Our Mission: To help leaders and teams change their organizations for the better.Designing Organizational Change develops solutions that spur constructive beliefs and actions (and that squelch destructive ones). We bring together students, faculty, and leaders from a host of for-profit and non-profit organizations — we work with people bent on learning why and how effective change happens despite the inevitable countervailing forces. We uncover, tinker with, and test promising solutions in our classes, studies, and projects with organizations; we do basic and applied research to understand why and when approaches are (and are not) useful; and we capture and communicate these lessons in academic and applied reports, case studies, and change tools.
Building organizations that make the right things easy to do and don’t drive people crazy
Through the Friction Project, we are seeking to understand the causes of and cures for dysfunctional organizational friction—and when it is wise to make things harder to do.Beleaguered executives, front-line employees and even customers have been sending us stories often with disturbing details of frustrating and fatiguing experiences. Their stories illustrate how getting smart and necessary things done requires convoluted, time-consuming and soul-crushing gyrations—which get worse as organizations grow, age and become more complex.
- We consider both rational and emotional elements of organizational friction — solutions include redesigning organizations, changing leaders’ deeds and words, and, at times, providing therapy to overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted people.
- We’ve designed our journey to encourage suggestions and critiques. We are sharing our unfinished ideas — hunches, explanations and solutions—with all kinds of people. That way, we hope our ideas about friction will keep getting better.
Articles About Friction
- How Do You End a Meeting? Netflix’s HR Rebel Asks Two Simple Questions by Bob Sutton (LinkedIn)
- Dropbox’s Secret for Saving Time in Meetings by Rebecca Hinds and Bob Sutton (Inc.)
- Better Service, Faster: A Design Thinking Case Study by Bob Sutton and David Hoyt (Harvard Business Review)
- The Pop-Up Employer: Build a Team, Do the Job, Say Goodbye by Noam Scheiber (New York Times)
The FRICTION PodcastWork is packed with wicked and messy problems. Listen up for a double dose of therapy and leadership coaching as Stanford Engineering Professor Bob Sutton and guests laugh in the face of petty office tyrants, challenge worst practices and share helpful tactics to make smart work easier to do and organizations less infuriating.
The Kitchen Cabinet
Smart people we like to talk to about organizational change
Shona BrownIndependent Advisor
Anthony S. BrykPresident, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Jack ChorowskyPresident, KIPP
Michael DearingFounder, Harrison Metal
Kaye FosterSenior Advisor, The Boston Consulting Group
Chris FryAngel Investor
Elizabeth GerberAssociate Professor, Northwestern University
Adam GrantProfessor, Wharton Business School
Rebecca HindsInc. Columnist and Organizational Researcher
Jacob JaberCEO, Philz Coffee
Bob JohansenDistinguished Fellow, Institute for the Future
John LillyPartner, Greylock Partners
Becky Kanis MargiottaCo-Founder, Billions Institute
Joe McCannonCo-Founder, Billions Institute
Patty McCordPrincipal, Patty McCord Consulting
Lenny MendoncaDirector Emeritus, McKinsey & Company
Donna MorrisExecutive Vice President, Customer and Employee Experience, Adobe
Joe PoracProfessor, New York University
Diego RodriguezExecutive Vice President, Chief Product and Design Officer, Intuit
Prasad SettyVice President, People Analytics & Compensation, Google
Bonny SimiPresident, JetBlue Technology Ventures
MS&E 280Instructor(s): Robert Sutton, Rosanne Siino
MS&E 284Instructor(s): Melissa Valentine
ME 368Instructor(s): Perry Klebahn, Kathryn Segovia, Jeremy Utley
MS&E 487Instructor(s): Perry Klebahn, Kathryn Segovia, Bob Sutton, Jeremy Utley
MS&E 488Instructor(s): Pamela Hinds, Julie Stanford
STRAMGT 544Instructor(s): Huggy Rao, Shantanu Narayen
Rebecca Hinds, Huggy Rao, Bob Sutton, 2014
Abstract: In 2012, software company Adobe Systems transitioned from using annual performance reviews to a system of ongoing, flexible, “check-ins.” The check-ins involved setting and tracking expectations, ongoing feedback and coaching, and opportunities for growth. The case reviews the deficiencies in the traditional annual review system, the philosophy underlying the change, and its relationship to Adobe’s corporate strategy.
Hayagreeva Rao, Julie Makinen, 2018
How can a huge global company simplify its operations? AstraZeneca, a 60,000-employee pharmaceutical giant, faced a “patent cliff” starting around 2012, and saw revenue and income fall sharply for several years running. CEO Pascal Soriot outlined several major goals for the company, including achieving scientific leadership and renewed growth, and making the company a great place to work. He suspected that complexity was holding AstraZeneca back. But how could he encourage scientists, the drug manufacturing operation, and even sales reps around the world to simplify the way they worked, without creating a new bureaucracy tasked with making the company less complex? This case traces the decision to form a small Simplification Center of Excellence and how the small team that ran it sought to encourage simplification throughout the enterprise in 2016 and 2017.
Dave Hoyt, Huggy Rao, 2008
Abstract: In December 2004, Donald Berwick, MD, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), challenged U.S. hospitals to reduce unnecessary deaths by 100,000 within the following 18 months. By the end of this 18 month period, over 3,100 hospitals enrolled in the "100,000 Lives Campaign," representing more than 70 percent of U.S. hospital beds. Calculations estimated that approximately 123,000 preventable deaths were avoided in participating hospitals. The case describes the state of quality in the healthcare industry, the history of the IHI, and the IHI's efforts to bring modern quality practices to health care. After seeing pockets of improvement, the IHI launched the 100,000 Lives Campaign in an effort to stimulate large scale change. The campaign approach incorporated lessons from political campaigns and social activism. The operation of the campaign is described. The impact of the campaign on hospitals is also discussed, with particular emphasis on one hospital that used the campaign as the basis for fundamental transformation.
L-15 Wyeth Pharmaceuticals: Changing the Mindsets and Behaviors of 17,000 People… One Person at a TimeHuggy Rao, Bob Sutton, Isaac Waisberg, 2009
Abstract: In 2007, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' manufacturing organization faced a number of challenges, requiring that it revolutionize the way its 17,000 people operated. The case describes alternative methods of systemic change considered by Wyeth, the approach they implemented, and how they rolled out the changes across more than 25 sites worldwide. The transformation of one plant is described in some detail. The case also describes setting of objectives and expectations, engagement of leaders and staff, and the use of outside advisors.
Dave Hoyt, Charles O’Reilly, Huggy Rao, Bob Sutton, 2010
Abstract: JetBlue Airways grew rapidly from its founding in 2000, focusing on providing low-cost service to previously underserved cities, while giving passengers a high-quality experience, ("bringing humanity back to air travel"). An ice storm at JFK airport on February 14, 2007 caused 1,195 flights to be cancelled over a six day period, and stranded several planes on the taxiway for many hours. JetBlue, previously viewed as one of the best airlines (if not the best) for customer service, took extensive criticism from the public, press, and Congress. In addition, the disruptions caused by the storm cost the company over $41 million. The 2007 storm highlighted deficiencies in JetBlue's operational infrastructure. Some top-down changes were made, but disruptions caused by thunderstorms in summer 2008 demonstrated that the airline's ability to deal with irregular operations (IROPs) was woefully inadequate. The company instituted a program (IROP Integrity) that utilized the talents of more than 200 employees, from all levels, and all parts of the airline, to address these problems. This was done through process mapping, root cause analysis, and cross-discipline cooperation working on 100 projects to improve both technology and processes. In February 2010, an ice storm far worse than the 2007 event again disrupted operations at JFK. This time, the airline had to cancel far fewer flights, which were mostly done before passengers arrived at the airport, operations the next day, and the cost was a small fraction of the cost of the 2007 disruption. This case describes the IROP Integrity project-its origins, the role of executive sponsors, project leadership and organization, and the processes used to identify and carry out improvement projects. It also describes the legacy of IROP Integrity on the JetBlue organization and culture.
Davina Drabkin, Jon Jamieson, Huggy Rao, Sarah Soule, Bob Sutton, 2016
Fosanne Haggerty remembered looking over the table at Becky Margiotta, both with their mouths hanging open. The two had just learned about the 100,000 Lives Campaign, an initiative by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) that resulted in an estimated 123,000 preventable deaths avoided. Margiotta thought she should lead a similar campaign to provide permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness who were most at risk.
Ryan Kissick, Huggy Rao, Bob Sutton, 2015
Ken Wilcox, chief executive officer (CEO) of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), and Greg Becker, SVB’s president and chief operating officer (COO), knew the company was at a critical juncture. They were in a penthouse boardroom at the Park Hyatt Shanghai in November 2010, where they had spent the past week meeting with the SVB board of directors, and the discussions had focused on the bank making a major push into China. Although they had conducted offshore business in China for nearly a decade, Wilcox and Becker wanted to begin banking in Shanghai as an onshore entity. China’s innovation economy was growing rapidly, and they sought to capitalize on the opportunity to work with hundreds of new Chinese clients. At the same time, they wanted to provide existing clients elsewhere in the world the opportunity to conduct business in China.