Three Issues for Stronger Collaboration between Researchers and Managers

Researchers and managers share core interests but have different priorities. Some of those differences reflect distinct values. Researchers and managers are answerable to different audiences, they respond to different time lines, and structure their work in distinct ways. The key to mutually enjoyable collaboration is developing projects that further both of those interests.

Here are three principles for making organizational interventions work for all stakeholders:

There are Many Opportunities. Organizations are fraught with innovation. Some companies may drag their feet rather than embrace change, but in doing so they are fighting a rear guard action. For example, information and communication technologies continually add dimensions to the way people work. Companies continually update equipment and applications in ways that intrinsically change the way employees interact with one another. Most profoundly, customers interact through social media that place intense demands upon companies’ strategies for growing or even maintaining their customer base. The interactive quality of a company web site is a much more urgent strategic issue in 2011 than it was only two or three years ago.

Every shift in a company’s communication strategy provides an opportunity for intervention research. The company’s objective is to implement a change with implications for how employees interact with one another and with their customer base. These interventions generally require learning and changes in day-to-day work behaviour. Through collaboration, researchers and managers can track the impact of the innovation on productivity and workplace health.

Measurement is Essential. One key competency that researchers provide is the capacity to measure. For the most part, organizations do a poor job of measuring employees’ reactions to training or other initiatives. A critical evaluation of any program requires selecting the right measure, analyzing it well, and sharing the information effectively.

In the Enhancing Workplace Communities project, we contrasted CREW units with comparable hospital units. All of the other units were involved in projects other than CREW that were designed to improve wellbeing. A remarkable finding was that the comparison units did not improve on any of our measures. We expected a clear advantage for CREW on civility and respect because these were the unique focus of that intervention. However, we discovered that the CREW groups improved on a wide range of measures, including burnout, commitment, and satisfaction. The programs on the other comparison units had not impact on these qualities, despite the hospitals’ serious investments in them. The hospitals were not using effective measures to assess the impact of these other programs.

Organizations Measure Many Things. The institutional records of organizations contain a lot of valuable information (productivity, wellness, turnover, etc) but it’s rarely aligned with research data. Part of the problem is that the finance department usually designs company databases. Those departments are more concerned with a smooth production of the annual financial reports. Research questions generally follow the structure of workgroups and departments. Getting the two sources of information to line up requires a lot of prep work.

Research collaborations are essential to explore new ideas in the settings where people work. Companies are rarely inclined to entertain an academic researchers’ pet project, but have a lot to gain from applying rigorous evaluation to their ongoing initiatives.

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