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A dramatic example of adopting best practices

Why do Japanese family businesses manage to survive for so long? One reason may be that, when they lack a suitable hereditary successor, Japanese families will adopt a promising young adult to groom for the role. Almost always men, these outsiders marry into the family and even take the family name. Suzuki Motor’s leadership is a famous example of this tradition, with the company having been run by four generations of adopted sons.

Adoption of this kind — known as mukoyoshi — is virtually unknown in Western business. But it was well established at Undershaft and Lazarus, the explosive fictional enterprise at the heart of George Bernard Shaw’s bracingly funny play Major Barbara. For business leaders, the play is dynamite.

Why should we concern themselves with this long-ago stage comedy? Because there has never been a more important play about business, and many of its central concerns remain contentious

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The importance of peer feedback in the digital workplace

In the first two quarters of 2020, much of the global workforce was suddenly, if reluctantly, thrust into a dependence on virtual work. Employees at all levels learned to hold videoconferences for everything from sales prospecting to exit interviews. For many, the technology was as new as their workspaces: kitchen tables and makeshift desks in bedrooms. Employers are still working out how to monitor and assess how this sudden shift is affecting employee performance and how to evaluate what these workers are doing.

The assessment approach known as 360-degree feedback can help. It’s a peer-review system that includes data on how others think an employee is performing, as well as how that employee views his or her own work. It can be done virtually, but its roots are in face-to-face interaction. Although the term originated in the 1950s, there was a surge in the use of this kind of

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Why now is the perfect time for a corporate book club

When countries began shutting down in response to the growing pandemic this spring, many employees found themselves working from home. That can be freeing and productive for some people, but lots of others scrambled to work around housemates, pets, partners, and children; splintered teams were reunited in endless Zoom meetings, and corporate life suddenly took on a very different tone.

Which is precisely why Krissee Chasseur’s team at Zappos, the online shoe retailer, started a book club. “We were putting together ideas to keep our team digitally engaged, and a weekly virtual book club seemed like an easy fit to blend our core values of ‘pursuing growth and learning’ and ‘building a positive team and family spirit,’” she told me via email.

Their first book was Atomic Habits, by James Clear, a guide to losing bad habits and gaining good ones, followed by Man’s Search for Meaning, a

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Leaders are building new muscles to deal with the pandemic

As the pandemic has broadsided the global economy, one of its striking features — for executives, at least — is how each month of the crisis has had a distinct feel to it, based on how companies and their leaders were coping.

March was the month of reeling and reacting. What just happened? We’re shutting down the offices, and everybody who can work from home needs to do so. Can we do this? April was more about taking stock of the economic damage. We’re clearly in this for the long haul. We need to run our models, plan for grim scenarios, and take whatever drastic actions are needed to save the company.

And starting in May, across the many interviews I’ve been conducting with senior leaders, I’ve heard more optimism in their voices — a sense that their companies were settling into a new normal, and that for all the

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A lesson in creating successful companies that care

In mid-March, COVID-19 locked down most of Europe and Asia. For Sterimed, a 900-employee maker of high-end sterile medical packaging, this development brought mixed news. The sudden 40 percent increase in demand for its products was welcome, but ramping up production within its French plants posed a real challenge. One element was particularly thorny: Procuring protective masks for workers was impossible in France.

Because it refused to endanger its employees, Sterimed needed masks. Having sold its products to China for years, it quickly realized that one of its Chinese clients was indeed producing protective masks and could send several boxes of free samples, which didn’t infringe on China’s ban on the commercial export of masks. Sterimed ended up with more masks than it needed, and CEO Thibaut Hyvernat immediately thought he could pass them on. “I started calling my friends who run businesses and began sharing some of the spare

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Why managing uncertainty is a key leadership skill

In early 2020, Wafels & Dinges, the popular Belgian waffle truck fleet, was in major expansion mode. It was planning to add brick-and-mortar restaurants in some markets, including in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and American Dream in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, where it would peddle espressos and cranberry-rosemary waffles. But when the COVID-19 national emergency was declared on March 13, owners Thomas de Geest and Rossanna Figuera realized they had exactly enough cash on hand to give their workers two weeks’ severance pay. Tearfully, they said goodbye and emptied their bank account.

Once they made the painful decision to let their employees go, the couple made arrangements with creditors and landlords. Then they focused on what they could do to help others. They found the answer in their mission: to give people the happiest moment of their day.

“In crises, we’re always solving problems, but

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