November 22, 2017

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Practical Research, Practical Marketing

Thomas KentWhat’s the secret to helping your faculty produce academic research that resonates with practitioners, students, policy makers, and other influencers? 

Think less about theory, and more about practical relevance—that’s the opinion of Thomas W. Kent, Ph.D., professor and chair for the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, School of Business, College of Charleston. “I think there’s a huge gap between what authors write about and what practitioners are interested in.”

Having served at the executive levels of two global corporations and the one-time owner of a firm that consulted internationally on the subject of organizational excellence and productivity, Kent spoke recently about the topic of relevant research at the Charleston Conference, on a panel titled, “Research in the real world: accessibility, nurturing usage, and turning theory into practice.” 

Kent’s research includes areas of leadership, teams, and organizational productivity, and he begins each project by evaluating whether the end product is sell-able, not just from a monetary standpoint, but ideologically. As simple as it sounds, he starts by asking the question, “to managers who are in the position to purchase this research, how useful will this be to them?”

Kent goes on to say, in his experience, managers don’t even know all this research is available, not to mention what it’s about, and he believes that’s a gap that needs to be closed.

Fact is, university libraries are filled with underused academic research and writing. “No author wants to spend time doing research, writing something up, and believing it’s not going to go any further than the front and back of a journal,” he says. 

The best way to insuring that your research is usable and readable, according to Kent, is threefold: Speak to “real world” issues; create useful knowledge; and network with intended users/consumers. 

Speaking to “real world” issues is the key to creating useful knowledge. “I think about how I personally would use the results of research, and often for me, it turns out to be an idea of how I can incorporate this in a management training program or a management seminar,” says Kent. 

It’s this way of looking at research—through a leadership lens, asking if managers or supervisors at various levels of an organization will find utility in it—that can boost its value, elevate its status to that of a training or development tool. 

And that simply can’t be done, says Kent, if the research is loaded with jargon. For him, the key to being accessible is to think of readers not just as audience, but as practitioners. For starters, that will impact the language he employs. “I try to avoid sounding like a journal writer who uses academic phraseology, which is difficult to understand—sentences are overly long, using the hardest words to say something simple. I avoid that like the plague,” says Kent. 

Combined with one form of accessibility (simplicity of language), keywords are another requirement for accessibility. They’re important in terms of organizational principles and discoverability. The right keyword strategy means that the article will be tightly focused around relevant terms when you’re writing it, and after it’s written, it’ll be discoverable when it’s indexed. 

When thinking about relevance of research, Kent says we need to think beyond how it will be studied, and ask how will it inform real-world decisions. “It needs to be useful in a real way to the person you’re trying to impress. They define usefulness. In what form would this be useful to organizations? The answer to that question comes in the form of training and development.”

This is where networking with users can provide value—Kent cites networking with non-academic special interest groups and putting citations on relevant social media pages as effective tactics to gather relevant terms and valuable on-going feedback. 

It was a combination of all these methods that enabled Kent to turn theory into practice, and develop a leadership behavior inventory methodology. Using terms and phrases from authors in the area of behavioral leadership, combined with statistical research, he, along with colleagues, developed the “Kent Scale”—five behavioral characteristics of effective leaders that have been utilized in various countries worldwide.

Ultimately, to market his type of organizational-leadership research in the real world, Kent eschews a classic approach. “There’s no advertising, no deep advertising, it’s word of mouth from client to client,” he says. “You market the work at conferences and utilize them in training programs. If the work is good, the client will spread the word for you.”


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 Emerald Publishing

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