Ethan S. Bernstein

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Ethan Bernstein is an Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. He teaches the first-year MBA course in Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and a PhD course on the craft of field research. His teaching and research address topics related to leadership, collaboration, teamwork, design thinking, and learning in organizations.

Professor Bernstein’s work has been published in journals including Administrative Science QuarterlyResearch on Organizational Change and Development, and the Cornell Law Review, and it has appeared in The Washington PostThe Boston Globe, NPR, Forbes, MSNBC’s Bottom LineYahoo! FinanceInc.Esquire, United Hemispheres, and TEDx Boston, among others. His research has won awards including 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, 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association, the HBS Wyss Award, and the Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award.

Ethan Bernstein is an Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. He teaches the first-year MBA course in Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and a PhD course on the craft of field research. His teaching and research address topics related to leadership, collaboration, teamwork, design thinking, and learning in organizations.

Professor Bernstein’s work has been published in journals including Administrative Science QuarterlyResearch on Organizational Change and Development, and the Cornell Law Review, and it has appeared in The Washington PostThe Boston Globe, NPR, Forbes, MSNBC’s Bottom LineYahoo! FinanceInc.EsquireUnited Hemispheres, and TEDx Boston, among others. His research has won awards including 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, 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association, the HBS Wyss Award, and the Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award.

In his current research, Professor Bernstein examines how, and under what conditions, privacy makes groups more productive—and specifically how the sharing of information across and within boundaries affects learning, innovation, and organizational performance. In a world obsessed with transparency, his findings suggest that boundaries may sometimes provide unanticipated benefits and be an underutilized managerial performance lever. Put differently, attention matters for performance, and boundaries can be strategically important in directing it. 

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.

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.

In addition to his organizational behavior courses, Professor Bernstein has taught a wide range of topics and students, including Accounting and Finance in the HBS MBA Analytics program, Operations at the Samsung Premier Leadership Development Program, Economics at Harvard College, and the Business Leadership Program at HBS.

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.

Journal Articles

  1. 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
  2. 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; Performance Productivity; Theory; Boundaries; Interpersonal Communication; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Job Design and Levels; Working Conditions; Leadership Style; Business or Company Management; Management Practices and Processes; Production; Organizational Design; Groups and Teams; Networks; Labor and Management Relations; Social and Collaborative Networks; Power and Influence; Adaptation; 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
  3. 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
  4. 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 21, 2012): 1141–1176. View Details
  5. 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. 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

Working Papers

  1. 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 network structure of 16-person organizations, we investigate how an organization's network structure shapes performance in problem-solving tasks. Problem solving, we argue, involves both search for information and search for solutions. Our results show that the effect of network clustering is opposite for these two important and complementary forms of search. 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 were able to 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 the challenges inherent in manipulating network structure to enhance performance, as the communication structure that helps one antecedent of successful problem solving may harm the other.

    Keywords: Networks; Organizational Structure; Performance;

    Citation:

    Shore, Jesse, Ethan Bernstein, and David Lazer. "Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-075, March 2014. (Revised June 2014.) View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. 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
  2. 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; Hardwre; 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
  3. 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; Hardwre; 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. View Details
  4. 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. View Details
  5. 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 June 2014.) View Details
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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

Featured Works

  1. 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; Performance Productivity; Theory; Boundaries; Interpersonal Communication; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Job Design and Levels; Working Conditions; Leadership Style; Business or Company Management; Management Practices and Processes; Production; Organizational Design; Groups and Teams; Networks; Labor and Management Relations; Social and Collaborative Networks; Power and Influence; Adaptation; 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
  2. 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