Anne's numerous achievements and substantial contribution to the development of management research globally - as an academic, a teacher, and a respected leader in this field - provide for unique perspective on the topic (read Anne's biography).
In this short interview, we asked Anne to share some thoughts on relevance and excellence in management research.
Talking to Anne Tsui was Astrid Sheil, Dean of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business, Shenandoah University, US.
You are co-founder of the RRBM - Responsible Research in Business and Management. Could you please share what encouraged you to establish it and what the initiative strives for?
I have observed problems in business research since the early 2000. I have been following the writing by scholars like Hambrick, Mintzberg, Pfeffer, Bennis, and many others about the lack of relevance in management research and how business schools are not training students the right skills (partly related to the lack of research on the right skills). Since Hambrick’s landmark Presidential speech in 1993, many subsequent AOM presidents have devoted their presidential addresses to this issue. This is also why I chose the theme of “Passion and Compassion in Management Research and Practice” as the theme of the 2010 AOM meeting in Montreal, and this title for my Presidential address in 2012 “On compassion in scholarship: Why should we care” (this speech was published in Tsui, 2013). I discovered that there are similar concerns about the lack of relevance in other disciplines, such as Marketing, Operations Management, and Accounting. Even topics relevant for business tend to be focus on shareholders only – improve performance at all levels. A colleague and I did some analysis along the line of a paper by Walsh, Weber, and Margolis (2003) on the devotion to performance outcome in AMJ papers since its founding. We analyzed five top management journals and discovered that over 80% of the published papers focus on improving performance (Tsui & Jia, 2013). This is true for both the West (as captured by the five top international journals) and in China (captured by six top Chinese language business journals). Addressing outcomes important to other stakeholders of the firm is not popular in both the West and China – reflecting the convergent interest in serving shareholder interests (see my 2007 AMJ paper about homogenization of management scholarship worldwide).
At the same time, there were also papers about questionable research practices that made the results of published research questionable. Along with a preference for publishing only positive or hypotheses supporting results by the journals, the knowledge from the published work is probably full of Type I errors (false positive). My 2016 paper (Tsui, 2016, CCCM) is about this problem. In addition to writing about the problems of both credibility and reliability, I started to give talks on this problem whenever I was invited to give a speech. I tried to call attention to these problems in our intellectual community. In July 2014, I gave a talk titled “Socially responsible scholarship” at a conference in Hong Kong. Afterwards, Ulrich Hommel of EFMD came up to me and asked what we can do to solve the problem. He said that we should get a group of senior scholars to find solutions. He invited me to write up this talk for the EFMD magazine Global Focus. I did (Tsui, 2015) and also agreed to put together a team to explore solutions. I knew that it had to be a team of leading scholars in all the business disciplines, and with global representation, since the problem is worldwide. No one discipline, no one school, and no one journal, can solve the problem alone. We started building the team and within a year, we had 24 leading scholars in five disciplines across 23 universities in ten counties. The group included eight deans. In addition, leaders of four groups closely related to business schools also are part of the founding team. They are AACSB, EFMD, PRME, and ASPEN-Business and Society Program. We took two years to write a position paper which outlines the vision of what we would like business research to focus on and develop specific suggestions on how business research can contribute to better business and a better world. This includes the seven principles of responsible research with Principle 1 as foundation: Science is in service to society. There is a social purpose to our research. This is the expectation of society which entrusts us to be responsible researchers. Three principles are to enhance the credibility of research findings. Three principles are to enhance the usefulness of the knowledge the research produces. RRBM is about both increasing both the credibility and the usefulness of research because either alone is not sufficient for the results of research to be useful. We begin the paper with a vision for 2030 when business schools will become the centers of excellence on expertise to address the problems of business and society for a better world (see rrbm.network home page).
There are a number of both internal and external forces that make change towards a more responsible and relevant research difficult. What do you see as key obstacles?
I see inertia as the main obstacle. It is like changing the rules. People have to learn the new rules and there is uncertainly how the new rules will affect them. Therefore, I encourage a transition process. Introduce the new rules as an option that faculty can choose. By modifying the incentive, support and rewards gradually, hopefully more and more will join (especially the new researchers because they value meaning and impact). Over five to ten years, I believe we can transform into the new research ecosystem and realize our 2030 vision. We need a group of pioneering schools, pioneering journals, and pioneering scholars. I want to emphasize that we are not “prescribing” what research business professors or students should study. Rather, RRBM’s intention is to encourage the relaxation of the current rule that only papers publishing in a narrow set of journals are rewarded, regardless of the content of the research. This rule has produced the credibility and the usefulness problems. We want researchers to have the freedom to choose the problems to study even if the problems are difficult to study but it is necessary to study them for the benefit of future business and a sustainable world. You may say that the seven principles are the new rules to guide research for the common good. We want research to be both credible (can we trust the results, and understand the consequence of wrongful conclusions) and useful (do the research findings offer potential understanding or solutions to a problem of the world today?)
There seems to be momentum for RRBM. Have you seen a noticeable uptick in researchers embracing applied and practical research?
There are certainly many new special issues in journals on topics of importance to business and society today, and in all disciplines. You can see the list on the RRBM website. In addition to Management, Marketing and Operations Management also have introduced an award for published articles or books that exemplify the seven principles of responsible research. We had a very successful Summit this year (RRS2019 hosted by the Rotterdam School of Management) with 60 invited participants the internal stakeholders of the research ecosystem including deans, journal editors, association, and accreditation agency leaders, and senior scholars. They each wrote a commitment to do one thing to advance responsible research. If they all implement what they commit to, it will make a big difference. (Please see the Events page of the RRBM website for a brief report of this Summit.) This is still a drop in the ocean. We need to do much much more.
What are the most feasible and immediate steps every researcher can take to make management research more credible and useful?
I encourage you to read the “I will” statements written by the 60 participants of the RRS2019 at this website (rrbm.network). You can see the feasible and immediate steps that these intellectual leaders are going to take. For everyone else, we can do our own part. For example, scholars and doctoral students can identify research ideas from the world rather than from the literature. Instead of spending two to three years on a research project to fill “a gap” in the literature (which is about problems of the past), work on finding solutions to critical social problems in the world today, e.g., sustainability, poverty, fairness, work stress, new employment systems, technology and work, ethics, executive compensation, inequality, etc… Research can contribute possible solutions to many problems in the world. The student can find meaning in such research and also become an expert on a real problem in the world today. This is what a scientific career is all about, having an impact on the world and not simply a long list of papers that have no connection to the world at all. We are professors of business or management, a profession, like medicine or engineering. We have a responsibility to contribute to practice.
To read more about CEEMAN's position on relevance and excellence in management research and teaching, please visit the CEEMAN Manifesto website.
Tsui, A. S. (2015). Reconnecting with the business world: Socially responsible scholarship. EFMD Global Focus, 9(1), 36-39.
Tsui, A. S. 2013a. “On compassion in scholarship: Why should we care?” Academy of Management Review, 38(2): 167-181.
Tsui, A. S. 2013c. Editorial: The spirit of science and socially responsible scholarship. Management and Organization Review, 9(3): 375-394.
Tsui, A.S. 2016. Reflections on the so-called value-free Ideal: A call for responsible science in the business schools. Cross Cultural and Strategic Management Journal, 23(1): 4-28.
Tsui, A. S., & Jia, L.D. 2013 “From the editors: Calling for humanistic scholarship in China.” Management and Organization Review, 9(1): 1-15.
Tsui, A.S. 2007. “From homogenization to pluralism: International management research in the Academy and beyond”. Academy of Management Journal, 50(6): 1353-1364. .
Walsh, J. P., Weber, K., & Margolis, J. D. (2003). Social issues and management: Our lost cause found. Journal of management, 29(6), 859-881.