[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 periodically updated, most recently on November 30,2020.]
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 this year's 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, the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative, 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
15.311 | Organizational Processes (Fall 2020, various times, fully in-person; restricted to first-year MIT Sloan 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. Course restricted to first-year MIT Sloan master's students.
15.320 | Strategic Organizational Design (Fall 2020, Mon. and Wed., 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Thomas Malone
This class focuses on effective organizational design in both traditional and innovative organizations, with special emphasis on innovative organizational forms that can provide strategic advantage. Topics include when to use functional, divisional, or matrix organizations; how IT creates new organizational possibilities; examples of innovative organizational possibilities, such as democratic decision-making, crowd-based organizations, and other forms of collective intelligence. Team projects include inventing new possibilities for real organizations.
15.662 | People and Profits: Shaping the Future of Work (Spring 2021, H3, Tue. and Thu.11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Barbara Dyer, Erin Kelly, and Thomas Kochan
This course focuses on how work is changing in the 21st century and helps prepare students to shape that future. As global economic forces and technological advances are transforming the organization of the firm, students interview workers, labor leaders, and managers from leading-edge firms to understand how these changes play out on the ground. We delve into the larger social context as students explore various management strategies and consider what's possible in leading organizations as they seek to compete successfully in the global technology-enabled economy, provide good jobs and careers for employees, and build an economy and society that works for all of its stakeholders.
15.674 | Leading Creative Teams (Spring 2021, Mon. and Wed. 2:30-4 p.m., remote, permission of instructor required)
Faculty: David Niño
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 professional skill development.
15.669 | Strategies for People Analytics (Fall 2020, H2, Thu. 9:30 a.m-12:30 p.m. fully remote, or Thu. 2-5 p.m., in person)
Faculty: Emilio Castilla
People analytics is a data-driven approach to improving people-related decisions for the purpose of advancing both individual and organizational success. While people have always been critical to the success of organizations, many business leaders still make key decisions about their workforce based on intuition, experience, advice, and guesswork. In this course, we explore a number of people analytics strategies used to attract and retain top talent.
15.700 | Leadership and Integrative Management (Fall 2020, restricted to EMBA students)
Faculty: Georgia Perakis and Nelson Repenning
This course investigates the different perspectives a general manager must take, how to integrate those perspectives, and the role of leadership in setting and realizing goals. Students work intensively in teams and with multiple faculty, using a deep dive into the challenges faced by a major global firm operating in complex global markets. Restricted to Executive MBA students.
15.768 | Management of Services: Concepts, Design, and Delivery (Fall 2020, Mon. and Wed. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or Mon. and Wed. 3:30-5 p.m., fully remote)
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.
15.S03 | Leading the Way: Individual and Organizational Perspectives on Advancing Equity and Inclusion (Spring 2021, Thu. 8-11 a.m., both in-person and remote options)
Faculty: Kara Blackburn and Erin Kelly
This elective addresses both individual skills and organizational strategies for advancing equity and inclusion, and students will be asked to critically review relevant social science and behavioral research. As a result of this course, students will better understand how employees with diverse identities experience recruitment, evaluation, rewards, and development; analytically evaluate competing explanations about inequality within workplaces; consider timely topics such as sexual harassment in the workplace; and develop and practice skills for managing a professional identity, interacting effectively with diverse others, managing difficult conversations, exercising voice, and advocating thoughtfully for change.
15.S09 | Managing Crucial Conversations About and Across Difference (Fall 2020, H2, Wed. and Fri. 8:00-9:30 a.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Kara Blackburn
As future managers, you will be faced with both the challenge and opportunity to have conversations that make you uncomfortable. This challenge often seems risky, at best, and insurmountable at worst. Yet you must engage if you want to lead — this is not work that can be delegated. Particularly tough for many people are conversations about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and related aspects of our identities. There are ways to navigate this specific category of conversations productively and that is what this course is about.
This course gives us an opportunity to understand why it can be so hard to talk about and across our different identities (with a particular focus on race and gender) and to explore what is at stake for each of us as we consider navigating these crucial conversations. It raises important questions about how who we are influences when and how we engage, if it all, at work. Most importantly, we will practice preparing for, participating in, and assessing the impact of conversations about and across difference. It is a course heavy on experiential learning and active engagement through the frequent use of role plays.
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 2021, Th. 4:00-5:30 p.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Simon Johnson, Jonathan Ruane, and Luis Videgaray
We analytically investigate where the opportunities and challenges lie for the commercialization of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in the near term. Transformative technologies inevitably create opportunities for great wealth creation — and destruction. Leaders empowered with knowledge of the underlying economic, business, and technological principles will be at an advantage in such an environment.
15.268 | Choice Points: Thinking about Life and Leadership through Literature (Spring 2021, restricted to MIT Sloan Fellows, Tue. 6-8 pm., fully remote)
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 2020, Tue. and Thu., 8:00-9:30 a.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Leigh Hafrey
This course explores how we use story to lead ethically. 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 2021, H4, Mon. and Wed., 2:30-4:00 p.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Leigh Hafrey
"Ethical Practice" walks us through three ever-wider circles of ethical complexity: (1) individual and professional commitments; (2) the rights and responsibilities of corporations; and (3) the social and ethical underpinnings of business as an activity. We seek to define terms central to each of these circles, culminating in a brief historical assessment of business and capital in the early 21st century.
15.364 | Innovation Ecosystems for Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Leaders (iEco4REAL) (Spring 2021, Tue., 5:30-8:30 p.m., both an in-person and a fully remote option)
Faculty: Phil Budden and Fiona Murray
This course is for students interested in accelerating innovation to support their region’s post-COVID economic recovery — 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.
15.499 | Practice of Finance: Social Impact Investing (Spring 2021, H4, Tue. and Thu., 2:30-4:00 p.m., both an in-person and a fully remote option)
Faculty: Gita Rao
The objectives of this course are: (a) to provide a solid analytical framework for evaluating the spectrum of social impact investments; (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.
15.677 | Urban Labor Markets and Employment Policy (Spring 2021, Tue., 3:00-5:00 p.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Paul Osterman
This course combines an examination of how urban labor markets work and how employment patterns are shifting in the United States. The discussion-based seminar allows us to consider a variety of issues regarding job training, living wage campaigns, unions, and more.
15.679 | USA Lab: Bridging the American Divides (Spring 2021, Tue. and Thu., 9:30-11 a.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Barbara Dyer, Leigh Hafrey, Christine Kelly, and Ceasar McDowell
This experiential Action Learning Lab is focused on work, community, and culture in rural and urban regions of the United States. The Lab stems from concern about the economic, cultural, social, and geographic issues that are tearing at the fabric of America. Through this course we strive to foster deeper understanding and join with community leaders in the process of uncovering solutions. In addition to classroom discussions, student teams conduct fieldwork on-site in rural regions and small cities in the U.S., working with dynamic local leaders determined to change the trajectory of their communities.
15.871 | Introduction to System Dynamics (offered Spring 2021, H3, various times, both in-person and remote options)
Faculty: David Keith or John Sterman
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.
15.S07 | Supermind Design for Responding to COVID-19 (Fall 2020, Tues. 2-5 p.m., fully remote)
Faculty: David Kong and Thomas Malone
Millions of people around the world today are very concerned about how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic at local, national, and global levels. In this seminar, students will learn and apply a new methodology, called supermind design, for systematically imagining and designing ways for groups at all levels to solve problems. Class sessions will include instruction and practice in using the methodology as well as substantive material about medical, economic, political, cultural, and other aspects of the pandemic. Over the course of the semester, students will do a series of increasingly sophisticated individual and team projects in which they will develop their own innovative ideas about how to deal with the pandemic. Selected projects will also be showcased to the public and to organizations that could implement them.
15.S57 | Collaborative Intelligence Ventures (Fall 2020, H2, Wed. 3-5 p.m. online (36-156 classroom as backup)
Faculty: Julie Shah, Jonathan Ruane, and Gary Gensler
Built on the vision that humans and intelligent machines can work together collaboratively to achieve more than what either can do alone, this course blends insights from the technological frontier (e.g. co-robotics and AI applications) with entrepreneurship (how to bring a venture to market) and design thinking (e.g. human–robot interaction). The course will be held in conjunction with the MIT Collaborative Intelligence Ventures Competition (CIV Competition), bringing together students from multiple disciplines to advance innovative ideas that leverage artificial intelligence and computational capabilities with the explicit aim of empowering humankind. The course helps prepare teams for the competition.
SELF-REFLECTION AND CAREER PLANNING
15.304 | Being Effective: Power and Influence (Spring 2021, Tue. and Thu., 9:30-11 a.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Paul Osterman
If you are to be effective, both with respect to the goals of the organization and with respect to your personal goals, you need to be able to map these differences, understand your own interests and objectives, and understand how to operate in the organizational environment you are in. In addition to being able to think strategically, you also need a set of skills that can be summarized via the words “power, persuasion, and influence.”
15.665 | Power and Negotiation (Spring 2021, Fri. 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or Fri. 2:30-5:30 p.m., both in-person and fully remote options)
Faculty: John Richardson
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, and role playing.
15.671 | U-Lab: Transforming Self, Business, and Society (Fall Term 2020, H1 (first half of semester), Mon. 8-11 a.m., fully remote)
Faculty: Otto Scharmer
In a time of unprecedented tectonic shifts in our social, economic, and environmental ecosystems, this course leans into the current moment of disruption by asking: What are the old systems that are crumbling and dying? What are the new systems that are wanting to be born? What are we — what am I — called to do now? How can I strengthen and support my own capacities to co-shape from the emerging future rather than reenacting patterns of the past? What type of leadership is needed at this moment in time? Each of these questions will be addressed on a personal level: What am I going to do with my career, with my life and work going forward? We will also explore how they apply to the whole-systems level: What is it we need to let go of? What is it that we need to attend to more closely? How can we cultivate and align our attention and intention in order to use the power of mindfulness to transform the collective?
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 McKinsey & Company.
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 on the Labor Innovation team at 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 Amazon.
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 Aspen Institute 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.”
Volunteer with initiatives across or associated with MIT:
Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative at MIT Sloan, an effort that focuses on making work work for everyone in the 21st century
Good Jobs Institute, a nonprofit with a mission of helping companies thrive by creating good jobs.