by Rocki-Lee DeWitt (Guest Author)
By virtue of my rank and choice of where to work, I am privileged to be an academic the way I think best fits the academic me. I focus my effort on delivering benefits for business owners.
Please do not jump to the conclusion that this type of impact is one more corn stalk in a well-cultivated shareholder field. It is easy to conclude that when a quick query of ABI/Inform using the search terms “ownership” and “Academy of Management” results in 985 hits in scholarly journals.
Rather, I encourage some of you to join me, if you haven’t already done so, in feeling ownership through the boots of a variety of stakeholders who have substantial financial and psychological stakes in an enterprise.
It’s the first-year undergraduate business student who is borrowing to pay for tuition and housing because their parents want them to “own” the responsibility.
It’s the employee who just bought a house assuming that because they participate in making strategic decisions they are building a career with that company.
It’s the business founder who 25 years into running the company, has that child in college, values that employee, and has a tempting acquisition offer.
These stakeholders are wrestling with a myriad of “how might this play out” scenarios. In sum, it’s MacGregor meets Arendt with a dose of Bradbury.
Being impactful for these stakeholders requires spending time hearing the stories of founders/leaders/managers/students as they enter and progress (or not) through organizations. It requires initiating and sustaining relationships even if it limits the time available to craft one more submission to an “A” level publication or offer developmental feedback on another scholar’s work.
How does this matter?
Our scholarly preparation provides us with a discipline of objectivity and the ability to see an array of possible systems relationships. This preparation then allows us to engage people in a conversation about what might happen next vis a vis their role in a system and the unintended consequences of their actions.
We are familiar with doing this if we have experience with qualitative research because we are familiar with the art and science of extracting data and drawing inferences. As qualitative methods often involve reflecting our analysis and findings back to the informants in advance of submitting work for publication consideration, it must pass two hurdles to get published.
So, how does this get counted? If it results in a published, peer-reviewed article, we know how to count it. Accounts of “messes” can sometimes be anonymized to use as business decision scenarios in the classroom. But there will be many times where what we learn can only be shared in stylized, unpublished ways and it’s hard to “count those beans.”
Ultimately, we need to entertain the possibility that a disciplined and well-trained scholar can hear a person’s business struggles and reflect “words of wisdom” to keep them from going over an emotional edge. That discovery may not be publishable, but it can influence enrollment decisions, internship opportunities, and donations.
Are you as an academic who participates in governance (yes, as an owner) ready to entertain the notion of a more inclusive model of impact? It takes courageous academic leadership to pose the question “how might a business owner benefit from our discoveries?” It takes colleagues who can appreciate and celebrate that type of work. And it takes adjustments to resource and teaching load allocation systems largely built on counting peer-reviewed publications.