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.
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.