In February 2022, Harvard Business School Online launched a series of free, non-credit business lessons, which include: Designing Organizational Structure, Identifying Competitive Risk, Investing in Private Equity, Negotiating Salary, Pricing Strategy, Resilient Leadership, and Understanding Customer
Needs.

Each lesson, led by Harvard Business School faculty, is designed to “provide you with actionable skills and insights.” The courses are brief, running only fifteen to forty-five minutes in length, which not only makes for ease of completion but is designed as a segue into Harvard’s full-length online certification course offerings. And naturally, at the completion of these free micro-lessons, you are prompted to explore the certificate program, which runs for 8 weeks, at a starting price of $1600.

For this review, I completed two courses: Negotiating Salary and Resilient Leadership. All courses follow the same interactive structure, centering the lesson around a case study or scenario-based example. The lessons blend a combination of video, text, polls, and prompts to tell the stories and engage the students. It shares your “classmate’s” poll results and a selection of their written responses after each prompt, which provides a nice touch in the absence of a live classroom. The courses also offer a couple of accessibility features, including closed-captioning and audio descriptions of the videos. However, the lessons are only offered in English, as far as my investigation found. The faculty of presenters, also lacked in representation, with five out of the seven being white individuals.

 

Negotiating Salary
Presented by: Michael Wheeler, LLM, Retired Professor of Management Practice
Length: 15 minutes
Summary: The goal of this lesson is to provide simple, effective strategies to implement in negotiating salary. Professor Wheeler utilizes the case study of former professional hockey player Derek Sanderson, to demonstrate the arc of negotiation and identify three key strategies for a successful outcome. In 1972, Sanderson’s star was rising on and off the ice; he had just won his second Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and was a fan favorite. For an athlete of his era, he was compensated well, contracted for $75,000 a year. His Bruins teammate Bobby Orr, however, far out-earned his peers, with a five-year contract for one million dollars. When Sanderson became a free agent, he kept Orr’s earnings in mind as he shopped his options. The general manager of a new
Philadelphia team, the Blazers, offered Sanderson 2.3 million dollars for a three-year contract. The offer was greater than Sanderson could have imagined. In a state of shock, he was unable to respond, which prompted the manager to reveal he could up his offer even higher, to 2.6 million
dollars, for the same three-year span. It was at this juncture, Sanderson recognized the power he held, and further still, remained silent. The general manager upped his offer once more, to 3 million dollars, to which Sanderson accepted, but not before stipulating additional benefits. This deal securely placed Sanderson as the highest-earning professional athlete at that time.

Professor Wheeler’s Key Takeaways:

  1. Go into the negotiation with a goal, something that could make you say yes.
  2. Don’t assume their first offer is the best offer – know that a company has the potential to make an offer better than you could imagine.
    1. There is power in silence: no response is a response.
    2. Don’t negotiate against yourself – ie: the general manager made concessions before receiving a reply from Sanderson

Pros:

1. At fifteen minutes, the lesson was brief and remained engaging.
2. The case study is interesting, and Wheeler is an engaging storyteller.
3.  The takeaways are accessible and actionable strategies that can be implemented by virtually every job seeker.

Cons:

1. The case study is a high-profile, extreme example. Sanderson’s value is bolstered by his public image, and his profession entails tremendous financial resources. Many professionals don’t have such elevated recognition that derives value in and of itself.

2.  In its brevity, the lesson fails to cover certain nuances of negotiation and how the intersections of identity impact one’s approach and outcome; a white man and a Black woman utilizing the same tactic may experience different outcomes.

 

 

Resilient Leadership
Presented by: Nancy Koehn, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration
Length: 35 minutes
Summary: The goal of this lesson is to provide insight into what makes an effective leader, particularly in the face of adversity. Professor Koehn utilizes the case study of explorer Ernest Shackleton, to display the success of leadership that centers the employee’s well-being and morale. In August of 1914, Shackleton and his team set out on the Endurance Expedition to explore Antarctica. Along the way, they encounter hazardous icy waters, yet Shackelton makes the decision to sail on. As they approached within 80 miles of the Antarctic coast, the ship became stuck between icebergs, with seemingly no way out. Shackleton quickly adjusted his focus to survival, which he achieved by maintaining his team’s level of engagement and outlook. He held an hour’s worth of games and activities every night after dinner to keep his men entertained. He kept close, crew members whose focus or belief waned, to prevent a spiralizing of despair. In every
decision Shackelton made, he prioritized the well-being of his team, which is ultimately what enabled them to continue on.

Professor Koehn’s Key Takeaways:
1. Strong leaders are able to balance the day-to-day management and the bigger picture needs.
2. Strong leaders own their mistakes and recognize the responsibility for the outcome ultimately falls on their shoulders.
3. Strong leaders possess the discipline to continue to face forward and be decisive.
4. Strong leaders possess humanity.

Pros:
1.  Prompts and polls are particularly impactful in engaging the student to reflect on their leadership style.
2. The emphasis on responsibility and humanity is a critical tool for leaders, that is not always present in leadership trainings.
3.  The case study is another extreme example, this time to the lesson’s benefit: If Shackelton can remain an empathic leader despite spending months on end stranded on a boat in frozen waters, then translating to the present day, maybe there isn’t a labor shortage so much as there are a lot of poor leaders who don’t value their employees and compensate them fairly?

Cons:
1.  While not terribly long for a one-off lesson, it was broken into two parts (both free),
unnecessarily extending an otherwise brief story, and without adding any additional value
to the lesson.
2. The lesson never explicitly states if and how he led his team to safety? Considering this course is centered around his successful leadership, the logical conclusion is that he and his team did in fact return. While this is not essential to the purpose of the lesson, since the “how” is focused his leadership style, the lesson ended slightly abruptly, and if would be nice to know the precise conclusion after spending 35 minutes with this story.

Overall, the courses are interesting, quick to complete, and well designed, with engaging graphics and interactive learning tools. They best serve as a taste test for the HBS full-length certification programs, allowing interested individuals to explore the courses before committing their time and money for their entirety.

To note, HBS does offer a catalog of over 100 online full-length courses (which these mini-lessons are a subset of) that can be audited for free, and for which a verified certificate of completion can be obtained for a fee of $199. However, if a full course isn’t what you’re seeking, these lessons are useful as basic resources, providing a new perspective and/or refresher for managers and anyone looking to advance their professional knowledge and skills.