Good research means better business decisions

I’ve taught a business research methods course to MBA students for many years at two New Zealand universities. These students are all experienced business managers or owners. And one of the challenges I have is convincing them that research competencies are not “academic” skills that are irrelevant to their workplace but are basic to making good business decisions.

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Managers rely on carefully conducted research for understanding market opportunities, for evaluating campaigns, and for testing initiatives, among other things. And managers need to understand good research practices to get the best value from such research. I recently had as a guest speaker Tracey Bridges, co-founder and director at the Good Registry (and formerly Managing Partner for Senate SHJ). Tracey emphasised the importance of managers not just letting the experts plan and do the research, but instead getting involved and carefully scoping the project to ensure you get the outcomes that will be useful. I couldn’t agree more. Managers should work to explain carefully and clearly their aims and objectives for the research, and the questions they want answered. And if others do the actual research for them, managers should ensure the research plan – even down to the questions to be asked on surveys – is likely to produce credible answers.

Credibility of research results is the key. There’s little point in point in doing research that can be picked apart for having used shoddy data or analysis. Another guest speaker I had recently in my MBA course was Dr Andrew Peterson, Head of Data Science at the Warehouse Group. Andrew focused on avoiding being fooled by random variation – that is, thinking we’ve found something significant when we’ve really just gotten certain findings by chance. For example, you may think your new pricing strategy produced an increase in sales, when in fact the increase could be due to seasonal fluctuations or some other factor unrelated to your pricing strategy. So, Andrew says it’s critical to carefully construct experiments and use controls that give us confidence in the answers we’re getting from research.

Beyond carefully designed, formal research initiatives, good research competencies instil a discipline in evaluating available evidence in making good business decisions. Managers often lack the resources – including time – to commission all the market research they may need or to conduct careful experiments to test initiatives. But even so, good research practices teach us to be disciplined in questioning the available evidence and constructing careful arguments to make better business decisions.

Learn more about the Massey Executive MBA here.

Prof Ted Zorn is the head of Massey Executive Development and he teaches Applied Research on the Massey Executive MBA. A professor of organisational communication for nearly 30 years, Ted held positions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Waikato University before joining Massey University in 2012. His research in recent years has focused on the use of dialogue and other forms of communication in leading change.

Finding out “What’s right with people?”

Have you ever seen a rugby prop doing ballet? Was Shakespeare any good at algebra? Could Einstein sing well? Is Bill Gates any good at carpentry?

In business today, our first instinct could be to question how people differ from what we consider the norm. This person is louder than we are comfortable with, that one does not speak as eloquently as we expect, another is too quiet and does not make eye contact, and the guy from marketing does not understand how to read a balance sheet. Not one of them matches our personal definition of “normal”. They are not like us, so there must be something wrong with them. Any leader who adopts this approach is sure to mould their team into miniature clones of themselves. The leader will hear what they want to hear (as opposed to the truth), the team will behave like the leader (rather than in the most appropriate manner), and precious talent could be lost while obedient avatars replace them and strive to do nothing more than “keep the boss happy”.

There is strength in unity, but that is not the same as suggesting that there is strength in uniformity. In any successful team, there are players who contribute to the victory with a variety of strengths. Some are fleet-footed sprinters; others are rock solid immovable objects; all of them need to work together to bring about a triumph. Business is no different. Diversity provides the greatest chance of success because it builds in the combined personalities and strengths of a group of people.

Tim Kloppenborg, Emeritus Professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati and an expert in strengths-based leadership, explains that the work done by the Gallop Corporation was significant in the area of identifying peoples’ strengths. “Following a very comprehensive study Gallop identified 34 different thought patterns in people across organisations, at different levels of management and in different cultures.” These patterns were grouped into four domains, namely executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking.

Once the strengths have been identified the next step is to construct the team’s roles in such a way that complementary strengths are grouped together. A studious introvert may need someone to engage with customers on their behalf. A verbally confident influencer may need someone to look after the written or admin parts of the job. A strategic thinker may need someone to implement their grand plans and ensure that the detail is taken care of. Such actions enhance the diverse strengths of a team to construct a formidable engine, capable of responding to a variety of circumstances and resilient in the face of unpredictable challenges.

And what about the strengths of the leader? What does the team expect of them? The four elements identified by Don Clifton (the father of strengths psychology and inventor of the Clifton StrengthsFinder®) as crucial to all leaders supersede their personality. The four elements are trust, compassion, stability and hope. No matter what your strengths as a leader these aspects of character are important for your team to observe in your words and actions. While the team can contribute a wide range of skills, knowledge, behaviour and talent, they will look to you for honesty and trustworthiness; for understanding and compassion; for predictability, trust and stability; and for hope through your ability to generate a vision and steer the vision.

To find out more about Strengths-base Leadership watch Tim Kloppenborg’s webinar here. Tim will also be presenting two powerful workshops in Auckland in April. Find out more here.

Timothy J. Kloppenborg, PhD, PMP is a Professor Emeritus from Xavier University. Tim has over 100 publications to his name including 12 very successful academic books on various aspects of Project Management.  Tim has worked closely with the authors of over 30 books including Stakeholder-led Project Management: Changing the Way We Manage Projects and Developing Strengths-Based Project Teams.

Tim has worked in manufacturing, construction, and research, as well as being a retired USAF Reserve officer. He has lead thousands of people in consulting, training, and university classes on six continents, many of these assignments dealing with project management and/or strengths-based leadership.

He holds a BS in business from Benedictine College, an MBA from Western Illinois University, and a PhD in Operations Management from the University of Cincinnati.