Transforming workplace culture with micro-affirmations

Mary RoweEarlier this year, a group of undergraduates launched Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Week at MIT. Members of the community encountered various “kindness crews” dispensing an array of happy surprises—from hugs to hot chocolate. RAK, which has burgeoned into something of an international phenomenon, illuminates the pioneering work of IWER’s Mary Rowe, adjunct professor of negotiation and conflict management at MIT Sloan’s Institute for Work and Employment Research.

An economist and conflict management specialist, Rowe joined the Institute in 1973, becoming MIT’s first ombudsperson. In that role she encountered, defined, and worked to help resolve workplace inequities (large and small) that often had not been identified or articulated. Issues raised in Rowe’s office led to the establishment of MIT’s anti-harassment policy, one of the nation’s first.

Some of Rowe’s reports to the MIT community discussed the ubiquitous phenomenon of micro-inequities—small, thoughtless unfairnesses, often unintentional and difficult to prove, toward those who are perceived as different. Neglecting to invite someone to a group event, for example, or not introducing someone—the only person who appears as “different.” Such slights are often the result of unconscious bias or not understanding another culture. In the aggregate, however, they can isolate and alienate those on the receiving end.

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“Speed-dating” for job hunters reinvents the search

Fremont-Smith It’s called Happie, and even before reaching its one-year anniversary, the pioneering job search startup has earned a right to the name. Happie leverages digital matchmaking innovations to connect job hunters with employers more speedily and productively than conventional online systems. Founder and CEO Jennifer Fremont-Smith, SF ’10, calls it “speed-dating for job hunters,” and her inventive model has caught on quickly. Already, more than 300 employers are working with the site, and the number of Happie job seekers has climbed into the thousands.

Fremont-Smith’s premise was this: prospective employers and employees today feel very much at home in the digital environment. “It’s where they bank, communicate with friends and family, and access their entertainment,” Fremont-Smith notes. “They’re also used to posting selfies and videos, so creating an arena where job hunters and providers can meet and chat via video falls well within the contemporary comfort zone. And in the potentially stressful job search realm, those familiar tools make for a welcoming experience.”

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Finding new ways to connect with consumers

Burnout. That was the only word for it. In the early years of the 21st century, marketing professionals were beginning to find that customers had grown immune to traditional promotions. Direct mailings, television advertisements, cold calls—they were all reaching unresponsive audiences suffering from marketing burnout.

BRUCEHALLIGANFor MIT Sloan Fellows classmates and HubSpot cofounders Brian Halligan, SF ’05, and Dharmesh Shah, SF ’06, the marketing crisis inspired an aha moment. Their vision for inbound marketing was born. Instead of begging, pestering, and cajoling customers to listen to your pitch, the duo thought, what if the content you offered was so compelling that people were clambering to get at it? If this sounds obvious today, it’s owing in part to HubSpot’s success. Since the company’s launch in 2006, it has developed a customer base of more than 19,000 in 90+ countries worldwide.

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