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Whose Calls for Research Should Business Scholars Answer?: A “Full-Voice Meaningful” Approach

Scholar reviewing research material

Based on the PGBS Faculty Retreat keynote address by Debra Shapiro (Univ. of Maryland)

Business scholars commonly justify the need for their research by noting fellow scholars who have called for it. But, beyond responding to such calls, ought business scholars be more frequently and prominently heeding— and even soliciting— the expressed business-needs from executives, managers, practitioners, employees, business policy -makers, and/or business students— that is, calls from a broader set of stakeholders of business schools and management science? And ought business scholars be more frequently and prominently studying news-making business challenges that have yet to be identified as needing research? 

I posit “yes” to these questions and describe doing business-related research in this multi-stakeholder -inspired way as using a “full-voice meaningful approach.” My descriptor of “full-voice” is inspired by the metaphorical image of a barbershop quartet in which every member’s voice is needed for its work to have maximal impact. My descriptor of “meaningful,” paired with full-voice, is due to my experiencing more meaningfulness when the puzzle being investigated has been inspired by multiple research-calling sources. When all of our scholarly voices are prized, celebrated and integrated, we experience full-voice meaningfulness— phenomenologically captured by feelings of “Our work matters,” and “Wow, how big our sound!”

Is this “full-voice meaningful” approach really possible? Does this pluralistic approach apply to faculty members at all career stages, even pre-tenure and/or whenever pressure to publish quickly is intensely felt? I posit “yes” to each of these questions, too, if we take the following four actions.  

Action #1: Recognize “it takes a village” to produce significant impact of any kind—including impactful research

Doing full-voice meaningful research can happen more quickly if you recognize “it takes a village” to do this. Create this village (i.e., team) of members who provide “bench-strength” (i.e., knowledge or skills needed for you to make the impact you seek). If the knowledge or skills you need exist in people not in your village (e.g., your department, school, or professional network to this point), then expand your village to include them. At a minimum, be sure to include the scholar or practitioner who has been your project’s source of inspiration. For example, if the puzzle you wish to study relates to a particular theory, find the courage to invite to your team those whose research stream has been built on that theory. If the puzzle relates to a real-world phenomenon you wish to understand better (such as how a multinational company enables its globally-diffused employees to experience strong inclusiveness), find the courage to invite to your team a multinational company representative who is willing to assist in some way (e.g., give you access to employees, give feedback on how to make your research question more relevant to management and employees in multinational companies). If you are working with a company on a consulting project, and come to realize there is a phenomenon you want to study, find the courage to invite as a study co-designer this company’s key decision makers (making clear what you need from them and how their company can benefit from the answers obtained by your study). But be sure to fill your “bench” (i.e., research team) with only those who have demonstrated prompt email-replies to you, because speedy paper-writing (also one of your goals) cannot occur with slowly-responding teammates. 

Action #2: Embrace the inconvenient truth of convenience studies

A convenience-sample study (e.g., data collection from students during class-sessions) can no longer be published in any (“non-A” as well as “A”) management or psychology journal. So running convenience studies will ironically cost the researcher in speediness (after attempting without success to publish them in several journals), not quicken publication-speed. Supplementing quickly-collected data with more cleverly-designed research studies and more relevant samples is now needed; but if this is happening, then the research is probably more full-voice meaningful. So, you might as well begin your overall set of research study designs with the full voice-meaningful approach.

Action #3: Keep your research passion and have fun

Given the grueling nature of research (at least for some tasks like ultimately responding to journal reviewers’ requests), it behooves us to pursue questions/hypotheses that are full-voice meaningful. As you watch the news, talk with practitioners about their concerns or frustrations, read journal articles whose conclusions you may not agree with (especially if you find yourself ruminating about this), continually look for research questions/ hypotheses whose eventual development can add meaning to what you — with the “village” you create— study and write. Ideas that are triggered by your personal passion and/or personal observations will need to be strengthened by relevant theory- guided reasoning and/or empirical findings. Be sure to note how you are adding to what is already known. Use the village you have created to identify how your thinking improves the status quo. 

Action #4: Maximize grant funding opportunities

Projects that seem practically relevant as well as theoretically rigorous (which full-voice meaningful research is likely to be) are likelier to receive grant-funding. With grant-funding, you are better able to hire research assisting staff, buy software that quickens data analysis or needed databases, and travel to sites associated with the research design). Maximize your grant-funding opportunities by conducting full-voice meaningful research!

In summary, create a village of “voices” that will maximize the impact you wish to make; and with the help of your village, take the actions above. Doing this will enable you not only to engage in full voice-meaningful research, but also to solve the two types of “translation problems” that have, for too long, created schisms between academics and practitioners. Doing this will also enable you to, simply but perhaps most importantly, enjoy your research since it reflects, among other things, your passion! This means, too, that your impactful research will be sustained over many years—making your impact even greater! Baton lifted, chorus members: SING!

*See Shapiro (2017, AMR) on making our academic work “full voice- meaningful”; Shapiro, Kirkman, & Courtney (2007, AMJ) on solving management scholars’ two translation-problems.