Alignment of themes to research question…

I started writing this blog post about priming interviewees in qualitative research. However, once I got into writing, I realized I simply found another poorly performed qualitative study. However, I did want to discuss aligning research-deduced themes with research questions. Here’s the study –

Job Satisfaction and Job-Related Stress among NCAA Division II Athletic Directors in
Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Name withheld (but you can search for the study)

I’ve been involved with many students who are exploring job satisfaction and job-related stress in a variety of industries, but I’ve never heard of a study on this topic in university athletic directors (AD’s). What surprised me was the study wasn’t quantitative; it was qualitative.

The emerging scholar’s overarching research question was –

What strategies do ADs at HBCUs implement to manage departments with limited resources?

p. 14

What does the phrase ‘limited resources’ mean? It would seem that some form of quantitative measure would need to be used to separate athletic departments into categories based on resources. However, I found this sentence –

…there was an assumption that HBCU athletic directors would experience job dissatisfaction and
job-related stress due to decreased funding, inadequate facility management, and
inconsistent roster management

p. 19

Wow! This statement makes it easy for a researcher…I’ll just assume something is happening whether true or not.

Now, a quick note about priming. The interview guide can be found on Appendix C of the dissertation. Honestly, it’s not really an interview guide. The student employed the ‘oral survey’ Q&A approach often suggested by faculty that have limited understanding of qualitative data collection methodologies. Rather than critique the self-described “interview questions,” I will point out one issue –

Q3 – What strategies have you implemented to motivate your staff and thereby increase
job satisfaction?

p. 133

This question requires the interviewee to –

  • Understand the word strategy or, at a minimum, understand the researcher’s definition of the term
  • Differentiate a strategy from a tactic
  • Reflect on how a strategy has been specifically applied to or influenced staff motivation
  • Reflect on staff responses to the strategy and subjectively estimate its influence on their own level of job satisfaction

In other words, the emerging scholar placed the responsibility for the study’s results on the interviewee responses, not on the interpretation of the responses. Ugh!

What would have happened if the emerging scholar simply started with –

  • How do you motivate your employees?
  • How do your employees respond to the techniques you employ to motivate?
  • When do you decide to change methods?

The aforementioned approach allows the interviewees to describe the methods they use to motivate employees, which would then be analyzed by the emerging scholar as a strategy or tactic. Each motivational technique could be explored in-depth by follow-up questions and, subsequently, tied back to the literature. Next, the emerging scholar could explore in-depth with the interviewee the responses by employees. Did the description provided by the interviewee align with the expectations found in the literature? Finally, discussing a change in methods and its impetus, could result in an alignment with the research question?

When I finally got to the themes, I chuckled:

  • Shared responsibility – “participants believed the workplace demands they face daily do not allow them to have the ability to make all decisions for the department. Having shared responsibilities among other leaders within the department was essential for each athletic director” (p. 97). Every job has some level of work demand. Some demands are based on the lack of resources (e.g., human capital), some are note (e.g., heavy lifting). In the academic literature, sharing responsibility within an organizational unit is the tenant of work-based teams. It would seem the study participants are simply employing widely-referenced management techniques. However, since the emerging scholar assumed all HBCU ADs face limited resources, this had to be a theme.
  • Empowering staff – The emerging scholar didn’t describe the meaning of this phrase; rather, paraphrased material was listed from external sources (two sources cited weren’t listed in the References). However, similar to shared responsibility, employee empowerment is an oft-studied topic in the literature.
  • Limited resources to grow facilities – The term ‘resources’ in this context relates to financial resources. ADs are often held accountable for promotion of their programs; however, how much of that job is part of their normal duties? Based on how the emerging scholar phrased the research question, this theme is not aligned with the research question.
  • Limited female participation – The emerging researcher delved into gender equity, the recruitment of females to play sports, and the balance between males and females in sports. This topic relates to recruitment, probably more about society than management…again unrelated to the research question.

In the emerging scholars biography she stated that she works for an HBCU athletic department, so I acknowledge the interest. She also stated that she would like to pursue an athletic department job. That’s great! If you, too, are an emerging researcher and you look at this study for references, that’s fine…just be wary about citing these results. Redo the research.

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