Developing Your Research Topic
Developing Your Research Topic
Now that you’ve decided on a research topic, it’s time to determine your vision for it. As a life-long learner and scholar/practitioner/leader (SPL), your capacity to turn vision into reality is the process of aligning your ideas with a researchable problem and then executing the study.
To develop your research topic, I recommend thinking in terms of three distinct processes: (1) Vision, (2) Alignment, and (3) Execution. According to Straw, Scullard, Kukkonen, and David (2013), these three processes are fluid, because leaders are continually reflecting upon and reshaping their vision for the future. This same concept applies also to scholarly leaders and their vision for research. Although the sequential aspects of crafting a vision first, before aligning, and then executing it makes intuitive sense, it is recommended you allow for flexibility in the development process of your research topic.
For example, you may start out with a broad vision to improve profits by improving workplace productivity via increased digital-skill competencies in employees. Notice these are each very big topics. The key is to go from the very broad to the very specific and address a viable, research-worthy problem (Elllis & Levy, 2008).
Continuing with this example, you explore the literature and come across an old but familiar research study, The Employee-Customer-Profit Chain at Sears (Rucci, Kirn, and Quinn, 1998). You see that this study provided empirical evidence of a positive link between employee attitudes, customer satisfaction, and increased revenue and it was framed into three themes: (1) compelling place to work, (2) compelling place to shop, and (3) compelling place to invest.
As you reflect upon these key findings, you come to wonder what level of digital-skill competency do executives have and how well are executives able to align organizational processes with today’s mobile technology?
These thoughts get you thinking more about process alignment with technology and people. You then explore more of the literature and find an abundance of research on employee-customer-profit chain, service chain, and leadership profit chain. What’s interesting is the publication dates on these studies – many are published between 1999 and 2006 and then it seems like the volume drops off with only a few studies published here and there in 2007, 2009, etc.
However, one particular study catches your eye because it was published in 2014 and the topic is on the impact of information technology on firm performance with focus on the employee-customer-profit chain (Mazidi, Amini, & Latifi, 2014). As you continue to reflect, your iPhone rings with an incoming call, then EUREKA! All of a sudden the time gap in literature makes sense as to the few and far between research studies on technology and the employee-customer-profit chain. You exuberantly exclaim, “The iPhone was released in 2007!” At that moment, you see the connection between the release of the iPhone in 2007 and the gap in the literature, because the iPhone changed everything in terms of the proliferation of mobile technology! Here is the opportunity to add new knowledge to the existing body of literature by focusing on executive-level understanding of the employee-customer-profit chain, but in the specific context of mobile technology aligned to the positive link between employee attitudes, customer satisfaction, and increased revenue.
This example represents my own ideation process for developing what started as a broad topic and then was funneled down into a researchable topic: Mobile Technology and the Employee-Customer-Profit Chain (Migliore & Chinta, 2016) through a fluid, but sequential process of vision, alignment, and execution (Straw et al., 2013).
Key Behaviors for Developing Your Research Topic
Reflecting back, I have summarized some key behaviors and actions that I did to turn an idea for research into a published journal article through the process of vision, alignment and execution (Straw et al., 2013):
Craft a Vision: In crafting a vision, I explored the possibilities and remained open, always prioritizing the broad topic of digital-skills competency, mobile technology, and alignment to processes and people. I was willing to be adventurous and share my ideas with the University of Phoenix Research Center Chairs and get feedback to improve upon my ideas. I also tested my assumptions by going first to the literature and conducting my own analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. From there, I continued to seek counsel and explore the implications of my ideas in terms of timing and resources.
Build Alignment: I started to build alignment as I shared my ideas and vision with others. I was receptive to feedback as I shared how I thought I could frame the problem, research questions, and select the most appropriate design, measurement, and data analysis. I purposed to provide clarity in dialogue and I naturally shared my own inspiration with others, which helped to build understanding and support for my topic that was now starting to turn into a viable research project.
Champion Execution: After I wrote and submitted my research proposal for Institutional Review Board (IRB) review, I received IRB approval and then began to implement my structured plan for the project. I was driven to follow through, kept good communications flowing with all parties involved, and addressed issues as they came up. In addition, I made a point to praise the support and encouragement of others, because together we each achieve more!
The discipline of following a framework to develop your research topic includes development of a research-worthy problem (Ellis & Levey, 2008), and a process of vision, alignment, and execution (VAE) to turn ideas into scholarship. See my next blog post, which addresses disciplining your research focus in the context of leadership behaviors and the VAE process (Straw et al., 2013). If you have questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellis, T.J. and Levy, Y. (2008). Framework of Problem-based research: A guide for novice researchers on the development of a research-worthy problem.
Mazidi, A.R.K., Amini, A., and Latifi, M. (2014). The impact of information technology capability on firm performance; a focus on employee-customer-profit chain. Iranian Journal of Management 7(1), 95-120.
Migliore, L.A. and Chinta, R. (2016). Mobile technology and the employee-customer-profit chain. SAM Advanced Management Journal 81(1), 52-69.
Rucci, A.J., Kirn, S.P. and Quinn, R.T. (1998). The employee-customer-profit chain at Sears. Harvard Business Review, 76(1), 83-97.
Straw, J., Scullard, M., Kukkonen, S., and Davis, B. (2013). The work of leaders: How vision, alignment, and execution will change the way you lead. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: San Francisco, CA