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Accomplishment Acknowledged


ince 1959, the McKinsey Foundation for Management Research has awarded prizes for the two best articles published each year in the Harvard Business Review. Determination of the winners rests with an independent panel of judges drawn from business, academia, and the social sector. An article's contribution to existing knowledge, ability to stand conventional wisdom on its head, analytical depth, sound logic, and clear style all figure prominently among the judging criteria. But in the end, what matters most is whether an article is relevant both to the real work that managers do and to the issues they face. Put simply, can its content provoke both thought and action? Over the years, prize-winning articles have addressed many different subjects. Nevertheless, three broad themes stand out. The first, and by far the largest, group of winning articles focuses on effective business management and, more particularly, the work of senior managers. The second cluster of articles looks at the role of business and its relation to society. The third and last set of articles centers on competitiveness. Recently, the lines that distinguish these categories have become increasingly blurred. Indeed, this year's first-place winner, "Good Communication That Blocks Learning" by Chris Argyris, draws on and integrates all three of these themes. The article's thesis is provocative and counter-

intuitive: the communications techniques that managers are most familiar with techniques such as employee surveys, management-by-walking-around, and focus groups — undermine the ends they are intended to achieve. Instead of building individual commitment and organizational effectiveness, they foster passivity and discourage change because, in Argyris's words, "they do not get people to reflect on their work behavior." Argyris's analysis draws on a lifetime of path-breaking work in social psychology. At first glance, the concepts he puts forward seem quite remote from the manager's daily round (as well as being just plain hard to work through). Double-loop learning, defensive reasoning, espoused theories versus theories in use, the dangers of positive thinking: the ideas are complex, and busy readers might be forgiven for wondering whether they are truly worth the investment of time. The answer, unambiguously, is yes. Grappling with Argyris's concepts and grasping them can literally transform the way managers and organizations function. And this kind of transformation is essential to meet the challenge of an ever-more demanding competitive environment and ever-more demanding employees. Twenty years ago, middling commitment and the willingness to follow instructions might have been sufficient to keep a company moving forward. Today they will stop it dead in its tracks. In principle, this ob-

servation is widely accepted. And when it comes to operations, it is widely practiced, thanks largely to years of quality initiatives. But ironically, as Argyris makes clear, managerial and professional work have yet to be transformed — not because "employees run away from this kind of organizational self-examination," but because "no one asks it of them." "Good Communication That Blocks Learning" opens the door to this kind of questioning and self-examination by managers at every organizational level. From "Marketing Myopia" to time-based strategy and core competence, McKinsey Award winners have shaped the way that generations of managers have thought and acted in the United States and throughout the world. The winners of the 1994 prizes, Chris Argyris's "Good Communication That Blocks Learning" (July-August) and Peter Drucker's "The Theory of the Business" (September-October), uphold that tradition. If you would like a list of previous McKinsey Award winners, please contact research editor Helen Rheem at HBR, Boston, MA-02163 or E-mail her at

Nan Stone







January-February 1995 Editorial Board Stephen A. Greyser, Chairman,

l l a r V a r C l i J U S i n e S S I16V1CW David E. BeH, james I. Cash, Jr., Kim B. Clark, Peter A. Derow, Robert H. Hayes, John P. Kotter, John H.
McArthur, Andrall E. Pearson, William A. Sahlman, Benson P. Shapiro, Shoshana Zuboff Editor Nan Stone Managing Editor Gary J. Callahan Art Director John T. O'Connor Senior Editors Nancy A. Nichols, Bruce G. Posner, Steven E. Prokesch Associate Editors Thomas Kiely, Regina Fazio Maruca, Lawrence R. Rothstein Assistant Editor Amy L. Halliday Research Editor Helen Rheem Manuscript Editors Katherine Zoe Andrews, Sharon Slodki Production Manager KHsten B; Langdon Art Production Coordinator Katherine L. Pestaña Editorial Production Coordinator Mary Ann Bowers Editorial Office Coordinator Jacqueline T. Collette Editorial Staff Denise S. Henry, Jacqueline B. Hernandez, Judith A. Ross Editor-at-Large Joan Magretta Contributing Editors Anne G. Perkins, Tom Richman, Ann L. Roy Editorial Offices Boston, MA 02163. Telephone: 617-495-6800. Fax: 617-495-9933. Manuscripts Please address all manuscripts and editorial correspondence to The Editor, Harvard Business Review, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163. Unsolicited manuscripts will be returned only if accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope. Reproduction No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission.



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