‘Much of the research carried out in the field of management is artificial’

Michel Kalika, from the Business Science Institute, explores ways of bridging the gap between research and the real world

The issues faced by businesses have been accelerated by Covid-19, not to mention the fallout yet to come. As a result, senior business people have increasingly specific study needs, and business school professors are under more pressure to demonstrate the value and impact of their research.

For business school faculty, being at the leading edge of business practice is now more critical than ever.

Research for research’s sake?

Higher education is criticised for its inability to create real-world impact from research.

Unfortunately, the gap between management research and the world of practice is as wide as ever.

For some decades, management research has focused on concepts, methodology and epistemology rather than on impact and managerial recommendations.

Academic papers written under the threat of “publish or perish” are often not very useful for business people who don’t read academic journals anyway. And it is a challenge for many management researchers to have access to real, relevant data and observations.

For business school faculty, being at the leading edge of business practice is now more critical than ever

As a result, much of the research carried out in the field of management is artificial because it is disconnected from reality.

Academics who can demonstrate real-world impact in their research are more likely to be rewarded with opportunities.

But to do this effectively, they need to:

  • Have a deeper and broader understanding of contemporary business issues
  • Engage directly over time with those business people who are confronted with such issues
  • Challenge their academic understanding and perspectives on specific issues
  • Be able to deliver relevant classroom teaching with live and lived experiences.

Options for deepening business engagement

Developing deeper business engagement and bringing ‘better’ insights back to their students is not an easy task and there are pros and cons to all options.

Example activities include:

  • Developing consulting activities, although these are not always compatible with their research objectives
  • Managing research projects where companies are strongly involved, with the proviso that the researchers’ agenda and those of the company may not always be aligned
  • Professional networking or becoming part of a professional body, although the former can involve an uncertain return on the cost, time and energy involved in initiating potential collaborative opportunities
  • Executive education: workshops or programmes with a teaching element, although these are time-limited
  • Participating as board members or collaborating with a start-up business – however this is quite rare.

DBA as an enabler?

An increasingly popular alternative is for professors to supervise a senior business leader through a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) – either remotely or through their home institution.

A post-MBA qualification, a DBA normally lasts between 3 and 4 years. It offers a formal, structured approach that enables students to develop deep learning and critical thinking skills needed to face today’s business challenges.

Unlike a PhD, a DBA helps senior business leaders address existing problems within their professional work. It does this by confronting academic expertise with the student’s business expertise through a supervision process.

For HE institutions providing such programmes, of which there are many in the UK and some in continental Europe, this can bring the world of practice into a profound and sustained relationship with academia.

And they often lead to other opportunities for professors, such as consulting assignments, secondments and opportunities to sit on boards.

Master and apprentice

For business school professors, supervising DBA students can bring a better understanding of current business challenges.

This is down to the nature of the expert-supervisor/expert-supervisee relationship, where both are master and apprentice at the same time.

During a DBA, the business practitioner brings know-how, or tacit knowledge learned and applied over years of practice to the supervision process. This know-how is incredibly rare and valuable to faculty, but sometimes difficult to put into words.

If an understanding of the importance of impact is built into the programme structure/outcomes at an early stage in the research process, many DBA-supervisor partnerships offer considerable business engagement value.

Unlike PhDs, DBAs tend to generate research that is embedded in real-world practice. The reason for this is that DBA thesis topics are provided by managers facing real managerial dilemmas, far from purely theoretical perspectives.

It can also be a potent way for institutions to manage stakeholder relationships, based on the deep trust developed between business and academia through the supervisor-supervisee relationship.

Research embedded in practice

DBAs have the potential to give a new direction to research output.

Unlike PhDs, DBAs tend to generate research that is embedded in real-world practice. The reason for this is that DBA thesis topics are provided by managers facing real managerial dilemmas, far from purely theoretical perspectives. The empirical data is real-world data, grounded in the field of practice.

The DBA student, as a practising manager, has first-hand access to rare and valuable data. Meanwhile, faculty who supervise a DBA thesis can offer expert advice on methodology and analysis of this real-world data. And because it is mandatory to produce managerial recommendations in a DBA thesis, the added value of the research will appear more clearly.

While not all institutions might offer or want to offer a DBA programme, there are opportunities for academics to take up opportunities outside their home university.

If academics truly want to build a deeper connection with the world of business, and institutions want to improve their reputation for impact, perhaps its time to look beyond their walls and consider the DBA as a personal and professional development opportunity.

Instead of “publish or perish”, should we be saying: “publish with managerial impact or perish”?

Michel Kalika is president of the Business Science Institute, an independent international academic organisation running executive DBA programmes.

Leave a Reply

Free live webinar & QA

Blended learning – Did we forget about the students?

Free Education Webinar with Class

Wednesday, June 15, 11AM London BST

Join our expert panel as we look at what blended learning means in 2022 and how universities can meet the needs of ever more diverse student expectations.

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?