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Faculty Spotlight: Francesca Grippa, PhD

By Samantha McPhall
September 9, 2019

We sat down with Francesca Grippa, PhD, professor and faculty director for Northeastern University’s Global and Social Enterprise domain, to learn more about her work and research interests. 


Name:  Francesca Grippa, PhD

Title: Professor and Faculty Director, Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies

Joined NU: July 1, 2010 (In 2009, I started to teach as an online instructor at D’Amore McKim School of Business, in the online MBA program)

Research interests/focus: Innovation Networks, Digital Communication and Collaboration, Dynamic Network Analysis

Significant publications:

  • Grippa F., Leitão J., Gluesing J., Riopelle K., Gloor P., (2018) “Collaborative Innovation Networks. Building Adaptive and Resilient Organizations”, Edited book, Springer Series “Studies on Entrepreneurship, Structural Change and Industrial Dynamics”, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-74295-3.
  • Grippa F., Bucuvalas, J.; Booth, A.; Alessandrini, E., Fronzetti Colladon, A; Wade, LM. (2018) Measuring information exchange and brokerage capacity of healthcare teams, Management Decision, Vol. 56 Issue: 10, pp.2239-2251,https://doi.org/10.1108/MD-10-2017-1001
  • Gloor, P. A., Colladon, A. F., Grippa, F., & Giacomelli, G. (2017). Forecasting managerial turnover through e-mail based social network analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 343-352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.02.017
  • Gloor, P., Colladon, A. F., Giacomelli, G., Saran, T., & Grippa, F. (2017). The impact of virtual mirroring on customer satisfaction. Journal of Business Research, 75, 67-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.02.010=

Francesca Grippa has been working in higher education for 15 years and has consulted with small and large organizations in various industries, including healthcare, aerospace and defense, environmental protection, and financial services. She holds a PhD in Digital Business and was Visiting Scholar at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence in 2005 and 2006. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at MIT Connection Science.

Along with teaching and leading the Bachelor’s Completion Management Program, Francesca is also responsible for the growth and academic quality of five programs: BS in Management, BS in Finance and Accounting Management, MS in Commerce and Economic Development, MS in Global Studies and International Relations, and MS in Nonprofit Management. When she is not working, Francesca enjoys spending time with her husband, two kids (Bianca and Leonardo), reading, and cooking Italian food.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Q: What inspired you to study management?

During my master’s and doctorate studies, I was captivated by books discussing organizational dynamics using resource-based perspectives, and newer approaches such as organizational learning, knowledge management, and open innovation. When I read about the Balanced Scorecard approach and learned about Social Network Analysis, I knew that I had found my path! I was offered the opportunity to continue this intellectual journey at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, where I worked with research scientists and industry partners to build a better understanding of the impact of informal communication on organizational success.

In one of my recent projects, we exposed employees of a large service company to their own online communication patterns, triggering their awareness and creating the basis for self-evaluation and behavior change. Our results demonstrate that the process of “virtual mirroring”, where employees reflect on indicators like their email response time or the complexity of language used, increases customer satisfaction.

Q: What is your specialty within the discipline?

My specialty is in the application of methodologies and tools of social network analysis to help organizations and their teams map their informal networks and reflect on ways to optimize the communication flow and improve outcomes.

For example, in a recent paper, I explored questions such as: How does online communication change when managers decide to quit their job? Does it differ from managers who stay? To address some of these questions, we analyzed 18 months of e-mails of 866 managers, out of which 111 left a large global service company.

Q: What research are you focused on?

The focus of my academic expertise is at the intersection of innovation, change management, leadership, and organizational behavior.

Over the past 10 years, I have been using a mixed-method approach, as I believe in the power of qualitative and quantitative data to increase the depth of understanding of the phenomena we investigate. I have also used social network analysis to collect and analyze data on communication styles, including in a recent study where we analyzed the flow of information using “sociometric badges”, which are wearable devices developed at MIT Media Lab. Using a large children’s hospital as a research setting, we combined social network analysis with participant observation, videos, and surveys among members of healthcare teams. We then identified factors that have the potential to create a more sustainable, accountable care network to deliver optimal value across all stages of treatment for kids with chronic diseases.

Q: What makes this work meaningful to you?

This work is meaningful to me because I have seen and worked in organizations that do not take the time to pause, reflect on their mistakes, and learn from them. Allowing employees and teams to build self-awareness, to look at themselves in the mirror, and observe and measure their own communication patterns and how their behavior is affecting others is almost like giving them the opportunity to meditate. My work is focused on measuring individuals’ communication patterns as a first step towards the creation of a climate of reciprocity with regard to information exchange and collective learning. To give you an interesting example from a multi-experiment study conducted in the 1970s by Wicklund and Duval, giving teams an actual mirror while performing a task, produced self-awareness in the participants leading to higher performance.

Q: Tell me more about your career before coming to NU. 

Before joining Northeastern as full-time faculty, I was a tenured professor in the Department of Engineering at the University of Salento, in Lecce, Italy, where I taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Innovation Management, International Business, and Knowledge Management. I was involved in nationally-funded and European-funded projects involving Italian companies, as well as universities in Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan. In 2004 and 2005, I was a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence in Cambridge, MA, and worked on projects focused on the application of dynamic network analysis to investigate the diffusion of innovation. I am currently a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Connection Science, which is part of the MIT Media Lab. Some of the organizations I worked for outside of higher education include: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, IBM, and Leonardo (formerly known as Finmeccanica).

Q: What attracted you to Northeastern University and the College of Professional Studies?

I was attracted by Northeastern’s reputation of being an innovator in the area of experiential learning and applied research. This was strongly aligned with my teaching philosophy. In 2008, with some colleagues in Italy, we had designed and delivered a master’s degree entirely based on Project-Based Learning, which required students to spend at least 6 months with our industry partners. I was then attracted by the College of Professional Studies because of the emphasis on innovation, quality, and inclusivity. My students are mostly working professionals and international students; I am inspired by their perseverance and motivation.

Q: What do you consider your biggest research/industry accomplishment(s) thus far?

I have enjoyed every opportunity to learn from and work with industry and academic leaders on how to improve organizational resilience through the adoption of digital technologies. One of the recent accomplishment was that our 2017 research was featured in the March-April 2019 Harvard Business Review in the article “A Novel Way to Boost Client Satisfaction”. The original paper, “The Impact of Virtual Mirroring on Customer Satisfaction” was published in 2017 in the Journal of Business Research. I am incredibly lucky and proud of my collaboration with researchers and practitioners working across the world. We all work to explore the impact of collaborative innovation networks using big data approaches and dynamic network analysis.

Another accomplishment related to this is that I have been asked to be Program Chair for 3 consecutive years for the International Conference on Collaborative Innovation Networks. I am currently chairing the 9th edition that will be held in Warsaw, Poland, which is organized in collaboration with the conference Masters & Robot.

Q: What courses are you teaching in the coming year? 

I will be teaching two sections of Principles of Management and I will be Master Teacher for the capstone course Business Strategy, both in Northeastern’s BS in Management program.

The main assignment for the Principles of Management course is a project that consists of conducting a structured interview with a manager, investigating a problem, and writing a final paper with managerial recommendations and personal reflection on lessons learned in the process. During their project, I act as an academic mentor, and I make sure the “research protocol” is well organized. Through this approach, students design their own final project, research on the topic, design the outline, and complete the project with a final critical reflection. As one student mentioned:

I realized that all of the information from prior classes is finally coming together with the information from this class. At 55 years of age, working 55 to 60 hours a week managing the operations of a major international airport, I was able to apply information I obtained in this class to my current role at the airport”.

Q: Are you involved in experiential learning opportunities for your students? Can you share more about them?

My approach to teaching is based on the belief that learning is maximized when students are offered the opportunity to reflect on their personal and professional experience and apply frameworks and conceptual models as they work on real projects. In addition to business simulations, field interviews, case studies, and consulting reports, I am designing a business plan “pitch competition” in the New Venture Creation class, which will be based on peer-review and expert assessment by faculty and investors, who will act as judges at the end of the semester, proclaiming a winner.

Q: Where do you see the future of your field headed? How can students prepare to meet the changing demands?

Today companies are asked to address broader societal and environmental challenges. Business ethics is an often overlooked component of business or engineering education that should be taken more seriously by students. Corporate social responsibility, ethical leadership, and good citizenship are not only buzz words. We need to recognize that our actions have a significant impact on others and on the environment.

Q: What are you reading right now?

I am reading the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. My interest in cognitive science and brain science started with two cognitive psychology classes I took while in college. I suggest this book to anyone who wants to learn to use plasticity to change bad habits, learn to unlearn, and stop obsessions and worries. It’s an eye-opening book to understand the interplay between our brain, society, and our culture.

Q: What’s one industry-related book or publication that has influenced you?

Two books that inspired me and influenced my research journey are: Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter, by MIT Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland, and Linked: The New Science of Networks by Northeastern University Professor Albert-László Barabási. Both books are thought-provoking, entertaining, and confirmed my passion for understanding the impact of social ties on individual happiness and organizational success.

Q: What advice would you offer to prospective graduate students interested in one of the programs in the Global Social Enterprise domain?

Build your career based on passion, humility, and respect, and open your mind to other cultures and disciplines. Be always open to learning from various disciplines! Inter-disciplinarily work is not always an easy path, as you’ll have to learn to speak other “languages” and understand methodologies you are not familiar with. Keep going, stay focused, and you’ll find your way to leave a mark on the world around you.

Connect with Professor Grippa: LinkedIn | Twitter

To learn more about the esteemed faculty of Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies, visit https://cps.northeastern.edu/faculty/.

About Samantha McPhall
Samantha McPhall is an assistant marketing manager for Northeastern University’s Enrollment Management team.