jerry davis on the importance of management research
Is management research a folly? If not, whose interests does it serve? And whose interests should it serve?
The questions of good for what and good for whom are worth revisiting. There is reason to worry that the reward system in our field, particularly in the publication process, is misaligned with the goals of good science.
There can be little doubt that a lot of activity goes into management research: according to the Web of Knowledge, over 8,000 articles are published every year in the 170+ journals in the field of “Management,” adding more and more new rooms. But how do we evaluate this research? How do we know what a contribution is or how individual articles add up? In some sciences, progress can be measured by finding answers to questions, not merely reporting significant effects. In many social sciences, however, including organization studies, progress is harder to judge, and the kinds of questions we ask may not yield firm answers (e.g., do nice guys finish last?). Instead we seek to measure the contribution of research by its impact.
Management of humans by other humans may be increasingly anachronistic. If managers are not our primary constituency, then who is? Perhaps it is each other. But this might lead us back into the Winchester Mystery House, where novelty rules. Alternatively, if our ultimate constituency is the broader public that is meant to benefit from the activities of business, then this suggests a different set of standards for evaluation.
Businesses and governments are making decisions now that will shape the life chances of workers, consumers, and citizens for decades to come. If we want to shape those decisions for public benefit, on the basis of rigorous research, we need to make sure we know the constituency that research is serving.