Managing People and Profits: A Course Guide for MIT Sloan Students
[Note: This course guide for MIT Sloan MBA students was initially compiled by Jenny Weissbourd and Megan Larcom, who both received their MBA degrees from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2018. The guide has since been expanded and is updated several times a year, most recently on December 8, 2022.]
People matter to firm success. As you move through business school, it can be easy to forget the workers powering firms. In marketing courses, you will learn how to promote a product. In finance and accounting classes, you will learn to fund its production and track financial outcomes. Even in leadership and communications courses, you may focus on personal reflection and development. But always keep in mind that business leaders don’t achieve success alone; they both depend on and have responsibilities to all the people who work for their organizations.
What will it take to be an effective 21st century business leader? When you graduate from MIT Sloan, you’ll enter a world characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and unprecedented change — as events such as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrate.
As a future manager, consultant, investor, or entrepreneur, you will play a critical role in shaping the future of work and face tough choices at the intersection of people and profit. What combination of people skills will enable business success? When does it make sense to cultivate your own workers, when does it make sense to contract out, and how can you effectively manage multiple approaches? What functions will you automate, and how will you ensure that technological transitions are good for both people and the bottom line? How will introducing a disruptive technology impact your workers, local communities and the economy more broadly? How will you engender a culture of innovation and inclusion? How will you deal with crises and unanticipated change? What are the operational strategies and institutional arrangements that underpin high engagement and strong performance in the workplace? What are the means for ensuring equity and diversity, as well as worker voice and worker safety, in your organization? How is work changing across the economy and around the globe, and how will you keep up? Your success as a leader will depend on your ability to effectively navigate these questions — and the questions that we can’t yet imagine.
It’s up to you. The MIT Sloan School of Management gives you the power to design much of your own curriculum. With only one semester of “core” required courses and certificate options that have flexible requirements, you have ample opportunity to define not just what you learn, but who you become. It’s up to you to find ways to learn new skills, question your default perspective, and set bold professional goals. What will you do?
We want to let you in on one of MIT Sloan’s best-kept secrets. The good news is: MIT Sloan is a great business school to learn about managing both profits and people. Academics and corporations alike turn to MIT Sloan faculty and their research for guidance on fostering good jobs and well-run firms. This focus on good work cuts across departments and initiatives, from the Work and Organization Studies group, the Institute for Work and Employment Research, and the Sustainability Initiative, to Operations Management, Finance, and Entrepreneurship. You'll find a range of exceptional courses that help you develop a personal leadership style through reflection and practice, teach you practical people management tools that leverage analytics and operations, and provide systemic context through education on the structure of the economy and labor market.
Here are a few of many classes to consider.
PEOPLE AND OPERATIONS STRATEGIES
15.288 Tough Conversations: Science, Strategies & Skills for Communicating About & Across Difference (Fall, restricted to second-year MBA students))
Faculty: Kara Blackburn
This course equips managers with the knowledge and skills to productively navigate conversations about race, gender, and other aspects of social identities at work. The class analyzes the structure of difficult conversations, investigates the research on conversational dynamics, and explores strategies for speaking up in organizations. Significant class time is devoted to experiential exercises. Weekly assignments include individual written reflections based on readings and research. For the final project, students write a short case, record a conversation, and assess their work.
15.308 Leading the Way: Individual and Organizational Perspectives on Advancing DE&I (Spring 2023, Tues., 4-7 p.m.)
Faculty: Erin L. Kelly and Kara Blackburn
This course introduces and analyzes competing explanations and claims about inequality within US workplaces; reviews evidence regarding the effectiveness of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and policies; and investigates how race, gender, and other identities may affect employees' experience in work organizations. Significant class time is devoted to experiential exercises to develop skills for interacting effectively with diverse others, managing teams and critical conversations, and advocating thoughtfully for change. Weekly assignments include written reflections based on readings and social science research. Restricted to Sloan MBA students.
15.311 Organizational Processes (Fall, various times, restricted to first-year MBA students)
This course enhances students' ability to take effective action in complex organizational settings by providing the analytic tools needed to analyze, manage, and lead the organizations of the future. The class emphasizes the importance of the organizational context in influencing which individual styles and skills are effective. It employs a wide variety of learning tools, from experiential learning to the more conventional discussion of written cases. The course centers on three complementary perspectives on organizations: the strategic design, political, and cultural "lenses" on organizations. The class includes a major team project to analyze an actual organizational change, with oral and written reports.
15.335 Organizations Lab (Spring 2023, Mon., 5:30-8:30 p.m., restricted to MBA students and MIT Sloan Fellows)
Faculty: Bridget Scott Akinc and Nelson Repenning
This course provides an experiential study of the organizational change process within the larger context of the community in which the organization resides. The course centers around a semester-long action learning project in which students assist a local nonprofit organization in improving its efficiency and effectiveness. The class cultivates the ability to link leadership priorities and specific interventions to larger transformations and culminates with presentations to an audience of senior executives and leaders of nonprofits.
15.337 Teams Lab (Fall, restricted to second-year MBA students)
Faculty: Louis Daniel Bergholz and Nelson Repenning
This course helps students develop the tools, perspectives, and skills required to be an effective team member and team leader. It begins with frameworks and theories that enable participants to reflect on how they contribute to both negative and positive team outcomes. Later sessions cultivate the self-awareness and skills required to improve team effectiveness as both a participant and a leader. Enrollment in the class is by application only, and, to enroll, students much be involved in a co-curricular team activity, such as leading a student club or organizing a conference.
15.394 Entrepreneurial Founding and Teams (Spring 2023, Tues. and Thurs., 1-2:30 p.m.)
Faculty: Erin L. Scott
This course explores key organizational and strategic decisions in founding and building a new venture. Through a series of cases, readings, and activities, students examine the trade-offs and consequences of early founder decisions: whom to include in the founding team, how to allocate equity among co-founders, how to determine founder roles, how to hire and motivate early employees, and whether to involve external investors. The course aims to equip students with tools and frameworks to help them understand the implications of early decisions, and to build enduring resources that enable the venture to execute even if the original plan changes substantially.
15.662 People and Profits: Shaping the Future of Work (Spring 2023, Tues. and Thurs., 8:30-10 a.m.)
Faculty: Anna Stansbury
This course examines managing work in the 21st century in the interests of both people and profits, through the context of inequality, technological change, globalization, and the growth of the gig economy. Students evaluate various business and policy interventions intended to improve work through critical analysis of the evidence, interviews with workers and evaluations of firms, and guest speakers. Guests include business leaders at leading-edge firms and labor leaders experimenting with new ways of providing workers a voice in the workplace. The course draws on materials from the MIT Task Force on Work of the Future and the online course Shaping Work of the Future.
15.669 Strategies for People Analytics (Fall, H1)
Faculty: Emilio J. Castilla
This class focuses on the strategies used to successfully design and implement people analytics in one's organization. It draws on the latest company practices, research projects, and case studies, with the goal of helping students deepen their understanding of how people analytics can be applied in the real world. The course covers the most important aspects of human resource management and people analytics and demonstrates how to apply those basic tools and principles when hiring, evaulating and rewarding performance, managing careers, and implementing organizational change.
15.674 Leading Creative Teams (Spring 2023, Mon. and Wed. 2:30-4 p.m.)
Faculty: David Niño and Marina Guimaraes Mattos
This class prepares students to lead teams charged with developing creative solutions in engineering and technical environments. Grounded in research but practical in focus, the course equips students with leadership competencies such as building self-awareness, motivating and developing others, creative problem-solving, influencing without authority, managing conflict, and communicating effectively. Teamwork skills include how to convene, launch, and develop various types of teams, including project teams. Learning methods emphasize personalized and experiential skill development. Enrollment limited.
15.768 Management of Services: Concepts, Design, and Delivery (Fall)
Faculty: Zeynep Ton
The course takes an operations point of view to look at companies and industries in the service sector. It builds on conceptual frameworks and draws upon examples from a wide range of service operations: health care, hospitality, transportation, retailing, food service, and financial services, among others. The objective of the course is to design and manage operations to create value for customers, employees, and investors simultaneously.
LEADING WORK IN DYNAMIC 21ST CENTURY SYSTEMS: CULTURAL, ETHICAL, ECONOMIC, TECHNOLOGICAL, AND POLICY CONTEXT
15.236 Global Business of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (GBAIR) (Spring 2023, H3, Tues. and Thurs., 5:30-7 p.m.)
Faculty: Simon Johnson, Jonathan Ruane, and Luis Videgaray
This discussion based-course examines applications of artificial intelligence and robotics in the business world, with an emphasis on understanding the likely direction of technology and how it is apt to be used. Students examine particular applications to deepen their understanding of topical issues, and the course also focuses on how global economies will change in light of this wave of technology.
15.268 Choice Points: Thinking about Life and Leadership through Literature (Spring 2023, restricted to MIT Sloan Fellows, Fridays, 10 a.m. to noon)
Faculty: Catherine Turco
This class explores decision-making and leadership. Students analyze the dilemmas and decisions characters face in a selection of plays, stories, and films. The course provokes reflection on what constitutes effective and moral reasoning in critical moments of both life and leadership.
15.269 Leadership Stories: Literature, Ethics, and Authority (Fall)
Faculty: Leigh Hafrey
This course explores how we use story to articulate ethical norms for leadership. The syllabus consists of short fiction, novels, plays, feature films, and some nonfiction; we also run a series of labs to create our own stories. Major topics include leadership and authority, professionalism, the nature of ethics, social enterprise, and questions of gender, cultural and individual identity, and work/life balance. Materials vary from year to year, and have included writing by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Michael Frayn, Hao Jingfang, Virginia Woolf, Mohsin Hamid, and others; films have included The Lives of Others; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hotel Rwanda; Motorcycle Diaries; Citizenfour; and others. The class draws on multiple professions and national cultures, and is run as a series of moderated discussions, with students centrally engaged in the teaching process.
15.270 Ethical Practice: Leading Through Professionalism, Social Responsibility, and System Design (Spring 2023, H4, Mon. and Wed., 1-2:30 p.m.)
Faculty: Leigh Hafrey
The course provides an introduction to ethics in business, with a focus on business management. Students explore theoretical concepts in business ethics, and cases representing the challenges they will likely face as managers. There will be an opportunity to work with guest faculty as well as business and other professional practitioners. Individual sessions take the form of moderated discussion, with occasional short lectures from the instructor.
15.364 Innovation Ecosystems for Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Leaders (iEco4REAL) (Spring 2023, Tues., 5-8 p.m.)
Faculty: Phil Budden
This course is for students interested in accelerating innovation to support their region's economic growth — or to help ensure that such innovation-driven growth can benefit from community diversity and is more inclusive in its impact. The class draws on the research of MIT faculty, including Fiona Murray and Phil Budden, and from the real-world impact of these frameworks (developed in MIT’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program, REAP) on how to lead innovation ecosystems. Taking a systems thinking/multistakeholder perspective, MBA students in this course in past years have benefited from the diverse class (often including Sloan Fellows, undergraduates, and students from Harvard Kennedy School, Boston University and/or Wellesley). Past teams have chosen to focus on devising action plans to harness innovation in diverse settings ranging from Rhode Island to Rwanda.
15.385 Innovating for Impact (Fall)
Faculty: Jason Jay
This class provides a structured approach to innovation and entrepreneurship that creates business value while solving social and environmental problems. The course covers both physical dimensions of sustainability (for example, waste, water, food, energy, and mobility) as well as social and human capital domains such as health and education. Students will explore case studies of critical decisions made in the early stages of an enterprise that help determine its impact. The class considers perspectives and tools applicable to startups or to new lines of business in existing enterprises.
15.499 Practice of Finance: Social Impact Investing (Spring 2023, Tues. and Thurs., 4-5:30 p.m.)
Faculty: Gita Rao
This course offers a deep dive into social impact investing, an approach intentionally seeking to create financial return and positive social impact that is actively measured. The objectives of the course are: (a) to provide a solid analytical framework for evaluating the spectrum of social impact investments, including mission-related investing; (b) to have students gain experience in structuring different types of investments; (c) and to critically compare and contrast these investments with traditional mainstream investments, with a view to understanding structural constraints. The course includes a project that provides practical experience in evaluating an impact enterprise or a public markets ESG strategy. This class is designed for students interested in the intersection of finance and social impact and includes career guidance and networking opportunities.
15.677 Labor Markets and Employment Policy (Spring 2023, Thurs., 1-4 p.m.)
Faculty: Anna Stansbury
This course provides a research-based examination of how labor markets work and how they are evolving over time, through trends such as rising income inequality, technological change, globalization, falling worker power, and the fissuring of the workplace. Through reading and engaging with economics research papers, students use theoretical frameworks and rigorous empirical evidence to analyze public policy interventions in the labor market, including unemployment insurance, minimum wage, unions, family leave, anti-discrimination policies, and workforce development. The course is designed for students who are interested in using rigorous empirical evidence and theoretical frameworks from economics and other social sciences to analyze important current topics in labor market policy, and is suitable for both PhD students in social science or business/management disciplines and for master's degree students in business, urban planning, public policy, or other relevant disciplines.
15.679 USA Lab: Bridging the American Divides (Spring 2023, Wed., 2:30-5:30 p.m.)
Faculty: Leigh Hafrey and Ceasar McDowell
This experiential Action Learning Lab offers a practical exploration of community revitalization in America's small towns and rural regions. The course focuses on work, community, and culture. It consists of rigorous classroom discussions, research, and team projects with community development organizations. A site visit over SIP week and spring break is required for project fieldwork.
15.871 Introduction to System Dynamics (Spring 2023, various times)
Today’s economy requires us to design and manage complex systems where dynamic complexity is unavoidable, thanks to multiple feedback effects, long time delays, and nonlinear responses to our decisions. System dynamics helps improve our understanding of the ways in which an organization’s performance is related to its internal structure and operating policies as well as those of customers, competitors, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
SELF-REFLECTION AND CAREER PLANNING
15.336 ID Lab: Individual Development and Interpersonal Dynamics (Spring 2023, various times, restricted to first-year MBA students)
ID Lab introduces frameworks and tools to help students refine their skills at self-reflection, inquiry, listening, perspective-giving and perspective-taking, and strategic expression. The course includes an introductory retreat, weekly class sessions, written reflections, interactive exercises, and professional executive coaching to enable students to clarify and articulate their leadership aspirations. It also includes oral presentations and writing assignments focusing heavily on the cycle of practicing, reflecting, and revising. Students receive extensive personalized feedback from the teaching team, coaches, and classmates, and the coursework includes readings from developmental psychology and leadership literature.
15.661 Building Successful Careers and Organizations (Fall, H2)
Faculty: Emilio J. Castilla
This class is designed to help students learn more about their strengths, and how they can utilize those strengths to manage their careers. It draws on the latest research and practices, experiential exercises, and case studies, and includes guest speakers. The course covers the most important aspects of talent and career management.
15.665 Power and Negotiation (Spring 2023, Mon. 8:30-11:30 a.m. or Mon. 2:30-5:30 p.m.)
Faculty: Jackson Lu
This class provides understanding of the theory and processes of negotiation as practiced in a variety of settings. It is designed for relevance to the broad spectrum of bargaining problems faced by the manager and professional. The course gives students an opportunity to develop negotiation skills experientially and to understand negotiation in useful analytical frameworks. The class emphasizes simulations, exercises, role playing, and cases.
15.671 | U-Lab: Transforming Self, Business, and Society (Fall, H1)
Faculty: Otto Scharmer
This class offers an experiential opportunity to practice new leadership skills, such as deep listening, being present (mindfulness), and generative dialogue. In weekly coaching circles, each student has one full session to present their current leadership edge and receive feedback from peer coaches. Includes an additional action learning project.
Beyond classes, here are some creative paths MIT Sloan students can take.
Design an independent study for credit.
Victoria Lee (’18) researched the impact of automation on the trucking industry, capturing and integrating perspectives from technology leaders and truck drivers. Victoria now works for ServiceNow.
Meredith Thurston (’18) designed an independent study to compare retailers’ product density on shelves with employee and customer satisfaction. Initial results from her analysis indicated that the hypothesis was correct — stores with a lower "density" of products were those with more satisfied customers and happier employees. She now works for Nike.
John Beatty (’18) designed the MIT-Deutsche Bank Community Finance Challenge, encouraging MBA students across the country to engage with the question of what a 21st-century financial institution designed to help underserved communities would look like. Over 60 teams and 200 participants took on the task of analyzing which markets to serve, how to reach those markets, and what products need to be developed. John now works at Oncue.
Jenny Weissbourd (’18) and Megan Larcom (’18) researched the future of worker voice in the 21st century, developing a framework to understand alternatives to traditional unions. They also wrote teaching cases to share atypical management stories, ranging from the establishment of a cooperative wholesale business by unionized lobstermen to the digital community-building of workers at Starbucks. Jenny now works at The Families and Workers Fund and Megan works at McKinsey & Company.
Select atypical clients for action learning projects.
A first-year core team selected the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) as a client for the Organizational Processes course. They analyzed the process of privatizing a non-core MBTA function and the impact that it had on organization morale and the workforce. Clayton Pfannenstiel (’18) said of the project, “My core team had the opportunity to work with the MBTA on its efforts to privatize areas of its operations. Our work highlighted the conflicts and stresses inherent in any restructuring. Through the project, I learned how important it is for leaders making difficult decisions to communicate openly with those affected. In driving for a goal, it's important to remain cognizant of the impact decisions have on individuals, both those leaving the organization and those who remain.”
Get involved with MIT Sloan groups focused on work and people management.
MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching unit located within MIT Sloan. IWER's mission is to conduct and disseminate cutting-edge research that improves the lives of workers and their loved ones and that guides managers in crafting a successful and inclusive future of work. IWER hosts one of the longest-running weekly seminar series at MIT and cosponsors a speaker series on human capital topics with the MIT Sloan People & Organizations Club.
The MIT Sloan People & Organizations Club offers events and resources to students who have people management, human resources, and human capital interests. The club seeks to provide thought leadership and learning opportunities about topics such as people analytics, diversity and inclusion, and the future of work.