Lessons from HBS (Part 2)

Back in 2015, I wrote an essay about what I learned during the required curriculum of Harvard Business School.

HBS is a two year program, and the second year you can take whatever you want. Not every student at HBS takes these classes, but here is a similar list of takeaways.

Managing Service Operations

One of the frameworks we returned to repeatedly in this class is the value that is created for all stakeholders in a business (customers, shareholders, and employees).

I like this graph that shows the places value can be captured in a business.

  • Customer Value (gap between Benefit/Willingness to Pay and Price)
  • Shareholder Value (gap between price and cost)
  • Employee Value (gap between pay and cost of living)

Too often, we focus on narrowing gaps 1 and 3, to maximize gap 2. As the Good Job Theory states, when we don't focus good employee experience, we can create a negative cycle.

This image is from the Good Jobs Institute, to learn more check out their Good Job Theory.

Creating a good employee experience is about letting them have the resources and ability to do their jobs. The course introduces this as capability (skill), motivation (understanding for why), and license (permission).

To create more enterprise value, focus on employee experience, including capability, motivation, and license.

Managing Human Capital

Many of us are familiar with the Jobs to Be Done theory from Product Develepment. If you aren't, it's the idea that we get any product to fulfill a specific need.

We do similar things for ourselves. With each job we take, it's supposed to fulfill a specific role. That could just be making money, but it could also be about leadership development, learning an industry, or spending time wtih people we like.

When we pick a new role, there's a tendency to frame every career transition as being great. We talk a lot about the "jobs" the new role will do, and less about the "jobs" our old role didn't do. While this might be socially necessary in an interview, don't ignore what pushed you away.

Pay equal attention to why you are leaving your old job, and what you are hoping for in the new one.

Launching Tech Ventures

If I were to pick a "most painful" class for me, this would win. Anytime you have a startup, you are apt to make a lot of "obvious" mistakes. I think a big part of this tendency is the belief in exceptionalism.

When look at someone else's startup, their mistakes will be glaringly obvious. This is why it's so easy to give advice. When you are in your own, they're nearly invisible. You likely have mistakes that are just as bad, they might just be in a different area.

Startup mistakes are a lot more obvious in other peoples startups. Yours has similar flaws. You just can't see them right now.

Entrepreneurial Sales

Sales used to not be taught at HBS, and lots of startups have a fair amount of engineering-sales tension.

This class was cool because it was much more hands-on than many HBS classes. We learned tactical frameworks, and used Gong.io and role played a large amount of sales calls.

A common perception I have heard about sales is that it's pushy, about "convincing" someone, or about trying to trick them into buying. Sales isn't. Sales is about finding the people who genuinely need your product, will benefit from it, have the ability to pay for it, and will keep using it over time. Tons of the early work is about better understanding the customer.

A good early sales call is a lot like a good user interview.

Moral Leader

This course is very non-traditional. Rather than using cases, you read books throughout the semester and analyze the morality of character's actions. (More books). The analysis is through the framework of accountabilities, character, and pragmatism.

  • Accountability to the greater good, what is right, relationships, roles, and higher calling (God).
  • Character as defined by virtue, community, or an ongoing effort.
  • Pragmatism in the situation.

I think the best short piece to understand the framework the class teaches is Barack Obama's description of his decision making progress.

Every decision a good leader ends up with is hard. If the decision were straightforward someone else would have already made it.

Conversations on Leadership

This course was added this year in response to COVID. In it, exemplary HBS graduates visited to talk about their careers and life.

While the leaders each came from different industries, they all had distinct communication styles. I've struggled in the past with feeling "too casual" or "not prepared" for certain conversations. Through this series I realized it's very obvious when someone has memorized their stories, or is trying to make you feel a certain way. I trusted and liked leaders who felt less scripted much better.

Being non-scripted can feel better.