Q. Why is this program important in today's economy?
The service sector is a large and growing part of our economy. But a lot of service businesses are managed according to old ideas imported from more traditional industries. A new set of tools are required to create the conditions for customers and employees to thrive in a service context. Achieving Breakthrough Service is designed to provide managers with those tools, ideas, and frameworks so they can build more successful service businesses.
Q. How does the program speak to employee issues in service companies?
Service jobs have a reputation for not being great jobs—and, in many cases, I think it's a well-earned reputation. But it shouldn't be that way. Service is the business of people helping people, and when employees lack the capability, motivation, and license to perform, there's no hope they'll deliver excellent service to customers. In this program, we'll explore how service leaders can create distinctive and sustainable service organizations that turn customers into raving fans and employees into dedicated stewards of the mission.
Q. How is this program different from similar programs in the market?
I consider this program to be the preeminent service-management executive education program in the world. It’s distinctive in several ways.
First, we have been deeply thoughtful in crafting a holistic curriculum that speaks to the challenges faced by modern service organizations. Through cases and interactive lectures, participants in the program will learn the fundamentals of delivering breakthrough service. Moreover, through workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions with faculty who are experts in their fields, participants will discover gaps in the design and execution of the service businesses they lead, and leave with roadmaps for how to transform and revitalize those businesses. Our goal each day is for participants to walk away with practical ideas that can be put to work in their own organizations to make an immediate impact on performance—for employees, customers, and owners alike.
Second, we have been painstaking in our selection of the faculty who will teach in this program. Each faculty member on the teaching team is an expert in a complementary field, and the program draws upon cutting-edge ideas and field examples from their research. By coming to HBS, participants are learning directly from the very faculty who conducted the research and wrote the cases, which creates unparalleled learning experiences.
Finally, the program assembles a learning community of exceptional service leaders from all around the world. My colleagues and I will certainly bring ideas to the table, but just as importantly, we'll work to set the conditions for participants to leverage and benefit from each other’s experiences. There's no question that the quality of participants we bring together amplifies the impact of the program for everyone involved.
Q. How do you foster peer-to-peer learning in this program? What value does that offer for executives?
The faculty in this program bring deep expertise to facilitating conversations and helping participants make connections with one another. At any given point, there will be someone in the room who has faced a similar challenge to another person. Getting those people to have a conversation about how they solved the challenge is incredibly valuable, and it doesn't necessarily happen by itself. We're very intentional about fostering those interactions.
For example, you might spend an hour or two preparing a case, and then meet with your small living group and find that everybody saw the case slightly differently. That broadens your view of the challenge and its potential solutions. Those interactions can cascade into conversations about what executives have experienced in their businesses and challenges that they are facing. And then we come into the classroom and we get to take it to another level, where we're bringing together all of the different perspectives from all of the different groups.
Meanwhile, my colleagues and I can contribute our deep knowledge from the research that we have done and from the companies that we have worked with. But there is no substitute for having participants who have been through similar challenges share their experiences. We get to a better place together that way.
Q. What expertise do the faculty in this program hold?
I couldn't be prouder of the teaching team we've assembled for this program. Not only are they each deeply knowledgeable about service businesses—having worked with top service organizations around the globe—they are among the most outstanding teachers at HBS.
Frances Frei is an expert in service leadership. She often describes her passion as helping to clear the pebbles that stand in the way of people accomplishing extraordinary things. Youngme Moon's expertise lies at the intersection of business, branding, and culture, and she's a visionary when it comes to creating differentiated service experiences. Das Narayandas is an expert in business marketing. Specifically, Das studies how to manage customer relationships to bolster satisfaction and profitability. Dennis Campbell is an expert in organizational design, management control systems, implementing strategies, and achieving customer focus. He's one of the most knowledgeable people anywhere about service design and management. Kris Ferriera is one of the most exciting young researchers in the area of big data and analytics. She studies how predictive analytics can be used to help service businesses make better tactical and strategic decisions. My own expertise is in how operations can be designed to better engage customers.
It's an incredible group of faculty, many of whom are senior leaders at the School, and it's a rare honor to chair a program that brings them all together in one place.
Q. Why is case-based learning foundational to this program?
Let's start with the alternative: Lectures presume that the only person with something valuable to say is the person standing in front of the room. Given the incredible community of service leaders we'll bring together for this program, how wasteful would that be? Cases, by contrast, allow us all to benefit from the unique perspectives of every participant. It's a much more engaging, thorough, and powerful way to learn—especially in a program like this one.
Cases put participants into the shoes of a manager facing a difficult decision. And by forcing each of us to inhabit that role, cases allow us to learn inductively, together. Each participant prepares for class individually, by reading the case and analyzing it based on assignment questions we've provided. This individual preparation allows the participant to consider the challenges presented in the case through the lens of their own unique experiences.
The next step in the process is to discuss the case with your learning group. What's interesting is that since each participant has their own unique worldview, everyone sees the case differently, and by reconciling those differences, participants achieve a deeper level of understanding. This stage of the process also provides participants with the opportunity to have meaningful conversations, learning from one another outside the classroom, and building bonds that will last beyond the program.
Once participants have prepared individually and in small groups, we all come together in the classroom to discuss the case as a group. Animated by those earlier discussions, the perspectives that emerge in the classroom are passionate and deeply reasoned, but often conflicting. Exploring those conflicts allows us to dig even more deeply into the management challenges at the heart of the case, and surface foundational opportunities for addressing them. Through this process, we arrive at a more fundamental understanding, and faculty wrap the discussions by synthesizing the insights the class has captured.
Our objective in each case discussion isn't for every participant to leave with the same perspective. Rather, it's for each participant to build on their experiences and inform their own unique worldview. In this way, general lessons are translated into meaningful personal truths, and as participants reflect on what they’ve learned, the conversations linger long after class.
Cases create lessons that stick. They provide participants with new frameworks for understanding the world, enabling them to better analyze situations and make systematically better choices. Cases have been taught at HBS for more than a century, and we continue to believe they are a vital ingredient for educating leaders who will make a difference in the world.
Q. Explain why this program can be especially valuable for teams.
The program features workshops on service design and service execution, and those workshops are particularly valuable for companies that send cross-functional teams to the program—that is, when they send multiple people who understand the organization from different angles. In this context and setting, teams have an opportunity to deeply understand and diagnose challenges that their organization faces, but also leverage their cross-functional expertise to identify opportunities to improve their business. Also, having a shared experience allows teams to go back to their organization with a common language and a common set of tools and frameworks for addressing business challenges.
Q. Tell us about the optional coaching session.
The coaching session provides us with an opportunity to customize the program around the unique challenges that your organization is facing. We'll match you with a faculty expert from our teaching team, and through a one-on-one coaching session, we'll help you explore what tools, techniques, or opportunities exist to improve your company's performance. For me, the coaching session is one of the most rewarding parts of our program. When you come to our program, we want to be a partner in your success, and having these intimate conversations allows us to engage in a more direct and personal way than we could in the classroom alone.
Q. You've been a part of HBS for more than a decade—first as an MBA student, and now as a faculty member. What's unique about the learning environment here?
HBS is about educating leaders. Our culture is deeply collaborative, relational, engaging, and friendly. We're all invested in one another's success. For over 100 years, this place has perfected the art of creating conditions where people can come together and have deeply meaningful conversations that change the way they think about the world and their organizations. This place is about helping people to achieve their very best and supporting one another in that endeavor. You'll get an incredible taste of that in Achieving Breakthrough Service.