Action research international
Paper 6: Shankar Sankaran (2001)
Methodology for an organisational action
Action research international is a refereed on-line journal of
action research published under the aegis of the Institute of
Workplace Research, Learning and Development, and Southern
Cross University Press
Paper 6Shankar Sankaran, College of Action Research, Graduate College of Management, Southern Cross University
Methodology for an organisational action research thesis
This paper is mainly written from the perspective of an action research practitioner. It is drawn primarily from my experience as a Senior Executive and HRM specialist, supplemented later by additional academicresearch and teaching.
Summary of my thesis to serve as a background to this paper
Management learning is a relatively new field that is of strategic importance to organisations facing rapid changes in their environment. Despite its importance, research methods in management learning are still not well established. There is also an increasing interest in studying how managers learn from situationsin their work place.
Hence I decided to focus my research on management learning at my workplace. For my doctoral thesis, I carried out an action research study of management learning by intervening in a new engineering operation in a Japanese multinational company in Singapore.
At the start of the study I was the supervisor of young local managers who had to take on greater responsibilitiesrapidly to achieve the challenging objectives set by top management our operation in the organisation. To do this I had to help my managers to 'learn to learn' by using the challenges arising at the workplace to develop 'soft' management skills in addition to their 'hard' engineering skills to become more effective managers.
Traditionally, our hierarchical organisation did not follow a systematicmethod of introducing change. I wanted to use a more systematic method to introduce change in our operation, with the help of the very managers who would take ownership for this change. I felt that collaborative techniques, such as a search conference to reach common understanding, action learning for manager development and action research to study change could be used to introduce changes in myoperation effectively.
Using a collaborative method also fitted in with my values that I had adopted from my international experience as an engineer and as a manager working in many parts of Asia and the Middle East. These experiences taught me that tolerance and understanding are very important in dealing with different cultures. I also had a tendency to stand up and speak of the rest of theorganisation to the Japanese managers and was nicknamed 'opinion leader' in a friendly way by the management. Perhaps this came from my being brought up in India in my younger days where democratic principles are considered extremely important. My political heroes were democratic leaders - Jawaharlal Nehru and Abraham Lincoln. Although I was not a freedom fighter in India, as I was too young at thattime, I was brought up among families who had made sacrifices during the Indian Independence movement. So empowerment was an important value to me.
After reviewing the relevant literature I hypothesised that helping my managers to 'consciously learn' from their work would lead to their development. I thought that 'action learning' could be introduced into my operation to study management learning,as it would appeal to my young managers, some of whom had taken up MBA programs taught by Western universities. As action learning resembled 'quality control circles' it would have no 'political' obstacles to its promotion in a Japanese company. The Singapore Government was also encouraging the local people to adopt good Japanese practices like 'quality control circles' and this was catching on...