Research is a conversation between specialists. Researchers have their own languages and value systems. Many times they write for each other – not for a general audience, or even researchers from another discipline.
That’s where talented journalists can offer an important service. They do the research interpretation for us. If they are accurate, they can make the findings accessible and usable. However, if they are inaccurate, they take us off track, sometimes way off track.
One way to investigate the evidence is to invest in an online subscription to Harvard Business Review, where researchers write for an educated, professional audience. You can download a few articles for free, but with an online subscription you have access to their archives and as many articles as you like.
The articles listed below that are not from HBR might require a little more hunting, but if Google can’t find them online, a good research librarian can help you find them.
Here are some favorites. Keep your eye on the publication dates and historical context as you read.
- Amabile T. How to Kill Creativity. Harvard Business Review: September-October 1998.
- Argyris C. Good Communication that Blocks Learning. Harvard Business Review: July-August 1994.
- Fullan M. Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform. Centre for Strategic Education. April 2011.
- Hackman R, Oldham G. Motivation through the Design of Work: Test of a Theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. 1976; 16:250-259.
- Herzberg F. One more Time: How do you Motivate Employees? Harvard Business Review: January 2003 (edited from the original, published in 1968).
- Keller S, Aiken C. The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management: Why It Isn’t Working and What to Do About It. McKinsey & Company Quarterly. 2009.
- Kelloway EK, Day A. Building Healthy Workplaces: What We Know So Far. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. Oct 2005; 37(4):223-235.
- Meyerson D. Radical Change the Quiet Way. Harvard Business Review: October 2001.
- Smith M, Sainfort P. A Balance Theory of Job Design for Stress Reduction. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. 1989; 4:67-79.
You might also enjoy watching a couple videos or exploring some websites. Here are some favorites.
- National Geographic documentary. Stress: Portrait of a Killer. 2008.
- Positive Psychology information and online tests where the research is happening, at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Watch Brene Brown’s TedX video “The Power of Vulnerability.”
Explore some forgiveness websites:
I know this is a tremendous amount of information. Believe it or not, this is the short list! These areas are ALIVE and growing. But we’ve known the basics for decades, so there is also a tremendous amount to build upon today.
If you want to explore this territory, there are a few concepts that might be helpful:
1) Use a Framework
The Work Systems model can help you organize your investigations. When you come across an expert, ask yourself where their content falls (person, task, technology, physical or social environment, organization). Most content has value, even if it is anecdotal, but it might not be the content you’re seeking, or the only content you need.
For example, maybe you are designing a technical change initiative for your organization. The Work Systems model shows us that technological changes will impact the rest of the system. The quest is to examine how.
You will need to understand more than the technological change itself, and more than the characteristics of your people. You will need to predict in the impact on people’s jobs and the workflow, as well as the physical and social environments. And you’ll need to evaluate how your organizational policies will need to shift accordingly (e.g., hiring practices, performance review, reward systems, etc.).
You’ll probably also want to make use of some process change research. It would be helpful if you could set up a test site (or 2 or 3) where the folks affected by the change could evaluate the ways in which the technology impacts them and their jobs.
Using a framework helps contextualize what area(s) an expert is speaking to, which helps you interpret their findings and know if their conclusions apply to your situation.
2) Assess the Author’s Competence
Take a close look at the credentials of the authors. The popular press is full of opinions and repackaged ideas. It’s also trendy to do surveys and create lists of best practices. You might find something useful in the popular press, but keep in mind that inspiring anecdotes are not evidence. Headlines might inspire an idea, or help you connect with like-minded leaders. But poorly designed surveys can’t tell you much for certain, even if you can make pretty graphs and charts. As they say in survey research circles, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Another way to assess how much stock you might put into any author’s recommendations is to look at their reference section. People reveal a lot about themselves just by listing the work they are building upon. If there is no reference section, that’s also important information. That could mean they aren’t aware of other work going on in the area, or it could mean they don’t want to give credit to other folks for their ideas. Either way, important information.
3) Test Your Ideas & Interpretations
Talk about what you’re reading with others – your spouse, your friends, your colleagues, an executive coach, a human resources professional, an expert in the field – and consider joining us in our Facebook community. Without testing your interpretations and getting feedback, it’s hard to know if you understand fully the author’s message, or if those messages might have enduring value for you.
Learning in isolation can be rough going. Kathy once heard her grandpa (who had a keen intellect, a high school education and read voraciously while working at the paper mill) talking about “Frood’s weird ideas” at the dinner table. It took her a while to figure out he was referring to Freud. (Grandpa had a point, but if he had a chance to talk to some professionals about the impact of Freud’s work, he might have had more well considered opinions.) I’ve made a career of talking about this research with brilliant and highly educated professionals. Being a genius in your own research field doesn’t mean this is simple stuff to integrate or implement. But it can be POWERFUL, done well. Together, we can figure out how.