At the very beginning of this chapter, the research philosophy and the derived research approach are discussed. This is followed by the chosen research design, approach to data collection as well as data analysis. The chapter is concluded by presenting the underlying principles of research quality and ethics of our research paper.
In general, taking a philosophical stance on research is important as thereby, the viewpoint on how one perceives the world is exposed. Consequently, the philosophical perspective is of interest for our research and reasons the research strategy and method chosen. Thereby, the researcher’s way of perceiving and constructing the environment is influenced (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2012).
As it has already been highlighted in previous chapters, our underlying research purpose was to investigate how leadership in digitalisation is perceived as effective by employees. Hence, we as researchers aimed to develop an understanding of “how humans view themselves and the world around them” (Robson, 2011, p. 151) by generating insights on effective aspects of leadership from employees’ points of view through social interaction with their leaders. Consequently, as we sought to make sense of social interaction between employees and leaders, an interpretative research philosophy was chosen over a positivist one. In contrast to an interpretivist philosophy whereby similarly to a relativist philosophy the reality is socially constructed, a positivist philosophy takes the viewpoint that only one single truth exists (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2015). Choosing a research philosophy that stems from an interpretative point of view is suitable for this paper due to various reasons. Firstly, an interpretative approach was taken when trying to make sense of employees’ answers regarding the leadership approach they experience in a digitalised working environment. Secondly, employees’ perception and answers regarding leadership were interpreted in a way that we as researchers could create an understanding of how leadership can be seen effectively in digitalisation. Moreover, we as researchers took an interpretative stance when evaluating whether employees observed leadership perception fits to one of the prior discussed leadership styles and capabilities proposed as being effective in our theoretical part. Finally, it occurred that employees’ answers were interpreted in a way that they could be linked to leadership aspects of another leadership style, which was not outlined in our frame of reference.
Consequently, the epistemological view of interpretivism was applied. Epistemology deals with the question of “what constitutes acceptable knowledge” (Saunders et al., 2012, p. 140) and researchers are, even if unintentionally, influencing the process of research based on their assumption of epistemology (Klenke, 2016). This impacted the way we as researchers interpreted and understood employees’ answers and perception of leadership. Moreover, the interpretation of others’ social roles was directed by our own understanding of meaning and interpretation (Klenke, 2016; Saunders et al., 2012), suggesting that our own knowledge and presumptions influenced the comprehension of effective aspect of leadership. Hence, the underlying assumption of the interpretivist view is that generated knowledge is not totally objective, but rather seeks to build meaning derived from qualitative data (Klenke, 2016; Willis, 2007).
Ontology deals with how researchers “view the reality of nature or being” (Saunders et al., 2012, p. 140). The present thesis dealt with the social phenomena, here leadership, being constructed based on social actors’ perceptions and actions, i.e., employees’ perception of leadership, which would lead to a subjectivist ontology (Saunders et al., 2012; Willis, 2007). We as researchers had to understand that the conceptualisation of effective aspects of leadership most likely differed among employees based on their own subjective perspective, which had to be taken into account when interpreting the data. Also, from a researchers’ point of view, our own prior experiences and assumptions of the concept of leadership influenced the data analysis. However, the aim of our research was to investigate employees’ perception of effective leadership in times of digitalisation. Digitalisation is seen as the phenomenon that influences the context of employees’ perception of effective leadership and thus, guided the whole setting in which we conducted our research. Therefore, our underlying ontology could not be purely subjective. Instead, a critical realist ontological perspective guided this thesis, as this could “provide more detailed causal explanations of a given set of phenomena or events in terms of both the actors’ interpretations and the structures and mechanisms that interact to produce the outcomes in question” (Wynn Jr & Williams, 2012, p. 788). In our thesis, this compilation of phenomena as described by Wynn Jr and Williams (2012) could be referred to as leadership in times of digitalisation. Also, for critical realists, phenomena cannot only be seen at the level of experiences but also at a level that is not easily observable (Kempster & Parry, 2011). Leadership can be named as such an example, as it only becomes apparent in the interaction between the employees and their executives. Hence, this fitted very well to our research has we had to conceptualise perceived leadership effectiveness in digitalisation by means of interpreting and making sense of our interviewees’ provided insights. Moreover, critical realists take the viewpoint that although one reality exists, it can be differently interpreted (Kempster & Parry, 2011). As already mentioned, if we take leadership, this presents the reality, which however is differently perceived by the employees. Furthermore, we choose critical realism as this allows researchers to be flexible in the data interpretation (Kempster & Parry, 2011), which in return fitted to our interpretative research philosophy and epistemology.
Concerning the research approach, it can be stated that our formulated research purpose displayed features which could be associated with an inductive research approach, namely by having theory building at the core and being the preferred outcome of data analysis (Saunders et al., 2012). Further, by taking an inductive approach, the researcher seeks to “get a feel of what is going on and […] understand the nature of the problem” (p. 146) and is able to get an understanding of how humans make sense of their social world (Saunders et al., 2012).
Although both an abductive and inductive approach aim to generate new insights, our study predominantly leaned towards an abductive research approach. Understanding an “existing phenomena by examining these from a new perspective” (Kovács & Spens, 2005, p. 138) is in focus of an abductive research approach. This approach fitted well with our research purpose, wherein effective leadership represented the already existing phenomenon. It is researched from a new perspective, namely from the viewpoint of employees and set in the context of digitalisation. Moreover, the abductive approach features a very unique research process (Kovács & Spens, 2005) that shares similarities with the way our paper was built up. By taking an abductive approach, pre-perceptions and some theoretical frameworks are commonly established before the empirical research is conducted (Dubois & Gradde, 2002) and, data collection and theory building are done simultaneously (Taylor, Fisher, & Dufresne, 2002). This allows the researcher to go “back and forth between empirical observation and theory” (Dubois & Gradde, 2002, p. 555). These characteristics were accurate for our research in two respects. Firstly, a theoretical framework including for instance conceptualisations of leadership in the context of change or digitalisation was built prior to the collection of empirical data. Secondly, in case some unexpected findings were derived within the interpretation of our empirical data, additional literature was consulted to explain and discuss these unexpected outcomes. Consequently, our prior theoretical concepts were revised and expanded by additional theory.
Based on our chosen research philosophy whereby we sought to unfold the meaning of leadership being effective in digitalisation, it became clear that we would have to pursue a qualitative research strategy. This further was supported by comparing assumptions, purpose, and approach of both quantitative and qualitative research. Qualitative research underlies the assumption that reality is not objective but socially constructed, the insider’s view is in focus, and the purpose is to contextualise and interpret as well as to understand participants’ voices (Klenke, 2016; Saunders et al., 2012). Thereby, making sense of the socially constructed and subjective meanings about a studied phenomenon lies at the core of a qualitative research, which is consistent with our interpretive research philosophy already explained in Chapter 3.1. (Saunders et al., 2012). This enabled us to generate rich and context-sensitive descriptions, which did not only allow us to make a significant contribution to today’s emerging leadership research (Klenke, 2016), but also was in line with the rather explorative nature of our qualitative study that is outlined in the following (Easterby-Smith et al., 2015). By using a qualitative research method, we believe to add value to leadership theory on effective leadership behaviour in digitalisation by the generation of insights. However, the full scope of digitalisation and effective leadership might not have been fully explored through qualitative measures due to the complexity of both concepts.
Considering the nature of our research design, an exploratory study helped us to gain insights and to clarify the understanding of the phenomenon being studied. Being flexible and able to adapt to changes, for instance through new insights or data acquired during the empirical research, are the advantages of an exploratory study (Saunders et al., 2012). Having outlined general leadership theory and focused on authentic and adaptive leadership in our frame of reference, an exploratory study allowed us as researchers to be able to change our research direction. Due to the disruptive character of digitalisation new insights could be generated through our conducted research when “interviewing ‘experts’ in the subject” (Saunders et al., 2012, p. 171). Thus, previously outlined emerging leadership styles and capabilities in times of digitalisation were adapted with additional literature.
1.2 Problem Discussion
1.3 Purpose of the Research
2 Frame of Reference
3.1 Research Philosophy
3.2 Research Approach
3.3 Research Strategy
3.5 Data Collection
3.6 Data Analysis
3.7 Research Ethics
3.8 Research Quality
4 Empirical Findings
4.1 Perceptions of Benefits and Challenges of Digitalisation
4.2 Perceptions of Leadership
5 Interpretation of Empirical Findings
5.1 Effects of Digitalisation on the Organisational Environment
5.2 Leadership in Digitalisation
6.1 Research Questions and Purpose
6.2 Contribution and Implications
7.3 Future Research
I List of References
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