Frances Frei and Anne Morriss
Professor and Consultant

Culture at 30,000 Feet Above Ground

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Frances Frei and Anne Morriss

Anne Morriss, Co-Founder and Chief Knowledge Officer, Concire Leadership Institute

Anne Morriss has worked with companies and governments throughout the U.S., Latin America and Africa on strategy, leadership and institutional change. Her clients have ranged from Fortune 50 companies repositioning in global markets to public sector leaders working to transform national economies. As a senior advisor with the OTF Group, Anne recently partnered with the World Bank to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in forty developing economies.

Anne's career has included leading the campaign finance team for U.S. Representative Marty Meehan and acting as the South American Director for Amigos de las Americas, an international NGO that promotes community health and leadership development in Latin America. Anne has lived and worked extensively in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Frances X. Frei, Professor at Harvard Business School 

Frances Frei is a Professor in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard Business School and the Chair of the MBA Required Curriculum.  Her research, course development, and teaching examine how organizations can more effectively design service excellence. Her academic research has been published in top-tier journals such as Management Science and Harvard Business Review.  In addition, she has published dozens of case studies across a variety of industries, including financial services, government, retail, software, telecommunications, and hospitality.

Many of those case studies appear in Managing Service Operations, an elective course Professor Frei developed that investigates organizations’ efforts to design, manage and improve service experiences.  The course provides students with tools and frameworks to analyze service models from the perspective of customers, employees, and owners.  A comprehensive description of the course is available to fellow educators via Harvard Business School Publishing.  In support of the course and related research, Frances has completed case studies on Zipcar, eBay, Southwest Airlines, Tiffany’s, Houston Rockets, Commerce Bank, Progressive Insurance, Orient Express Hotels and Zappos, among others.

Professor Frei currently teaches and leads the required first-year FIELD course at Harvard Business School.  The course focuses on developing substantively meaningful small-group learning experiences throughout the first year that are experiential, immersive, and field-based, with the overall goal of advancing the School's mission to develop leaders who make a difference in the world. She is also faculty chair of the Achieving Breakthrough Service executive education program. In addition, Professor Frei teaches several Executive Education programs.

Professor Frei has received the HBS Student Association Faculty Award for teaching excellence on multiple occasions, as well as teaching awards from the Wharton School of Business and the University of Rochester.  She teaches in executive education programs and advises organizations seeking to create greater value through their service experiences.  She serves on the Board of Directors of Advance Auto Parts and serves on the Board of Advisors of several private companies

Professor Frei received her Ph.D. in Operations and Information Management from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  She holds an M.E. in Industrial Engineering from Pennsylvania State University, and a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania.


Anne Morriss: In our world view, excellence equals design times culture.  So, half the battle is getting the design of the organization right, and these are things like choosing very strategically where to excel and where to underperform.  And that’s a design function. And you have to make sure that the business model works and that it can scale and that it’s systematically setting people up to perform.  The other half is culture. And, you know, one of the reasons that culture matters so much in service organizations is that, we need our employees to every day on the front lines make decisions that end up defining the customer experience.  In managing those employees, the handbook only gets you so far.  You know, you – and part of that is because customers are wildly, wonderfully unpredictable.  You don’t know on the front lines of a service organization what’s going to happen moment to moment.  And culture tells you what to do, where – when there isn’t a policy or precedent.  And so it’s a hugely important asset in service organizations.  

Frances Frei:  So Southwest Airlines, the reason we love it is that it’s in perhaps the worst industry of all time.  So the industry has essentially destroyed more value than its created since its inception.  And then there’s Southwest, who’s profitable every year.  Every year for one decade every year for another decade, every year, for another decade . . . They do it by this beautiful elegance of focus.  They are very comfortable saying, “We do this, we don’t do that,” which means they have great strategy.  And they’re very great at delivering excellence because they say, "We’ll do these things well: turnaround time, being on time.  We’ll do these things badly: . . ."  Go onboard a Southwest Airlines flight and ask someone for a full meal.  They have no shame, no apology - they might mock you a little bit in their reply.  They understand what they’re optimized to be great at.  They understand what they have to give up in order to deliver on that, and they understand that from the top of the organization all the way down to the bottom. 

Anne Morriss:  One of the things that Southwest does in a training experience is they get everyone, all the new recruits in a room and they have everyone stand up and share their most embarrassing moment.  So, people in the moment think, "This is pretty hardcore.  I mean, they’re testing us for poise and our ability to communicate in a stressful situation."  And it turns out, Southwest isn’t looking at the speaker, they’re looking at everyone else, and they’re looking for signs of empathy.  And so when they see signs of empathy in that crowd, those are the people that they end up hiring.  So, it’s, you know, it’s a great example of distinct clarity on the values that are important to them and figuring out how to find them in the hiring process.

Frances Frei: Excellence is design times culture.  You have to get the design right and you have to get the culture right.  Great design, bad culture, won’t work.  Great culture, bad design, won’t work.  We need both, and Southwest is just a magnificent illustration of both.  

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd