Saturday, August 23, 2008

Research, Reputation, and the Power of One Number

I wanted to thank everyone who took time to write a comment about the "consumer of research" story. It was interesting to speak with my colleagues who attended the Academy of Management meeting this month about the "HRM rankings case."

There was an interesting mix of "shock" that this could happen (that the system being used to do the rankings, which are so important to academics, can be so fraught with error), to people thinking the whole process of depending on one number is silly, to congratulations that the journal is doing so well overall, to a few people saying they would never publish again in HRM because the impact factor number is not what they thought it was (this was 1% of the many people I spoke with by the way).

For those interested in HRM, in particular, I can tell you that we have recalculated the last 7 years, and as our 'instinct' suggested to many of us, the numbers have been going up, and they continue to rise. However, HRM is not ranked higher than AMJ, and you know what, that is not our goal. If anyone wants more information (I did get this request from several colleagues), please write to me directly, and I can share what I know.

HRM is a bridge journal, and we will continue to pride ourselves in providing high quality 'bridge' material. This means we will publish papers that are rigorous and that cover research which has value in the real world. We will publish manuscripts that bring new learning to the table, be it in the form of case studies, thought pieces, literature reviews, exploratory studies, or original, theory-based research. Papers that are not research focused will 'bridge' to research by suggesting ideas for researchers. Research studies include sections on implications for practitioners.

We will stay true to our mission, and our team is committed to do the best it can do. Our reputation is built on more than just one number (thank you to Andrea Wyatt-Budd for her comment about reputation; if you have not read it, please do).

The lessons learned for me is to be a better consumer of research. None of us should be lulled into a state of complacency because we are depending on a number that makes us look good. I love data, and so do a lot of people in my network. But as I say when doing business at eePulse, it's not the data that really matters. Data can be used to start high-level dialogue, and the data and dialogue are where true learning can be derived. The search for a magic number will always be a search because magic numbers do not exist.

Numbers are helpful to us because they make us question, help us calibrate results, and they provide learning. But alone, they are nothing.

Maybe we should think about this as we lead, consult, and teach.

Think about the one quarterly stock price number, the annual performance review score, the yearly employee survey benchmark, or the once every six months customer service statistic. What are you doing with these data? Are they being used to engage in action-focused dialogue? Or are they used for something else, and is that other purpose perhaps dysfunctional in some ways?

Maybe it's time to rethink how we teach, lead and consult.

I am going to start by developing the 'consumers of research class.' It may be part of a bigger program, or it may be a stand-alone course. However, I'm pretty convinced that this can be a very useful addition to our learning, and I know that I would benefit from putting it together.

If you have ideas for content, please continue to let me know.

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