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Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour


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Research is the foundation of any science. It can be viewed as a process, where data is collected, information is analysed and transformed into useful knowledge. OB research aims to address questions that arise about behaviour and its effect on the workplace.

When conducting research a variety of research methodologies are utilised. This document explores the dominant and most popular tools used to carry out research including experimental, observational, survey and case study with all of their strengths and

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Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour

  1. 1. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia MoranResearch Methods Exploring Organisational Behaviour 1
  2. 2. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia Moranwww.oliviamoran.meAbout The AuthorOlivia Moran is a leading training specialist who specialises in E-Learning instructional design and is a certifiedMoodle expert. She has been working as a trainer and course developer for 3 years developing and deliverytraining courses for traditional classroom, blended learning and E-learning.Courses Olivia Moran Has Delivered:● MOS Specialties:● ECDL ★Moodle [MCCC Moodle Certified Expert]● Internet Marketing ★ E Learning Tools/ Technologies [Commercial &● Social Media Opensource]● Google [Getting Irish Businesses Online] ★ Microsoft Office Specialist● Web Design [FETAC Level 5] ★ Web Design & Online Content Writer ★ Adobe Dreamweaver, Flash & Photoshop● Adobe Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop● Moodle 2
  3. 3. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia MoranRobbins (2001:6) defines Organisational Behaviour (OB) as ‘a field of study that investigates theimpact that individuals, groups, and structure have on behaviour within organisations for the purposeof applying such knowledge toward improving an organisation’s effectiveness’. OB aims to create abetter understanding of human behaviour in the workplace. This greater understanding can only beacquired through the use of the various research methodologies or tools.Morley et al (1998), claims that ‘like any of the behavioural sciences, OB requires the utilisation ofrigorous methodologies to better understand human behaviour in the workplace”. Research is thefoundation of any science. It can be viewed as a process, where data is collected, information isanalysed and transformed into useful knowledge. OB research aims to address questions that ariseabout behaviour and its effect on the workplace.When conducting research a variety of research methodologies are utilised. The dominant and mostpopular tools include experimental, observational, survey and case study all their own strengths andlimitations.The experimental method is used widely in all areas of research. An experiment aims to highlight therelationship that exists between cause and effect. It focuses on the influence or effect that a variable(anything that can be vary) has on another variable.There exists two main types of experiment. The first being the laboratory experiment. According toMorley et al (1998), ‘laboratory experiments involve the researcher in testing the effects of one ormore independent variable through the utilisation of both control and experimental groups which arerandomly selected’. Laboratory experiment allows for high levels of control. For example, theelimination of variables considered irrelevant and the experimental group. This group is one wherethe variables remain constant. This allows for greater control as test group and experimental groupcan be compared to identify any differences between the two groups. A high level of control isnecessary to ensure that changes that occurred in the test group are actually due to the alteration ofthe independent variables.This type of experiment is carried out under very controlled highly specific conditions that might notexist in the real world. This often makes experiments a poor reflection of real life situations.The second type of experiment is field experiment. This is where a researcher goes into an actualcompany and conducts experiments when the subject is in their natural surroundings. There is lesscontrol when conducting this type of experiment compared to laboratory. However it most likelyproduces accurate results of employee’s behaviour.The ethical side of the experiment also needs to be considered. For example carrying out anexperiment without the subject knowing that they are being involved in an experiment. To thecontrary, will informing the subject of their involvement in the experiment somehow alter the trueoutcome. As discovered through the Hawthorn Studies carried out by Elton Mayo et al it washighlighted that a subject’s behaviour differed from the norm due to the fact that they knew theywere being observed. 3
  4. 4. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia MoranExperiments are relatively easily to carry as long as researcher has necessary training. They wouldbe considered cheap compared to other methods such as observation. It’s important to note thatexperiments need to be both valid and reliable. Validity refers to the power of our conclusions,inferences or propositions. There are three different types of validity. Firstly, there is constructvalidity. This looks at whether the variables examined, were accurately measured and manipulated.The second type is internal validity, which is present when the researcher can infer that one variablecaused another. Lastly, external validity which involves determining whether or not the results andconclusions of an experiment, can be generalised to other groups, settings etc.Reliability looks at whether or not what’s supposed to be measured, is actually measured. If youcarried out the same experiment in the very same conditions would you come to the similarconclusions? It’s simply the consistency of your measurements.One of the main limitations of field experiments is organisation sectional bias. Most companies whoaren’t doing well tend not to allow field experiments to take place. The management at thesecompanies may feel that it would show them up or portray a bad image of the company. For thisreason it seems that mostly successful businesses are willing to take part. The researcher needs toconsider if a true picture can be painted from these experiments.Field experiments take longer to complete than lab experiments however its probably time well spenddue to the fact that field experiments are arguable more realistic as they are carried out inenvironment in which they are expected to naturally occur.The second methodology, the author is going to discuss is observation. It involves a researchercollecting and recording data over time, which they consider relevant to the study being carried out.Observation can be both non-participative and participative. Buchanan and Andrzej (1997) looks atnon-participative observation as a situation where ‘the researcher is physically present, but only as aspectator who does not become directly involved in the activities of those being studied’. Theresearcher just watches and listens (i.e. observes) subjects in their natural environment (i.e.workplace). The participant are not disturbed or interfered with by the researcher at any point duringthe observation.Participative differs in so far as it involves or engages the researcher, who takes on a dual role asboth a researcher and participant. The researcher basically takes part in that which is beingexamined to try to acquire a better understanding.The greatest argument in favour of observation as a valuable research method is that the researcherscarry out their research to observe behaviour in the setting or conditions that they would naturallyoccur. Compared to a laboratory experiment where conditions may be neither permanent norrepeatable thus not reflecting real life situations (Bennett 1996:9).The information is directly gathered thus some would claim its more accurate compared to othermethods such as a survey, where people can manipulate the truth more easily. 4
  5. 5. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia MoranThe author considers this method to have far too many weaknesses. It’s true that the researcher canlook at behaviour and describe it but it can’t really explain it. Under tightly controlled experimentalsetting the relationship that exists between cause and effect can be identified and proved. In anobservation situation there are numerous variables present which make it extremely hard to constructa conclusive argument and establish the true cause and effect relationship. The researcher can claimwhy they think people act in a particular way but they can’t really prove it as a fact.Observation is very time consuming. It can last for days, months or even years. In turn its verycostly as researchers wages have to be paid.Hawthorn effect may alter how the subject normally behaves therefore not presenting the reality thatactually exists. The Hawthorn effect can be overcome but not informing participants that they are infact that. The ethical considers of this practice have to be seriously considered.The researcher especially in the case of participative observation may become bias and less thanobjective. Their way of thinking may become fussy. If the researcher takes on the role of thesubject they may begin to empathise with the subject to such a degree that it may impact onobjective conclusions.The third research methodology is the survey. This method is probably the most popular andcommonly used. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of research. When carryingout a survey tools such as questionnaires and interviews are used to gather relevant data.Questionnaires consist of questions. These questions may be closed ended, where the participantgives a yes or no answer. They can also be open-ended giving the subject room to elaborate.Questionnaires are relatively quick to conduct easily when a large amount of people need to bequestioned in a short space of time. It’s also quite inexpensive unlike other methods.The questionnaire has an anonymous element to it. Due to this reason, the researcher may find thatpeople are more open about the information and how much of it that they give in comparison to aface-to-face meeting.They are usually quite convenient for the respondent as they can complete them in their own time.It’s more likely that all questions are answered and done so accurately. If a researcher attempt toget a person to fill in the survey when they are unable to give their full attention to it, they may findparticipant doesn’t answer the questions fully or even skips over a few.There are many elements that must be taken into account when conducting questionnaires. Firstly, alow return level. A thousand questionnaires may have been sent out to be filled in but only threehundred have been received back. There is also the chance that some of them have been filled inincorrectly or are incomplete. Usually these spoiled questionnaires cannot be used.Data quality is major concern. Often with this tool it’s found that there is low data quality. If peopleare in a rush and you stop them to fill a questioner they will usually do it. However, they hurrythrough it, giving less than accurate information. 5
  6. 6. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia MoranOnce a questionnaire is completed you can’t go back to participant and ask them to clarify certainpoints that were made. The researcher then may try to guess what idea or comments were made.The researcher may take a wrong meaning out of it. Thus, the results wont paint a clear picture ofwhat’s being researched.Participants need to have certain skills and abilities in order to take part, unlike a method such asobservation. Researcher needs to consider whether or not the results reflect real life.There is little control over the truthfulness of data and information collected. People can lie easily ifthey wish to do so. They may even give certain responses because they feel that’s what you want tohear. Like that of a training situation whereby a trainer asks the pupils do they understand thematerial that’s just been covered. The students reply that they do even though they don’t. Thisphenomenon is known as participant bias. The survey findings and results are dependant on level oftruth from respondents. A researcher may come to a conclusion that doesn’t reflect real lifesituations due to the fact that participants lied or manipulated data either intentionally orunintentionally.The interview is another data gathering tool used when carrying out surveys. It involves a researchersitting down with a person/group (in a certain target sample, i.e. all females under twenty five yearsof age) and asking them relevant questions.Its more expensive and a slower process than that of the questionnaire but the information collectedis arguable more accurate. People tend to find it harder to lie in a face-to-face interview and to alesser extent on the telephone.The researcher will usually be able to collect more information when doing a face-to-face interview incontrast with the telephone interview or questionnaire. Most people find it easier to talk for longer ina face-to-face. Other non-verbal data such as body language, tone of voice can be of help toresearchers when studying behaviour.Unlike with the previous two research methods, a researcher can seek clarification of data that theyhave collected and don’t understand. They can ask the interviewee to give more information of toclarify some point, probing the participant until satisfied.Both the length of the questionnaire and interview (i.e. number of questions asked) may impact oninfluence the final results and conclusions. If its too short researcher may not be able to collect allnecessary data whereas if its too long people might loose interest halfway through or be hesitate toparticipate in the first place.Participant error may lead to unreliability. If for example, a person is tired or in a bad mood. Theresearcher must consider whether or not they would give the same answer if they were in a goodmood and were not tired.Another increasingly popular interview is the focus group interview. A group of people come togetherto talk about issues that are related to the research being carried out. A researcher who’s expert in 6
  7. 7. Research Methods: Exploring Organisational Behaviour Exploring © Olivia Moranguiding conversation and knows exactly how to uncover knowledge deemed relevant leads thisdiscussion.Surveys are more successful than other methods when it comes to researching behaviour that can’tbe easily identified or observed. For example, how can you observe low morale or self-esteem in anemployee?Analysing the data collected during the survey is relatively easy due to the fact that questionnaire andinterview questions are usually standardised with all participants being asked the same questions.This also creates a situation whereby answers given by one candidate can be compared to another.The survey like with the observation method tends to describe behaviour rather than give anexplanation as to why it occurred. It’s for this reason that a cause and effect relationship cannot beproved. Reasons for certain behaviour can only be argued.The final research method is the case study. The case study involves examining one particular are,event, process etc. According to Feagin et al (1991) the ‘case study is an ideal methodology when aholistic, in-depth investigation is needed.The case study helps people to understand the case, which has been researched and enables peopleto put the conclusions into context. They are often used to demonstrate how theory can be put intopractice.Case studies are widely used in situations where the use of other types of researcher would not beconsidered suitable. If for example you were researching the effects of bullying on workperformance, would it be ethical to carry out observation or an experiment.Arguably the most obvious limitation of this method is the fact that it only focuses on one person,situation etc. Due to this many would say that it’s impossible to generalise it. Yin discusses this inhis book ‘Applications of Case Study’. Yin highlights that dependence on a single case renders itincapable of providing a generalising conclusion. 7