The Five Priorities of Nitin Nohria

by John A. Byrne on

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria

As a life long student of leadership and change, Nitin Nohria walked into the dean’s office at Harvard Business School with a carefully crafted plan last July. It was neatly divided into four simple phases: listening to the school’s key stakeholders, communicating priorities based on those conversations, committing those ideas to paper and circulating them to faculty and students, and then assembling teams of faculty to work on the goals.

The listening phase began in May when he was announced as the incoming dean and lasted through the summer months. “I asked people ‘what are the challenges you see? If you were dean, what are the one or two things that would rise to the top?’,” he says in an interview. “By early September, I was able to get out ahead and articulate five priorities.”

They quickly became known as the five Is: Innovation, Intellectual ambition, Internationalization, Inclusion, and Integration. Within just a couple of months of taking office on July 1, those five ambitions formed a framework for more detailed conversations. “Once people knew what they are and what you stand for, even the way they relate to you allows you to attack those goals,” he says. “They already know what you want to do so they don’t just come to you saying, ‘Let’s move left or right.’ The conversations are much more focused. They want to know more. They want to know how they can help.”

HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL IS AT AN INFLECTION POINT

In his conversations with faculty, students, alumni and fellow deans, Nohria says he kept hearing one refrain over and over again: “Harvard Business School is at an inflection point.”

Some thought it was brought on by a time of economic uncertainty, if not decline, when trust in business is at a low point. These stakeholders wanted the school’s founding ambitions and aspirations to educate leaders who make a difference in the world to be carried forward into the next century.

Others noted that the MBA itself has come into question. Their concern evolves around whether the degree continues to add value and whether the opportunity cost has become so high that Harvard and other business schools can no longer attract the best and brightest.

And finally, still others believed the school is at an inflection point because the world has so dramatically changed. “If the 20th century was the American Century, the 21st century is shaping up to be a Global Century,” says Nohria. “This has profound implications for the types of students we admit, what we teach them, and the careers they choose when they graduate, as well as for our faculty members.”

In January of this year, he outlined his priorities in a 12-page pamphlet distributed to key stakeholders. It is a detailed yet somewhat vague document to allow faculty plenty of room for innovation. It’s also a manifesto of sorts that lays the groundwork for dramatic change at Harvard Business School.

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  • jerry zurek

    Too bad Integrity is not one of the 5 goals of the new dean of the Harvard Business School.

  • http://worstceo.blogspot.com/ czander

    If deans and celebrity business professors want to respond to the fiscal mess and change their training, the way to do it is simple. Do not teach your students how to manage from the top down. Teach them to understand the corporation from the bottom up. Have them read Studs Terkel instead of Michael Porter. Teach them to understand the lives of working people not Jack Welch. Teach them the history of the industrial revolution and have them read Dickens. Teach them about the huge change in the human condition this industrial-corporate-global revolution has brought us both positive and negative. Have students think about the nature of work and how a CEO can contribute to making a better life for their employees, their families, and communities. Teach them the value of the once dominant employee-employer compact. Do this and you do not have to teach a course in ethics, values, or how to be fiscally responsible, and you will not need to have them sign a “lets all be ethical” oath. And, one final thing, please, keep out of B-schools; celebrity CEO’s, motivational gurus, shameless consultants, and please do not give tenure to any professor who so arrogantly writes a “how to do it book.”

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