Business schools began in partnership with businesses. We maintain relationships with our business communities through formal relationships with advisory boards, career centers, and adjunct faculty. As we strive for responsible research in business and management, perhaps we can look to stronger/more prevalent formal business relationships related to our research. Perhaps we’ll soon see corporate names on the RRBM partner page.
Two Examples of Industry Partnerships
I had the great opportunity of being a Ph.D. student as the faculty at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business (then the Graduate School of Industrial Administration) that founded the Center for the Management of Technology. We had relationships with GM and other organizations that gave us access to the issues that were critical to the them and the opportunity to provide them insight into those issues. I recall sitting at the Pittsburgh airport wondering if I would be flying to Michigan or not as strike talks were going on. It helped me understand the context surrounding our research.
The Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California was established in 1979 and I’m honored to have recently joined their affiliate ranks, a group that includes executives and consultants as well as faculty from other institutions. Their homepage says,
We partner with companies to help solve complex organization design, human capital, and strategy execution challenges. We do this by:
- Rigorously assessing the relevant and strategic issues facing the organization
- Applying proven interventions guided by that assessment
- Demonstrating the value of the engagement
Looking in from the outside, both of these centers (and the others like them in other business schools—including my own institution’s 36 year-old Retail Management Institute) built partnerships and joint respect that enabled them to take on credible and useful research—hallmarks the RRBM movement.
The research is more credible given access to data in real-world contexts. It’s useful as it’s founded in partnership with the organization’s leadership.
Trust, Focus, and Action
My own experience suggests that it takes multiple years to develop a trusting, focused, relationship to the point that the organization’s leaders are open to research. In cases where it’s just an organizational leader and me, our project is at risk for turnover and shifting priorities. While that is also possible in more institutional relationships, I’d expect it to be much less so. These risks are often too much for an individual, especially an untenured, faculty member to take on, limiting the number of scholars available to do the work. Bennis and O’Toole mention the tenure dynamics of field research in their 2005 HBR piece, “How Business Schools Lost Their Way” but I don’t think they pushed hard enough on the other side of the equation: the businesses themselves and our relationships with them.
Institutionally, we have an opportunity to use advisory board relationships, senior faculty relationships, faculty expertise and passion, and our graduates to build the trust and legitimacy necessary to do research in partnership with business. Industry/academic centers are one model. The associations that have joined RRBM as high-level partners can also help us develop these relationships if they bring together faculty and organizations, or at least highlight the value of our working together. A step further: I’d like to see RRBM corporate partners open to direct work with faculty and their schools.
Author: Terri L. Griffith
Professor of Management & Entrepreneurship and Associate Dean at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business; past Senior Editor, Organization Science and past Associate Editor, MIS Quarterly. TerriGriffith.com