Research Roundup: October 2022

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Wednesday, October 26, 2022
By AACSB Staff
What it takes to convince customers to buy greener products, how business schools are applying learning analytics, and where the robots will rise.

A Way to Increase Employee Safety

Seven in 10 Canadians have experienced harassment or violence at work at some point in their careers, according to the Canadian Labour Congress. A recently published paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals a factor that increases the likelihood of employee injuries during a specific type of workplace violence—convenience-store robberies.

The study’s lead author is Katherine DeCelles, professor of organizational behavioral and human resource management with joint appointments at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies. Her co-authors include Maryam Kouchaki, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois; and Nir Halevy, professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California.

The three researchers examined 198 surveillance videos and archival data related to convenience store robberies over a four-year period. They also presented different robbery onset scenarios to 648 people, including formerly incarcerated individuals and retail clerks. They found that employees behind the register at the start of the robbery were less likely to be injured than those on the sales floor.

A primary reason for this finding was likely because robbers were taken by surprise by employees on the sales floor. Among study participants, 81 percent said that when this happened, they were more likely to expect the encounter to become violent.

Next, the researchers conducted a three-year longitudinal study that explored interventions that could prevent employee injuries during robberies. The team created a behavioral script for employees to follow if they were on the sales floor at a robbery’s onset. The researchers found that at stores where employees followed this script, risk of injury decreased.

This research emphasizes “the critical need” for evidence-based practices focused on employee health and safety, says DeCelles. “This understanding of the dynamics of workplace violence and how to mitigate it,” she adds, “is relevant for any retail organization and for developing effective policies which promote employee health and safety.”

How to Make Sustainable Policies Stick

As more business leaders make sustainability a priority in their decision making, many still struggle to integrate sustainability into their organizations effectively. Researchers behind two recent studies aim to help more organizations amplify the impact of their sustainability efforts.

Factors that lead sustainability efforts to fail. Companies might produce green products to have a positive environmental impact, only to see their efforts fall flat with consumers. Recent research outlines three reasons why some sustainability efforts backfire.

Based on a review of more than 100 previous studies, the study was produced by Diletta Acuti, a lecturer in marketing at the University of Portsmouth in England; Marta Pizzetti, a professor of marketing at emlyon business school in Écully, France; and Sara Dolnicar, ARC Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia.

First, consumers might view a company’s messaging about a product’s sustainability as ambiguous, contradictory, or exaggerated. Second, consumers often view sustainable products as a compromise in quality, taste, or performance. Finally, many consumers, especially men, might avoid purchasing green products because of negative social connotations that label those products as “feminine” or “for hippies.”

Consumers might avoid green products because they find a company’s messaging ambiguous, contradictory, or exaggerated.

To overcome these perceptions, companies must clearly communicate a green product’s benefits, as well as actively combat negative stereotypes associated with it. Additionally, they should avoid overselling a product’s sustainability to avoid the perception of greenwashing.

“It is not the sustainability of the product that is reducing customers, rather attitudes and perceptions that come with this—of which, most are untrue,” says Pizzetti. “It is important we start to change the public image of sustainability, not just launch more sustainable products.”

A guide for sustainable success. Scholars at Nyenrode Business University in Breukelen, Netherlands, have created a tool to help organizations make strategic decisions that increase profits while positively impacting society and the environment.

The Corporate Sustainability Framework was created by Annemieke Roobeek, professor of strategy and transformation management; Jacques de Swart, professor of applied mathematics; and Myrthe van der Plas, senior manager in data analytics at PwC Nederland.

Organizations are guided through the seven-step framework using online software called the Responsible Business Simulator (RBS). The RBS incorporates data from sources such as cost-benefit analyses, research reports, and benchmark studies; it also takes into account a firm’s values, goals, and risk tolerance. 

Leaders can use the results generated by the framework to develop socially responsible strategies. For example, when Dutch metal construction company Rimetaal used the framework, its leaders found “that leasing a waste system in combination with a maintenance contract is the best choice for customers,” says de Swart. Because this system creates a circular economy, he adds, it will be “affordable and future-proof” for the company.

According to the school, more than 20 organizations have implemented the RBS, and more than 200 Nyenrode students have taken a module to learn to use the software.

Population Drops Make Room for Robots

When the human population declines, the use of automation grows, according to Klaus Prettner and Ana Lucia Abeliansky of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. In a recent paper, the pair analyzed data from 60 countries between 1993 and 2013. In this analysis, they viewed country’s productivity as a product of three sources: human labor, traditional capital such as assembly lines and machines, and automated capital based on robots and software driven by machine learning.

They find that countries with the lowest population growth have the highest density of industrial robots per human worker: When a country’s population growth declines by 1 percent, its robot density growth increases by 2 percent.

On the one hand, an uptake in automation could lead to decreases in the real wages of low-skilled workers, whose duties are easily completed by robots. This trend could lead to greater income inequality between low-skilled and high-skilled workers.

On the other hand, countries with decreasing birth rates and shrinking workforces might not see their economies grind to a halt as some economists predict. “Countries facing significant demographic challenges will be the first to invent and/or adopt new automation technologies,” the co-authors write. “This, in turn, could help them overcome some of the negative effects that declining population growth and population ageing imply for long-run economic prosperity.”

Business Schools Are Underfunding Analytics

While most business schools are using learner analytics to inform their curricula, student services, and strategic planning, far fewer have made sufficient investment to take full advantage of the technology. That’s a conclusion of “Learning Analytics in the Business School Curriculum,” a report recently released by the MBA Roundable, a global association of business schools.

In June and July 2022, the association surveyed 71 deans, directors, and faculty at 67 graduate business schools to learn how these institutions are incorporating learning analytics. Among respondents, 93 percent indicated that the time and money spent to implement learning analytics technology is worth it, especially to support a school’s programs (70 percent) and courses (66 percent).

But fewer institutions are using learning analytics at the school (45 percent), learner (38 percent), or concentration (34 percent) level. And that is to a school’s detriment, suggested one respondent. “Gut feelings only get you so far. Using data allows you to target your strategies to maximize outcomes.”

Only 29 percent of respondents indicated that their own institutions have invested sufficiently in learning analytics.

The survey finds that schools enrolling 250 or fewer students are more likely to have established dedicated working groups for learning analytics. Program leaders are more likely than other stakeholders to have access to learning analytics dashboards.

Respondents also indicated whether their schools are using learning analytics for the following purposes:

  • Accreditation—67 percent
  • Assurance of Learning—63 percent
  • Teaching/Learning Improvements—46 percent
  • Course Redesign—40 percent
  • Tracking At-Risk Students—32 percent

One respondent emphasized that the technology is especially useful to support assurance of learning activities, because it helps “clearly define the teaching objectives for the school and establishes a benchmark for assessment.” Another noted, “We can trace most, if not all, of our innovations as being direct results or informed by effective data and learning analytics strategies.”

While 81 percent of respondents agreed that the integration of learning analytics in the curriculum is essential to student success, only 29 percent indicated that their own institutions have invested sufficiently in achieving this objective.

This finding indicates that business schools have yet to fully explore the technology’s benefits, says Jeff Bieganek, executive director of the MBA Roundtable. This reality, he adds, represents a “tremendous opportunity” for schools to use learning analytics to drive greater curriculum innovation in their graduate business programs.

‘Weak Ties’ Support Greater Job Mobility

An analysis of the interconnections among 20 million LinkedIn users has led to a finding that might seem counterintuitive: When it comes to job searches, the “weak ties” in a person’s network are more helpful than their close contacts.

In a paper published in Science, a research team presents the findings of “multiple large-scale, randomized experiments conducted on LinkedIn’s ‘People You May Know’ [PYMK] algorithm.” PYMK is the feature that shows LinkedIn users recommendations for people with whom they might want to connect.

For the study, professors from Harvard Business School in Boston, Stanford Graduate School of Business in California, and the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, worked with an applied research scientist and a senior data science manager at LinkedIn. The research team used PYMK to randomly present LinkedIn users with “weak-tie recommendations” or “strong-tie recommendations.”

The team then tracked users’ job mobility over a five-year period. It turns out that “the greatest job mobility comes from moderately weak ties—social connections between the very weakest ties and ties of average relationship strength,” explains Iavor Bojinov in an October 2022 article for the World Economic Form (WEF). Bojinov is an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and a study co-author. Those weak ties were especially beneficial for those in the technology sector, which might be a product of the rapidly changing nature of the field.

This research confirms that the “strength of weak ties” theory, introduced by Mark Granovetter in the 1970s, holds true in today’s digital social networks. The WEF finds this result especially concerning in today’s world, where 3 billion people lack access to the internet—a factor that could hinder their job prospects and upward mobility.

To combat this inequity, the WEF has partnered with the Boston Consulting Group and the United Nations Development Programme to promote digital inclusion. As part of this effort, the partners have created the Digital Inclusion Navigator, a platform where NGOs and other groups can access research and best practices that support digital inclusion worldwide. The platform is sponsored by the EDISON Alliance, formed by the WEF to accelerate global collaborations that work toward increasing digital access in health, education, and financial services.


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