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Six: Rigor and Relevance in Organizational Research: Experiences, Reflections, and a Look Ahead

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

PHILIP MIRVIS
AND EDWARD E. LAWLER III

THERE IS NOTHING so practical as a good theory.” “You cannot understand a system until you try to change it.” These are the practical dictums about the relevance of knowledge and its rigorous development offered by Kurt Lewin, the father of social psychology. They represent what we believe and do: in the case of Lawler, as an “applied scholar,” and Mirvis, his onetime grad student and longtime friend, as a “scholarly practitioner.” Our understandings and pursuit of Lewin’s twin precepts about knowledge gathering and use have evolved during a combined 70-plus years studying individuals and organizations.

In this chapter we reflect on matters of rigor and relevance in our scholarship and research programs. The first part is autobiographical as we contend that a scholar’s interest in and skills for producing useful knowledge are to some extent a product of self-selection, socialization, and identity formation, all in turn shaped by career stages, twists, and turns. One theme is that the dynamic “fit” between who researchers are and what they study influences (and can transform) their stance on rigor versus relevance over time. Our personal interests and career paths have led us to construct research programs that increasingly stress relevance and that take us deeply into the workings of organizations and management practices.

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Contents

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781605096001

Four: A Ten-Year Journey of Cooperation

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

LYNDA GRATTON *

PREPARING THIS CHAPTER has provided a marvelous opportunity to consider the way in which my own research agenda has evolved and how engaged scholarship and action-based research (Van de Ven & Johnson, 2006) has been so central to my working life. Looking back, I see a long and continuous process of questioning where I have learned and continue to learn about a number of topics that are profoundly important to me.

One of the emerging themes in this book has been the extent to which the personal interests and experience of this group of scholars have shaped their research. I am no exception to this. Having spent the first ten years of my postdoctoral career in both a major company and a consulting practice before returning to a full-time post in academia, it is no surprise that my interest is in active collaboration with practicing managers. Like many of the scholars in this book, my initial training was as an industrial/organizational psychologist. My research preference is a combination of case writing, to build a deep understanding, and of diagnostics/instrumentation, to work at a broader canvas and discern the emerging themes. I like to use multiple methods to triangulate on the truth, and like Michael Beer, I am definitely a groundhog focusing on one or two domains of practice. So although I was trained as a psychologist to examine the individual, increasingly I have found myself intrigued by the complexities of large companies, particularly those that operate on a global scale. I find their scale fascinating, and I believe, like my colleagues Sumantra Ghoshal and Peter Moran (2005), that they can play an important and valuable part in the everyday lives of people across the world.

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Thirteen: Professional Associations: Supporting Useful Research

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

WAYNE F. CASCIO

PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS HAVE a visible, leading role to play in supporting and assimilating management-related research that has a useful impact on practice. Over the years, many reasons have been suggested for the great chasm that seems to exist between academic research and the practice of management. For purposes of this article, I adopt Gelade’s (2006) definition of practitioners, namely, those who make recommendations about the management or development of people in organizational settings or advise those who do. Research is relevant to the extent that it generates insights that practitioners find useful for understanding their own organizations and situations better than before (Vermeulen, 2007).

In Chapter 1, Research for Theory and Practice, Mohrman and Lawler describe three broad perspectives on the science-practice gap:

1. From an academia-centric perspective, the gap is the result of a knowledge-transfer problem. It assumes that knowledge emanates primarily from academia and focuses on ways to make practitioners knowledgeable about the “facts” that are discovered through academic research.

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Twenty-Two: What We Have Learned

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

SUSAN ALBERS MOHRMAN
AND EDWARD E. LAWLER III

IN THIS BOOK We revisit the key learnings from Lawler and others’ 1985 book, Doing Research That Is Useful to Theory and Practice, and chronicle what has been learned since then about how to conduct research that helps organizations be more effective and advances theoretical understanding. Our intent was not to assess whether useful research has become the standard; indeed, we know that it has not. Still, during the last quarter century, many scholars have conducted research that is useful to both practice and theory, and there is growing interest and knowledge about how to do useful research. There is also a growing concern about why the usefulness of research to practice is not a more salient purpose nor an outcome that is frequently pursued in today’s academic institutions. We feel this book makes an important “twenty-five years later” contribution because it establishes what is known about how to do useful research and provides an important guide to scholars who want to do it.

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