Classified: What Uber (and others) teach MBA students about smart online marketplace design

“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

woman holding a microphone in front of classmates and team
Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, pitching Tables Together during the Online Marketplace and Platform Design course. Photo: Jim Block

 

It’s a recent Tuesday evening at Berkeley Haas, and Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, has just five minutes to pitch her team’s idea for Tables Together. It’s an online marketplace that big corporations like Google could use to donate surplus food from their employee kitchens to organizations that feed people in need.

“There are matches that need to be made and we want to create a marketplace and solve the problem,” Maliwanag said, ticking off the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States each year.

After a few quick questions for the team, the rapid-fire pitch slam—part of the MBA class called Online Marketplace and Platform Design—continues. Students pitch ideas, among them a private plane rental marketplace to a community for matching skiers and snowboarders with coaches to a marketplace for tailors of bespoke clothing for events like weddings.

four students standing in front of a classroom pitching an idea
MBA students have just five minutes to pitch JetJunction, a private plane rental marketplace, during the night’s pitch slam. Photo: Jim Block

All of the pitches serve as practice for the students who are working toward final projects, says Assistant Professor David Holtz, who teaches the class, an elective that enrolls 68 students. The group is a split of mostly full-time and evening & weekend MBA students, on a journey that covers all aspects of online platforms—from A/B testing, network effects, and platform monetization, to reputation systems and discrimination in online marketplaces.

The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, Holtz worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. “I was exposed to a lot of interesting problems including reputation-system design, algorithmic pricing, and experiment design,” Holtz, a member of the Management of Organizations (MORS) and Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group at Haas, says. “To this day, these topics form the backbone of my research, because, in addition to being extremely interesting, they’re also extremely difficult to solve.”

Taking apart the case

During the first half of a recent class session, Holtz asked students to split into groups to discuss one of the week’s assignments: Pick a company on the a16z Marketplace 100 list—Andreessen Horowitz’s ranking of the largest and fastest-growing consumer-facing marketplace startups and private companies—and come up with a new market mechanism that the company might trial using A/B testing.  

One MBA student team wrote about the online specialty food marketplace Goldbelly, suggesting that the company might add a feature that prompts site visitors to indicate that they’re trying to buy a gift. Then, Goldbelly could customize searches and provide a more personal message option at checkout.

students sitting in classroom working on laptops
Students share their ideas for a new market mechanism that a company might trial using A/B testing. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz then runs students through a business case called “Innovation at Uber: The Launch of Express POOL, a case directly related to some of his marketplace research that examines experiment design in two-sided markets. Set in March 2018, the case follows Uber through the launch of a new product called Express POOL, which offers carpooling riders a cheaper ride if they agree to walk a short distance to and from pick-up and drop-off points and wait a few minutes before being matched to a driver. 

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment. The big dilemma? Uber benefited from a cost-per-ride reduction with a five-minute wait time but didn’t want to make a change that could hurt the user experience. “Even if the company did decide that a longer wait time was preferable, what did that mean for the ongoing experiment the company was running?” Holtz says. “Should they change the product mid-experiment or let the experiment continue running as originally intended?”

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment.

Holtz then shifts to a whiteboard, where he outlines different types of experiments (also called A/B tests) that marketplace companies like Uber use to test new features. 

First is the “bread and butter” user-level test, which Uber could have used to compare the behavior of riders with access to Express POOL to the behavior of those who did not have access to Express POOL. The second kind of test, a switchback experiment, would give all riders and drivers in a given market access to Express POOL for randomly selected 160-minute-long chunks. Over two weeks, Uber would switch Express POOL availability back and forth to compare behaviors.

The third type of experiment Holtz describes, which Uber did use with Express POOL, is a synthetic control experiment. It is the most accurate form of testing, Holtz says, but also the most complicated to run and the “noisiest.” Using the synthetic control experiment, Uber identified two sets of markets that, in aggregate, were as similar to each other as possible. The company then launched Express POOL in one set of cities, but not in the other. By comparing behavior in the two sets of cities, Uber could estimate the impact of both.

man in classroom teaching
The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, he worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz’s knowledge of how to apply A/B tests comes from deep research. He has conducted multiple large-scale experiments analyzing the effects of marketplace design choices on Airbnb. One study examined whether coupons would lead more Airbnb bookers to write more reviews—with the eventual aim of facilitating better matches on the platform and increasing revenue. Comparing behaviors of buyers who received coupons to those who didn’t, he found that the coupons led to additional reviews that were more negative, on average, and that the reviews didn’t affect the number of nights sold on the site or total revenue.  

In a separate, widely cited study, he and his co-authors examined the effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers at Microsoft. They scoured anonymized, aggregated data describing emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls, and workweek hours of more than 60,000 U.S.-based Microsoft employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Results showed that under firm-wide remote work, collaboration patterns become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts of an organization. 

Impressive guest speakers

For Lena Corredor, MBA 25, knowledge gained in Holtz’s class is providing an opportunity to explore the challenges of building a successful entrepreneurship marketplace, which is her startup idea.

“This class is really eye-opening for me because it’s not as straightforward as it seems,” she says. “When you think about the different sides of a marketplace, one would think if you build it, they will come, but it’s not the case. The design elements he talks about are very important to business success.”

During most classes, Holtz opens with a guest speaker, and his roster includes an impressive industry bench of leaders including Sudeep Das, head of Machine Learning/AI at DoorDash; Martin Manley, co-founder of Alibris and former U.S. assistant secretary of labor; Ania Smith, CEO of Taskrabbit; and Briana Vecchione, a technical researcher at Data & Society’s Algorithmic Impacts Methods Lab (AIMLab); among others.

man sitting in classroom gesturing as he speaks
Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, said they were drawn to the class in part because of the impressive guest speaker roster. Photo: Jim Block

Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, an entrepreneur in Mexico before coming to Haas, said they were drawn to the class for two reasons.  “First, I knew that the professor had a great background and first-hand experience on this topic,” they say. “Second, I knew that the class would have a lot of guest speakers and that was interesting to me as this level of exposure is very valuable.”        

Looking toward the future of online marketplaces, Holtz said he’s excited to see where entrepreneurs will take new technologies, such as generative AI, AR/VR, and blockchain-based tech. To that end, he said he expects the students will hear more from a group of investors and VCs who are guest judges at the last class—Raphael Lee, Vickie Peng, and Lindsay Pettingill.

“They weigh business pitches all the time and will have a better sense than anyone of where we are headed,” he said.

Q&A: Teaching the business of Taylor Swift at Berkeley Haas

young woman with long curly dark hair
Miaad Madeline Bushala, BS 25, co-teaches a DeCal on Taylor Swift.

Miaad Madeline Bushala, BS 25, likes Taylor Swift’s music but doesn’t consider herself a die-hard “Swiftie.” What’s more intriguing to her is Taylor Swift’s evolution as a business leader who continues to top the music industry.

Bushala is now tapping into how the 14-time Grammy winner built her fortune, co-teaching a DeCal at Berkeley Haas called “Artistry & Entrepreneurship: Taylor’s Version” with Sofia Mei Lendahl, a sophomore Data Science and Statistics double major. The pair were in their fourth week of teaching the 13-week class when Bushala talked to Haas News.

You came to this class with both a musical and a business background.

Indeed, I did. I was a vocalist in the Popular Music Conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) alongside my brother who is a fantastic drummer and my biggest musical inspiration. I attended Grammy Camp twice for vocal performance, a camp where high school students across the nation learn from and collaborate with music professionals.

My business background comes from watching and helping my parents with their real estate business, and then of course all that I’ve learned since being a student at Haas.

What interested you most about Taylor from a business perspective?

I heard somebody say that “nothing about Taylor Swift is an accident,” and I truly do believe that. Particularly as a business student, Taylor’s story has been so fascinating to me. At the end of the day, her songs, albums, merchandise, tours, etc. are all products, and for a product to have a life of almost 20 years not only says something about Taylor’s brilliance as an artist, but as a  businesswoman. With that, I am interested in unraveling all those pieces about her and seeing what made her the success that she’s become.

I heard somebody say that “nothing about Taylor Swift is an accident,” and I truly do believe that.

How did you meet Crystal Haryanto, BA 23 (Economics, Cognitive Science, & Public Policy), who founded this class?

Crystal and I met through Lizzie Coyle, director of Major Gifts at Haas. Lizzie shared the excitement of the Taylor Swift course in the business school and I was encouraged to consider joining the team as the team was also seeking a business perspective. I was supposed to study abroad this semester in Spain, but this was my sign to stay and do something that I’d never done before.

As a business student, how did you help shape the class syllabus? 

I asked the hard questions—for every concept in our syllabus, I ensured that there was a viable link to business. We wanted students to view Taylor as an entrepreneur who differentiates herself within a market, manages customer acquisition and sustains customer loyalty, and impacts multiple economies. We wanted them to think about how, as future entrepreneurs and business leaders, to make their customers their biggest fans, like Taylor has done.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift attending the MTV Europe Music Awards 2022 in Dusseldorf. (Press Association via AP Images)

Can you give a few examples of how that plays out weekly in the class?

One of my ideas for our marketing unit was a deep dive into Taylor’s style evolution over her self-proclaimed eras, and how that has reinforced her principles of relatability and world building. While style was a more subtle signal that built up over time, I’ve also enjoyed speaking about her direct power moves. Last night, for instance, we discussed how Taylor negotiated her contract with AMC Theatres and took hold of the reins for the Eras Tour film project. She financed the film and received 57% of the movie profits. To me, that was her learning from the mistake she made when she was younger, when she signed over the masters to her music.

In business school, students study the importance of connection in building an authentic brand. How has Taylor become a master at that?

Taylor’s songwriting stands out on two primary levels. The first is that she puts her insecurities and struggles out there, emotionally stripping herself through art. The second is that she vividly weaves those vulnerabilities into stories. Unique structures, sonic devices, and figurative language add layered complexities to these stories that ensure that they are highly talked about among consumers as a hot commodity. These elements of songwriting craft also tailor each product to match the message it is sending, which strengthens its value to consumers. She’s able to create a dynamic, so people continue to feel like they can relate to her. She really knows her audience, and her songs cover every part of her ideal listener’s life.

What does Taylor teach us about how to lead?

Taylor’s grandmother, Marjorie, said it best: “Never be so kind, you forget to be clever / Never be so clever, you forget to be kind.”

Taylor shows us how to balance a good heart with strategic design. We bring it up in class—the bonuses that she gives her team and the ways that she gives back to the community. Philanthropy happens to also be a tax write off for her, but that isn’t a bad thing. I think people know when a brand is doing something that feels inauthentic, and that isn’t the case with Taylor.

I think people know when a brand is doing something that feels inauthentic, and that isn’t the case with Taylor.

Taylor has so much power. How do you see her using it to uplift women’s voices, big and small?

Taylor has spoken extensively on how navigating the industry as a woman is different than as a man, which she writes about in “The Man” and “mad woman.”

She wears clothes from small, women-owned businesses, which have seen huge jumps in customers and traction.

But arguably one of the biggest ways that Taylor has amplified women’s voices is when she was a victim of sexual assault and ended up suing her assaulter for a symbolic one dollar. For many women, especially young fans, hearing a beloved figure speak so openly about that emotional damage not only acknowledges their pain, but also models speaking out against intolerable behavior that has become normalized in our society.

I have to ask about her dating Travis Kelce and what that has done for her brand.

The question should be what dating Taylor Swift has done for Travis Kelce’s brand. We’ll discuss her influence in the NFL in class and perhaps the perceptions that come with being in a high-profile relationship.

How much longer do you think that Taylor will continue reinventing herself as an artist? Do you think she will be like Madonna, touring in her 60s?

A lot of artists, once they feel like they’ve reached a certain point, go off the grid. I don’t quite know, but I know this: Taylor will always be a songwriter. She’s even said that she would consider writing songs for other people at some point. She cites songwriting as her lifeline, passion, and purpose—singing and performing are extensions of that.

Note: Bushala and her team will present at the annual Berkeley Haas Alumni Conference on April 27. Registration is open.  

Research reveals the key to an irresistible online dating profile

In writing a good online dating profile, the average love-seeker is likely to fill it up with all the appealing qualities and interests that make them special. They paraglide and do hot yoga on the weekends; enjoy Riesling on the beach or seeing indie bands in basements; are a Libra with Scorpio rising; or have a dog or three kids or an iguana. There’s one thing they routinely leave out, however: what they want to know about their potential partner.

Yet, that detail might be the most important thing to include, according to research by Haas Associate Professor Juliana Schroeder. 

“People want to be known, so they’re looking for partners who will know them and support them,” she says. “But because other people also want to be known, they end up writing these not-super-appealing profiles when trying to attract partners.”

In her recent paper “Feeling Known Predicts Relationship Satisfaction,” Schroeder argues the phenomenon occurs not only with romantic couples, but in all manner of interpersonal relationships, including friends, neighbors, family members, work colleagues, and casual acquaintances. In each case, people were more satisfied when they felt like they were known, rather than when they felt like they knew the other person, according to a series of experiments Schroeder carried out with co-author Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Of course, people say they want to know their relationship partner and support their partner,” says Schroeder, Harold Furst Chair in Management Philosophy & Values at Berkeley Haas. “But that’s not actually the thing that makes them happiest in their relationships. People feel happier in relationships where they feel like they are being supported—and for that, they have to be known.”

Hear Schroeder talk about her paper in this short video (full transcript at end of article):

Relationship satisfaction

Fishbach noted that the research project started a decade ago after she and Schroeder discovered that patients want their physicians to not have emotions of their own so that they can fully attend to them and feel their pain—a phenomenon they called the empty vessel effect. “We wondered whether this is a more general phenomenon whereby people are attuned to what others know about them more than what they know about others,” Fishbach says.

In an initial set of experiments, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the researchers asked participants to rate how well they believed they knew a family member, partner, or friend, compared to how well they believed they were known—and then to rate their relationship satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 7. Interestingly, people routinely thought they knew the other person better than the other person knew them. This effect has been called the illusion of asymmetric insight. “People think they are unique and special and have a lot of complexity to them, so other people just don’t know their true self,” Schroeder says. “Whereas once they know one thing about the other person, they’re like ‘I know you. Done.’”

Perhaps because it’s so rare to feel that anyone really knows us, people value it more highly in their relationships. In fact, the degree to which they knew the other person mattered less in how they felt about the relationship compared to the degree to which they felt they were known, regardless of how they felt about the overall quality of the relationship. 

In another study, the researchers presented participants with one of two scenarios in which they ran into an acquaintance at a party who either forgot their name or whose name they forgot. Participants had different reactions to the two scenarios – as Schroeder summarizes: “If you forget their name, it’s not great for the relationship, but if they forget your name, it’s much worse — the relationship is over,” Schroeder says.

What’s missing from online dating profiles

Carrying these concepts over to dating profiles, Schroeder and Fishbach enlisted a team of research assistants to examine profiles from dating sites Match.com and Coffee Meets Bagel. Based on statements in the profiles, they rated more than 50% of the writers as wanting to be known by a potential partner, while only about 20% expressed a desire to know their potential partner. 

They then asked several dozen online participants to write their own profiles, either emphasizing being known or getting to know the other person. Finally, they asked more than 250 other people to rate these profiles on a scale of 1 to 7, according to how much they found them appealing and how much they would potentially want to contact them. In keeping with the rest of their findings, Schroeder and Fishbach found that the raters preferred those profile-writers who emphasized wanting to know the other person.

Those findings could be instructive for someone trying to make themselves as appealing as possible on a dating site. “What they want to be doing is saying, ‘I really care about you, and I’m going to get to know you and be there for you and listen to you and be a great partner,” Schroeder says.

In all of the studies, there was only one type of relationship in which people did not care about being known: a parent’s relationship with their child. “In fact, we found an effect going in the opposite direction,” Schroeder says. “The thing that predicts relationship satisfaction is not how well they think their child knows them, it’s how well they know their child.” That makes sense, she adds, lending credence to the idea that the phenomenon is essentially about support. “It’s the one relationship where it’s very clear the parent needs to be supporting the child.”

The next step for Schroeder and Fishbach is to consider how people might shift their focus towards using their knowledge of other people to make them feel known in a genuine way. In a workplace context, for example, it’s possible that feeling known might not only improve relationship satisfaction with colleagues, but overall job satisfaction as well. “To develop relationships with work colleagues, you might think not just about personal knowledge, but also what are people’s habits and how they like to work,” Schoeder says. “While this was beyond the scope of our study, it’s possible that stronger workplace relationships could ultimately make a difference in terms of people’s satisfaction with their jobs.”  

Read the full paper:

Feeling known predicts relationship satisfaction
By Juliana Schroeder and Ayelet Fishbach
Journal of Experimental Psychology, March 2024

Video Transcript

Hi, I’m Juliana Schroeder.

I am a professor in the Haas School of Business in the Management of Organizations Group. And I study social psychology and social connection and how people are most effective in being able to form relationships with others.

[Question on screen] What makes people feel satisfied in their relationships?

I recently wrote a paper that investigates what are the components of what makes people satisfied in their relationships.

And in particular, we were looking at relationship knowledge, subjective relationship knowledge, how well I think the other person knows me and how well I think I know the other person. Both of those things have been found in prior research to be good for your relationship: The more I feel like the other person knows me and the more that I think I know the other person, the greater is my satisfaction in the relationship, the better I feel about the relationship.

But it turns out that one of those things matters a lot more for my relationship satisfaction.

And the thing that matters more is how well I feel that the other person knows me. That matters on average across all the different relationships that we look at about twice as much as compared to how well I think I know the other person.

[Question on screen] How did you test that?

So here is one example that we tested in one of our experiments. We had people imagine knowing or not knowing different things about someone that they had recently met.

And so to give you one of the scenarios we used, we asked people to imagine that they forgot an acquaintance’s name. So they didn’t know that about the person or they forgot a detail of their childhood—that was another scenario we examined in a different experimental condition. We told them what if the other person forgot your name or forgot a detail about your childhood? How bad would that be for the relationship?

And what we found was that if they imagine the other person forgetting something about them, they think of it as being much worse for the relationship then if they imagine forgetting something about the other person.

[Question on screen] How does this apply to dating?

It may seem obvious that feeling known is good for your relationship and your relationship satisfaction. But we have some preliminary evidence that suggests that people don’t necessarily realize this or don’t take it into account enough in their relationships.

In one study, we looked at online dating as a context and we went to common online dating websites like match.com, we went to Coffee Meets Bagel and we looked at the profiles that people wrote on those different websites.

And what we found is that in almost every profile, people would say something that is relevant to their wanting to be known. So they might say, like I’m looking for someone who will listen to me or support me and they’ll write something that relates to that.

But very rarely would people signal the opposite—hat I am looking for someone that I can listen to and that I can support and that I can get to know.

And that was interesting because in fact, when we ran an experiment on this, the people that signal that they are looking for partners who they want to know and support and care about—that, of course, is much more appealing to potential partners than the opposite.

And so, people are maybe using the wrong strategy in writing their dating profiles if they really want to be optimally attractive to as many partners as possible.

 

Gen AI, hybrid work, and DEIB are hot topics at 6th annual Culture Connect Conference

All of the speakers from day two of the conference pose for a photo on stage.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

More than 250 business leaders and academic researchers gathered at Berkeley Haas from Jan. 9-10 for the sold-out Culture Connect Conference, sharing challenges and insights on creating high-performing, inclusive cultures in the age of generative AI and hybrid work.

The sixth annual conference, organized by the Berkeley Haas Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation (BCC), featured talks by top leaders from IBM, Lyft, Pixar, LinkedIn, Hubspot, and other leading companies, along with hands-on workshops and discussions. It was led by the center’s Co-Founding Directors Jennifer Chatman and Sameer Srivastava, and organized by Program Director Audrey Jones.

Chatman, the Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management at Haas, said she was struck by the stories leaders shared of trying, failing, and trying again as they have experimented in real time with AI and hybrid work. 

“My biggest takeaway is that an experimental mindset is critical as organizations approach these very significant changes that everyone is facing today,” Chatman said. “Organizations are going through seismic shifts in how they are thinking about and conducting work. The conference was fascinating because leaders shared their stories—the good and the bad—as they navigate these changes.”

People sit at tables listening to a presentations in a large event room with big windows.
Photo: David Ho

This was the first year the conference was open to the broader public beyond invited presenters and BCC partners. Attendees included about 100 academics and 150 industry leaders from a diverse range of industries, including health care, biopharmaceuticals, media, tech, financial services, film, government, and nonprofits. Seventy companies represented.

“The combination of research-backed evidence from academics and practical advice from seasoned industry leaders is difficult to bring together but when it happens, it yields a level of insight that could not be achieved by either perspective alone,” added Srivastava, the Ewald T. Grether Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy. “We’re immensely grateful to every speaker, workshop leader, facilitator, and participant who contributed to making this a meaningful event of learning and connecting.”

A person reads a poster about leading culture.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

Day 1: Diverse perspectives on organizational culture academic research

The first day of the conference emphasized research, with presentations from 34 scholars from around the world who examine culture through the lens of sociology, social psychology, and economics. Keynote talks included Paul Ingram of Columbia on how people tend to conceal social class identities; Doug Guilbeault of Berkeley Haas on how gender biases tend to be stronger and more persistent in online images than in text; Anita Williams Woolley of Carnegie Mellon on how the drivers of collective intelligence in teams differ from individual intelligence; and Leo Bursztyn of the University of Chicago on how to create social change by correcting misperceptions about prevailing norms. 

Former Haas Dean Rich Lyons, Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Innovation & Entrepreneurship Officer at UC Berkeley, and Laura Hassner, executive director at UC Berkeley Innovation & Entrepreneurship, reported on the success of the UC Berkeley Changemaker program, a campus-wide certificate program including about 30 courses addressing critical thinking, communication, and collaboration—and enrolling about 20% of undergraduates.

Doctoral student Yingjian Liang of Indiana University Bloomington won the Edgar Schein Best Student Paper Prize. Second place went to Danyang Li of Berkeley Haas.

Day 2: Deep dives into three key themes 

Future of work and hybrid workspaces

Yamini Rangan speaks on stage.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

The second day of the conference was attended by about 200 industry leaders and academics. HubSpot CEO Yamini Rangan, MBA 03 (left), sat down with Chatman (right) for a fireside chat. Rangan said companies should treat culture as a product that management consistently refine. “You have to evolve your culture every day, every week, like a product,” Rangan said. She also emphasized the importance of building a team of leaders, rather than building a leadership team to make culture inclusive. “Culture is how people behave when leadership is absent,” she said.

Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford, shared data on how firms are adapting to remote and hybrid work across different sectors of the economy. Bloom noted that the effect of remote work on productivity has been neutral, while the impact on productivity has been typically positive. “Organized hybrid has won,” he said. 

Kristen Sverchek, president of Lyft, detailed the company’s journey with hybrid work, and Martine Haas, a management professor at the Wharton School, offered a framework for thinking about a firm’s hybrid culture. 

Laszlo Bock speaks on stage.
Photo: Laura Counts

In a fireside chat with Srivastava (above right), Laszlo Bock, CEO and co-founder of Humu & Gretel.ai (above left), discussed how to help employees find meaning and connection while using hybrid work models. Bock, who formerly worked in People Operations at Google, shared an impactful exercise used at Google: Find three or four interesting stories about people within the company, and brief execs on these stories again and again so that they retell the stories. These stories aren’t PR, he said—they will resonate to help give a sense of a strong, cohesive culture.

DEIB focus

A panel of five people engage in a discussion on stage.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

Shifting focus, Co-founder, Coach, and Consultant Kia Afcari (above left) moderated a roundtable on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. 

During the discussion, Reema Batnagar, vice president of people at Pixar (2nd from left), emphasized the importance of using personal stories as a way to foster inclusion and belonging at work. David W. Kim, chief DEI officer at NetApp (2nd from right), discussed why corporate leaders must maintain the momentum of their DEI efforts despite recent pushbacks. David Pedulla, a sociology professor at Harvard (right), highlighted the extent to which various forms of discrimination still persist in the labor market. 

Sa-kiera Hudson, an assistant professor at Haas (middle), shared recent research findings that emphasize the importance of understanding intersectionality, specifically how gender and race can work together to amplify or dampen various forms of bias. Hudson emphasized that people are complex and we should never assume that their experience within a group is aligned with their perceived identity.

Chris Bell and Jamie Woolf pose for a photo on stage.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

CreativityPartners Chief Associate Chris Bell (above left) and Co-founder and CEO Jamie Woolf (above right) led a workshop on how to create a sense of belonging through mutual storytelling.

 

Generative AI’s transformative role

Nickle LaMoreaux speaks on stage.
Photo: Brandie Brooks

In a fireside chat with Chatman (above right), Nickle LaMoreaux, chief human resources officer at IBM (above left), described how she and her colleagues have been harnessing AI to transform the role of HR in the organization.

 

Three people engage in a discussion on stage.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

MIT Professor Kate Kellogg (above middle) and Warwick Business School Professor Hila Lifschitz-Assaf (aboove left) discussed a generative AI field experiment conducted at Boston Consulting Group. Hatim Rahman (above right), an assistant professor at the Kellogg School of Management, shared research on the importance of technological certification in the labor market.

Two people engage in a discussion on stage.
Photo: Jordan Joseffer

Teuila Hanson (above left), chief people officer at LinkedIn, emphasized the need to take a people-centric approach when adopting AI tools and technologies, since human skills—including human intuition that AIs lack—are critical. “The future of work is still human,” she said.

Feel-good spaces: Study shows how to engage employees in the office

Happy diverse male and female colleagues carrying packing boxes, moving into an office to set up work spaces.
Photo: Adobe Stock

Pre-pandemic, companies sunk millions into office redesigns: cubicles were out, replaced by open, flexible layouts—often with ping pong tables, well-stocked kitchens, or other on-site perks.

Post-pandemic, companies are changing it up again, setting up hot-desking and hoteling spaces for hybrid workers. 

But new Berkeley Haas research suggests that leaders wanting to build employee engagement should think less about rearranging the furniture and more about how employees relate to their workplace.

“When people feel a sense of self-esteem and distinctiveness derived from their workspace, we found it enhances their engagement,” says Brandi Pearce, a member of the Haas professional faculty. “It also enhances collaboration and their commitment to the organization.”

Pearce refers to that sense of connection to one’s physical space as “place identity,” a term derived from environmental psychology that is often used to understand how people relate to public spaces or communities. In a paper published in the journal Organizational Dynamics, Pearce and co-authors from Stanford and Pepperdine universities explore the importance of place identity in organizations. 

Their findings offer guidance for leaders who want to build employee engagement at a time when the very concept of a workplace has become increasingly fluid.

Connections and belonging

The research team studied a software company transitioning workers at sites throughout the world from traditional offices to open-plan innovation centers—complete with movable furniture and whiteboards, colorful walls, sofas, and beanbag chairs—to promote agile work. Despite the popularity of such open-office plans, academic research on their benefits has been mixed, and Pearce said she was struck by how different people at the company reacted to the new environment.

“For some people, that type of space is amazing—they have access to their leaders and their colleagues at any time,” Pearce says. “And for others it reduces all the signals of their own status inside of the hierarchy. Or it’s impossibly distracting. Or they view it as rough and rugged.” 

Whether people accepted or rejected the innovation centers didn’t seem to align with their work functions or professional backgrounds, nor with age, gender, location, or other factors. “We got really curious about that, and started to notice that what seemed to matter more than the space itself was how people felt the space connected to them personally, positively differentiated them and reflected a sense of belonging to something meaningful,” Pearce says. 

In observations, interviews, and surveys across two studies at innovation centers in the U.S., China, India, France, and Israel, the researchers found that people who described feeling most connected to the innovation centers also expressed more excitement about their work and the organization overall. “What they described was distinct from other sources of work identity, such as team, professional, and organizational identity. “

In fact, this distinctive sense of place identity was associated with critical work outcomes, their studies showed. “Overall, our data suggest that workers collaborate more actively with one another, are more engaged, and are more committed to the organization when there is more place identity.”

Cultivating place identity

To cultivate place identity, leaders should be just as intentional about setting the social conditions for the workspace as they are about the physical design, Pearce says. Whether the setting is physical, hybrid, or virtual, she suggests three best practices:

  1. Broadcast the vision of the space. No matter the setup, leaders should clearly communicate the purpose of the space and what kinds of work that will be done in the various workplaces—brainstorming sessions, workshops, and other collaborative tasks onsite, for example, while saving focused time for home offices. Leaders can help define virtual workspaces as well; such as stating whether video conferences are spaces for efficiency or connection.
  2. Model enthusiasm for how to use the space.  While visioning is important, equally critical is the way in which leaders convey a positive attitude about the space. In a hybrid setting, for example, leaders can express enthusiasm by using the various spaces as intended, such as holding in-person meetings on in-office days and visibly blocking calendar time during remote-work days for solitary work. 
  3. Empower employees. The researchers found the highest levels of place identity among the teams that spent the most time envisioning goals for their space, so leaders should involve workers when creating a new space. In established spaces, leaders should encourage workers to adapt the space to suit their work needs or create something together, like a piece of art, that can build identity. Remote workers could be given materials to customize their spaces, or—if they do visit the office—create something with co-workers to bring home.

“Companies invest a lot in their physical spaces, but we see place identity as a fundamental human process that also requires investment,” she says. “The investment that leaders make in understanding and promoting the vision of the workspace, conveying a positive attitude and empowering workers to customize their spaces helps cultivate place identity and may be key to unlocking collaboration, work engagement and organizational commitment—whether near or far or inbetween” 

Top of Her Game

Ann Harrison honored as dean of the year by Poets & Quants

Dean Ann Harrison, a renowned economist lauded for keeping Haas’ six business programs ranked among the world’s best and significantly expanding the breadth and depth of the faculty, has been named Dean of the Year by Poets & Quants. Harrison is the 13th dean and the third woman to receive the honor from the publication, which covers business school education.

Poets & Quants Editor-in-Chief John Byrne announced the news to a global audience at a Thinkers50 virtual conference in October. Byrne engaged in a sweeping conversation with Harrison that covered the impact of globalization on workers, the responsibilities of government and business in fighting climate change, the critical role of diversity on campus, and the enduring importance of the MBA.

Demand for business education is growing, Harrison said, but the expectations of what students get from that education has also changed. “Students care about making a difference through business. They want more than just a great paycheck,” she said. “They really care about the world at large.”

In a Poets & Quants article, Byrne wrote that “Harrison has amassed an unimaginable and nearly breathtaking record of achievement” during her four-and-a-half years as dean. Harrison, who has led Haas since January 2019 and was reappointed to a second term last February, said she was “deeply humbled” by the honor.

“I am so lucky to be surrounded by a tremendous community at Haas—students, staff, faculty, and alumni who are always going beyond themselves,” she said. “It is only together that we can seek solutions to climate change, build a more inclusive society, and fuel innovation in all its forms.”

Big Changes

Since joining Haas from Wharton, Harrison has made significant changes, Byrne noted. She has led a major diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging (DEIJB) effort, broadening the profile of the Haas faculty, school board, and student body. The school’s entering full-time MBA class this year is 41% women, 47% U.S. minorities, and 13% U.S. underrepresented minorities. Harrison has also woven sustainability content deep into the curriculum while maintaining the school’s historical focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.

“The challenges of climate change permeate all aspects of business: supply chain, economics, management, and finance,” Harrison said. “In the latter field, we have pioneered new ways of investing. We need to hire in all these dimensions. It is a big agenda and we are making a lot of progress in a lot of different ways.”

Harrison also oversaw the launch of the first Flex online MBA cohort at any top business school. Applying learnings from the pandemic, Haas used new technology to make the MBA available to expanded groups of remote students and working parents requiring flexible schedules.

Under Harrison’s leadership, Haas raised a record total of $227 million, including $56.1 million during the last fiscal year. The school also secured the largest single gift in the school’s history—$30 million from alumnus Ned Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BA 66 (political science)—to turn the undergraduate program into a four-year program.

Contact sheet of three images of Dean Ann Harrison, each with a different facial expression and gestures.

Figuring it out together

In the Poets & Quants article, Courtney Chandler, MBA 96, Haas’ chief strategy and operating officer and senior assistant dean, noted that Harrison “hasn’t stayed in one lane as dean.”

“She’s ambitious, and she sees the full potential of Haas within UC Berkeley and is driven to realize that potential,” Chandler said. “She has not been that one-dimensional dean and that is incredibly impressive.”

Harrison’s record as a highly cited scholar has also helped her work with the school’s faculty. Erika Walker, senior assistant dean for instruction, who has been at Haas for nearly 20 years, told Byrne that Harrison has succeeded in securing faculty support for her vision, which isn’t an easy task. “She relates so well to them,” Walker said. “Ann is very thoughtful about where we should be going. A lot of her success stems from her ability to get the buy-in and then enlist others to figure it out together.”

“I am so lucky to be surrounded by a tremendous community at Haas—students, staff, faculty, and alumni who are always going beyond themselves. It is only together that we can seek solutions to climate change, build a more inclusive society, and fuel innovation in all its forms.”

—Dean Ann Harrison

During her second term, beginning in January, Harrison said she’ll work with her team to build upon the school’s academic excellence and to continue enhancing the student experience. One important goal is to ensure that the school’s degree programs remain the best in the world, she said. In its 2023 b-school ranking, the Financial Times named Haas’ full-time MBA program #7 worldwide and among the top four U.S. programs, a record high. U.S. News & World Report ranked the evening & weekend MBA program #1 among part-time MBA programs and our undergraduate program #2. The Financial Engineer ranked Haas’ master of financial engineering program #1 in the world.

“This is a business school that embodies excellence,” Harrison said. “I feel great pride in our past and am thrilled to have the opportunity to create impact for the future.”