Michael Roberto

Trustee Professor of Management, Bryant University

Leading authority on how to improve strategic decision making and avoid hidden catastrophes.

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Biography

Michael Roberto is a preeminent authority on strategic decision-making, senior management teams, and neutralizing hidden threats to your organization.

Professor Roberto has studied how interpersonal dynamics cause catastrophic organizational failures (such as the Columbia Space Shuttle accident and the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy) and how to structure decision-making processes for success.

He helps senior executives build the consensus that successful implementation of a strategy requires and uncover potential disasters before they destroy your strategy.

His book, Know What You Don't Know, helps business leaders find and prevent problems before they happen, with practical techniques for recognizing hidden signs of trouble and for defusing the potential threat.

In his previous book, Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus, (chosen by The Globe and Mail as one of the top ten business books of 2005), Professor Roberto shows how to manage the interpersonal dimensions of decision making, the social, political and emotional aspects that so often determine success. His new book is a 2nd Edition of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes For An Answer.

Seminars
In addition to his interactive keynotes, Michael brings a unique and award-winning role-playing format to longer, high-impact experiences.

Michael Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University. He served for six years on the faculty at Harvard Business School and has been a Visiting Associate Professor of Management at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Know What You Don't Know
Your most dangerous problems are the ones you don’t even know about, as the recent financial crisis has shown us. In Know What You Don't Know, Professor Michael Roberto helps you hunt down the potential disasters that lie hidden below the radar of most management planning and strategic decision-making processes. He identifies the structural and interpersonal factors that prevent early detection of hidden problems, he offers skills and techniques for making sure that you recognize them anyway, and he explains how to build a culture that enables your team to act on what you've learned.

There are plenty of books about problem-solving. But you can’t solve a problem until you know it exists. Invite Michael Roberto to speak on Know What You Don't Know, and you will.

Executive Education
In addition to keynotes, Professor Roberto offers executive education seminars and other advisory services focused on helping business leaders translate their strategies and initiatives into successful action. An award-winning teacher, Michael is a three-time winner of the Outstanding MBA Teaching Award at Bryant University. He also has won Harvard’s Allyn Young Prize for Teaching in Economics on two occasions. Bryant named him the Faculty Mentor of the Year in 2009.

Michael has consulted with and taught in the leadership development programs of organizations as diverse as Target, Apple, Morgan Stanley, Coca-Cola, Cisco, Mars, Wal-Mart, Novartis, Siemens, Federal Express, Johnson & Johnson, and Bank of New York Mellon.

Great leaders focus on the decision-making process,
not just the decision at hand.
They decide how to decide.
They ensure a good decision-making process
by stimulating constructive conflict
and then building consensus.

Credentials

  • Trustee Professor of Management, Bryant University
  • Author, Know What You Don’t Know and Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer
  • Former professor of management, Harvard Business School
  • Faculty, Nomura School of Advanced Management, Tokyo Japan; teaches an executive education program each summer
  • Former Visiting Professor of Management, Stern School of Business, NYU
  • A.B. with honors, Harvard College; MBA with High Distinction, Harvard Business School

Awards

  • Faculty Mentor of the Year (2009), Bryant University
  • George F. Baker Scholar, Harvard Business School
  • Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer named one of the top ten business books of 2005, The Globe and Mail
  • Two-time winner, Allyn Young Prize for Teaching in Economics
  • Levenson Award Nominee as one of the top Teaching Fellows at Harvard College
  • Derek Bok Center Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Harvard College
  • His 2004 article, "Strategic decision-making processes: Beyond the efficiency-consensus tradeoff," was selected from 20,000 submissions by Emerald Management Reviews as one of the top 50 management articles of 2004
  • Columbia’s Final Mission study earned the Codie Award in 2006 for Best Postsecondary Education Curriculum Solution.
  • Recipient, Robert Litschert Best Doctoral Student Paper, Academy of Management’s Business Policy Division; paper published in the Academy of Management’s Best Paper Proceedings

Consulting Clients

  • Morgan Stanley
  • The Home Depot
  • Mars
  • Novartis
  • The World Bank
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Level 3 Communications
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises
  • Jabil
  • Corporate Executive Board
  • The Advisory Board

Books

Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer

Managing for Conflict and Consensus — 2nd Edition

Michael Roberto

Make better decisions! Michael A. Roberto will help you achieve deeper consensus, get past groupthink and "yes men," and achieve superior results in every decision you make — especially your most complex and highest-stakes decisions! Roberto's Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer, Second Edition gives you a powerful framework for promoting honest, constructive dissent and skepticism; test your assumptions; more thoroughly and fairly considering "best alternatives"; crisply coming to closure; and aligning your entire organization behind the decision you make.

In this new edition, Roberto presents new cases from Google, Ford, and Intuit, and expands coverage to more deeply illuminate his decision-making approach. Offering both positive and negative examples, he presents a well rounded view of how to determine when 'yes' means 'yes', when it doesn't, and what to do when it doesn't. Throughout, Roberto demonstrates why "good process entails the astute management of the social, political and emotional aspects of decision making" — in other words, why effective leaders are well served by carefully "deciding how to decide." You'll learn how to:

  • Test and probe what your team really believes, and get the truth and candor you really need
  • Encourage constructive objections — and keep them constructive
  • Improve team management, mitigate risk, identify opportunities, and promote integrity
  • Build stronger commitment amongst the people who'll implement your decisions

Financial Times/ Prentice Hall; 2 edition (May 19, 2013)

Know What You Don't Know

How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen

Michael Roberto

Problems remain hidden in organizations for a number of reasons, including fear, organizational complexity, gatekeepers who insulate leaders from problems that are coming up, and finally, an overemphasis on formal analysis in place of intuition and observation. This book lays out the key skills and capabilities required to ensure that problems do not remain hidden in your organization. It explains how leaders can become effective problem finders, unearthing problems before they destroy an organization. The book explains how leaders can become an anthropologist, going out and observe how employees, customers, and suppliers actually behave. It then goes on to present how they can circumvent the gatekeepers, so they can go directly to the source to see and hear the raw data; hunt for patterns, including refining your individual and collective pattern recognition capability; "connect the dots" among issues that may initially seem unrelated, but in fact, have a great deal in common; give front-line employees training in a communication technique; encourage useful mistakes, including create a "Red Pencil Award"; and watch the game film, where leaders reflect systematically on their own organization's conduct and performance, as well as on the behavior and performance of competitors.

Wharton School Publishing; 1 edition (February 20, 2009)

Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer

Managing for Conflict and Consensus

Michael Roberto

One of the Top Ten Business Books of 2005 by The Globe and Mail

No more ‘yes-men’! How leaders can get the real truth, build real consensus, and drive real action.

Executives hear ‘yes’ far too often. Their status and power inhibits candid dialogue. They don’t hear bad news until it’s too late. They get group think, not reality. They think they’ve achieved consensus, then find their decisions undermined or derailed by colleagues who never really bought in. They become increasingly isolated; even high-risk or illegal actions can begin to go unquestioned. Inevitable? Absolutely not.

In Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Roberto shows you how to promote honest, constructive dissent and skepticism . . . use it to improve your decisions . . . and then align your entire organization to fully support the decisions you make. Drawing on his extensive research on executive decision-making, Roberto shows how to test and probe the members of your management team . . . discover when ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and when it doesn’t . . . and build real, deep consensus that leads to action.

Along the way, Roberto offers important new insights into managing teams, mitigating risk, promoting corporate ethics through effective governance, and much more. Your organization and your executive team have immense untapped wisdom: this book will help you tap that wisdom to the fullest.

Wharton School Publishing (June 16, 2005)

Topics

Michael tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Leadership and Corporate Culture: Learning from General Motors' Mistakes

In this speech, Michael explores the challenges of leadership and decision-making through the lens of the current crisis at GM. After reviewing the basic facts of the situation, Michael turns to GM’s corporate culture. How did it exacerbate existing problems? How has it changed, if at all, since GM’s restructuring? What does it say when Mary Barra, despite her senior position and long experience, was unaware of key problems? Michael and his audience work through these questions together to determine how such crises can be avoided.

Making the Tough Call: Decisive Leadership

Leaders frequently face tough decisions. You have to make difficult choices about project plans, the allocation of scarce resources, and managing people. How can you become more effective at making the tough call? You must tackle three key challenges. First, you have to dodge the common mental traps and biases that cause many of us to make poor choices. Second, you have to avoid groupthink — be wary of just conforming to the majority view or conventional wisdom in your company and your industry. Finally, you must build the commitment and buy-in among your team members so that you can execute your plans successfully. In this presentation, you will learn how to tackle these three challenges so that you can make the right call in tough situations.

Facing Ambiguous Threats

An Interactive Leadership Exercise Based on Columbia's Final Mission.

Background
The space shuttle Columbia’s final mission in January 2003 ended in tragedy. According to the investigating commission, seven astronauts died because of leadership failures, tied primarily to the natural human tendency to downgrade ambiguous threats and to a management culture that suppressed vigorous debate and constructive conflict.

The case
Michael Roberto has prepared one of the most authentic and interactive multi-media case studies ever assembled for use in leadership development. And he’s developed an executive education seminar based on the case that delivers an extraordinary experience. Columbia’s Final Mission is Harvard Business School Press’s best-selling case study and won the prestigious Cody Award.

The session
The case is packaged on a CD that includes an original background documentary on NASA and the mission, real launch footage and other unique multimedia features. Your participants are pre-assigned one of six managers or engineers that were key to the program and given password access to transcripts and, in some cases, the real audio of crucial meetings attended by their role-play personae, and to their actual emails, documents, reports, slide presentations, and other real materials. Each participant gets only his or her own persona’s materials covering the seven days leading up to the critical Mission Management Team meeting that took place on Flight Day 8, when the decision to proceed was made. Then the group role plays the meeting and analyzes the organizational causes of the tragedy (not the technical causes). The first-person perspective combined with the extraordinary value of authentic prep materials makes the role play and ensuing discussion extremely rich.

The take-aways
Participants learn to recognize and deal with the forces that cause leaders to ignore weak signals that should tell them that disaster looms. They experience first-hand the pressures that tend to undermine effective decision-making and practice overcoming these pressures to find their own path to strong leadership. Participants aggressively explore the question of leadership accountability and apply the lessons to their own roles as leaders, with concrete take-aways.

Learning the Lessons: The Bay of Pigs vs the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Decisive Leadership: the 1996 Mount Everest Tragedy

Healthcare: The Turnaround of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Videos

Feedback

A leading organization for companies aviation aircraft:
Mike was a big hit! In fact, you may be getting a call from my organization to have him speak at our leadership offsite.

A major national association of healthcare providers:
Overall Value of Session. 4.8
Skills of the Presenter. 4.9

  • Wow! Great presentation based on great research.
  • Enjoyed the clear examples/stories
  • Best ever!!!!
  • Interactive – encouraged thoughtfulness and well known examples to teach supportive independent thoughtfulness
  • Stimulated discussion and thought; gave practical, easy-to-implement at low or no cost
  • Best speaker/presenter. Excellent topic and stimulating, thought provoking discussion.
  • Very insightful. Many challenges to management processes.
  • One of the best presentations I have ever heard.
  • Great case studies from outside health care.
  • Insightful ideas to use to improve group decision making.

A major national association:
From attendees:

  • Wonderful, fabulous.
  • Super wonderful nice guy.
  • His material was fantastic, and the audience just lapped it up.
  • His whole storytelling approach is wonderful.
  • He was mobbed afterward. So many people wanted to speak with him about his ideas.
  • He was a great teacher.
  • I would absolutely recommend him.

From the event organizer:

It was very satisfying that it worked. My organization believes that because they don't know who the speaker is, and it doesn't cost $100k, that it won't be great. But both the president of the association and the president of the forum were in the audience and loved it. This really helps me.

A corporate law firm:
Mike was GREAT! Feedback was extremely positive. I actually think we'll have him do some follow up. He really did a great job of engaging our group and set the tone for a very positive weekend.

A major insurance company:
We would have him back in a heartbeat.

A national association for healthcare providers:
He was absolutely fabulous.

Articles

— Harvard Business School