The 10 Most Popular Stories of 2020 – Harvard Business School Working Knowledge


Let’s face it: 2020 was a tough year, as COVID-19 surged across the world, killing more than 1.5 million people, shuttering companies, causing widespread job losses, and fundamentally altering the way people work and live.

Given the virus’s huge impact on businesses and employees, it’s no surprise that eight of the 10 most-read HBS Working Knowledge stories of the year were COVID-focused. Readers sought insights from HBS faculty about everything from managing large-scale remote work to leading during a crisis.

The year was also marked by racial unrest in the United States, spurring strong reader interest in an interview with Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who talked candidly about prospects for COVID-19 vaccines and racism in the workplace.

Here are our most popular articles, research papers, and social media posts of 2020. In the comment section below, we invite you to share your thoughts about the most interesting business trends of the year, and your predictions for 2021.

Top 10 most popular stories

  1. Merck CEO Ken Frazier Discusses a COVID Cure, Racism, and Why Leaders Need to Walk the Talk
    Ken Frazier, one of only four Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, speaks with Professor Tsedal Neeley about the search for a coronavirus vaccine, how racism at the workplace holds back America’s progress, and his own upbringing just one generation from slavery.
  2. How the Coronavirus Is Already Rewriting the Future of Business
    In March, as COVID-19 infections were increasing rapidly, we asked Harvard Business School experts how the pandemic might change business practices. Here’s what they had to say.
  3. 7 Leadership Principles for Managing in the Time of Coronavirus
    Leaders managing their organizations through crisis show seven distinctive capabilities, says John A. Quelch. He calls them the seven Cs.
  4. Why Japanese Businesses Are So Good at Surviving Crises
    As demonstrated after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japanese businesses have a unique capability for long-term survival. Hirotaka Takeuchi explains their strategy of investing in community over profits during turbulent times.
  5. Hard Work Isn’t Enough: How to Find Your Edge
    Life isn’t fair, especially in the workplace. In Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage, Laura Huang offers a new strategy for uncovering and showcasing your unique value in the face of obstacles.
  6. You’re Right! You Are Working Longer and Attending More Meetings
    A study of 3 million people confirmed what many work-from-home employees already know: We’re swamped, according to research by Raffaella Sadun, Jeffrey Polzer, and colleagues.
  7. The New Rules for Remote Work: Pandemic Edition
    Welcome to the new world of remote work, where employees struggle to learn the rules, managers are unsure how to help them, and organizations get a glimpse into the future. Prithwiraj Choudhury, Tsedal Neeley, Lakshmi Ramarajan, and Julia Austin share advice for managers.
  8. 6 Traits That Set Top Business Leaders Apart
    What do the best leaders do differently? Harvard Business School faculty members highlight the leadership skills and qualities that separate the good from great.
  9. How Small Businesses Can Survive the Coronavirus Outbreak
    COVID-19 put many small businesses on life support. Karen G. Mills, who has been advising policymakers on aid options, offers guidance to owners on the brink of ruin.
  10. Good Leadership Is an Act of Kindness
    The pandemic has challenged managers as never before, but one powerful leadership strategy is being overlooked, say Boris Groysberg and Susan Seligson: Be kind.

The 5 most-downloaded research papers

Working Knowledge publishes summaries of working papers written by Harvard Business School faculty, along with links to the full text of those papers. Here are the five most downloaded research papers of 2020:

  1. COVID-19 and the Workplace: Implications, Issues, and Insights for Future Research and Action
    Ashley Whillans was among the large team of researchers looking at COVID-19’s impact on issues of work and organizational psychology, prompting changes for practitioners and human resources professionals
  2. .

  3. Impact Investing: A Theory of Financing Social Entrepreneurship
    Benjamin N. Roth provides a formal definition of organizational sustainability and characterizes the situations in which a social enterprise should be sustainable. The analysis then delineates when an investment in a social enterprise delivers superior impact to a grant.
  4. Corporate Sustainability: A Strategy?
    George Serafeim examines the interplay between common and strategic sustainability practices. This dynamic distinction helps for understanding whether and how sustainability practices can help companies establish a competitive advantage over time.
  5. How Are Small Businesses Adjusting to COVID-19? Early Evidence From a Survey
    Zoe B. Cullen, Michael Luca, and Christopher T. Stanton surveyed 5,819 small businesses in the United States, finding that many businesses would not be able to survive if the crisis continued to persist for months.
  6. Performance Hacking: The Contagious Business Practice that Corrodes Corporate Culture, Undermines Core Values, and Damages Great Companies
    Performance hacking means overzealous advocacy of positive interpretations to the point of detachment from actuals. In business as in research there are strong incentives for it, but if behaviors are not checked, a crash becomes inevitable, says research by Richard L. Nolan.

The 5 most-engaging stories on social media

  1. How Investors Are Sizing Up Climate Change’s Risks—and Opportunities
  2. COVID’s Surprising Toll on Careers of Women Scientists
  3. How Countries Use Financial Policy to Fight COVID-19
  4. Merck CEO Ken Frazier Discusses a COVID Cure, Racism, and Why Leaders Need to Walk the Talk
  5. Why Japanese Businesses Are So Good at Surviving Crises

About the Author

Dina Gerdeman is a senior writer at Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

[Image: imaginima]

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