THINKING FORWARD – Ideas for your work from MIT Sloan School of Management

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Ideas for your work from
MIT Sloan School of Management | Office of Communications

+ THREE INSIGHTS FOR THE WEEK
February 28 – March 6, 2021

1. How is digital transformation impacting workers, training, and strategy at large manufacturing firms in the U.S.? A new research brief from the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future offers insights:

  • Automation-related job loss is not imminent, though jobs will look different. Factory floor workers are now expected to monitor a range of machines and analyze data on performance and output.
  • A lack of system integration hinders progress, forcing knowledge workers to resort to manual processes for tasks such as change orders. Manufacturers need to adopt universal strategies for connectivity and data collection.
  • The sooner that workers see the technology that management is considering, the smoother the rollout will be. Keeping workers in the dark about what the technology will do, and how they will interact with it, only leads to distrust and tempered enthusiasm.

While the United States leads the world in developing digital manufacturing software, it needs to catch up on implementation. Much of this stems from American firms’ focus on short-term shareholder gains, which deemphasizes long-term investment.

2. Today’s job description for a chief financial officer looks different than it did a year ago, with COVID-19 expanding the roles that CFOs are playing in their organizations. At the recent MIT Sloan CFO Virtual Summit, executives talked about the ways in which the pandemic has changed their responsibilities.

At the outset of the crisis, Square prioritized keeping customers happy in the present in order to keep them in the long term, said Amrita Ahuja, CFO of the mobile payments company. That included refunding software service fees, allowing customers to pause subscriptions, and offering some services for free.

With the initial shock under control, Dell Technologies is exploring digital growth opportunities. “Digital transformation has accelerated,” said CFO Tom Sweet, who said he’s dedicated to ensuring Dell has resources and capital properly allocated toward “what the company should look like post-COVID-19.”

Even pre-pandemic, transparency has always been a big part of Wayfair’s culture, said CFO Michael Fleisher. COVID-19 brought it to a new level.

Remote work has “changed our role as leaders,” Fleisher said. “Our job is both sharing our own concerns and our own challenges, but also asking about everybody else’s. … Empathy’s a good word for it.”

3. Public policy makes choices about who wins in America, spurring generations of inequality. To break that cycle, we need to change the way society talks about upward mobility, according to panelists at a recent MIT Sloan webinar.

Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, and Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, a racial justice organization, suggested concrete ways to reframe the entrepreneurial narrative:

  • Don’t ascribe charitable solutions to structural problems. Rather than sending water bottles to Flint, Michigan, fix the pipes.
  • Reframe the minority narrative from rescue to investment. Think of racial minority communities as protagonists in the American story — worth investing in, Robinson said.
  • Dismantle the American bootstraps narrative. Many entrepreneurs talk about their success in terms of virtue — waking up early, exercising — but aren’t as transparent about help they received from societal supports such as tax breaks, loan programs, and housing assistance.

Establish a “decency floor” to help build long-term wealth. Mortgage subsidies, progressive taxation, and health insurance untethered from employment can function as a guaranteed minimum level of security to allow people to take risks, such as starting a business.

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