Survey of 10,000 Firms Identifies Three Essential Management Practices

Last Updated Nov 9, 2010 1:36 PM EST

Harvard Business School professor Rafaella Sadun and an international team of researchers surveyed 10,000 firms and hundreds of CEOs in 20 countries in an attempt to distill common best management practices for successful companies.

They found three of them, and you can read about the entire research project on Sadun's blog post on, called Management's Little Black Dress: Essential Practices for Leaders.

Here they are:

Rigorous monitoring. "Best practice firms are ruthless in monitoring their entire production process.... The basic message: information is king, and firms that collect, process, and exploit information are beating firms that do not."

Challenging targets. "Best practice firms set tough short-run and long-run targets for every stage of their process.... For example, in manufacturing many great firms had daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, and 5-yearly target. We find firms with broad and challenging targets are comprehensively outperforming their competitors."

Rewards and incentives. "The best firms acknowledge and reward their top performers with a range of bonuses and promotion.... This motivates employees to outperform, driving firms with strong rewards and to overtake their weaker competitors."

What I like about these findings is that they are entirely achievable by most companies. What it takes to have successful management is basic blocking and tackling, not motivational speeches by a charismatic CEO, a billion-dollar budget or a nation of Twitter followers.

Would you add anything to this research team's list of essential business management practices?

(Photo by Flickr user eBeam, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.