Does business school research deliver real-world benefits?

When Richard Locke at MIT’s Sloan School of Management was exploring Nike’s technique to corporate


When Richard Locke at MIT’s Sloan School of Management was exploring Nike’s technique to corporate obligation in the early 2000s, he arrived throughout details on labour standards in its factories that sparked reforms far further than the sportswear company.

His practical experience delivers a pointer to how small business colleges can do the job with small business to convey about constructive social modify, bridging a divide between ideas and exercise that critics argue stays far way too vast.

Immediately after prolonged negotiations to get entry to corporate data and independence to publish his results, Prof Locke, now provost at Brown College, was able to exhibit the limited performance of labour audits alone in bettering working ailments. Much better progress arrived when they have been put together with steps to deal with fundamental issues, these types of as training and enabling suppliers to agenda their do the job superior.

The conclusions, disseminated over a number of decades in seminars and in consultations with administrators, unions and policymakers as effectively as in tutorial journals and more accessible publications, aided spark new procedures at multiple businesses.

“It’s incredibly critical for scholars in small business colleges to try out to address some of society’s wonderful worries via their research,” he says. “By bringing a demanding methodology, you can both of those demonstrate your tutorial expertise and deliver new research to not only modify the way we think, but do so with implications in the actual world.”

For numerous, these types of illustrations continue to be way too uncommon. In a 2018 post in BizEd, a journal of the Affiliation to Advance Collegiate Universities of Small business, William Glick from Rice College, Anne Tsui from the College of Notre Dame and Gerald Davis from the College of Michigan sent a damning verdict. “With a several notable exceptions,” they wrote, “scholarly research rarely reaches the worlds of small business or coverage, and tutorial journals are neither study nor cited extensively further than the tutorial group.”

The three small business faculty professors approximated that the institutions accredited by the AACSB used almost $4bn a 12 months on research. This, they remarked, is “a extremely massive cost with extremely limited accountability — and no systemic controls to align the research with the passions of the funding resources.”

Shareholders or stakeholders?

Prof Davis, a joint founder of the Dependable Analysis in Small business Management (RRBM) network, says that even though there have been exceptions, the wider effects of research has been modest and in some cases even negative.

Creating in the Journal of Management Reports in Oct, he quotes a extensively cited 1976 post by Rochester College professors William Meckling and Michael Jensen which created the reductionist scenario for a concentration by companies on “shareholder value”. This notion, drummed into small business faculty college students for three many years, has, he argues, experienced pernicious consequences, and clashes with today’s developing consciousness that small business has obligations to a broad team of stakeholders.

Dependable Analysis in Small business Management seeks to encourage impressive, demanding tutorial research that has sensible implications for societal fears these types of as sustainability. It presents awards every single 12 months for papers that lead to this purpose.

But dissenters — which include a single FT subscriber and small business faculty tutorial — argue that it can just take numerous decades for tutorial ideas to be adopted by small business, and that the demands of the market supply the most effective alerts to manual research and teaching. To refocus on recent social priorities these types of as sustainability challenges “greenwashing”.

Outside of these types of conceptual criticism, RRBM’s endeavours facial area sensible road blocks way too. 1 constraint, as Debra Shapiro from the College of Maryland and Bradley Kirkman from North Carolina Point out College have argued, is that college hiring and promotion is significantly centered on publications in prestigious tutorial journals. That creates an incentive to concentration on producing substantial volumes of often theoretical do the job with limited applicability and several viewers.

As if to underline their issue, they posted their views in the Harvard Small business Evaluate, which, even though offered scant credit rating in standard tutorial circles, is extensively study by administrators. Adi Ignatius, the editor in main, cites multiple articles or blog posts that have experienced actual-world effects: 2019’s “Operational Transparency”, for example, gained considerably praise from senior executives, additionally invitations for its author, Ryan Buell of Harvard Small business School, to communicate at multiple businesses.

But that implies a further more difficulty with endeavours to stimulate impactful research. A “magic bullet” of an HBR post could represent an ideal, but the dissemination of ideas is typically a slower, messier and more unpredictable process. It is tricky to evaluate systematically, and often consists of intermediaries further than the original tutorial. Consultants and executives could also be unwilling to give many others credit rating for the ideas they undertake.

Advocates for more sensible, socially accountable research suggest intensified speak to between lecturers, practitioners and policymakers to trade ideas, understand from every single other and establish research jointly — even though backed up by mechanisms to be certain rigour, independence and transparency.

As Prof Locke argues: “The academic’s brain is educated in sure research expertise. Owning a small business faculty embedded in a larger college with the infrastructure for research integrity is really critical.”