Research is often undervalued in a company as leaders rely on their own experiences, their knowledge set, and possibly the knowledge and experiences of others. Surprisingly this can prove to be a limited amount of knowledge and insights when compared to the breadth of information that exists on nearly any subject matter.
The goal of this article is to discuss Research: Gather Your Facts for Better Decision Making. A company’s success is greatly impacted by the effectiveness of the decisions it makes. And while it is important to be efficient (aka, expedient) in your decision making it is just as important to make sure you have done your research to consider all of the facts and options that may be available to you.
Research versus Analytical Decision-Making
Research is very closely tied to analytical decision-making. Both are based on gathering as much information as possible. Research findings oftentimes play into analytical decision-making. Rather than consider them as two whole separate activities it is suggested that both be used to complement each other.
Getting Good at Research
Getting good at research requires several activities that when executed upon will result in more decisions being supported by research findings (and where necessary, analysis to understand the research).
The dictionary.com definition defines research as the diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.
When conducting research you will need to consider your research design (how you plan to answer the question or problem you are faced with) and the research method(s) you choose to execute this plan.
Depending upon your company’s business model you may engage in the usage of different types of research methods for solving or understanding different types of problems. The research methodologies are quite varied and it is helpful to have a general understanding of the various types of research you may use (descriptions are the author’s interpretation of commonly used definitions):
- Basic: This is characterized when you just jump right in to research without any preconceived conclusions and are just seeking to improve your understanding of a situation.
- Qualitative: This type of research is typified by textual data, whether it is responses to questions on a survey, feedback given in a focus group, or dialogue from an interview.
- Quantitative: Any time your research involves data that is numerical in nature or is data that can be categorized and assigned numerical valuations for analytical analysis then you can conduct quantitative research.
- Observational: This is when you observe behaviors exhibited by participants in a situation to understand the unguided reactions and responses to the environment around them.
- Longitudinal: This is a term used when the research observations are measured over time. An example could be an adult’s approach to parenting subjects over time (from before they had children, during stages of when they had children, and after their children have left). To understand what changes over time.
- Cross-sectional: This is when you are ensuring that the data you are studying represent the population or a subset that allows you to get a cross-sectional approach.
- Correlational: This is a non-experimental research method, in which a researcher measures two variables, understand and assess the statistical relationship between them with no influence from any extraneous variable
- Causal-comparative: This is when you are trying to research the relationship between independent and dependent variables differences that already exist between groups.
- Experimental: Any time you are adhering to scientific research design and starting with a hypothesis and using variables that you intend to measure, calculate and compare to prove/disprove your hypotheses you are using an experimental methodology.
- Exploratory: If you are in the early stages of looking at a problem you likely may use and exploratory approach that does not begin with any preconceived hypothesis and is intended to conduct an initial investigation into the problem to get some general understandings which may then lead to further research using other methodologies.
- Descriptive: This is when you are describing the “what” of your research
- Explanatory: This is when your research outlines what the research is intended to study and resolve and the methods to be to resolve the problem
Preparing to Conduct Your Research
Numerous steps should be taken as you build the research muscle of your organization
To ensure that the quality of research is beneficial to your organization you will want to consider who should conduct the research. Whomever you choose to conduct your research should have experience in setting up the type of research you are looking to have completed.
- Senior Leadership Commitment: As noted before leaders often rely on their own knowledge or that of a small group of individuals. Getting your senior leadership to expect that deep research to be used when solving problems is a critical factor improving your research capabilities
- Hiring Research Capable Employees: It is also important to look for characteristics in new hires that would suggest they are good researchers or are interested in becoming good. Begin to look for candidates that like to research solutions on the internet, pose critical thinking questions, and measure how they respond, understand their analysis capabilities, have them explain how they solve problems.
- Training: Every manager/leader is not educated in or interested in research. However, making sure that each manager/leader is using a common language as it relates to research will help to improve your organization’s collective approach to researching and your understanding of research findings. Partnering with your human resources department and training department will result in the development of baseline expectations as it relates to researching.
- Incorporate into Analytical Decisions: As stated earlier research and analytical decision making are closely related. It is important that any analytical decision-making consider any research methodologies that should be incorporated to improve the quality of the analysis.
- Project Prioritization: Research is also important as it relates to project prioritization. A project that is lacking adequate and fundamental research that supports the project assumptions and goals should be suspect.
- In-house Expert: Not all companies can support having Ph.D. level scientists on their payroll. However, it is beneficial to have a person who is a go-to subject matter expert when it comes to understanding in-depth the scientific repercussions of various modeling techniques and who can guide internal leaders on matters related to research. In the absence of an in-house expert, you should consider hiring outside experts to consult on your larger projects.
Your Research Process
Each research effort may vary somewhat in the approach based on the methodology used, however, most will contain most of the following steps:
- Problem/Opportunity Identification (POI): This often comes in the form of identifying something that has occurred, wanting to understand how to capitalize on an opportunity.
- Resource Review: This can be as broad and varied as the types of POIs you develop. As you conduct a resource review consider everything from internet resources, academic journals, subject matter experts, etc.
- Update Your POI: After doing some research you may want to clarify the problem you are trying to research or the opportunity you are looking into.
- Common Terminology: Outline and define all of your research content in understandable terms.
- Who/What/Where: Define clearly the parameters of your research subject(s)
- Methodology: Clearly define how you will be conducting your research to ensure that the information your research and gather is as unbiased as possible.
- Data Collection: Gather as much information on your research subject(s) as possible to aid in the analysis of your data.
- Analysis: Conduct the types of analysis that are necessary to aid the research results. As spoken to early research is very closely tied to analytical decision-making.
- Interpretation: As part of your research you may be interpreting the results for a summary to your audience.
- Conclusion/Recommendation: This may or may not be a step in each research project. It is recommended that the researcher provide any conclusions or recommendations they have from their involvement with the research as it relates to the Problem/Opportunity Identification (POI) identified at the beginning of the research process.
Building an expectation of research-based decision-making will take time and effort. Once incorporated into your culture you can expect that initiatives will be well thought out with various options considered and positioned for optimal success.