David A. Garvin

C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration

David A. Garvin is the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He joined the Business School faculty in 1979 and has since then taught courses in leadership, general management, and operations in the MBA and Advanced Management programs, as well as serving as chair of the Elective Curriculum and faculty chair of the School's Teaching and Learning Center. He has also taught in executive education programs and consulted for over fifty organizations around the globe, including Amyris, Biogen Idec, Booz Allen Hamilton, Frito-Lay, Gillette, L. L. Bean, 3M, Mitsubishi, Morgan Stanley, Mueller, Novartis, PPG, Reed Elsevier, Seagate, Stryker, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Professor Garvin's research interests lie in the areas of general management and strategic change. He is especially interested in business and management processes, organizational learning, and the design and leadership of large, complex organizations. He is also deeply interested in case method teaching. He is the author or co-author of ten books, including Rethinking the MBA (selected by Strategy + Business as one of the Best Business Books of 2010), General Management: Processes and Action, Learning in Action, Education for Judgment, and Managing Quality; more than thirty-five articles, including "How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management," "Change Through Persuasion," "What Every CEO Should Know About Creating New Businesses," and "What You Don't Know About Making Decisions;" eight CD-ROMs and videotape series, including A Case Study Teacher in Action, Working Smarter, and Putting the Learning Organization to Work; and over sixty HBS case studies, multimedia exercises, and technical notes. He is a three-time winner of the McKinsey Award, given annually for the best article in Harvard Business Review; a winner of the Beckhard Prize, given annually for the best article on planned change and organizational development in Sloan Management Review; and a winner of the Smith-Weld Prize, given annually for the best article on the University in Harvard Magazine. He has been cited in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Economist, Business Week, Fortune, and Fast Company.

Professor Garvin received an A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1974, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. in 1979, where he held a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and a Sloan Foundation Fellowship.

Prior to coming to the Business School, he worked as an economist for both the Federal Trade Commission, studying federal energy policies, and the Sloan Commission on Government and Higher Education, studying the impact of federal regulation on the academic and financial policies of colleges and universities. He has served on the Board of Overseers of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the Manufacturing Studies Board of the National Research Council, and the Board of Directors of Emerson Hospital.

In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, bicycling, and travel. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts with his wife, Lynn, and his daughters, Diana and Cynthia.

  1. How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management

    High-performing knowledge workers often question whether managers actually contribute much, especially in a technical environment. Until recently, that was the case at Google, a company filled with self-starters who viewed management as more destructive than beneficial and as a distraction from "real work." But when Google's people analytics team examined the value of managers, applying the same rigorous research methods the company uses in its operations, it proved the skeptics wrong. Mining data from employee surveys, performance reviews, and double-blind interviews, the team verified that managers indeed had a positive impact. It also pinpointed exactly how, identifying the eight key behaviors of great Google managers. In this article, Harvard Business School professor Garvin describes how Google has incorporated the detailed findings from the research into highly specific, concrete guidelines; classes; and feedback reports that help managers hone their essential skills. Because these tools were built from the ground up, using the staff's own input, they've been embraced by Google employees. Managers say that they've found their training to be invaluable, and managers' ratings from direct reports have steadily risen across the company.
    How Google Proved Management Matters - an interview with David Garvin.
  2. Rethinking the MBA

    For decades, MBA graduates from top-tier schools set the standard for cutting-edge business knowledge and skills. Now the business world has changed, say the authors of Rethinking the MBA -- Srikant M. Datar, David A. Garvin, and Patrick G. Cullen -- and MBA programs must change with it. Increasingly, managers and recruiters are questioning conventional business education.

    An interview with David Garvin discussing his book "Rethinkging the MBA."

  3. Meeting the Challenge of Corporate Entrepreneurship

    To be competitive, companies must grow innovative new businesses. Corporate entrepreneurship, however, isn't easy. New ventures face innumerable barriers and seldom mesh smoothly with well-established systems, processes, and cultures. Nonetheless, success requires a balance of old and new organizational traits--and unless companies keep those opposing forces in equilibrium, their new businesses will flounder. The authors describe the challenges companies face when they pursue new businesses, as well as the usual problematic responses to those challenges. Such companies, they say, must perform three balancing acts: 1) Develop strategy by trial and error, which includes narrowing potential choices, learning from small samples, using prototypes to test business models, tracking progress through nonfinancial measures, and knowing how and when to pull the plug on a new venture; 2) Find the best combination of old and new operational processes by staffing new ventures with "mature turks," changing veterans' thinking, knowing which capabilities to develop and which to acquire, and having old and new businesses share responsibility for operating decisions; 3) Strike the right balance of integration and autonomy by assigning both corporate and operating sponsors to new ventures, establishing criteria for handoffs to existing divisions, and using creative organizational structures. The authors provide a detailed look at IBM's Emerging Business Opportunity system, which manages all these balancing acts simultaneously.

  4. What You Don't Know About Making Decisions

    Most executives think of decision making as a singular event that occurs at a particular point in time. In reality, though, decision making is a process fraught with power plays, politics, personal nuances, and institutional history. Leaders who recognize this make far better decisions than those who persevere in the fantasy that decisions are events they alone control. That said, some decision making processes are far more effective than others. Most often, participants use an advocacy process, possibly the least productive way to get things done. They view decision making as a contest, arguing passionately for their preferred solutions, presenting information selectively, withholding relevant conflicting data so they can make a convincing case, and standing firm against opposition. Much more powerful is an inquiry process, in which people consider a variety of options and work together to discover the best solution. Moving from advocacy to inquiry requires careful attention to three critical factors: fostering constructive, rather than personal, conflict; making sure everyone knows that their viewpoints are given serious consideration even if they are not ultimately accepted; and knowing when to bring deliberations to a close. The authors discuss in detail strategies for moving from an advocacy to an inquiry process, as well as for fostering productive conflict, true consideration, and timely closure. And they offer a framework for assessing the effectiveness of your process while you're still in the middle of it. Decision making is a job that lies at the very heart of leadership and one that requires a genius for balance: the ability to embrace the divergence that may characterize early discussions and to forge the unity needed for effective implementation.

  5. Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work

    Most managers today understand the value of building a learning organization. Their goal is to leverage knowledge and make it a key corporate asset, yet they remain uncertain about how best to get started. What they lack are guidelines and tools that transform abstract theory—the learning organization as an ideal-into hands-on implementation. For the first time in Learning in Action, David Garvin helps managers make the leap from theory to proven practice.

    Garvin argues that at the heart of organizational learning lies a set of processes that can be designed, deployed, and led. He starts by describing the basic steps in every learning process-acquiring, interpreting, and applying knowledge—then examines the critical challenges facing managers at each of these stages and the various ways the challenges can be met. Drawing on decades of scholarship and a wealth of examples from a wide range of fields, Garvin next introduces three modes of learning—intelligence gathering, experience, and experimentation—and shows how each mode is most effectively deployed. These approaches are brought to life in complete, richly detailed case studies of learning in action at organizations such as Xerox, L. L. Bean, the U. S. Army, and GE. The book concludes with a discussion of the leadership role that senior executives must play to make learning a day-to-day reality in their organizations..