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  • Writer's pictureRaffaella Sadun

Raffaella Sadun | Faculty Profile

Raffaella Sadun, Faculty Co-director of the Project on Workforce

Raffaella Sadun, Faculty Co-director of the Project on Workforce, is an economist and professor at the Harvard Business School. She is Co-Chair of the Project on Managing the Future of Work and Co-Principal Investigator of the Digital Reskilling Lab, and serves as director of the of the National Bureau of Economic Research Working Group in Organizational Economics.

Sadun's research focuses on managerial and organizational drivers of productivity and growth in corporations and the public sector. She co-founded several large-scale projects to measure management practices and managerial behavior in organizations, such as the World Management Survey, the Executive Time Use Study, and the first large scale management survey in hospitals, MOPS-H, conducted in partnership with the US Census Bureau. Her work has helped uncover the extent to which the diffusion of “basic” management and organizational practices varies across organizations within and across countries, and how this affects productivity at the micro and macro level.

Raffaella Sadun is co-editor for the Journal of Law, Economics and Organization and associate editor for Management Science. She is the author of articles published in journals such as The Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Review, and Journal of Political Economy. She served as an economic advisor to the Italian government in 2020 and 2022 and received the honor of Grande Ufficiale dell'Ordine "Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana," the highest-ranking order of the Republic awarded for “merit acquired by the nation” in 2021. In 2022 she was awarded the Prize “Fondazione de Sanctis per le Scienze Economiche.” Sadun received her PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics.




Selected Projects

The Digital Reskilling Lab — Closing the retraining knowledge and implementation gaps.

The Digital Reskilling Lab at Harvard Business School aims to address concerns about the impact of digital technologies on the workforce by gathering and analyzing data on retraining initiatives. The lab focuses on understanding existing retraining efforts, identifying best practices, and testing new approaches with partner organizations. By closing knowledge and implementation gaps, the lab seeks to inform and improve retraining programs to benefit workers and organizations alike.

Project on Managing the Future of Work — Exploring the intersection of higher education and the workforce

The changing nature of work demands companies to adapt and collaborate with stakeholders. Harvard Business School's Project on Managing the Future of Work addresses this through research on technology, the gig economy, workforce demographics, skill gaps, and global talent, to inform strategies that business and policy leaders can put into action to navigate the evolving work landscape.

Selected Research

Communication within Firms: Evidence from CEO Turnovers | National Bureau of Economic Research

We find that CEO turnover is associated with an initial decrease in intra-firm communication (-10% relative to the pre-CEO transition period), followed by a significant increase approximately five months after the CEO turnover (+33%). The increase in communications is driven primarily by inter-departmental (i.e. communication involving employees of different functional departments) and vertical (i.e. communication among managers and employees) communication flows. Firms where the medium-run increase in communication is higher experience greater increases in market returns and revenues in the year following the CEO transition.

Managers Do? | Human-Computer Interaction

Our findings indicate that the forced transition to WFH created by the COVID pandemic was associated with a drastic reduction in commuting time for managers, but also an increase in time spent in work rather than on personal activities. This included reallocating time gained from commuting into more time spent in meetings, possibly to recoup some of the extemporaneous interactions that typically happen in the office. This change is particularly pronounced for managers employed in larger organizations. We use the results from the time-use studies to discuss implications for the development of new technologies.

U.S. productivity growth accelerated after 1995 (unlike Europe’s),particularly in sectors that intensively use information technologies (IT). Using two new micro panel datasets we show that US multinationals operating in Europe also experienced a “productivity miracle.” US multinationals obtained higher productivity from IT than non-US multinationals, particularly in the same sectors responsible for the US productivity acceleration. Furthermore, establishments taken over by US multinationals (but not by non-US multinationals) increased the productivity of their IT. Combining pan-European firm-level IT data with our management practices survey, we find that the US IT related productivity advantage is primarily due to its tougher “people management” practices.

Does management matter in schools? | The Economic Journal

We collect data on management practices in over 1,800 high schools in eight countries. We show that higher management quality is strongly associated with better educational outcomes. The UK, Sweden, Canada and the US obtain the highest management scores, followed by Germany, with a gap before Italy, Brazil and India. We also show that autonomous government schools (government funded but with substantial independence like UK academies and US charters) have higher management scores than regular government or private schools. Almost half of the difference between the management scores of autonomous and regular government schools is accounted for principal leadership and governance.

Selected Media

Soft skills are increasingly valued by employers, as highlighted by Harvard Business Review. Yet, they are challenging to quantify. Traditional recruitment methods prioritize hard skills over soft ones. Later stages assess soft skills, but the process remains flawed. Research suggests methods for identifying soft skills, like "status acuity" and the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" test. Incorporating feedback from various interactions and considering candidates' concerns could also provide insights. However, hiring for soft skills presents risks, including potential for deception and biases. Recruitment processes need to evolve to effectively evaluate soft skills, indicating a shift in hiring practices.

David Deming and Bill Kerr of Harvard Business School discuss bridging college-to-career transition, emphasizing need for better integration of work-based learning. Data-driven approach via College-to-Jobs initiative aims to inform stakeholders for more effective pathways, highlighting value of internships and employer collaboration.

The pandemic shortened meetings but increased their frequency. Remote work exacerbates this issue, with constant check-ins seen as micromanagement. The return to hybrid work may not alleviate the problem, as managing virtual and in-person interactions adds complexity. Despite challenges, employees hope for fewer meetings post-pandemic. However, increased virtual connectivity may have blurred boundaries, leading to longer work hours and cognitive strain. As workplaces transition, maintaining a balance between formal meetings and spontaneous interactions is crucial. While some appreciate the return to office chatter, others dread the loss of remote meeting efficiency.

This spring, we announced the winner of the HBR McKinsey Award for the best Harvard Business Review article of 2017: “Why do we undervalue competent management?,” by professors Raffaella Sadun, Nicholas Bloom, and John Van Reenen. While headlines might herald technological innovation as the mover and shaker of today’s economy, this trio’s research uncovers the outsize impact of good management practices on a company’s—and by extension, entire countries’—growth. The authors, who are based in the United States, created a massive body of research on this topic for more than 15 years.

Selected Articles

Reskilling in the Age of AI | Harvard Business Review

In the coming decades, as the pace of technological change continues to increase, millions of workers may need to be not just upskilled but reskilled—a profoundly complex societal challenge that will sometimes require workers to both acquire new skills and change occupations entirely. Companies have a critical role to play in addressing this challenge, but to date few have taken it seriously. To learn more about what their role will entail, the authors—members of a collaboration between the Digital Data Design Institute at Harvard’s Digital Reskilling Lab and the Boston Consulting Group’s Henderson Institute—interviewed leaders at some 40 organizations around the world that are investing in large-scale reskilling programs. In synthesizing what they learned, they became aware of five paradigm shifts that are emerging in reskilling: (1) Reskilling is a strategic imperative. (2) It is the responsibility of every leader and manager. (3) It is a change-management initiative. (4) Employees want to reskill—when it makes sense. (5) It takes a village. The authors argue that companies will need to understand and embrace these shifts if they hope to succeed in adapting dynamically to the rapidly evolving new era of automation and AI.

The C-Suite Skills That Matter Most | Harvard Business Review

Landing a job as a CEO today is no longer all about industry expertise and financial savvy. What companies are really seeking are leaders with strong social skills. That’s what the authors discovered after analyzing nearly 5,000 job descriptions for C-suite roles. Their explanation for this trend? Business operations are becoming more complex and tech-centered; workforce diversity is growing; and firms face greater public scrutiny than ever before. Those conditions call for leaders who are adept communicators, relationship builders, and people-oriented problem solvers. To succeed in the future, the authors argue, companies will need to focus on those skills when they evaluate CEO candidates and develop in-house talent.

New research uses survey data from over 1,000 CEOs across six countries and the financial performance of their companies to answer questions about CEO effectiveness. The evidence suggests that hands-on managerial CEOs are, on average, less effective than leaders who stay more high-level. This distinction mirrors John Kotter’s distinction between leaders and managers. Leaders tend to be more prevalent in larger firms and in industries that are more skill-intensive and complex, while managers tend to run smaller and simpler organizations. But just as important is understanding and finding the right fit between the CEO’s leadership style and what the company actually needs.


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