Friday, 27 August 2010

Friday's findings

Writing up what I should have written before going away to the AOM conference, and struggling to create a coherent paper that:
  1. moves my research forward
  2. I can send to my supervisors soon
I need to explain how the emerging behaviour arose from the pre-conditions, and how the emerging behaviour created value. And I can't remember what I thought two weeks ago. :(

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Positive bias

The type of case studies I have show a positive bias. People and organisations that are interested enough to agree to be case studies tend to engage with each other on their IT projects, and to perceive their projects and their relationships with their consultants and suppliers as successful. Those that don't engage, or don't perceive their projects or consultant-client relationships as successful, have not participated.

Squaring the circle

I'm delighted to receive feedback from a research participant to whom I sent a case study write up. She hadn't seen something the way I had and welcomed my feedback, telling me what she could have done, things I hadn't thought through, and thus useful feedback, because I'll incorporate it.

One reason that research participant hadn't seen things that way was because she was the sole primary client, rather than sharing the client role on a project board, so she had no one to bounce ideas off. In another case study, where a contact client saw something one way, and the consultant who was the project manager saw things in a different way, the consultant was able to share his observations with others, and thus bounced ideas off a fellow consultant on the project board. He in turn worked with someone else on the project board to get done what had to be done.

Of course one of the things when you write up a case study is worrying that perhaps you'll show a research participant in a bad light, so I worry in that second case study that perhaps I'm showing the contact client as worrying too much about detail, but then I don't know that perhaps he was right and in fact the people on the project board didn't have enough information to make informed decisions. On the other hand, it is the job of project board members to have the vision, and the contact client's job was to know the detail, so there's no criticism of anyone.

Indeed, what I've got is the variety of perspectives that I set out to get. And the variety shows me that when some participants can't make the connections that afford engagement, engagement via two other connections can square the circle to get the job done.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Engagement - answer to Mollen and Wilson

I try to "pin down the much discussed but elusive concept of engagement" in the context of public sector IT projects, (elusive indeed) whereas Mollen and Wilson attempt this in an online context. Mollen and Wilson analyse engagement's relationship to constructs of telepresence, flow, commitment, but my approach doesn't use these constructs (although commitment seems analogous).

Mollen and Wilson attempt a definition; I don't. I tried - see here. But they attempt a definition of on-line engagement, which is not what I'm looking at. Why do we have to use the same word for something that's not quite the same behaviour!

Mollen and Wilson write "engagement is a volitional commitment by the customer" but that definition applies only to their on-line context and implies a one-way commitment to a brand - there's nothing in there about commitment by the supplier. They write that the customer commitment is "to an active relationship over time" but don't say who the other parties to the relationship are. How can you have relationship with a thing? Aren't relationships between people?

I checked the references section, and although I recognise some references, such as the 2006 paper by Petre, Minocha & Roberts, none of the other references match what I'm using, because she is looking at marketing, advertising and on-line engagement whereas I am looking at engagement in the public sector, on IT projects where there's IT development and interactional behaviour.

With this sketch I think I can see some similarities. They are:
  1. the web site context, ie telepresence is the materiality and the website provides the context in which to work and interact
  2. consumer experience is the knowledge available. consumers, like participants in an IT project some with knowledge and experience to contribute to the interaction.
But it's one sided, and if my research were of how clients got consultants to engage on a project, then it would be equally one sided because there'd be no mention of how clients engaged with people, clients with clients, clients with consultants.

I've looked at concepts analogous to engagement as participation, motivation, commitment, involvement, collaboration, using engagement literature that includes Huxham, Schaffer, , Saks, Marcum, Schaufeli, Axelrod, Barki, Huxham, Hartwick. And this literature does not coincide with Mollen's work at all.

Mollen is now developing an engagement scale, (Schaufeli has developed a questionnaire to measure work engagement (blogged here), but Mollen doesn't mention Schaufeli's work), which suggests that she's looking for a way to measure customer engagement. I am looking for
  1. how people engage
  2. the value that rises from engagement, - so a way to measure that value would be persuasive in influencing public sector clients who do not see the worth of investing time and effort to engage with suppliers. For the public sector IT context a metric for engaged behaviour is of less use than a metric for the value arising from engagement.
The literature that Mollen uses from the e-learning fields is more interest to me than that from the advertising field because in an IT development, there is learning, so the e-learning literature on engagement might have something transferable. The suppliers and the consultants learn how the business works, and the business clients learn from the suppliers' behaviours and material outcomes (e.g. reports, or new software). However, Mollen is using the electronic learning literature rather the learning literature per se.

Anne Mollen's preconditions are similar:
  • participants (customers but not suppliers)
  • knowledge (experience)
  • environment (web, on-line)
but the emerging behaviour is different. I find
  • sharing - not possible if participants are single individuals, and if the supplier is not involved as well
  • sense-making - maybe
  • adapting - customer behaviour
I conclude that Mollen's theory of engagement is insufficient to help understand how clients and consultants/suppliers engage on IT projects, and secondly, her work doesn't indicate what value arises to whom in a way that I can transfer to the IT project context. (She refers to "optimal consumer attitudes and behaviours").

However, what I'm working on is broader and may be helpful to on-line advertisers who are happy to take a more holistic view of engagement.

The interesting concept that both our approaches must share is volition.

Mollen, A. 2010. Engagement, Telepresence and Interactivity in Online Consumer Experience: Reconciling Scholastic and Managerial Perspectives. Journal of business research, 63(9-10): 919-925.
Saks, A. M. (2006) 'Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement', Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), pp. 600-619. 938
Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B. and Salanova, M. (2006) 'The Measurement of Work Engagement With a Short Questionnaire: A Cross-National Study', Educational & Psychological Measurement, 66 (4), pp. 701-716. 835
MARCUM, J. W. (1999) Out With Motivation, in With Engagement. National Productivity Review (Wiley), 18, 43-46.
HUXHAM, C. (1993) Pursuing Collaborative Advantage. The Journal of the Operational Research Society, 44, 599-611.
NAO (2006) Good governance: Measuring Success Through Collaborative Working Relationships. National Audit Office.
SCHAFFER, R. H. (2002) High Impact Consulting, Jossey-Bass.
AXELROD, R. H., AXELROD, E., BEEDON, J. & JACOBS, C. D. (2004) You don't have to do it alone: how to involve others to get things done, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.
BARKI, H. & HARTWICK, J. (1989) Rethinking the Concept of User Involvement. MIS Quarterly, 13, 53-63.
HARTWICK, J. & BARKI, H. (1994) Explaining the Role of User Participation in Information System Use. Management Science, 40, 440-465.

Academic blogging

The AOM conference included a session on using blogging as a tool for bridging research, teaching and practice, with speakers who'd used blogs in these various ways.
  • Brayden G King
  • Teppo Felin
  • David Levy
  • Karim R Lakhani
  • Maxim Sytch
Maxim spoke first of how his university (Michigan) had worked for a year with the Washington Post hosting a blog site for the MBA class. The students had tasks to post and to comment on posts, not unlike what our OU students have been doing since 1996, but these were public postings, and members of the public could also join in. The blog became journals of participation, with 26 questions set by the academics and over 200 participants. Reading all that sounds a lot of work for the academics to mark and assess, but students, like our OU students had to cut and paste their own contributions into their assignments.

Karim, at Harvard started his blog as a doctoral project for his work on the open source software community and also twitters with his students. He made a boo-boo on his Phd blog, commenting that an important paper was not seminal, and incurring comments. Consequently, he has now deleted that blog, and advises not blogging when you're a doctoral student because potential employers could see what stupid things you've written! I'm going to carry on this blog, so I can if I've improved, and so that I can get feedback and encouragement from my readers.

David Levy writes on sustainability issues, and has invited bloggers. To get exposure he trawled related blogs and left comments that linked to his blog. That sounds like trolling, and a bit rude, but it depends on what sort of comments he left. Sensible comments I would welcome, but leaving comments like "Great blog - see mine at xx" I would call trolling, and delete. So David's advice on getting exposure generated some debate.

Teppo Felin writes at and why blog? Because
  • it's fun
  • to exchange ideas
  • for access to invisible colleagues
  • for feedback
Yes! I blog for those reasons too. He gave us a couple more slides of advice on blogging.
Why not blog?
  • You can look like at idiot
  • Worries - what if no one reads it
  • Tenure and career issues
  • Waste of time?
Successful blogs have
  • content
  • mix
  • "voice"
  • emergent
  • guest bloggers
Daniel Beunza from London School of Economics writes on socializing finance - what a wonderful idea! He writes on the sociology of finance, and has done ethnological studies of financial institutions.

It was a great session because so interesting, and encouraging to bloggers, of which there were several in the room. Consequently, people are emailing contacts and web sites for each other's blogs. Look also on the AOM OMT blog.

Here are some other bloggers to know about:
CV Harquail writes
These four bloggers are great examples/ role models. While obviously nobody can be Bob Sutton, he's got the biggest blog going and hosts a terrific conversation. Terri exemplifies a senior scholar putting her theory into real life situations, and Michael shows folks how to be timely, topical, theory-relevant, and to-the-point all at once. Brett's blog and online activity is exemplary-- he is theory based (rarely about a current news topic) and very approachable.

I'll blog more about blogs another day, after I've had time to explore them.

LOVE - passion and compassion

Do you remember, if you know, in the UK in 1995 a head teacher was murdered, stabbed to death outside his school, as he attempted to protect one of his pupils from another 15-year old? He left a widow with four children to bring up on her own. The story was in the papers again a few months ago, when the culprit finished his prison sentence and was free to stay in England, despite being born in Italy because he had lived in England since he was five. The culprit argued that it would be against his human rights to return him to Italy because he didn't speak Italian. How sad that his single mother did not give him the gift of bilingualism, his school did not provide him with Italian lessons, and even in prison he could not learn the language of his home country.

A similar scenario played out in Montreal in 1993 when a 14-year-old lad stabbed a man to death, but his widow, not burdened with four children, saw the lad as much a victim as her husband, because he'd come from a single mother, and a difficult background. This widow set up an organisation for such youngsters, called Leave out Violence (LOVE). It aims to raise awareness about youth violence and make youth part of the solution. LOVE is also a media arts programme that teaches youth the skills to become part of the media, skills like writing, photography and video. They become reporters on youth culture and feature in exhibits, radio shows, events and their own newspaper. They can continue onto leadership training, learning more about producing media, and how to be leaders in their schools.

This LOVE organisation has a compassionate approach, so much more hopeful than the UK media outcry about the released non-Italian speaking culprit - but good news makes no news.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Canadian itinerants - passion and compassion

L'Itineraire is a Montreal news magazine whose mandate is to create opportunities for the homeless to make a living through producing and selling the magazine, and not through begging on the streets. It is a magazine rather like the Big Issue in the UK, so that the sellers earn money from each magazine they sell, and can begin to put their lives back together. See also

The Groupe L’Itinéraire is an organisation that cares for the homeless and excluded of Montreal. L'Itineraire also provides a cafe, Cafe L’Itineraire, where people can buy a good meal. A group from the academy of management conference went and also bought meals, so we know the quality is nourishing. We paid CAD15 each for a meal but the homeless pay only four dollars, or less if they have no money.

Richard Turgeon, Director of Strategic Development, spoke to us of Groupe L’Itinéraire’s efforts and how it approaches its mission of compassion and support in the Montreal community.

L’Itinéraire’s goal is to educate the public about homelessness and the people who used to be homeless who are now making a living. In doing so, the organization helps to improve the lives of homeless people who are coping with and overcoming alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental disorders.

Richard and his colleagues demonstrated passion for this work, combined with compassion for these people, its clients.

Monday, 9 August 2010


Listening to Irene Skovgaard Smith on consultants in the processes of objectification, she is writing a paper on the materiality that consultants use in their work. She argues that management consultants' services are viewed as intangible, but that the tangible aspects of their service are overlooked. However, key aspects of consultants' work revolve around producing physical objects that materialise the organisation.

In her talk, she described some objects that consultants used (e.g. brown paper, flip charts) and pointed out that in their sessions with clients they held the pen, were the "pen holders". From what she said, it seems to me that she's seen the physical representation of marketing a service, which is old theory (seven Ps of marketing from Booms & Bitner). The problem for her work, she points out, is that the new trend is to talk about materiality, so how does she position her research and where is she going to publish?

It's relevant to my research and it would help me to be able to cite her, when she's published.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Touring Montreal

Montreal is a nice city for walking round and lots going on. We started the day by slipping in for a quick visit to the Adler art exhibition, where the theme related to business. We got asked to draw self portraits and describe how they related to leadership. Having accidentally wandered into a workshop (Friday) on the relationship between the tango and leadership, it was easy to draw two dancers leading and following.

The conference organised a trip round Montreal businesses,
  • a cafe for the homeless and the business that organises the equivalent of the UK's Big Issue magazine, where we ate brunch - 4$ for the itinerant, but we can pay more
  • an organisation called 'LOVE' (Leave Out ViolencE) that helps kids move away from violence, hassling and bullying, where we photographed ourselves and wrote something relevant on the portraits for a collage
  • Studio Breathe - a sustainable approach in a place that provides yoga and martial arts, where we practised yoga and got to taste Canadian wine.
With practical conference activities like this, business is fun.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


Too late I realise that today at this AOM conference, there is a workshop on materiality, a component I believe of engagement, and Orlikowski who writes so much on materiality, is there. But the session needed applying for months ago, some homework, and a code for registration (which I couldn't get work for another session any now) and registration by last week. So I'll choose something else.

There is so much choice, and wasn't easily done on the web. At least I now have a telephone-directory-sized reference manual to check sessions and days.

Conference overwhelming

Overwhelming, that's what this conference is. There are almost
  • too many people - over 8000
  • too many meetings - over 200
  • too much choice of fantastic professional development workshops - more than 300
No wonder new comers feel overwhelmed at this conference. People have come from all over the world, from 79 different countries, and only half of them from the USA, so this AOM conference does have an international feel.

Some great options. Yesterday I was trying to get into an overfull session on maps and other alternative visual representations but somehow got mixed up in the wrong group and found I was doing the tango for leadership. That was great, but the potential to miss so much causes frustration.

Engaging dancing

The Axelrods' talk was the more important session for me here, and has been enlightening on how engagement allows sense making. As an added bonus, I met other phd students researching engagement. I hope to keep in touch with them and continue to compare notes.

There is so much going on it is easy to miss something good (like the session on materiality) or end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today I was going to a session on visualisation, but it was full to overflowing. I heard someone say something about an alternative room and followed them to find ourselves in a huge ball room, where I discovered I'd joined another session, one on dancing the tango. The tango is a metaphor for leadership because it requires subtle understanding of the changes of moves, and quick reactions and Montreal is the northern hemisphere's centre for tango. If you live in Montreal, then go here.

The organisers aimed to demonstrate that social dance can be used to develop organizational leadership skills. It does “take two to tango”: a leader and a follower.
"The dance is a metaphor for work performance and a “successful” dance or partnering is like the achievement of organizational objectives by a manager with an engaged workforce. Social dance provides a powerful and “sticky” medium to bring these principles to life."
The organisers wrote that the Argentine Tango "embodies skills necessary to lead organizations. Above all, it requires the ability to dynamically adapt to rapidly changing environments. Both today’s business leaders and tangueros (tango dancers) must be able to “think on their feet” and respond effectively to the unexpected actions of others, including those with whom they interact most closely. Skilled organizational leaders, like dancers, more easily navigate the complexities of their business environment by establishing deep and fluid communication with their followers."

I began to feel as I moved with my partner that I understood what they meant - if I lived in Montreal I might join a tango class.
El tango no está en los pies. Está en el corazón. [Tango is not in the feet. It is in the heart.] Larry Caroll, Tango Corazon
It's a daring approach.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Tiny keyboard

I haven't had a laptop since 1993, finding it better to upgrade my desktop, but for travelling I have this tiny eeePC. The disadvantage is how difficult it is to type on its minute keyboard and mistakes, typos abound.


Am in Montreal for Academy of Management conference that starts on Friday. It's an enormous event with thousands of delegates, very American influenced. Each day has half a dozen activities timed for each of three or four sessions in one of four different venues. I'm going to spend today finding out where these venues are.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Engagement - an intermediate variable

Supervisor sent me a paper about engagement in a different context, where engagement is seen as an intermediate variable for on-line web advertising. Wilson notes that
"engagement is a volitional commitment by the customer to an active relationship over time"
and supervisor now realises we need to discuss volition.

Anne Mollen wrote her Cranfield MRes on engagement as an intermediate variable for on-line marketing. I read it some years ago, and discarded the ideas then after a short discussion with the then supervisor #1, because her systematic review showed that she was situating her research in e-learning and advertising literature, rather than in organisational development and change. I recommend reading the paper because she writes well, and because her Master of Research dissertation is an exemplar of a systematic review. Find it here at Cranfield research theses.

Mollen, A. 2010. Engagement, Telepresence and Interactivity in Online Consumer Experience: Reconciling Scholastic and Managerial Perspectives. Journal of business research, 63(9-10): 919-925.