power and Influence; Manufacturing Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan S. "The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control." Administrative Science Quarterly 57, no. 2 (June 2012): 181–216. View Details
  7. Strategic Change and the Jazz Mindset: Exploring Practices That Enhance Dynamic Capabilities for Organizational Improvisation

    Ethan S. Bernstein and Frank J. Barrett

    How can leaders adopt a mindset that maximizes learning, remains responsive to short-term emergent opportunities, and simultaneously strengthens longer-term dynamic capabilities of the organization? This chapter explores the organizational decisions and practices leaders can initiate to extend, strengthen, or transform "ordinary capabilities" (Winter, 2003) into enhanced improvisational competence and dynamic capabilities. We call this leadership logic the "jazz mindset." We draw upon seven characteristics of jazz bands as outlined by Barrett (1998) to show that strategic leaders of business organizations can enhance dynamic capabilities by strengthening practices observed in improvising jazz bands.

    Keywords: dynamic capabilities; strategic change; leadership; jazz; jazz mindset; improvisation; innovation; Change Management; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Innovation Leadership; Knowledge Use and Leverage; Leading Change; Leadership Style; Leadership; Management; Management Style; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Culture; Organizations; Creativity; Strategy; Auto Industry; Banking Industry; Bicycle Industry; Computer Industry; Consulting Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Education Industry; Electronics Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Financial Services Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Health Industry; Information Technology Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Music Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Retail Industry; Semiconductor Industry; Service Industry; Technology Industry; United States; Japan; Taiwan; Europe; Asia;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan S., and Frank J. Barrett. "Strategic Change and the Jazz Mindset: Exploring Practices That Enhance Dynamic Capabilities for Organizational Improvisation." Research in Organizational Change and Development 19 (2011): 55–90. View Details
  8. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Financial Regulation for the Twenty-First Century

    Leonard J. Kennedy, Patricia A. McCoy and Ethan S. Bernstein

    After existing regulatory systems failed to prevent the recent financial crisis, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a sweeping reform designed to alleviate the crisis and prevent its recurrence. Out of this Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was born. This new agency is charged with making markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans, a task that was previously spread out among seven different federal agencies with varying priorities. This Article describes, with a series of concrete case studies, four key principles that have guided the Bureau as it strives to fulfill Congress's mandate. First, the Bureau has taken a market-based approach that reflects its belief in the power of markets and competition to produce increasingly better outcomes for consumers and responsible providers alike. Second, recognizing that understanding a market well is essential to effective regulation, the Bureau has relied on evidence-based analysis to inform all of its activities. Third, the Bureau has complemented its empirical analysis with input from all segments of the public—including consumers, advocates, and regulated entities. To facilitate the kind of robust public participation that will make for more effective regulation, the Bureau has employed innovative technologies and strong transparency policies. Finally, the Bureau has studied and learned from historic regulatory experiences and has adopted best practices from the public and private sectors. These four principles, and others which cascade from them, define the Bureau's twenty-first century approach to promoting a well-functioning market for consumer financial services and effective consumer protection.

    Keywords: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Dodd-Frank; CFPB; financial crisis; reform; new agency; market-based approach; evidence-based analysis; innovative technologies and transparency policies; BEST practices; Government and Politics; Government Administration; Finance; Financial History; Law; Markets; Organizations; Organizational Design; Business and Government Relations; Balance and Stability; Strategy; Financial Services Industry; Banking Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Kennedy, Leonard J., Patricia A. McCoy, and Ethan S. Bernstein. "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Financial Regulation for the Twenty-First Century." Cornell Law Review 97, no. 5 (July 2012): 1141–1176. View Details
  9. All's Fair in Love, War, & Bankruptcy: Corporate Governance Implications of CEO Turnover in Financial Distress

    Ethan S. Bernstein

    Prior discussions of management turnover during financial distress have examined bankrupt and non-bankrupt firms as distinct groupings with little overlap. Separately investigating rates of turnover in-bankruptcy and out-of-bankruptcy, without a direct comparison between the two, has resulted in a narrowing of the accepted influence of bankruptcy law to post-petition, in-court decisions. Based on new evidence of CEO turnover in 2001, I argue empirically that this distinction between in-court and out-of-court restructuring has become meaningless from a governance perspective. In 2001, filing for bankruptcy did not change the rate of CEO turnover when one controls for financial condition. This statistically significant finding indicates that the shadow of bankruptcy has lengthened, making bankruptcy law a central tenet of governance policy regardless of whether a Chapter 11 petition is ever filed. After presenting these results, this article considers the implications of these results on the changing perceptions of the role of CEOs and the evolution of the multi-pronged U.S. corporate governance system.

    Keywords: CEO Turnover; bankruptcy; restructuring; Shadow of Bankruptcy; Borrowing and Debt; Credit; Financing and Loans; Corporate Governance; Finance; Theory; Markets; United States;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan S. "All's Fair in Love, War, & Bankruptcy: Corporate Governance Implications of CEO Turnover in Financial Distress." Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance 11, no. 2 (spring 2006): 299–325. View Details

Book Chapters

  1. How Leaders Use Values-based Guidance Systems to Create Dynamic Capabilities

    Rosabeth M. Kanter, Matthew Bird, Ethan Bernstein and Ryan Raffaelli

    How do strategic leaders create change-adept organizations? Based on qualitative field research, this chapter argues that well-defined institutionalized purpose, values, and principles act as an organizational guidance system that integrates and strengthens the micromechanisms that enable leaders to build dynamic capabilities and, therefore, change-adept organizations. From empirical case studies, we distill micromechanisms through which organizational guidance systems create fertile soil for dynamic capabilities. The five micromechanisms are values-based decision heuristics; intrinsic motivation with positive emotions; an organizational control system based on entrepreneurial self-organization, self-management, and peer regulation; an organizational identity that (a) fosters a longer-term perspective and (b) widens the firm's scope; and ecosystem creation. While much of the dynamic capabilities literature has focused on testing causal relationships between key performance variables and constructs, our goal here is to "open up" the regression model, provide a closer qualitative inspection of the "how-to" micromechanisms, and thereby advance a multidisciplinary research agenda.

    Keywords: Change; dynamic capabilities; field research; intrinsic motivation; organizational identity; ecosystem; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Mission and Purpose; Motivation and Incentives; Research; Management Systems; Change;

    Citation:

    Kanter, Rosabeth M., Matthew Bird, Ethan Bernstein, and Ryan Raffaelli. "How Leaders Use Values-based Guidance Systems to Create Dynamic Capabilities." Chap. 2 in The Oxford Handbook of Dynamic Capabilities, edited by David J. Teece and Sohvi Leih. Oxford University Press, forthcoming. (Pre-published online September 2015.) View Details
  2. Problem Solving and Search in Networks

    David Lazer and Ethan Bernstein

    This chapter examines the role that networks play in facilitating or inhibiting search for solutions to problems at both the individual and collective levels. At the individual level, search in networks enables individuals to transport themselves to a very different location in the solution space than they could likely reach through isolated experimental or cognitive search. Research on networks suggests that (a) ties to diverse others provide a wider menu of choices and insights for individuals, and (b) strong ties will be relatively more useful for complex information, and weak ties for simple information. At the collective level, these conclusions become less clear. The key question is how the collective operates to coordinate within the group versus beyond it so as to balance experimentation and convergence towards a solution. Collective coordination of search, and collective evaluation of potential solutions, may significantly influence the optimal network structure for collective problem-solving search.

    Keywords: networks; network organizations; search; problem solving; individual; individuals and teams; collective; cognitive search; network search; search typology; Networks; Social and Collaborative Networks; Theory; Knowledge Sharing;

    Citation:

    Lazer, David, and Ethan Bernstein. "Problem Solving and Search in Networks." Chap. 17 in Cognitive Search: Evolution, Algorithms, and the Brain, edited by Peter M. Todd, Thomas T. Hills, and Trevor W. Robbins, 269–282. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Trouble at Tessei

    Ethan Bernstein and Ryan W. Buell

    In 2005, Teruo Yabe is asked to revive Tessei, the 669-person JR-East subsidiary responsible for cleaning its Shinkansen ("bullet") trains. Operational mistakes, customer complaints, safety issues, and employee turnover are at or near all-time highs, even as the demands on Tessei continued to grow.

    Given previous leaders' failed attempts to fix Tessei's problems with increased managerial monitoring and controls, Yabe seeks a creative approach to overcome the motivation, capability, and coordination challenges facing his organization. Like many contemporary leaders, he selects transparency as his tool. He is, however, unique in adopting a highly nuanced approach to implementing transparency. In the process, he not only leads a fantastic organizational turnaround but even helps to make otherwise "dirty" work more meaningful for Tessei front-line employees. The case therefore presents students, particularly in leadership, organizational behavior, operations management, and service operations courses, with an opportunity to think through how a well-crafted transparency strategy can act as a powerful leadership tool.

    Keywords: service operations; service management; employee engagement; employee motivation; leadership and managing people; leadership; quality improvement; efficiency; Japan; operational transparency; employee coordination; transparency; Leadership; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Employees; Quality; Transportation Industry; Japan;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan W. Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Supplement 616-706, March 2016. View Details
  2. Trouble at Tessei

    Ethan Bernstein and Ryan W. Buell

    In 2005, Teruo Yabe is asked to revive Tessei, the 669-person JR-East subsidiary responsible for cleaning its Shinkansen ("bullet") trains. Operational mistakes, customer complaints, safety issues, and employee turnover are at or near all-time highs, even as the demands on Tessei continued to grow.

    Given previous leaders' failed attempts to fix Tessei's problems with increased managerial monitoring and controls, Yabe seeks a creative approach to overcome the motivation, capability, and coordination challenges facing his organization. Like many contemporary leaders, he selects transparency as his tool. He is, however, unique in adopting a highly nuanced approach to implementing transparency. In the process, he not only leads a fantastic organizational turnaround but even helps to make otherwise "dirty" work more meaningful for Tessei front-line employees. The case therefore presents students, particularly in leadership, organizational behavior, operations management, and service operations courses, with an opportunity to think through how a well-crafted transparency strategy can act as a powerful leadership tool.

    Keywords: service operations; service management; employee engagement; employee motivation; leadership and managing people; leadership; quality improvement; efficiency; Japan; operational transparency; employee coordination; transparency; Leadership; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Employees; Quality; Transportation Industry; Japan;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan W. Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Case 615-044, January 2015. (Revised October 2015.) View Details
  3. Trouble at Tessei

    Ethan Bernstein and Ryan Buell

    In 2005, Teruo Yabe is asked to revive Tessei, the 669-person JR-East subsidiary responsible for cleaning its Shinkansen ("bullet") trains. Operational mistakes, customer complaints, safety issues, and employee turnover are at or near all-time highs, even as the demands on Tessei continued to grow.

    Given previous leaders' failed attempts to fix Tessei's problems with increased managerial monitoring and controls, Yabe seeks a creative approach to overcome the motivation, capability, and coordination challenges facing his organization. Like many contemporary leaders, he selects transparency as his tool. He is, however, unique in adopting a highly nuanced approach to implementing transparency. In the process, he not only leads a fantastic organizational turnaround but even helps to make otherwise "dirty" work more meaningful for Tessei front-line employees. The case therefore presents students, particularly in leadership, organizational behavior, operations management, and service operations courses, with an opportunity to think through how a well-crafted transparency strategy can act as a powerful leadership tool.

    Keywords: service operations; service management; employee engagement; employee motivation; leadership and managing people; leadership; quality improvement; efficiency; Japan; operational transparency; employee coordination; transparency; Leadership; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Employees; Quality; Transportation Industry; Japan;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, and Ryan Buell. "Trouble at Tessei." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 616-031, October 2015. (Revised December 2015.) View Details
  4. Note on Organizational Structure

    Ethan Bernstein and Nitin Nohria

    Provides the reader with a basic understanding of organizational structure. The first section outlines some of the key tools and criteria that must be taken into account in designing organizational structures. In the second section, some archetypal forms of organizational structure and their strengths and weaknesses are described. Finally, some emerging trends in how organizations are structured are discussed in the last section of this note, supplemented by a brief summary, in timeline format, of the evolution of organizational structure in theory and practice.

    Keywords: Organizational Structure;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, and Nitin Nohria. "Note on Organizational Structure." Harvard Business School Background Note 491-083, February 1991. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  5. Leader-as-Architect: Alignment

    Ethan Bernstein, Ryan Raffaelli and Joshua Margolis

    Part of a leader's job is to equip the organization to transform inputs into outputs by defining organizational strategy, shaping organizational identity, and then managing four organizational components—formal organizational structure, culture, people, and critical tasks—such that each component, and their interaction, aligns to produce performance. Substantial research has demonstrated that well-aligned organizations will be more capable of (1) attaining strategic goals, (2) efficiently utilizing resources to do so, and (3) adapting to unforeseen, future challenges. This short note walks through the Congruence Model, a simple yet powerful tool for achieving alignment in an organization.

    Keywords: leadership; organization; organizational design; Resource management; strategy; identity; Business Processes; Design; Organizational Design; Strategic Planning;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, Ryan Raffaelli, and Joshua Margolis. "Leader-as-Architect: Alignment." Harvard Business School Background Note 415-039, October 2014. View Details
  6. Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (A)

    Ethan Bernstein, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats

    Valve, one of the world's top video game software companies, has also become an iconic example of an organization with virtually no hierarchy. A 400-person organization, Valve's unique organizational form (described in detail in the case and accompanying employee handbook) includes 100% self-allocated time, no managers (and therefore no managerial oversight), a structure so fluid that all desks have wheels to allow free movement between "cabals" (teams) on a regular basis (which happens frequently enough that Valve created a homegrown tracking app to allow peers to find each other), a unique hiring apparatus that supports recruitment of T-shaped individuals, and a purely peer-based performance review and stack ranking. As customer demand and market forces draw Valve into hardware in 2013, Valve questions whether their organizational model will need to change as it expands from software into hardware—and, if so, whether they should prioritize strategy over structure or structure over strategy. The case, therefore, presents students with a strategic and organizational challenge that tests students' understanding, and Valve's resolve, with regard to the congruence between their organizational model and strategic direction.

    Keywords: Valve; Self-Managed Organizations; organization design; strategy; Flat Organization; Video Games; organization alignment; Organizational Change and Adaptation; software; family business; Steam; Steam Machine; Design; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Human Resources; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Technological Innovation; Leadership Style; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Groups and Teams; Alignment; Software; Hardware; Video Game Industry; Seattle;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats. "Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (A)." Harvard Business School Case 415-015, August 2014. View Details
  7. Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (B)

    Ethan Bernstein, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats

    Valve, one of the world's top video game software companies, has also become an iconic example of an organization with virtually no hierarchy. A 400-person organization, Valve's unique organizational form (described in detail in the case and accompanying employee handbook) includes 100% self-allocated time, no managers (and therefore no managerial oversight), a structure so fluid that all desks have wheels to allow free movement between "cabals" (teams) on a regular basis (which happens frequently enough that Valve created a homegrown tracking app to allow peers to find each other), a unique hiring apparatus that supports recruitment of T-shaped individuals, and a purely peer-based performance review and stack ranking.

    As customer demand and market forces draw Valve into hardware in 2013, Valve questions whether their organizational model will need to change as it expands from software into hardware—and, if so, whether they should prioritize strategy over structure or structure over strategy. The case therefore presents students with a strategic and organizational challenge which tests students' understanding, and Valve's resolve, with regard to the congruence between their organizational model and strategic direction.

    Students should have read and discussed the (A) case, and Valve's options for entering hardware, prior to the (B) case being distributed. The (B) case provides significant detail on Valve's initial decisions but keeps the final outcome as a work-in-process.

    Keywords: Valve; Self-Managed Organizations; organization design; strategy; Flat Organization; Video Games; organization alignment; Organizational Change and Adaptation; software; hardware; family business; Steam; Steam Machine; Design; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Human Resources; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Technological Innovation; Leadership Style; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Groups and Teams; Alignment; Software; Hardware; Video Game Industry; Seattle;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats. "Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 415-016, August 2014. (Revised August 2015.) View Details
  8. Belk: Towards Exceptional Scheduling

    Ethan Bernstein, Saravanan Kesavan, Bradley Staats and Luke Hassall

    With 24,000 staff and over 300 stores, Belk Inc. sought to replace its entirely manual labor scheduling system with an automated software solution from Reflexis. Belk hoped the upgrade would simplify scheduling, reduce time employees spent in non-customer-facing roles, and result in improved allocation of resources through the use of big data, thereby increasing sales productivity. Like many other retailers, Belk expected the benefits from automated scheduling software to be significant. But unlike other retailers who took an iron hand approach to push compliance, Belk's implementation permitted store managers to "edit" the system to "fix" the "bugs" in the automated schedules—seeking not to replace labor but rather inform it. Belk commenced piloting the solution in May 2013 and subsequently expanded the number of stores running the software to 50 over the course of 2013. Despite signs of initial success with the stores running the scheduling solution, SVP Eric Bass quickly began to notice a significant issue with the implementation: over 70% of shifts generated by the system were receiving manual overrides ("edits") by the store managers. Store managers believed the edits were necessary to remain responsive to local needs—and were, indeed, productive. Senior executives were skeptical, concerned that edits indicated resistance to productive change, and unsure of why Belk had spent so much time and money on an automated system only to have the stores override it. Having deliberately allowed store managers and lead schedulers to override the system, Bass (a retail store veteran who worked his way up to corporate) now needed to understand how and why they were doing so and to make sure that those edits were being made in a constructive manner. In a disagreement between human and machine, Belk allowed humans to win by design by giving them the right to edit the "optimized" schedules. The case allows students to go deep into the question (qualitatively and quantitatively) and drive a detailed conversation about whether the result of Belk's flexible "edit" policy was a more or less effective implementation.

    Keywords: retail; change management; scheduling; local autonomy; automation; metrics; Organizational change; human resource management; process improvement; performance measurement; transparency; southern united states; retailing; family business; department stores; system outsourced services; Employee Relationship Management; Selection and Staffing; Change Management; Governance Controls; Resource Allocation; Service Operations; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Performance Evaluation; Performance Improvement; Software; Family Business; Retail Industry; Technology Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, Saravanan Kesavan, Bradley Staats, and Luke Hassall. "Belk: Towards Exceptional Scheduling." Harvard Business School Case 415-023, September 2014. (Revised February 2017.) View Details
  9. Leadership and Teaming

    Ethan Bernstein

    Small differences in the leadership of teams can have large consequences for the success of their efforts. Many initiatives fail not because of a fatal error in judgment or insufficient ideas, knowledge, motivation, or capabilities to deliver a solution. They fail because, as is so often heard, "we needed to be more of a team to succeed," "we weren't a sufficiently high-performing team," or "our team suffered from a lack of leadership." In a world where most problems faced by organizations are too complex for a single individual to tackle alone, leadership frequently involves designing, launching, and managing teams. And yet teams are fickle. Even as teams become more common at all levels of organizations, a shocking number of them fail to live up to their potential or even to deliver at all. Teams remain the most flexible and powerful units of learning, change, and performance in most organizations but require effective leadership to succeed. This note summarizes the conditions leaders can create to increase the chances of creating, managing, and participating in successful teaming environments.

    Keywords: teams; teaming; leadership and managing people; leadership; Team Effectiveness; Team Performance; Team Design; team leadership; Teamwork; Team Process; Team Function; Team Launch; 60/30/10 Rule; Team Boundary; Distribution of Leadership Authority; Self-Managed Teams; Virtual Teams; Unbounded Teams; Acts of Leadership; Execution Teams; Decision Making Teams; Creativity Teams; Team Size; Task Design; Team Timeline; Team Roles; Team Representation; diversity; Team Familiarity; Collective Intelligence; Team Stages of Development; Team Coaching; Performance Pressure; X-Teams; Team Focus; Interaction; Management Teams; Managerial Roles; Management Systems; Management Style; Management Skills; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Performance Effectiveness; Performance Efficiency; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Networks; Social Psychology; Behavior; Conflict and Resolution; Creativity; Social and Collaborative Networks; Satisfaction; Prejudice and Bias; Power and Influence; Personal Characteristics; Familiarity; Cognition and Thinking; Attitudes; Projects; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Leadership Development; Leadership Style; Leading Change; Knowledge Use and Leverage; Knowledge Sharing; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Innovation Leadership; Design; Interpersonal Communication; Accommodations Industry; Accounting Industry; Advertising Industry; Aerospace Industry; Agriculture and Agribusiness Industry; Air Transportation Industry; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Auto Industry; Banking Industry; Battery Industry; Beauty and Cosmetics Industry; Bicycle Industry; Biotechnology Industry; Chemical Industry; Communications Industry; Computer Industry; Construction Industry; Consulting Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Distribution Industry; Education Industry; Electronics Industry; Employment Industry; Energy Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Fashion Industry; Financial Services Industry; Fine Arts Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Forest Products Industry; Forestry Industry; Green Technology Industry; Health Industry; Industrial Products Industry; Information Industry; Information Technology Industry; Insurance Industry; Journalism and News Industry; Legal Services Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Media and Broadcasting Industry; Medical Devices and Supplies Industry; Mining Industry; Motion Pictures and Video Industry; Motorcycle Industry; Music Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Public Administration Industry; Public Relations Industry; Publishing Industry; Pulp and Paper Industry; Rail Industry; Real Estate Industry; Retail Industry; Rubber Industry; Semiconductor Industry; Service Industry; Shipping Industry; Sports Industry; Steel Industry; Technology Industry; Telecommunications Industry; Tourism Industry; Transportation Industry; Travel Industry; Utilities Industry; Video Game Industry; Web Services Industry; Asia; North and Central America; South America; Atlantic Ocean; Central Asia; Europe; Latin America; Middle East; Oceania; West Indies;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan. "Leadership and Teaming." Harvard Business School Background Note 414-033, September 2013. (Revised August 2015.) View Details
  10. Jieliang Phone Home! (A)

    Willy Shih, Ethan Bernstein and Nina Bilimoria

    At Precision Electro-Tek's mobile phone manufacturing facility in southern China, thousands of operators—bright and capable young men and (mostly) women like Jieliang Hao—are motivated to improve line productivity through small innovations for faster assembly and have discovered many ways to increase their performance. Meanwhile a globally networked team of manufacturing experts led by Marty Cole, the case protagonist, is trying to spread best practice from other sites around the globe. Unfortunately these two processes sometimes inadvertently clash, presenting a management challenge. The case helps students examine the implicit assumptions managers make in organizing work inside a factory. These assumptions reflect theories of worker behavior and motivation in combination with managers' beliefs of what constitutes "best practice." Students are offered an opportunity to dissect these lean manufacturing theories and recognize that in this particular implementation, implementation of best practice without sufficient consideration of the interplay of theories on motivation has led to unexpected outcomes. The case offers an opportunity to explore the link between work design and compensation and to understand the differences between compensation and motivation. The case frames the role of the general manager in setting up work structures and compensation systems in a very traditional and explicit setting, one where linkages should be clearly visible yet assumptions are often deeply buried and implicit. Our expectation is that students will see the lessons generalize to most, if not all, of the organizations where they have worked. There are three cases: the (A) case describes the management view, the (B) case describes the direct labor worker view, and the (C) case details the results of an employee survey that was conducted on two manufacturing lines.

    Keywords: Compensation and Benefits; Job Design and Levels; Business Processes; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Manufacturing Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, Ethan Bernstein, and Nina Bilimoria. "Jieliang Phone Home! (A)." Harvard Business School Case 609-080, February 2009. (Revised July 2012.) View Details
  11. Jieliang Phone Home! (B)

    Willy Shih, Ethan Bernstein and Nina Bilimoria

    At Precision Electro-Tek's mobile phone manufacturing facility in southern China, thousands of operators—bright and capable young men and (mostly) women like Jieliang Hao—are motivated to improve line productivity through small innovations for faster assembly and have discovered many ways to increase their performance. Meanwhile a globally-networked team of manufacturing experts led by Marty Cole, the case protagonist, is trying to spread best practice from other sites around the globe. Unfortunately these two processes sometimes inadvertently clash, presenting a management challenge. The case helps students examine the implicit assumptions managers make in organizing work inside a factory. These assumptions reflect theories of worker behavior and motivation in combination with managers' beliefs of what constitutes "best practice." Students are offered an opportunity to dissect these lean manufacturing theories and recognize that in this particular implementation, implementation of best practice without sufficient consideration of the interplay of theories on motivation has led to unexpected outcomes. The case offers an opportunity to explore the link between work design and compensation, and understand the differences between compensation and motivation. The case frames the role of the general manager in setting up work structures and compensation systems in a very traditional and explicit setting, one where linkages should be clearly visible yet assumptions are often deeply buried and implicit. Our expectation is that students will see the lessons generalize to most, if not all, of the organizations where they have worked. There are three cases: the (A) case describes the management view, the (B) case describes the direct labor worker view, and the (C) case details the results of an employee survey that was conducted on two manufacturing lines.

    Keywords: Motivation and Incentives; Behavior; Production; Innovation and Invention; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Management Practices and Processes; Compensation and Benefits; Labor; Surveys; Decisions; Manufacturing Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, Ethan Bernstein, and Nina Bilimoria. "Jieliang Phone Home! (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 609-081, February 2009. (Revised July 2012.) View Details
  12. Jieliang Phone Home! (C)

    Willy Shih, Ethan Bernstein and Nina Bilimoria

    At Precision Electro-Tek's mobile phone manufacturing facility in southern China, thousands of operators - bright and capable young men and (mostly) women like Jieliang Hao are motivated to improve line productivity through small innovations for faster assembly and have discovered many ways to increase their performance. Meanwhile a globally-networked team of manufacturing experts led by Marty Cole, the case protagonist, is trying to spread best practice from other sites around the globe. Unfortunately these two processes sometimes inadvertently clash, presenting a management challenge. The case helps students examine the implicit assumptions managers make in organizing work inside a factory. These assumptions reflect theories of worker behavior and motivation in combination with managers' beliefs of what constitutes "best practice." Students are offered an opportunity to dissect these lean manufacturing theories and recognize that in this particular implementation, implementation of best practice without sufficient consideration of the interplay of theories on motivation has led to unexpected outcomes. The case offers an opportunity to explore the link between work design and compensation, and understand the differences between compensation and motivation. The case frames the role of the general manager in setting up work structures and compensation systems in a very traditional and explicit setting, one where linkages should be clearly visible yet assumptions are often deeply buried and implicit. Our expectation is that students will see the lessons generalize to most, if not all, of the organizations where they have worked. There are three cases: the (A) case describes the management view, the (B) case describes the direct labor worker view, and the (C) case details the results of an employee survey that was conducted on two manufacturing lines.

    Keywords: Globalization; Compensation and Benefits; Surveys; Innovation and Invention; Management Practices and Processes; Production; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Labor and Management Relations; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Manufacturing Industry; Telecommunications Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, Ethan Bernstein, and Nina Bilimoria. "Jieliang Phone Home! (C)." Harvard Business School Supplement 609-082, February 2009. (Revised July 2012.) View Details
  13. The Case of the Unidentified Healthcare Companies—2010

    Richard Bohmer, Ethan Bernstein, Margarita Krivitski and Srinidhi Reddy

    This case presents financial statements and selected ratios for 14 unidentified healthcare organizations and asks that each set of financial information be matched with one of the following healthcare companies: a biotechnology firm, a community nursing company, a distributor (medical), a DME licensee and seller, a DME developer and seller, a home care provider, a hospital (diversified), an insurer, a lab/diagnostic firm, a medical device manufacturer, a nursing home operator, a pharmaceuticals company (branded), a pharmaceuticals company (generics), and a private practice.

    Keywords: Financial Reporting; Financial Statements; Health Care and Treatment; Health Industry;

    Citation:

    Bohmer, Richard, Ethan Bernstein, Margarita Krivitski, and Srinidhi Reddy. "The Case of the Unidentified Healthcare Companies—2010." Harvard Business School Case 611-043, January 2011. (Revised January 2012.) View Details
  14. Assembling Smartphones: Takt Time ≠ Cycle Time?

    Willy Shih and Ethan Bernstein

    The case was prepared to be used as part of a process review in the first year Technology and Operations Management course at HBS. It offers students an opportunity to discuss the context of a manufacturing process choice, and then examine actual production numbers that resulted from a series of choices. While there isn't a traditional case issue, the discussion should focus on the gap between theoretical process designs and the reality of practical implementations, with the impact of operator variability in pace and the complex intertwining with work scope. The case only meant for one discussion pasture to review the Hayes-Wheelwright product-process matrix, and the impact of variability on line performance. While comparative numbers for the process choices are provided, the hope would be to develop students' intuition around why the numbers change so much.

    Keywords: Cognition and Thinking; Research and Development; Design; Six Sigma; Measurement and Metrics; Production;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, and Ethan Bernstein. "Assembling Smartphones: Takt Time ≠ Cycle Time?" Harvard Business School Case 611-012, September 2010. (Revised December 2012.) View Details

Magazine Articles

  1. 公益資本主義 の確立に向けて公式・非公式の「制度」を再設計する.

    George Hara, David James Brunner, Ethan Bernstein and Asumi Nonomiya

    Keywords: Capitalism;

    Citation:

    Hara, George, David James Brunner, Ethan Bernstein, and Asumi Nonomiya. "公益資本主義 の確立に向けて公式・非公式の「制度」を再設計する." Shūkan Daiyamondo [Diamond Weekly] 97, no. 41 (October 17, 2009): 164–171. View Details
  2. 公益資本主義 の確立に向けて 株主至上主義・市場万能主義の限界

    George Hara, David James Brunner, Ethan Bernstein and Asumi Nonomiya

    Keywords: Capitalism;

    Citation:

    Hara, George, David James Brunner, Ethan Bernstein, and Asumi Nonomiya. "公益資本主義 の確立に向けて 株主至上主義・市場万能主義の限界." Shūkan Daiyamondo [Diamond Weekly] 97, no. 40 (October 10, 2009): 164–171. View Details

    Research Summary

  1. Overview

    by Ethan S. Bernstein

    Organizations’ quest for employee productivity is fueling a gospel of transparency in the management of organizations. Managers seek to boost productivity with a novel array of transparency-enhancing tools, like open offices, visual factories, big data, people analytics, and technologies that track everything from work activity (through wearables and mobile devices) to communication (through email, browser history, and other digital breadcrumbs) and even mood (through facial recognition). Meanwhile, the employees being observed have questions ranging from “How can I get them to leave me alone so I can do this job right?” to “How much do they know about me?” At the intersection of these perspectives lies a puzzle for researchers and theorists: how might a 21st-century behavioral theory of transparency in the workplace be crafted to take stock of these dueling concerns of manager and employee? That is the theory that Professor Bernstein seeks to build through his research, course development, teaching, and collaboration with practitioners.

    Keywords: privacy; transparency; productivity; Field Experiments;

  2. The Unexpected Effects of Transparency

    by Ethan S. Bernstein

    Workplace transparency provides a foundation for learning, control, and therefore productivity. Yet, in a world obsessed with transparency, Professor Bernstein’s research shows that limitations exist--that transparency-enhancing tools can backfire due to the unintended consequences of too much transparency at work.

    Why does workplace transparency work when it does? Why does it disappoint when it does?  

    Professor Bernstein’s research, which uses multiple methods to address those two questions, is centered on the finding that not only does transparency reveal what employees do, it can also change what they do, with both intended and unintended consequences. A bright light helps you study an Old Master painting, but it also affects the paint and changes or fades the colors. Just as museums need to balance the need to see and the need to protect, organizations need to balance the need to observe with the observed party’s need to be private. 

    Those organizations which fail to balance observer and observed perspectives on workplace transparency may do so at their peril, resulting in what Professor Bernstein has termed a transparency paradox or transparency trap: overly-transparent work environments, because they leave employees feeling exposed, may produce less-transparent employees who seek to actively conceal what they are doing—even when making improvements—thus reducing productivity and, paradoxically, transparency. 

    Professor Bernstein continues to conduct research to, in his words, make transparency transparent.

    Keywords: transparency; privacy; productivity; Field Experiments; United States; Europe; China; Japan;

  3. Designing Productive Zones of Privacy

    by Ethan S. Bernstein

    A common theme that integrates Professor Bernstein's research and course development is how the design of boundaries to observation in organizations can shape more productive employee behaviors in increasingly transparent workplaces. If the stream of research above challenges existing assumptions about transparency, empirically and theoretically exploring the unintended consequences of too much transparency at work, this second stream maps what is to be done, identifying the ways in which managers and employees (the observers and the observed) can strategically use boundaries to create zones of privacy, productive sweet spots that strike a balance between the dual needs for transparency and privacy.

    Keywords: transparency; privacy; Field Experiments; Design; Organizational Design; Performance;

    Teaching

  1. Overview

    by Ethan S. Bernstein

    Professor Bernstein teaches Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD). This course focuses on how managers become effective leaders by addressing the human side of enterprise.

    The course is divided into five modules:
    1. Leading Teams: In a world where most problems faced by organizations are too complex for a single individual to tackle alone, leadership frequently involves forming, mandating, and managing teams. And yet teams are fickle. Even as teams become more and more common at all levels of organizations, a shocking number of them fail to live up to their potential or even deliver at all. Small differences in the leadership of teams can have large consequences for the success of their efforts. In six class sessions, we build an understanding of how leadership of team identity/design and team processes can significantly improve team effectiveness and the chances of becoming a high-performing team.
    2. Enhancing Interpersonal Effectiveness: Those in charge have always depended on others to get work done. This means building a network of effective work relationships. The segment begins by identifying the critical ingredients for building effective relationships with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates. We will look at various interpersonal relationships from different perspectives, including hierarchical, demographic, and cultural aspects, exploring the nuances of working with those from varied demographic backgrounds and the advantages and disadvantages of different communication and influence strategies. The aim of this segment is to enable managers to successfully build effective work relationships as they apply to managing in all directions.
    3. Leading, Designing, and Aligning Organizations: This module explores in depth what it takes to be an effective leader. This segment will also examine what it takes to achieve “congruence” among an organization's elements: its strategy, critical tasks, formal organization, people, and culture. We will study a number of leaders “in action” to gain insight into the critical functions and personal qualities that contribute to effective leadership. To be effective, the critical elements of an organization need to be in alignment.
    4. Leading Change: Leaders’ attempts to renew or change their organizations often fail. In this segment of the course we will compare and contrast efforts to transform organizations in order to identify critical stages and activities in the change process. We will identify different approaches for developing and communicating a vision for an organization and for motivating people to fulfill that vision. We address the following questions: What are the primary sources of resistance to change? What are the most appropriate ways for overcoming them? What change strategies “work” and under what conditions?
    5. Developing Your Path: In this final module, we will focus on several strategic issues involved in building a dynamic career, paying particular attention to early- and mid-career choices and dilemmas. We will consider the following topics: How do individuals learn to lead? What critical experiences and relationships are needed?

    The LEAD course has the following six goals:
    • The course offers a realistic preview of what it means to manage
    • The course helps students begin to transform professional identity from individual contributor to manager
    • The course helps students confront both the task learning and personal learning involved in becoming a manager
    • The course addresses the process of developing effective relationships with a diverse collection of individuals and groups
    • The course helps students develop an understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader
    • The course helps students learn how to be proactive and entrepreneurial in developing your leadership talents over the course of your career


    • Professor Bernstein takes particular joy in teaching LEAD as he was a student in the LEAD course in the fall of 2000 (Section D).

      Professor Bernstein has also taught a PhD seminar in the craft of field research and numerous executive education courses.

    Keywords: Leadership; Leadership Development; Leadership Style; Innovation Leadership;

  1. Finalist for the 2014 McKinsey Award for the best article in Harvard Business Review for "The Transparency Trap" (October 2014).

  2. Winner of the 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award, awarded by the International Leadership Association and the Jepson School for Leadership Studies for demonstrating substantial insights and implications for the study of leadership through Professor Bernstein's dissertation, “Does Privacy Make Groups Productive.”

  3. Won the 2010 Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award in Organization Design, Effectiveness, and Change from the CEO (Center for Effective Organizations at the USC Marshall School of Business) and the Academy of Management's Organization Development and Change Division for his work, "Innovation Boundaries: Deconstructing Autonomy."

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