Companies rely on strategic planning. The problem: Many are doing it wrong. Photo via Getty Images

When Jeff Immelt took the helm at General Electric in 2001, he shifted the company’s strategy radically. Under his leadership, GE grew more inwardly focused, relying more on financial engineering and acquisitions in a bid to add revenue and cut costs. The company’s stock plummeted. Yet Immelt stubbornly stuck with what many saw as a failing strategy.

Strategic planning is a core activity for senior leaders, regardless of business size. Over 88 percent of all large companies and 80 percent of small to medium-sized companies engage in strategy planning. For CEOs like Immelt, strategic planning is one of their most important duties, and they take great pains to communicate company strategy to stakeholders.

But there’s a problem: many are doing it wrong. In the research for our new book, FOCUS: How To Plan Strategy and Improve Execution To Achieve Growth, we found that many CEOs have simply been mistaken in their approach to strategic planning. Contrary to popular belief, our research shows many CEOs fail to make their strategic decisions based on a systemic, science-based, statistical process. Instead, they rely on gut feel, emotions and salient information from past experience.

In this piece, the first in a nine-part series, I’ll discuss why this is a major problem. In upcoming articles, I’ll show how CEOs can get strategic planning right.

CEOs usually rely on strategic planning to set goals for their senior executives, define major initiatives, allocate and track resources across initiatives, create budgets and hold mid-level and frontline employees accountable. Strategies become the means through which a CEO sets goals, measures success, executes plans and communicates progress to the board and outsiders.

To be sure, strategic planning is a complex process and many CEOs agree current practices need improvement. Immelt, for his part, was unsuccessful at turning GE around in part because senior and mid-level executives weren’t persuaded that his proposed strategy was coherent or would work. As one insider said, “We just became too internally focused and lost touch with our consumers.”

Another example is Wells Fargo. In 2016, regulators fined the bank $185 million for opening around 1.5 million bank accounts and applying for some 565,000 credit cards that weren’t authorized by customers. The bank’s strategy and employee incentives emphasized maximizing sales through cross-selling to existing customers rather than providing customers with real value.

Like GE and other companies that rely on a budget-based strategy to drive sales, Wells Fargo’s strategic plan prioritized how internal activities affected revenue rather than the effects of those activities on customer value. The problem was not that Wells Fargo’s strategy was poorly executed – it was that the company followed it.

But what is it, exactly, that makes a strategy fail? When strategic planning goes wrong, our research indicates that it’s typically for two main reasons. First, planning can fail when executives craft strategies based solely on their gut feelings, intuition, emotions and salient beliefs — beliefs that are top-of-mind. When these salient beliefs form the basis of the company’s strategic priorities, mission, or vision, they become a vehicle for executives’ desires and aspirations.

Strategies based on executives’ salient beliefs often fail because they discount what’s important to create customer value – and customers are the largest component of a company’s cash flow. A company that relies on executives’ salient beliefs, by default, discounts customer value and simply can’t create a healthy and sustainable cash flow.

This is what happened at Wells Fargo, which began using the salient personal beliefs of its leaders to justify its cross-selling strategy. That strategy drove employees to open accounts rather than help customers, ultimately eroding customer value, sinking the company’s stock and resulting in fines.

The second reason why strategic planning often flounders is executives’ belief that if they simply ask customers what they want, the customers will seamlessly communicate exactly what’s important to them. That’s rarely the case. Instead, what customers state as their desire often differs starkly from what actually creates value for them.

Take, for example, the relationship between a doctor and a patient. A patient walks into their doctor’s office with a health issue. Imagine what would happen if the doctor asked the patient what medicine and tests they desired and prescribed them. Or imagine the patient simply insisting on certain tests and medications without being asked. In both cases, customers have effectively stated their desires and wants, but the doctor is unable to discern what would truly help the customer. It’s up to the doctor to perform tests and use accumulated statistical benchmarks to detect how best to help the patient.

Simply put, you cannot create customer value by simply fulfilling your customers’ desires and wants.

Companies need to use the same process – using science, statistical expertise and data – coupled with effective listening, to set a customer-based strategy.

What’s important for customer value, in other words, is typically not be obvious to customers themselves. More often than not, they lack the expertise, data and statistical expertise to state what they need in a conversation. Yet a surprising number of senior executives rely on such conversations or “listening exercises” to unearth surface-level desires and wants and use them to develop a strategy. Such a strategy is doomed to fail.

Often, adversity provides the opportunity to pivot. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, companies and leaders have been forced to rethink and retool their strategic habits, forced to learn about what’s most important to customers.

This transformation can be powerful. When CEOs continue to evolve – embracing humility and no longer relying on past experiences, emotions or gut feelings – they can organize around the most important, rather just than the most salient, customer needs. They can simplify their plan. As a bonus, a cleaner, simpler strategy will be more engaging to employees.

CEOs can get strategic planning right. For companies willing to dedicate the time and resources to strategic planning, the research we describe in Focus: How to Plan Strategy and Improve Execution to Achieve Growth offers a road map of exactly how to do it.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Vikas Mittal, J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business and author of “Focus: How to Plan Strategy and Improve Execution to Achieve Growth.”

Why relying on intuition can backfire when it comes to crafting a successful business strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Know when to trust your intuition — and when to think outside the box

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When a fast-casual restaurant chain started to see stagnating sales, the company’s CEO came up with a solution: adding new, higher-quality menu items.

To validate his thinking, he informally interviewed a few dozen diners at different locations, asking them how they would feel about more and higher-quality menu items. After getting enthusiastic responses from several customers, he went ahead with his plan. Sales fell further.

So what went wrong? Systematic surveys showed that what created the most value for customers was a fast dining experience with a short wait time, a simple menu with a few items, ample parking and a bill under $12 per meal. Higher quality and an expanded menu did not correlate at all with customer value. Where the company’s CEO went wrong was by relying on salience instead of importance.

Salience refers to factors that are top-of-mind and easy to recall, which become prominent and are then incorrectly prioritized. A classic example is a 1979 study that surveyed people about their perceived risk of dying from causes like drowning, murder or cancer. The study’s authors found that people thought they were more likely to die from causes that were mentioned more often in their local news, such as murder, when in fact they were at much greater risk of dying from common but less prominent causes such as cancer.

The CEO made food quality and expanded offerings salient to himself by talking about them to a small group of customers. It was an easy way for him to feel good about his efforts. But, like many executives, he relied on salience.

Salience is easy and convenient, but it’s also the curse of decision-making. It simply reinforces executives’ prior beliefs rather than diagnosing the true cause-and-effect relationship. Imagine if a doctor saw a patient with stomach pain and recommended an appendectomy because a patient she’d seen the day before needed one. Or if the doctor asked the patient to recommend the treatment himself. Patient outcomes would likely falter and the doctor would go out of business (and perhaps lose her medical license).

Thankfully, doctors don’t operate this way. They rely on the statistically measurable relationship between critical inputs and outputs for decision-making. So should senior executives and CEOs.

Informal customer conversations draw primarily on gut feelings, hunches and top-of-mind ideas, and as such, aren’t reliable indicators of true customer value. Like all of us, customers often tailor their responses to the audience they’re addressing. So a company’s vice president of service might speak with a customer who says they love the service, while the same customer might tell an HR executive they love the employees and then go on to tell the VP of sales that they would like lower prices. These on-the-spot responses typically have no significant impact on or statistical correlation with customer value, which ultimately drives sales and profits.

To craft a successful strategy, executives need to use a systematic, statistical process that starts with choosing a clear outcome or output, such as customer value or employee retention. The next step is to measure inputs that drive that output, and then quantitatively correlate each input to the output. Only those inputs that drive the desired output should be included in the company’s strategy.

Take, for example, a nursing home that attempted to craft a strategy for decreasing employee turnover. Relying on casual conversations with a few dozen employees, executives assumed higher pay would increase retention. They were wrong.

When they statistically correlated multiple inputs — higher pay, health benefits, supervisor respect, promotion opportunities and paid vacation — with retention, they realized their intuitive leaps had been incorrect. Only health insurance and promotions were correlated with increased employee retention. Higher pay had no effect.

Committing to this type of systematic review to drive strategy requires humility on the part of senior executives. The nursing home executives were able to look past their own assumptions and learn from this type of statistical analysis, recognizing the limits of salience-driven thinking and deferring to algorithms that could better predict the inputs of turnover than they could.

Doctors understand this as well. To treat their patients, they rely on data from groups like the Food and Drug Administration or the National Institutes of Health, which run clinical trials and rely on data, statistics and an infrastructure of knowledge.

Unfortunately, many senior executives lack humility when it comes to strategic planning. They equate decades of salience-laden thinking with a deep understanding of correlations between inputs and strategic outputs. They might think, “I’ve been in this industry long enough to know what works,” or “Since this worked then, it will work now as well.” But more often than not, relying on salience-laden intuition alone will not achieve the desired outcome.

“Focus: How to Plan Strategy and Improve Execution to Achieve Growth” lays out specific steps for senior and mid-level executives who want to follow systematic, statistical processes to drive their company’s strategy.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Vikas Mittal, J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business and author of “Focus: How to Plan Strategy and Improve Execution to Achieve Growth.”

When business leaders make assumptions, they may overlook key factors driving desired outcomes. Photo via Getty Images

Houston research: Why business leaders should adopt a science-based approach to decision making

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Life is full of intuitive leaps. Whenever we make a judgment or choice based on past experience, limited examples or case studies, we make assumptions to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Consider someone who wants to lose weight. They might assume they only need to exercise for the pounds to disappear. They attribute 100 percent of weight loss to exercise, when in reality physical activity isn’t the only variable to consider. Instead, multiple factors could be at play, including diet, lack of sleep or even an underlying health condition.

When you make intuitive leaps, you may wrongly attribute success to a single factor, when in fact many different factors may be driving an outcome. In this case, making an intuitive leap rather than considering all the factors may not lead to the desired outcome: significant weight loss.

It’s the same in business, where intuitive leaps run rampant. All too often, executives make intuitive leaps that end up derailing their strategy planning and negatively impacting business operations.

Take, for example, executives at the nursing homes we studied while researching “Focus.” The nursing homes were experiencing high employee turnover they needed to correct. After speaking with a few dozen employees, executives thought that higher pay would cut back on turnover. They had made an intuitive leap, assuming that pay was the sole driver of turnover.

When executives stopped relying on intuitive leaps, they discovered many different factors causing turnover. They started to identify, analyze and prioritize these factors, which included promotion opportunities, respect from supervisors, flexible schedules and access to health insurance. Ultimately, they were successful at reducing turnover — and not by increasing pay. Had they relied on their intuitive leap, they would have spent money raising wages with no reduction in employee turnover.

Other businesses struggle with intuitive leaps, too. Often, the problem is that individual departments believe their lever is 100% responsible for solving a certain problem, such as lackluster sales. An HR executive might believe that to increase sales, the right solution is to get frontline employees more engaged. A sales executive, however, is adamant that the company has to hire more salespeople or adjust pricing. Someone in charge of product development might say product quality needs to be improved. The chief marketing officer may believe advertising will lift sales.

Intuitive leaps are unhelpful to strategic planning. In fact, they often lead to increased silos within a company. CEOs exacerbate this siloing tendency when they call for presentations from executives across departments on how they would contribute to strategy.

To stop making intuitive leaps, executives must accept that their department alone can’t fully inform or deliver a company’s strategy. They must realize and embrace the fact that multiple factors are almost always at play. This requires humility and the ability to look beyond their own department.

For executives, the first step is to identify all factors driving a company’s strategic goal — say, increasing sales. Factors impeding sales might include having too lean a sales team, a low-quality product, an inadequate marketing campaign or even lack of distribution.

Next, executives need to determine the relative weight of each factor in impacting sales. That’s where statistics come into play. Relying on statistical analysis rather than intuitive leaps tells executives how much weight each factor has in driving sales. To build a sound strategy, executives can rank the factors and focus their strategy on the top two or three. Almost always, the top two or three factors drive 70-80% of customer value.

Decades of research have shown how these types of statistical models are better than humans at capturing and quantifying how multiple inputs connect to and inform an output. Used correctly, they can also get rid of intuitive leaps.

In one study, doctoral program admissions committee members used inputs like test scores and grade point averages to select students. Years later, when predicting students’ success, researchers compared experts’ assessments to that of a statistical model.

The model better predicted success. It assessed the data in an unbiased way, while committee members selected candidates based on intuitive leaps, bringing their idiosyncrasies and biases to bear. It’s these types of models that make for effective corporate strategy.

Microsoft is a prime example of a company with leaders that consider multiple variables with an eye for prioritizing ones that drive customer value. Prior to 2014, when CEO Satya Nadella took the helm, CEO Steve Ballmer’s acquisition strategy was seen as more reactive than proactive. Nadella’s approach to acquisition was more “forward-thinking,” and he added to the company’s focus on the cloud and subscription services. He focused on providing tangible benefits to Microsoft’s customers.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet does this, too. When Buffet bought California-based candy maker See’s Candies, he rightly understood that the quality of the company’s chocolates mattered. But it’s not the only factor at play.

Unlike some executives who would make an intuitive leap that the chocolate drove 100% success, Buffet has the humility to understand the company’s success depends on much more than how its chocolates taste. Buffet knows a huge driver of customer value is people’s experience inside See’s stores.

“In the weeks before Christmas and on Valentine’s Day, there are long lines. So at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, some woman is selling the last person the last box of candy, and that person’s been waiting in line for 20 or 30 customers. If the salesperson smiles at that last customer, our moat is widened,” he said in remarks to MBA students, referring to the company’s competitive advantage. “And if she snarls at him, our moat is narrowed… That’s the key. The total part of the product delivery is having everything associated with it say See’s Candy and something pleasant happening.”

Buffet prioritized experience along with the quality of the chocolates, and he continues to do so. Since he bought See’s, the company has grown from $30 million in annual revenue to several hundred million. Humility enabled him to get rid of his intuitive leap and that drove success.

In “Focus,” we delve into exactly how executives can shift to a science-based approach to strategy to grow their business.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Vikas Mittal, J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business. Other researchers included: Jenny van Doorn and Peter C. Verhoef of the University of Groningen, as well as Katherine N. Lemon of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, Stephan Nass of the University of Münster, Doreén Pick of Hochschule Merseburg, and Peter Pirner of Petlando, i-CEM and www.CX-Talks.com.

Companies that capitulate to protestors may encourage them to protest for more. Companies that win against protestors may catalyze them to join similar movements nearby. Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

How company behavior guides activists’ choices, according to this Houston researcher

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It’s been more than 100 years since Pavlov’s dog showed the world that behavior is often guided by forces we don’t comprehend.

The same is true of the interaction between companies and protestors, according to Rice Business professor Alessandro Piazza and Fabrizio Perretti of Bocconi University in Milan. In a recent study, the scholars show that when protestors fight to change a company’s policy, their future choices of where and how much to protest are shaped by the company’s response.

Moreover, the outcome may not be what either group has planned for. Companies that meet protestor demand often inadvertently spur the protestors to demonstrate further; conversely, companies that refuse to give in tend to propel protestors to redirect their energies toward related but different issues.

The researchers based their conclusions on a deep dive into the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and a close analysis of protests and company responses in specific locations.

During the time period studied, the researchers found, public sentiment toward nuclear energy changed from mild support to open hostility in the form of an organized protest movement. To quantify this movement’s impact on nuclear power plant construction, the researchers studied the aftermath of protestors’ local victories.

In Massachusetts, for example, the first nuclear power protest in 1974 persuaded Northeast Utilities to postpone, and then permanently cancel, its plant. This reaction, Piazza and Perretti found, catalyzed local protestors. In the years that followed, the region became one of the United States’ strongest bastions of anti-nuclear activism.

In order to quantify how company actions affected protests, the researchers first measured the number of U.S. protest events by geographic location from 1970 to 1995. They then compared this number to the number of nuclear facilities either completed or cancelled over a one-year time period within 100 miles of a given demonstration. They included controls to account for local economic and political differences upon local activism, and for any geographic bias of the newspaper sources used to identify protest events.

The patterns they found were intriguing. Proposing a new plant for construction boosted anti-nuclear protests by 18 percent in a 100-mile radius. Cancelling construction of a plant drove a 27 percent increase in anti-nuclear protests. And when a new nuclear plant was completed and connected to the grid, the researchers witnessed a 2.3 percent increase in the number of protests not directly aimed at nuclear power plants.

The reason for the increase in other protests when a company prevailed and built a power plant? The researchers hypothesize that each time a plant was completed, demoralized activists attached themselves to other movements.

These results raised a related question. Did company decisions on one type of controversy, such as a nuclear power plant, lead to greater support for related protest movements or for unrelated ones? The former, it turns out.

To measure this, the researchers again looked at protests within given regions and categorized them into anti-nuclear weapon protests, environmental protests, public policy protests, anti-war protests and protests against the proximity of a given plant to a specific property, that is, “not in my backyard” protests.

Nuclear power opponents, they found, were most likely to turn to adjacent issues such as protests against nuclear weapons. Protest activities, in other words, have a domino effect.

While most research tracks the effects of activism on companies, Piazza and Perretti’s study shows that the way companies act is also a critical event driver. Company choices can actually drive the evolution of activism, triggering activist mobilization in other causes.

The research represents a challenge to traditional explanations of activism, which usually assume that mobilization and protests are most effective early on then dwindle over time, regardless of the behavior of the organization.

Piazza and Perretti’s findings suggest a valuable lesson for companies, especially those operating in more than one location: Their decisions in one place may actually escalate activism elsewhere. Pacific Gas & Electric successfully acted on this insight in the 1980s. Working with the Sierra Club, the company swapped the cancellation of one site at Bodega Bay, California — the target of frequent protests — for support of a plant at a second site elsewhere in the state at Diablo Canyon.

The findings also offer important insight for activists choosing a company on which to focus. These activists should keep in mind that the companies most likely to capitulate are also the ones most likely to feed a movement going forward — providing, in effect, the possibility of a double win.

Meanwhile, even if they fail in one effort, activists can take heart that their energy isn’t necessarily wasted. Only a little further afield, a similar movement may gain momentum from demoralized protestors looking for a new cause.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Alessandro Piazza, an assistant professor of strategic management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Corporations need to leverage customer engagement behavior in an integrative and holistic way. Photo via Getty Images

Houston research: What corporations need to know about customer engagement behavior

houston voices

Every customer-focused CEO wants to know the formula for increasing customer engagement because it can boost sales, expand margins and help their company build a better product or service.

Vikas Mittal, Rice Business J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Management and Marketing, studied the existing data and research about customer engagement. His findings suggest practical ways to support customers, encourage their long-term engagement and perhaps increase sales and margins in the process.

Researchers define customer engagement behavior (CEB) as behaviors that “go beyond transactions, and may be specifically defined as a customer’s behavioral manifestations that have a brand or firm focus, beyond purchase, resulting from motivational drivers.” These behaviors can include word-of-mouth communication, product recommendations, helping other customers, blogging, writing reviews and even engaging in legal action.

Apple is one of the most effective brands when it comes to engaging its customers. Every time customers buy an Apple product — an iPhone, smartwatch, tablet or computer — they engage with an ecosystem of services in multiple ways.

Co-creating a product or service is another CEB strategy. Suggestions, shared inventiveness, co-design and production are all ways that customers can help create a product and service that aligns with their needs and the company’s goals.

CEB can be analyzed through five key characteristics, Mittal’s team wrote. The first is an individual’s ability to significantly affect or react to something. The second and third are form and modality — the different ways in which CEB can show itself. The fourth is its impact, both on the brand and customers. The fifth is purpose: to whom is a company’s engagement directed, how much engagement is planned, and how much are the customer’s goals aligned with the firm’s goals?

As in any relationship, a customer’s attitude about a particular brand may change over time. To encourage CEB that evolves with the company, corporations should take a holistic approach, Mittal’s team advised.

To do this, they proposed a 3-step process: identify, evaluate and act.

Step one: Identify where CEB is occurring. This may be online or in real life. Step two: Evaluate your company’s CEB and your short- and long-term objectives for it. You may find, for example, that your company’s CEB affects the customer more than your company or visa-versa. Step three: Act or react, by creating internal AND external resources to effectively manage CEB.

One example: creating and managing an appealing feedback or review portal. When a firm offers processes and platforms that allow customers to engage, it encourages CEB that lasts beyond the actual purchase. Customers who feel their interaction with the company is successful, Mittal noted, will engage more frequently and intensely. If the interaction doesn’t seem to be effective, the customer may try another engagement approach — or they may just drift away.

That’s why businesses need to remove any barriers to CEB by making it simple, easy and pleasant to interact with the brand.

Marketers who learn how to engage customers using a holistic and integrative approach can harness CEB for their company’s advantage. In addition to investing in tools that facilitate customer-generated reviews, blogs, word of mouth and referrals, companies can invest in ways to make the consumption process more meaningful.

Managers focused on making the best use of CEB, Mittal’s team concluded, should follow these steps.

  1. Listen to customer feedback and complaints. Use this information to improve your goods and services.
  2. Invest in processes and platforms where your customers can express themselves.
  3. Don’t make the mistake of letting customer feedback vanish into a virtual vacuum. Create a system to ensure these manifestations of engagement reach the right department — then make sure they’re resolved or acted on quickly.
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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Vikas Mittal, J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business. Other researchers included: Jenny van Doorn and Peter C. Verhoef of the University of Groningen, as well as Katherine N. Lemon of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, Stephan Nass of the University of Münster, Doreén Pick of Hochschule Merseburg, and Peter Pirner of Petlando, i-CEM and www.CX-Talks.com.

People who accurately perceive social hierarchies are also typically high performers, in part because of their high-status connections. 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Houston research: Understanding social hierarchy is key to professional success

Houston Voices

Social climbers get on people's nerves by constantly vying to be close to whoever is in charge. No wonder disparaging names for them abound: opportunists, social climbers, clout chasers. To those around them, the climbers' motives are transparent and their undignified antics laughable – until they succeed.

In a recent paper, Rice Business Professor Siyu Yu and Gavin Kilduff of the NYU Stern School of Business looked closely at social climbers' habits and their outcomes. The researchers concluded that these industrious networkers get a (partially) bad rap. In fact, the rest of us could learn from them.

To conduct their research, Yu and Kilduff launched four separate studies with a total of 1,334 people in university and corporate settings in China and the United States. Participants were asked to identify individuals in their study or workgroups who were especially "respected, admired or influential." The respondents whose choices were also deemed high-status by the rest of the group were labeled accurate perceivers of "perceived status hierarchy" (PSH). The respondents whose choices were deemed low-status by the others were labeled inaccurate perceivers of PSH.

The researchers then asked participants whom they sought out for advice and assistance. Those who previously tested accurately for PSH, they found, had more high-status contacts than those who tested poorly.

PSH accuracy was also found to be positively associated with performance, the researchers wrote. There's a logic to this. People with an accurate understanding of PSH are more likely to seek out high-status members in their social or professional group for mentorship and advice. They may also model the high-status colleagues' behavior. Through these connections, they're able to learn habits and strategies. Their alliances with high-status individuals have the power to improve their performance, gleaned from the individuals' best practices, knowledge and skillsets.

People who are less accurate status perceivers, the researchers said, typically build rapport with individuals who are lower on the totem pole. Through these lower-status members, they may learn inefficient and detrimental work habits, limiting their chances for success. To rise in any competitive hierarchy, it is imperative to identify, align and imitate high-status individuals.

But who exactly are these coveted high-status allies – and what makes them so valuable to others? Our species evolved to seek proximity and prolonged interaction with high performers, Yu and Kilduff noted. Within homogeneous units, prestigious individuals are typically more competent than lower-status group members. High-status individuals are often generous and group-motivated, so lower-status members benefit from their superior prowess.

Important as status associations are, the researchers argued, opportunities to interact with high-status individuals are involuntarily limited for people in marginalized groups. No matter how accurate a worker's PSH discernment may be, systemic forces may keep her from ever speaking – or being listened to – by someone with a high enough status to guide or advocate for her.

At the same time, research shows that diverse opinions are important for growth and decision-making. To improve efficiency and overall functioning, Yu's team argued, schools, businesses and other institutions need to create established paths for those perceived as low-status to have access to those higher in status.

One important tool, the team wrote, is the creation of well-rounded mentorship programs. Another is a process for scouring biases from selection and hiring processes.

Want to get to the top? Being nice to the receptionist and every other employee up and down the ladder makes a difference. But you'll also need to seek out colleagues with power and prestige. So the next time you see a status-chaser in action, stifle the righteous sneer. You may even decide to swallow your pride and try to curry some favor yourself.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Siyu Yu, assistant professor of management – organizational behavior at Jones Graduate School of Business, and Gavin J. Kilduff, associate professor of management and organizations at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

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7+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in July

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Houstonians are transitioning into a new summer month, and the city's business community is mixing in networking and conference events with family vacations and time off. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for July when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

July 10 — Have a Nice Day Market at the Ion

Stop by for a one-of-a-kind vendor market - #HaveANiceDayHTX - taking place at the Ion, Houston's newest urban district and collaborative space that is designed to provide the city a place where entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities can come together. Free to attend and free parking onsite.

Have a Nice Day is a creative collective with a goal of celebrating BIPOC makers, creators, and causes.

The event is Sunday, July 10, 4 to 8 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 12 — One Houston Together Webinar Series

In the first installment of the Partnership's One Houston Together webinar series, we will discuss supplier diversity an often underutilized resource for business. What is it and why is it important? How can supplier diversity have long-term impact on your business, help strengthen your supply chain, and make a positive community impact?

The event is Tuesday, July 12, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin

In the next installment of Greentown Labs' Investor Speaker Series, sit down with two Greentown founders and their investors as they talk about their experiences working together before, during, and after an equity investment was made in the company. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important relationships in a startup’s journey and what best practices both founders and investors can follow to keep things moving smoothly.

The event is Thursday, July 14, 1 to 2:30 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 15 — SBA Funding Fair

Mark Winchester, the Deputy District Director for the Houston District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, will give a short intro of the programs the mentors will discuss. There will be three government guaranteed loan mentors and two to three mentors co-mentoring with remote SBIR experts.

The event is Friday, July 15, 10:30 am to 1 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

July 16 — Bots and Bytes: Family STEAM Day

Join the Ion for a hands-on learning experience to learn about tech and robotics and gain insight into the professional skills and concepts needed to excel in a robotics or tech career. This event will be tailored for 9-14-year-olds for a fun STEM experience.

The event is Saturday, July 16, 10 am to 1 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 19 — How to Start a Startup

You have an idea...now what? Before you start looking for funding, it's important to make sure that your idea is both viable and valuable -- if it doesn't have a sound model and a market willing to pay for it, investors won't be interested anyway.

The event is Tuesday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 20 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join the Ion for their series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is Wednesday, July 20, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 21 — Transition On Tap: Investor Readiness with Vinson & Elkins LLP

Attorneys from Greentown Labs’ Gigawatt Partner Vinson & Elkins LLP, a leading fund- and company-side advisor for clean energy financing, will present an overview of legal considerations in cleantech investing, geared especially toward early-stage companies and investors. The presentation will cover the types of investors and deals in the cleantech space and also provide background on negotiating valuation, term sheets, and preparing for diligence.

The event is Thursday, July 21, 5 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

July 28 — The Cannon Community 2nd Annual Town Hall Event

Partner of The Cannon, Baker Tilly, has played an integral part in the success of Cannon member companies. Join the Cannon community for The Cannon's 5-year anniversary celebration!

The event is Thursday, July 28, 4 to 7 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

Texas-based dating app sponsors 50 female athletes to honor 50 years of Title IX

teaming up

Bumble is causing a buzz once again, this time for collegiate women athletes. Founded by recent Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee Whitney Wolfe Herd, the Austin-based and female-first dating and social networking app this week announced a new sponsorship for 50 collegiate women athletes with NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Established in 1972, the federal law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program or activity that receives federal money. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the number of women in collegiate athletics has increased significantly since Title IX, from 15 percent to 44 percent.

That said, equity continues to lag in many ways, specifically for BIPOC women who make up only 14 percent of college athletes. The findings also share that men have approximately 60,000 more collegiate sports opportunities than women, despite the fact that women make up a larger portion of the collegiate population.

With this in mind, Bumble’s new sponsorship seeks to support “a wealth of overlooked women athletes around the country,” according to the beehive’s official 50for50 program page.

“We're embarking on a yearlong sponsorship of 50 remarkable women, with equal pay amounts across all 50 NIL (name, image, and likeness) contracts,” says the website. “The inaugural class of athletes are a small representation of the talented women around the country who diligently — and often without recognition — put in the work on a daily basis.”

To celebrate the launch of the program, Bumble partnered with motion graphic artist Marlene “Motion Mami” Marmolejos to create a custom video and digital trading cards that each athlete will post on their personal social media announcing their sponsorship.

“These sponsorships are an exciting step in empowering and spotlighting a diverse range of some of the most remarkable collegiate women athletes from across the country. Athletes who work just as hard as their male counterparts, and should be seen and heard,” says Christina Hardy, Bumble’s director of talent and influencer, in a separate release. “In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we are so proud to stand alongside these women and are looking forward to celebrating their many achievements throughout the year.”

“Partnering with Bumble and announcing this campaign on the anniversary of Title IX is very special,” said Alexis Ellis, a track and field athlete. “I am grateful for the progress that has been made for women in sports, and am proud to be part of Bumble’s ’50for50’ to help continue moving the needle and striving for more. I look forward to standing alongside so many incredible athletes for this campaign throughout the year.”

“I am so grateful to team up with Bumble and stand alongside these incredible athletes on this monumental anniversary,” said Haleigh Bryant a gymnast. “Many women continue to be overlooked in the world of sports, and I am excited to be part of something that celebrates, and shines a light on, the hard work, tenacity, and accomplishments of so many great athletes.”

Last year, the NCAA announced an interim policy that all current and incoming student athletes could profit off their name, image, and likeness, according to the law of the state where the school is located, for the first time in collegiate history.

The 50for50 initiative adds to Bumble’s previous multi-year investments in sports. In 2019, Bumble also launched a multi-year partnership with global esports organization Gen.G to create Team Bumble, the all-women professional esports team.

To see the 50for50 athletes, visit the official landing page.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.