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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