A few years ago, I had the pleasure to co-direct a USF Muma College of Business DBA dissertation by Tres Bishop concerning quality management in a manufacturing firm. As a quality control expert, Tres was in a good position to design and evaluate interventions that had a very positive effect. He and Kingsley Reeves published the results of that dissertation in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Lean Six Sigma. The research presents an action research approach to organizational climate.
What Is Action Research
Action research is an evidence-based method for improving organizations. It is a cyclical activity that involves a series of interventions each of which are evaluated with results informing the next intervention. There are several steps involved.
- Identifying the problem to be solved. An intervention must address a specific issue with important outcomes identified.
- Planning the intervention. This can include background literature review to inform the intervention strategy.
- Implementing the intervention. When feasible, this would be tested first on a small group before rolling out to an entire organization.
- Evaluating the intervention. Outcomes can be compared from before to after the intervention, or a small test group could be compared to those who do not receive the intervention.
- Interpretation and further planning. The results of the evaluation can be used to improve the intervention or as a basis for additional interventions which leads to the next action research cycle.
An Action Research Approach to Organizational Climate
Bishop and Reeves applied the action research approach at a small to medium sized company to improve quality through two full cycles. The process began by identifying the problem of manufacturing defects that were costly to the company and planning the intervention. The intervention was launched by seeking top management commitment. With that in hand they began having daily meetings that brought together representatives from different departments to discuss quality issues, and installing a database to track quality information. The results of these actions were an 80% reduction in costs due to manufacturing defects.
The results of cycle 1 revealed that an improvement in training was needed. For cycle 2 a new training system was created that allowed each employee to see what training was needed, depending on the knowledge and skill required for the operations they performed. This made it easier to track training to assure that employees kept up-to-date with changing job requirements. This intervention resulted in an additional 60% reduction in costs due to manufacturing defects.
The authors point out that their efforts represents an action research approach to organizational climate of quality. The company instituted several practices to support quality, including daily meetings devoted to quality discussions. This sent a clear message to employees that they should take care to perform their jobs well and avoid manufacturing mistakes. Their paper provides a clear case of how an evidence-based action research approach can have a substantial impact on an organization’s bottom line. Such an approach isn’t limited to quality improvements, but could be applied to a variety of organizational goals, such as diversity, innovation, safety, or service.
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