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Management research: The myths and truths


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Last week was the inauguration of our new batch of doctoral candidates at PIM. It has always been a moment of joy to welcome ‘knowledge creators’ who would contribute to management research whist gaining the highest qualification in the world. When research projects happen, we can look forward to the mega S, which is Success   We deal with management research, which falls into the larger domain of social research. Whilst positive initiatives are being taken, the current situation with respect to research in Sri Lanka is far from a satisfactory level. Today’s column will focus on management research in identifying seven myths associated. At a time where there is a growing awareness on management, and an increasing interest on management education, it is worthwhile to ponder why there is no such enthusiasm on management research. Most of the management programs do not contain a research component, and management research is perceived to be something extremely difficult and to be left to the experts to handle. Should that be the approach of management learners? I would say “no”. Why management learners are reluctant to embark on management research? I would propose that we need to debunk the myths associated with management research. Let me discuss seven such myths.   1.Skill myth I have seen management learners being scared to engage in management research stating that they do not have necessary skills to do so. Refraining from management research due to skill shortage is a myth. Skills can be acquired in variety of ways. Same is true for management research skills. Last week, we looked at the contents of a newly published text book on management research. The starting point is an inquiring mindset. When you have a problem in focus as an unsolved puzzle, a logical step-by-step approach is needed in understanding the nature of it, and finding solutions for it. There are range of ways to strengthen the skills of doing management research including books, websites and short courses. It is encouraging to see that pioneering academic institution who started offering an MBA program to Sri Lanka is still maintaining a research rigour, making it a vital component in MBA education.   2.Scope myth Some tend to complain that the extent involved in a management research is so vast. Reluctance to embark on management research due to its scope is a myth. Scope is there for the researcher to decide. I have heard many a times from my senior colleagues that management researchers want to cover everything under sun and moon. Instead, they should clearly demarcate a boundary within which their investigation will be carried out. A beginner can start studying on his/her organisation or even a division of it. On the other hand, a veteran researcher will clearly identify the scope which is relevant to the nature of the problem under investigation. For an example, in a study of employee satisfaction, instead of covering all employees all over the world, a demarcation such as “middle level managers of private commercial banks in Sri Lanka” would be a more sensible scope.   3.Size myth The fundamental of research say that we study a sample as we cannot cover the entire population. Refraining from management research because of its sample size is a myth. It is issue of depth and breadth. You can do an island-wide survey but the depth of investigation can be rather shallow. Instead, selecting a reasonably sized sample that represents the characteristics of the population can be a more practical approach. Continuing on the earlier example, selecting middle managers from one bank or from several banks is a decision on sample size.   4.Style Myth There is no one universal approach to management research. Diverse patterns can be seen in moving beyond traditional number-crunching practices. Conviction that there is a universal style of doing management research is a myth. What I mean by style is essentially the approach to management research. It can be one of the following:
  • Study of an unexplored area, e.g.: Career aspirations of call-centre operators,
  • Challenge what is already known, e.g.: Motivational factors of sewing workers apparel industry
  • An existing problem formulated in a novel way, e.g.: Why plantation workers resist change
  • New interpretation to existing findings, e.g.: Revisiting culture study by Gert Hofstede (a famous Dutch anthropologist)
  • New evidence on a previous issue, e.g.: Productivity and employee satisfaction
  • New method/technique adopted, e.g.: Use of “grounded theory” for local research
  • Replicate a study done elsewhere, e.g.: Study of organisational commitment
  • Synthesis of existing knowledge, e.g.: Combining two studies on different aspects of stock market performance
Hence, it is clear that there is no universal style towards management research. The challenge is to select the style matching the nature of the investigation.   5.Structure myth Some management researchers insist on a formal structure in approaching research. The world is moving towards multiple structures. I saw how story-telling has influenced as a powerful way of narrating a management research, in the recent past. Reliance on one formal structure for all management research is a myth. In perusing through the fundamentals of management research, two key structures can be found. They are related to an exploration or an explanation. The twin terminology associated is deductive and inductive approaches. Deductive approach begins with an initial idea or conceptualisation of the problem in focus. It is applicable when substantial knowledge is already in existence. In contrast, the inductive approach begins with the observation of realities and then moving towards generalising the results. It is more suitable when available knowledge is insufficient to develop predictions. Each approach leads to a different structure of the management research. It is difficult to say, which is better out of the two. A more pragmatic approach will be to fine the best fit with regard to the nature of problem under investigation.   6.Source myth Some of the management researchers complain that they have no access to sources of information in formulating the problem. There is no one source but multiple of sources are available in order to gain knowledge. Refraining from management research due to source constraints is a myth. There are electronic databases that contain thousands of research papers. In some management programs, instead of access to a physical library, the students receive a user name and a password, inviting them to visit a virtual library full of versatile resources. On the other hand, there is a wealth of local management research, sadly not yet available in electronic form. Visiting several management institutes will serve the purpose, instead. Hence, source should no way be a constraint in conducting management research.   7.Support myth There is a need for guidance with regard to management research. The usual practice is to seek the support of a supervisor. However, the supervisor is only a guide and the researcher has to take the ownership of the project. Assumption that being dependent on the supervisor will ensure research success is a myth. Here, the emphasis is on self-reliance and confidence in oneself. Supervisor can give valuable suggestions, and guide through grey areas, but he or she is not there to do the research for the researcher. Right use of the supervisor in asking right questions is the preferred approach. Of course, in critical junctures, supervisor’s wealth of experience will be of help in taking the correct decision. Therefore, being over dependent on external support will not take a researcher anywhere   From 7 myths to a mega S Management research has to gain renewed enthusiasm in Sri Lanka. The presence of several annual research conferences and the availability of several management journals are a welcome sign for a better future. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that management research contributes to the development of Sri Lankan economy whilst enriching the body of knowledge. In such a context, it is essential to be aware of the above seven myths and to overcome them wherever possible. We need more management researchers who would genuinely add value in broadening our understanding, in turn contributing to individual and institutional development. When such research projects happen, we can look forward to the mega S, which is Success. I refer not only to the success of the research project, but the subsequent benefits to the humanity at large. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is the Acting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA.)

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