Research Roundup: October 2021

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Monday, October 25, 2021
By AACSB Staff
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A path to more impactful research, the critical role of humility in conquering climate change, and the ways the pandemic has changed the world of work.

A 5-Step Plan for Producing Impactful Research

“Business schools must continue to push themselves to build stronger bridges of knowledge creation across sectors and look deeply into their missions and strategies to identify priorities around their research.” That is the essence of a new report issued in September by AACSB international and sponsored by SAGE Publishing.

Impactful research, the report holds, incorporates three primary components: interdisciplinary collaboration, the intersection between academia and business practice, and a link to real-world outcomes that positively affect relevant stakeholder groups. The report highlights examples such as a project at Maastricht University in Germany, where researchers are exploring the role of service robots in healthcare and hospitality. Then there are initiatives such as [email protected] at the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines; members of a multidisciplinary research team at this data science and analytics laboratory collaborate to create solutions to business problems.

The paper presents a five-step plan that business schools can adopt to produce research with societal impact. These steps include considering a school’s mission, identifying specific areas of impact, leveraging existing frameworks (such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals), creating a “micro strategic plan” for societal impact, and cultivating relationships “with groups across and outside of the business school.”

In the end, schools can produce impactful research only if they support their faculty's efforts to achieve impact and get their research into the hands of stakeholders who can put it most to use. The association hopes that business schools come away from the report with a sense of "how research is a vehicle for achieving their societal impact goals, as well as an understanding of the many possibilities for impact that are available to them.

Moving From Hubris to Humility to Combat Climate Change

For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm regarding the threat that climate change presents to humanity. Even so, the incremental changes that governments and businesses have made so far are unlikely to reverse the impact of the crisis.

A paper published in Organization & Environment in August pinpoints the reason behind the world’s slow response to climate change. Its co-authors include Eugene Sadler-Smith, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, and Vita Akstinaite, head of the master’s program in global leadership and strategy and professor at ISM University of Management and Economics in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The problem driving humanity’s reluctance to act, say Sadler-Smith and Akstinaite, comes down largely to one thing: collective human hubris. “Industrialised nations and business organisations have been the main drivers of economic growth and prosperity over the past three centuries,” they write. “They have also been collectively hubristic in their overconfident and reckless use of fossil fuel-based technologies.” In the process, humans have built a complex system in which leaders who fail to manage the risks of climate change are rewarded and those who deviate from normal business practices are punished.

“Industrialised nations and business organisations have been collectively hubristic in their overconfident and reckless use of fossil fuel-based technologies.” — Eugene Sadler-Smith and Vita Akstinaite

The authors propose “a practical philosophical system” to counteract human hubris through a framework in which humans at all levels of government, business, and society embrace a “humility-based approach.” Within such a system, business leaders would be more willing to demonstrate “positively deviant” environmentally virtuous behaviors. At the same time, stakeholders would hold business leaders and politicians accountable for hubris, whether by establishing more stringent and transparent reporting requirements or by voting anti-environmentalist politicians out of office.

“Organisations and economies should be organised in ways that reflect humility towards nature,” write Sadler-Smith and Akstinaite. “We are in the privileged position, unlike other species, of having the power of choice over our future.”

The Impact of Rising Temperatures on Sales

One way to encourage businesses and governments to do more to act against climate change? Highlight how rising temperatures will affect their financial bottom lines. A working paper does just that, finding that even small increases in average daily temperatures can negatively impact a company’s sales.

Its lead author is Claudia Custodio, associate professor of finance at Imperial College Business School in the United Kingdom. She wrote the paper with Miguel A. Ferreira, a professor at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, Portugal; Emilia Garcia-Appendini, a senior research fellow at the University of Zurich; and Adrian Lam, a doctoral candidate at the Imperial College Business School.

In their analysis of data from more than 12,000 transactions in the United States between 2000 and 2015, the researchers found that a 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature correlated to a 2 percent decrease in sales. One reason for this finding, researchers speculate, is that higher temperatures can negatively affect worker productivity and absenteeism, especially in manufacturing environments.

When productivity slows, a company might not be able to divert its resources in ways to make up the difference, which could cause clients to choose different suppliers in regions with more temperate climates. The hardest hit companies might be forced not only to lower wages for their workers, but even to close their doors altogether.

Another report from global insurance company Swiss Re highlights similar findings: Its analysts predict that climate change will reduce global economic output by 11 percent to 14 percent by 2050, or up to 23 trillion USD.

“It is widely accepted that the global mean temperature is increasing. Businesses will be hurt by a hotter planet, but with global rises in temperatures of up to 2 degrees Celsius on the horizon, we need to know who will suffer and by how much,” says Custodio. “If we know in advance which countries and which parts of the economy will be hit hardest, policymakers can act to mitigate the damage.”

Lower ACT Scores Could Be Sign of ‘Lost Generation’

The ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the ACT college readiness exam, has released data that show that the average composite score for the 1.3 million ACT test-takers in 2021 was 20.3 on a 36-point scale. That’s the lowest composite score the organization has seen in more than ten years.

Among these students, 38 percent did not meet minimum ACT benchmarks in 2021, which is 1 percent higher than in 2020. According to the organization, students who meet minimum scoring benchmarks in the four subject areas highlighted on the exam (English, mathematics, reading, and science) have a 75 percent chance of earning grades of B or better in college courses in those same subjects.

The organization also found that the college enrollment rate for 2020 high school graduates was 59 percent, down from 65 percent for 2019 graduates. This decrease in enrollment was greatest for test-takers who earned the highest composite scores ranging from 33 to 36. This outcome could be an indication of COVID-19’s negative impact on even high-performing students.

“We are seeing a number of year-over-year trends that suggest the emergence of a ‘lost generation’ that is less likely to succeed academically and in the workplace. We ignore these related trends at our own peril.” — Janet Godwin of ACT

“We are seeing a number of year-over-year trends that suggest the emergence of a ‘lost generation’ that is less likely to succeed academically and in the workplace. These trends have all been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is not the single cause nor excuse for them,” says ACT CEO Janet Godwin.

She points out that this is the fourth year that ACT has seen achievement decline among high school seniors in the U.S. “Too many of our seniors are simply not prepared for college-level work,” she says. “As a country, we ignore these related trends at our own peril.”

‘Work From Home’ Has Not Meant ‘Work Less’

An analysis of emails and meetings of approximately 3.1 million workers shows—perhaps not surprisingly—that remote employees worked more during the pandemic, not less. Released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the analysis encompassed 21,500 companies in 16 cities across North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

The researchers included Raffaella Sadun, professor of business administration in the strategy unit at Harvard Business School (HBS) in Boston, Massachusetts; Jeffery Polzer, UPS Foundation Professor of Human Resource Management of HBS; Evan DeFilippis, a doctoral candidate at HBS; Stephen Michael Impink, a doctoral candidate at New York University; and Madison Singell, a former research associate at HBS.

The researchers found that, on average, work-from-home employees saw the length of their workday increase by 8.2 percent, or 48.5 minutes, at the start of the pandemic. That said, these employees had more freedom to shift their attention throughout the day between their work and personal matters such as caregiving.

Work-from-home employees sent 5.2 percent more emails daily, with 8.3 percent more of these emails being sent outside of business hours. The number of meetings increased by 13 percent over pre-pandemic levels. However, the average meeting’s duration decreased by 20 percent, leading to a 12 percent decrease in in time spent in meetings overall.

Sadun also has been studying the impact of increased on-screen time on worker well-being. She notes that video conferencing can lead to a specific type of fatigue among workers. “The issue with Zoom is that you’re always on there. You have to show a concentrated face the whole time,” she says in an article in the Harvard Business Review. “It’s very unnatural to be constantly looking attentive for hours.”

Sadun emphasizes that it will be up to managers to keep their remote workforces connected and productive. She recommends that managers provide employees with the support they need to work well remotely, focus more on what employees produce than on how many hours they work, and expect that some employees might still prefer to work in face-to-face office environments.

Collaboration Is Key to Understanding Emerging Tech

As the landscape of emerging technologies grows more complex, it will become more difficult for individual companies to make sense of not only what the technologies can do, but also how to apply them strategically. That’s why, according to a study published in Creativity and Innovation Management, noncompeting firms should engage in cross-industry collaboration to cultivate a better understanding of what new technologies have to offer.

The research team included Regina Gattringer, Fabio Damm, Philipp Kranewitter, all professors at the Institute of Strategic Management at Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria, as well as Melanie Wiener of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. They studied an open strategy project in which seven organizations from different industries worked together to determine the challenges, uses, and consequences of blockchain technology. The firms' collaboration began in 2016, just as blockchain was garnering greater attention worldwide.

By engaging in open strategizing, the researchers explain, these organizations embraced greater innovation and unconventional thinking. Through this sensemaking process, each company was able to develop new models of thinking about blockchain and identify new potential applications. Moreover, they were able to do so free from the pressures of internal bureaucracy or processes.

“The specific characteristics of open strategy projects—their collaborative (cross-industry) nature, the diversity of voices, expertise and priorities—make for an environment that facilitates new ideas and problem solving,” says Wiener. This kind of environment, she adds, is “critical” if companies want to better navigate the uncertainty that surrounds new technology or other quickly evolving trends.

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