Why not give small- and medium-sized enterprises a copy of Kotler and Keller’s textbook?

Guarduno (2021) framed her study of understanding the cause of poor marketing strategies by small- and medium-sized enterprises in Texas by looking to research in the following countries –

  • China
  • Nigeria
  • Northern & Southern Europe
  • South Africa
  • Germany

As someone who has lived in Texas for 6 of the last 40 years, I would argue the State of Texas is ahead of most of Northern and Southern Europe in development and Nigeria! But I digress…

The emerging scholar followed the traditional yet questionable, semi-structured “Q&A” format found at online universities. Interviews were performed using 18 participants who identified themselves as owners or managers of a business and chose their respective business’s marketing strategy. While a range of business start dates (1988-2020) was provided, no information was reported about the marketing education or experience of the participants. Perhaps the people interviewed who started/managed the company, and led its marketing efforts don’t know what they’re doing?

Guarduno summarized all of her findings as aligning with prior research –

  • Marketing skills and knowledge, along with financial resources, are essential to implement an effective marketing strategy.
  • External factors, such as the economy, firm location, competition, and the supply chain, also influence success.

For the non-marketers following this blog: Follow the four P’s (Product, Price, Place, Promotion), perform a SWOT analysis, and, buy a copy of the Phil Kotler and Kevin Keller Marketing Management textbook.

I question the need for the study.

Reference:

Guarduno, C. (2021). Determinants of small and medium-size enterprises selection of marketing strategy (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (28545470)

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.

Keyword search vs Abstract search…

The purpose of placing keywords in an abstract is to allow a search engine or another researcher to easily identify main topics in your research. For additional thoughts, see link and link.

As I continue digging through doctoral studies to identify patterns of concern or mistakes, I began reviewing studies from a University that uses a case study method for many students. I’ve identified problems in case studies here and here. I wanted to quickly see how many times the phrase “case study” appeared as a keyword or phrase. Using the R library tidyverse, and two commands (str_detect and table), I found only 4 instances in the keywords:

library(tidyverse)
str_detect(selected_university$keywords, "case study") %>% table()
.
FALSE  TRUE 
  233     4 

However, when I searched for the same string in the Abstract, I found 215 instances.

str_detect(selected_university$abstract, "case study") %>% table()
.
FALSE  TRUE 
   22   215 

This tells me that a specific research design is deemed not important enough to place as a keyword phrase. No problem.

Student Note: Don’t rely on keywords for finding similar types of research designs.

It also tells me that 90% of this University’s DBA graduates in 2019 used the same research design. Did I hear somebody say formulaic?

In writing about formulaic papers in organizational research, Alvesson and Gabriel wrote –

Formulaic papers are the products of a sequence of interrelated codified and standardized practices that involve formulaic research, a formulaic editorial process, formulaic reviewing, and more generally, formulaic mind-sets, that is, formulaic ways of thinking about what constitutes scholarship. Reliance on a formula is in itself not detrimental to quality, especially if the formula has yielded good results in the past. As we shall see presently, however, slavish adherence to formula renders researchers oblivious to potentially interesting possibilities that exist outside the formula,
eliminating the scope for serendipity and accidental discovery that have long been crucial factors in
scientific discovery and technological innovations

Alvesson & Gabriel, 2013, p. 247 (emphasis added)

I don’t have a problem with writing templates or standardized statistical approaches, but when 90% of a University’s doctoral studies relate to case study methodology, and issues have been identified in research from that University relating to the framing and execution of the case study method, what does that say about the quality of the formula?

Reference:

Alvesson, M., & Gabriel, Y. (2013). Beyond formulaic research: In praise of greater diversity in organizational research and publications. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12(2), 245-263. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2012.0327

When the first interview question equals the research question, why ask for more information?

Using a multiple-case study approach (N = 3), Uhuegbulem (2019) explored strategies for retiring oil and gas assets in Canada. The emerging scholar did not describe the three organizations under study. Instead, one ‘business leader’ of selected organizations was used as a proxy. The term business leader is not described; there is no evidence this leader was the President, Owner, or Managing Partner of the organization. There is also no evidence of a review of organizational documents substantiating how retired oil and gas assets are retired, tracked, and management.

What intrigued me was the research question –

What strategies do asset managers in small- and medium-sized O&G companies use to manage retired O&G assets effectively to increase organizational sustainability?

Uhuegbulem, 2019, p. 5

I wondered how the emerging scholar was going to determine how retired O&G asset management would lead to organizational sustainability or anything else, which is a cause-and-effect issue. I guess the first item of the interview guide would answer my question on how the emerging scholar would answer the research question –

What strategies do you (the participant) use to track, monitor, and manage retired O&G assets effectively?

Uhuegbulem, 2019, p. 5 & Appendix B (emphasis added)

The emerging scholar wasn’t going to do it…the participant would do it.

The Easy Button - Creations - paint.net Forum

Reference:

Uhuegbulem, I. (2019). Strategies for oil and gas asset retirement sustainability in Alberta, Canada (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (13864356)

Examining influence in a qualitative study?

It’s very important to use the correct terminology associated with a research method and design. For example, the word influence is widely-associated with quantitative research. Influence can be measured by examining the change in the Y variable when the X variable is manipulated or involving a third variable (Z). Quantitative research is more scientific, less subjective, is repeatable, and can be generalized. Qualitative research is based on the knowledge and skill of the researcher. There are times when an experienced researcher will explore influence in a qualitative study but that is few and far between, generally related to specific disciplines (e.g., medical, social work), and is supported with significant academic research (see here, here, and here). I don’t recommend emerging scholars perform qualitative research. Besides skill, the time needed to complete a qualitative study is much longer than the time needed to complete a quantitative study.

Grant (2019) is an example of why emerging scholars shouldn’t do qualitative research. This emerging scholar explored the influence of leadership behaviors on two dimensions: employee engagement and collaboration (the organization is not germane to this discussion). To perform this study, the emerging scholar created a 7-item open-ended survey and distributed it anonymously to 10 people in an organization exceeding 3,800 people. The emerging scholar would interpret the responses and categorize them to answer the following two research questions –

  • What leadership styles and behaviors are being utilized at [organization]?
  • What is the influence of existing leadership styles and behaviors on employee engagement and collaboration?

Yin (2018) describes five situations where a single case study would be appropriate: critical, unusual, common, revelatory, or longitudinal (pp. 48-50). In addition, Yin describes two types of single case studies: holistic and embedded (pp. 51-53). When reviewing the dissertation, the researcher is attempting a build a common, holistic single-case study. Common because leadership is an everyday situation. Holistic because the organization appears to have a single purpose. However, a case study focuses on “how” or “why” a situation occurred (perhaps leadership style evolution); not “what” style is prevalent or which specific styles influence two outcomes. With an anonymous survey, there is no way to follow up with a participant to clarify their responses. To quote a colleague –

Who’s the researcher? Carnac the Magnificent?

Name withheld

As a result, the research method (QUAL) and design (case study) doesn’t appear to align with the research questions. The results of the study should be ignored. However, I wanted to discuss the themes identified by Grant –

  • A collaborative, or transformational, leadership style is present
  • Organizational leaders are engaging
  • Unfair hiring practices have become standard

First, are collaborate and transformational the same? They’re close, but I believe some scholars would say they’re different. Second, what does the organization’s hiring practices have to do with leadership in an organization? Plus, how can one generalize to an organization of 3,800+ from a sample of 10? Do the math: That’s a 95% CI of nearly 31 points! Even if 90% of the sample described an organization leaders as collaborative, as interpreted by the researcher, that means the 95% CI would between 60% and Inf. What are the other 40%? Non-collaborative?

Reference:

Grant, R. M. (2019). Investigating the influence of leadership behaviors on employee engagement and collaboration in a Federal organization (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (22615969)

Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods (6th Ed.). SAGE Publications.