A few years ago Mark and Phil thought it would be fun to work together on a piece of research. They also hoped it would benefit their continuing development as researchers. Mark’s research background has its origins in the recruitment and subsequent mobility of labor. His research methods skills emphasize the quantitative approach, although he had undertaken a variety of qualitative research projects. Phil’s strength is as a mainstream HRM academic with a bias towards understanding the process of everyday HRM. His research methods skills are mainly qualitative. Unlike many students, their research area was one in which they were aware of the literature. However, despite this, they were in a similar situation to many students. They wanted to undertake a new piece of work, which would excite them and be of some practical benefit to organizations.
In the early 1990s Mark had carried out a survey of recruitment methods used by local authority employers. This had built on and developed research he had undertaken as part of his doctoral thesis approximately 10 years earlier. While discussing the findings in the coffee shop, Phil agreed to take a more detailed look to see if there was anything of practical significance for managers. During discussion a few weeks later, an issue emerged which they felt was fascinating. Throughout the previous decade there appeared to have been a dominance of internal and word-of-mouth recruitment. Internal recruitment is where recruitment is restricted to an organization’s existing employees. Word of mouth is where recruitment relies on the organization’s existing employees to tell other people in their social networks about the vacancies.
Throughout their discussion Phil and Mark developed a clear research idea, which was in both their areas of academic strength. This was concerned with explaining why, given the centrality of equal opportunities to local authorities recruitment, internal and word-of-mouth recruitment was so dominant. They felt this idea was fascinating because, on the face of it, both forms of recruitment were alien to the principle of equal opportunities. Quantitative evidence from Mark’s survey showed that the phenomena of internal and word-of-mouth recruitment were dominant. Mark’s experience of working in local authorities supported this. They now needed to refine the idea, develop clear research questions and objectives, and write their research proposal.
They adopted what they felt was a rational process. They both drafted outline proposals simultaneously and criticized each other’s work. This led to an outline proposal that integrated their ideas and encompassed questions and objectives.
Next they reviewed the literature to establish what work had been done on this aspect of recruitment. The overall conclusion from the empirical research, undertaken in all sectors of the economy, was that word-of-mouth and internal recruitment methods were still important. However, none of this work concentrated on local authorities. Moreover, they thought that awareness of the importance of equal opportunities would have grown since the time when the research was conducted. Their research proposal still seemed valid and the literature confirmed its relevance. In addition, reading the literature had suggested possible new research questions. However, they still needed to discuss their proposal with other people.
The first discussion was with an equal opportunities officer at a London borough. He was not excited by their research idea and commented that he was not surprised by the survey findings. These, he said, were due to the need to re-deploy people who would otherwise be made redundant. The second discussion was with a personnel specialist from a large county authority. Her response can be paraphrased as ‘Well, what do you expect…the pay for manual positions is relatively low so there are few applicants…we therefore have to rely on word-of-mouth.’
Mark and Phil were depressed to say the least. They thought they had a fascinating research question. Yet the first two people they had discussed their idea with had shown them the answer was obvious. They had spent a great deal of time refining their research proposal and in searching the literature. Their immediate reaction was to abandon the research completely. However, a few days later they opted to revise their research ideas. They decided to discard the local authorities and equal opportunities perspectives and focus on the notification channels used by employers. Their revised research question was: “Why do organizations use word-of-mouth recruitment?”
1. Do you think that Phil and Mark had good reasons for choosing the research topic initially? Give reasons for your answer.
2. Draft a possible first research question and research objectives for Mark and Phil’s idea as described in the first three paragraphs of the case study.
3. What lessons can you learn from Phil and Mark’s experience?
4. What are the criteria of a good research question? To what extent do you feel that Mark and Phil’s final research question meets the criteria?
Jane was keen to start her research project early. She had decided on her dissertation topic – the development of discount warehouse clubs in the UK. She spent two days each week in the library over the vacation reading and noting all the articles she could find and wrote her literature review. In order to give her project tutor plenty of time to read the draft she sent it to him a week before the tutorial.
Jane arrived at her tutorial looking forward to her tutor’s praise. ‘Well Jane, you’ve obviously worked over the summer, but there’s still a great deal of reading to be done…’ Jane was crestfallen as her tutor explained the problems with her literature review. Every article was taken either from a trade magazine or newspaper and there was not a single mention of any academic underpinning. The review consisted almost entirely of quotations from the articles, a couple of paragraphs being devoted to each article. Although the ideas contained in the articles were summarized, they were not ordered in any logical manner and the purpose was unclear.
‘Why didn’t you use the CD-ROM abstract and indexes?’ asked her tutor. ‘I did…,’ Jane replied, ‘but there’s nothing written on the development of discount warehouse clubs in the UK.’ After considerable discussion about how to search for literature and the purpose of the literature review in her project report, Jane went away feeling happier. She now knew that quotations should only be used sparingly in her review. The literature she had discovered in the trade magazines was still likely to be useful. Of most importance, she liked her tutor’s suggestion of placing her research in the context of the spread of retailing innovation and, in particular, how innovations crossed from North America to the UK.
Over the next few months Jane diligently searched the tertiary literature and found many relevant items. Articles in the university library were noted. Those not available from the university library were obtained using inter-library loan. Appropriate sections from books on retailing innovation were photocopied. By February she had two lever-arch files full of information.
Jane began to redraft her literature review. This time she was determined to write a critical review. She made sure that her arguments flowed and that her review was focused on the transfer of retail innovations from North America to the UK. The work of different authors were clearly referenced and quotes were only included where they added significantly to her argument. She completed her draft, left it for a week, read it again and made further amendments. She was now ready to show it to her project tutor again.
This time Jane’s project tutor seemed far more pleased. She suggested a few areas where points needed further explanation or justification, but that was all. Just as Jane was leaving she asked, ‘You’ve got all the references together for your bibliography, haven’t you?’ Jane responded that she was going to do that next weekend and that she had noted them all down on the items as she was collecting them.
That weekend Jane sat down at her word processor to type in her bibliography. She checked the format in the project assessment criteria and discovered that she should use the Harvard system. Working through her files she entered all the items she had read in alphabetical order, including those not directly referenced in the text. Unfortunately, she discovered three journal articles where the page numbers had been missed off by the photocopier when she had copied them. She decided to sort these out on Monday morning.
On Monday morning the library was packed and all the CD-ROM microcomputers were booked solid until 8 p.m. As Jane could not remember which database she had used she booked the most likely, Anbar, for 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., and went to the canteen. Over her coffee she tried to remember which key words she had used for her searches. At 8 p.m. she started to recreate her searches. Within 20 minutes she had found two of the three missing sets of page numbers. The third journal article did not appear to be indexed in Anbar. Then she remembered that she had also used GeoAbstracts. Jane located the CD-ROM and entered her search again. Within a few minutes she had found the missing page numbers.
In the following months Jane browsed the current periodicals section of the library. As relevant material was published she incorporated it into her literature review. Later that year she submitted her research project. It received a good upper second-class mark.
1. Discuss the various steps in Jane’s research process.
2. How might Jane have overcome the problems of only finding relevant articles in trade journals and newspapers?
3. Why did Jane type all the items she had in her files into her word processor rather than just those she had referred to directly in the text?
4. What lessons can you learn from Jane’s experience?
Lata had worked on her research. She was pleased with the project report she had submitted and was quietly confident that it would receive a good grade. But this was not to be. She was horrified when she received a note from Louise, her course tutor, telling her that her report had been referred back for substantial reworking. Lata went to see Louise immediately. She told the story of how her research had developed from the time she had first discussed it with Eddie, her project tutor, to the time her report was submitted. This is that story.
“My research question was: “What have been the effects of office automation on the social relations between staff?” I was conducting a case study in Midshire, a large local authority. My data collection methods were questionnaire and semi-structured interviews.
I was enthusiastic about my research. In the early days I had frequent meetings with Eddie. I wanted to start collecting data immediately. However, Eddie counseled caution. He was concerned that I should think more thoroughly about my research objectives and questions I was going to ask in my questionnaire. To be honest, I became impatient with Eddie’s approach, which I though was too fussy.
I went ahead and collected the data. I had piloted the questionnaire with friends whom I met when working in Midshire’s education department. I was pleased with the response rate of over 60 %. I then went ahead and conducted my interviews. I interviewed those people I was friendly with and who would be more likely to give up their time. I suppose that by the time I had finished my data collection I had not seen Eddie for several months.
I had taken Eddie’s advice not to leave all my writing until the last minute. I was determined to write up my research as I went along. Early on in my research I had written a literature review, which was current and comprehensive. I was pleased with this and decided that this would form a part of the final report. I was also writing up my data as I went along. My questionnaire analysis formed a major part of this writing. My results were in the form of computer-generated tables related to each question. I wrote an extensive commentary on these tables, I also wrote a separate section on my interview data, reporting in some detail what each interviewee had said. The result was that I had a major section on my data which I was satisfied would form the bulk of my report.
Meanwhile I had a meeting with Eddie to report progress. He seemed pleased that I had collected so much data. He said he was in the annual process of chasing some students who seemed to have done little, despite the fast approaching deadline for handing in. I had done a lot. But I think Eddie felt I was rather complacent about what I had done. He asked to see a copy of my draft report. I said that a little more time was needed to get it together. We agreed that it would be with Eddie in two weeks’ time.
I must admit that the deadline passed and the draft report did not arrive. I had been hit with the normal rush to finish assignments for other parts of my course. I was pleased that I had gone ahead with writing my project report because it meant that I was able to hand in all my work. I also thought there wasn’t much I could do to the report since I had already hit the word limit. I sent Eddie a note to explain the problems I had experienced. I told him that I would ‘polish up’ what I had written and submit that for examination.
Louise went to see Eddie to report on her meeting with Lata. This was Eddie’s reaction.
To be honest I’m not surprised it turned out like this. The report is far too descriptive. Its good at the description, but that is about all. There is no attempt to link the data to the literature review and not really much connection between the data and the research questions. It reads a bit like two separate reports. One of these is a review of the literature in the field and the other a report of what Lata found out in Midshire. Both, in their own right, are quite good, but as a project report it simply doesn’t come together. However, my main criticism is that it doesn’t actually say anything…you know, it doesn’t draw any conclusions. When I finished reading it I couldn’t help saying: “So what?” The material is there for Lata to write a decent report. But I’m afraid she has a lot more work to do.
1. What are the qualities and major sections of a good research? Do you think Lata’s research was good? Why or why not?
2. Where do you think Lata went wrong in her approach to the process of preparing her research project?
3. How do you think Lata could have overcome Eddie’s criticism that ‘it reads a bit like two separate reports’?
4. How could Lata have prevented Eddie saying ‘So what?’ to himself after he had finished reading her report?
Tips on how to analyze casesDecision making in case studies entails coordinating seemingly unrelated facts so that they provide support for a particular course of action. The cases assigned are intended to give you practice in assembling information and data to support a decision. As is often the situation in actual practice, cases may not have all the data you would like. Nevertheless, it is critical that you develop a reasoned plan of attack on the basis of the data available.
In preparing a case analysis, read through the case looking for the main problem that you will address. Develop a rationale for your belief that the major problem identified is actually in fact the problem! In addition, assemble the factual information in the case that addresses any other related problems/issues. Once you have assembled all the information provided, use the following framework for analysis. This framework is the format to use for all the cases: Case Analysis Framework Problem Definition: Define the problem by providing a concise, well-written statement that defines and describes the case's marketing problem. Critical Issues: State critical issues, or "sub-problems," that need to be resolved in order to solve the overall marketing stated in the Problem Definition section. Alternatives: Formulate viable alternatives, or possible courses action, to solve the problem. Analysis: This is the heart of your case report. Here you should provide logic, reasoning, facts, etc. as to why each alternative listed does or does not make sense. Provide logic for why your recommendation will not select the "other alternatives." This section is the linkup between the problem and the recommendation. Recommended Solution: First state your recommendation; then state your overall marketing strategy; and then state your plan of action (marketing mix) for your strategy. Your plan of action should be very specific decisions to implement your marketing strategy. Appendices (If appropriate). Common Errors in Case Writing 1. Format outlined above is not followed. Subheadings are not used in the analysis section. 2. Problem and Alternatives sections are too long. No more than half a page is generally needed for each of these sections.
3. Failure to use outline or bullet points throughout the written report. Bullet points can be used effectively in the Critical Issues and the Alternatives sections. There is no need for complete prose throughout the entire report. However, do not use shorthand that is unintelligible to a reader. 4. Rehashing of case data. Assume the reader is familiar with the case. Present case data only when it is needed to support a line of reasoning you are developing. Do not summarize the case situation as a preamble to your analysis, and do not present case facts unless you are going to drive home a point with them.
5. Non-critical evaluation of case data. Before you use evidence presented in the case, ask yourself if the data was collected in a sound manner and whether it is relevant to the issue you are addressing. This does not give you a license to eliminate all data. Rather, you want to qualify the conclusions you reach by evaluating the quality of the data on which a conclusion is based. 6. Failure to present a rationale for eliminating unchosen alternatives. It is important to show that the recommended course of action is likely to deal effectively with the problem and issues identified. It is equally important to provide a rationale for dismissing unchosen alternative courses of action. 7. Failure to present work in an understandable manner. For example, if computations are used, be sure your presentation (usually in an appendix) is sufficiently detailed so the reader can replicate the analysis. This requires you to indicate where the data came from and how it is analyzed.