A few weeks back we had a small gathering of my old school friends. After I left school, most of my professional life has been spent outside Kolkata and so I have lost touch with many of my school friends. So once I settled down in Kolkata, there was a great urge to re-connect back to my friends and do some catching up and gossiping.
Most of my friends are in the corporate sector, a large majority of them is in middle rank management positions and a minuscule of them are entrepreneurs. After initial chit chat, out talk drifted to our work place and how the pressures of work are eating into our personal life and how difficult it is to manage work life balance. As I was the only academic in the group, one of my friends turned towards to me and said “How difficult it is for you at your workplace?” Teaching and research are the two big work pressures that most academics deal with coupled with administrative responsibilities. Teaching delivers value, all of them agreed but some of them were sceptical about usefulness of research, particularly management research. As the discussion drifted to other topics, a comment from one of my friends left me thinking “Unlike natural sciences, management is more to do with practice and context, does academic management research especially in the Indian context have any value?”
This comment left a lingering taste in my mouth long after the gathering was over. Does management research really add value? As academicians, the answer is fairly straight forward- yes it does. But to the large majority where does management research stand? I looked up in the internet to find out what different people thought about the issue. To my surprise, I find that questions on the validity of management research were debated ad nauseam. One interesting study found that to publish in a top management journal costs money and consumes a lot of time.
So where does this end up? As an academician my natural urge is to argue that management research is important. However, I will try to put forward a balanced view keeping in mind that esoteric research, particularly in a practice oriented field like management may have limited value. To buttress my point, let me give you an example from my own field of research. One of the questions that I am interested in is composition of the board of directors and its impact on the performance of the firm. Previous research, primarily in the context of advanced economies, have generally concluded that more heterogeneity in the board composition, the more salutary effect it has on firm performance. Heterogeneity of board composition is measured in terms of number of independent directors, the diverse educational background of the members, their professional qualification etc. Juxtapose that in the Indian context, the situation completely reverses. For example, most firms in the Indian private sector are owned by the family and the board of directors are mainly composed of family members, and even if the members are outside the family they belong to the same caste or religion. In other words, lesser the amount of heterogeneity, the better the functioning of the board. Although this makes intuitive sense, it is very difficult to prove it empirically that is normally accepted by editors of top journals. Not being able to publish in top journals restricts its audience and thus prevents it from making an impact. Publication in less reputed journals does not help the management institute in improving its rankings and hence they are loathe to provide funding to such projects. Without proper funding, it is very difficult to undertake such a project in the first place. All this ends up in a vicious circle.
How can we end this circle and publish extensively that is both relevant in the Indian context and acceptable to top journals? One way could be to start a new approach to research that is based exclusively on qualitative research on small sample. Contrary to popular understanding, doing a qualitative research is more difficult, and on top of that very few top journals publish qualitative research. Second could be to refrain from blindly following the Western model of doing research. Western research requires availability of good quality of data which may not always be possible in the Indian context. This could need the creation of a new trend of doing research and would require sustained support for a fairly long period of time. Finally, our academic systems need to be more evolved to encourage academicians take up more research. Currently, baring a few top notch institutes, there is hardly any motivation for doing research. All this if followed doggedly for a fairly long period of time might help in creation of an ecosystem that would result in top quality research that is also relevant in the Indian context.
Article by: Saptarshi Purkayastha
Assistant Professor, Strategic Management, IIM Calcutta
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