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. Learning Organizations

    by David A. Garvin

    David A. Garvin is studying how companies pursue improvement and change through efforts to stimulate organizational learning. He has found the following activities to be common in learning organizations: intelligence gathering; experimentation; learning from experience; learning from the best practice of others; systematic problem solving; and transferring knowledge internally. The most successful organizations have developed a wide range of mechanisms and tools to support these activities, including after-action reviews, demonstration projects, simulations, lessons learned units, and incentive systems that encourage risk-taking, as well as innovative approaches to measuring learning.

    Garvin reported the findings of his research in a Harvard Business School Press book Learning in Action, a Harvard Business Review article 'Building a Learning Organization,' and two HBS Video Series Putting the Learning Organization to Work and Working Smarter. Both the publications and videos feature a wide range of case studies and examples drawn from organizations as diverse as Allegheny Ludlum Steel, GE, L. L. Bean, the U. S. Army, Timken, and Xerox. Most recently, he has worked with Amy Edmondson and Francesca Gino to develop an assessment tool for evaluating learning organizations. That tool, which permits individuals to assess their teams, departments, and organizations on their learning climates, learning processes, and learning leadership behaviors, is described in a March 2008 Harvard Business Review article entitled "Is Yours a Learning Organization?"

  2. Managing Processes

    by David A. Garvin

    David A. Garvin is examining the nature and use of managerial and organizational processes—the means by which work is accomplished—including strategic processes that chart corporate direction, resource allocation processes that distribute funds, decision-making processes that resolve conflicts and select among alternatives, managerial processes that negotiate roles and responsibilities and oversee and orchestrate work, and change processes that fundamentally revamp and improve organizational performance. The general manager's role is to set these processes in motion, monitor them continuously, and shape and direct them as they unfold over time. Over a dozen new cases have been derived from this research and serve as the basis for the second-year MBA elective General Management: Processes and Action, an Advanced Management Program course by the same name, and a casebook of the same title published by Irwin/McGraw-Hill in 2002. Included in these materials is a multimedia case, 'Paul Levy: Taking Charge of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,' that examines the taking charge process of a new chief executive by drawing on real-time video interviews, emails, and internal memoranda and reports.

    To learn more about the leadership of process-oriented organizations, Garvin led a roundtable discussion with CEOs who have pioneered these approaches that has been published in Harvard Business Review as 'Leveraging Processes for Strategic Advantage.' He has also written a conceptual paper, 'The Processes of Organization and Management,' published in Sloan Management Review, that summarized the literature in the field, provided an organizing framework, and developed implications for managers, as well as co-authoring an article on decision-making processes, published in Harvard Business Review as 'What You Don't Know About Decision Making.'

    Currently, he is studying innovation and decision making processes in large, complex, multibillion dollar corporations. He is particularly interested in the challenges that these organizations face in creating and growing new businesses, which led to the articles 'What Every CEO Should Know About Creating New Businesses' and 'Meeting the Challenge of Corporate Entrepreneurship," and in the role that executive committees and senior management teams play in coordinating, integrating, and overseeing diverse activities. He is also studying the multiple types and levels of general managers (e.g. store managers, district managers, regional managers, and division presidents at large retailers) to understand how their responsibilities and day-to-day tasks differ. That research, conducted with Lynne Levesque, has resulted in a series of cases on the multiple levels of management at Staples as well as an article, "The Multiunit Enterprise," that appeared in the June 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review.

  3. The Future of MBA Education

    by David A. Garvin

    David Garvin, together with Srikant Datar and Patrick Cullen, is examining the future of MBA education and the evolving role of business schools. The research has several components: interviews with business school deans and business executives to identify the challenges and opportunities facing MBA programs today; an analysis of the statistics on MBA applications, enrollments, staffing, and economics to identify industry trends; a detailed examination of first-year curricula and course content at eleven major business schools to assess similarities and differences across programs; a synthesis and review of the published critiques of business education; and six case studies on leading business programs and their recent innovations, including the Center for Creative Leadership, Chicago, Harvard Business School, INSEAD, Stanford, and Yale. This research served as the basis for the School's 2008 Centennial Colloquium on the Future of MBA Education, as well as a book, Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, published by Harvard Business Press in 2010.