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My angle

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I’ve written extensively about the gulf between the research which is conducted in many academic institutions and what is actually read and acted on by practising managers both in the mainstream press and in academic journals. There are clearly problems at both ends of the spectrum.

Much of the purely academic literature is highly quantitative and often impenetrable to non–academics. Some of it is brilliant. Some of it, alas, is not and is often incomprehensible even to academics. You can read entire articles and still not be sure what is being said and what has been concluded. You do, however, get the pleasure of looking at many statistical tables with titles such as: Figure 2: Estimated coefficients for the preliminary and proposed models (path analysis)!

I’m not making the case that rigour is not important. I can, and have, launched a similar tirade against the simplistic airport books or popular strategy books of the Good to Great ilk which string together random anecdotes rather than apply a rigorous research methodology, whether quantitative or qualitative.

I suppose that what I am after is a situation in which academics do sound research and where managers read that sound research. That is what we set ourselves as the goal for 360° — The Ashridge Journal. The mission is to conduct rigorous research which is relevant to managers.

Overall, we seem to be doing something right. A working paper entitled Business school rankings and business relevance has just appeared from EDHEC, a business school in France. The study measures the business school research that is covered by the Financial Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal and Business Week. In the study, Ashridge features as one of Europe’s top schools.

In this edition of 360°, we hope that you will again find articles which are rigorous and relevant. Dr. Gill Coleman writes about the need to bring together sustainability and change management. She presented an earlier version of this paper at a conference held at Ashridge in June to explore this interface. The feedback from both academic and business attendees at the conference was that some really cutting edge work was being done here at the School.

Dr. Andrew Day has a similar interest. His article explores how a focus on involving employees extensively in change management and in setting them the challenge of how to do things differently rather than in telling them what to do can be a very sensible approach.

Karen Ward and Dr. Mary Jacobsen narrow the scope down and suggest that while one cannot involve everyone in everything, organisations need to concentrate on the needs and motivations of their most talented employees.

These first three articles all look at the role of participation – the latter two take a somewhat different approach. Jo Whitehead’s article looks at how to develop strategic competence and how to tackle complex issues. While he agrees that participation is important, he strongly argues that informed participation is what is needed. Stephen Bungay would no doubt agree with all of the above perspectives. He does, however, point out a truth which may be forgotten sometimes: the buck has to stop somewhere. By reframing the endlessly debated duality between management and leadership into a trinity of management, leadership and command, Bungay draws lessons from his extensive work on military organisations.

In taking a holistic perspective on all of the contributions to this edition of 360°, I hope that readers will reflect on what is surely one of the key questions in all organisations: who should be involved in deciding what? A totally top-down decision-making process cannot work because no-one can be omniscient and colleagues would be disenfranchised. At the other end, total involvement in every decision cannot work either, as nothing would ever get done. Surely the challenge is to fi nd the balance between these two perspectives. What is certain is that more thoughtful and informed individuals will be better able to grasp complex issues and make decisions wherever they may be in the organisation.

Well, time to get back to some proper academic stuff. Anyone for Table 3: Random-effects negative binomial regression?

Kai Peters
CEO, Ashridge