Methodology and Method
The methodology and method section discusses the underlying research philosophies to our thesis purpose and elaborates on the research approach, research strategy and sampling tools of our research.
As we sought to extend the theory of talent management and development to the context of Swedish MSOs through the perspectives of the Swedish MSO managers, we explored the “world of experience as it is lived, felt and undergone” (Robson, 2011, p. 24) and sought to understand the social actions that can be employed to retain millennial talents in the organi-zation “from the accounts and perspectives of the people involved” (Schwandt, 2007, p. 21) in planning those development activities.
In this exploratory study we are inspired by a subjectivist ontology, and see the world as an enacted environment which is “interpreted or constructed by people” (Williamson, 2002, p. 30), formed by various possible “truths” (Guba & Lincoln, 1990; Saunders et al., 2007; Yin, 2009). Thereby, in our research we were interested in understanding the various perceptions of the MSO managers on how talent management can be used as a succession-planning tool to retain millennial talents.
In this study we sought new insights on how MSOs in Sweden employ talent management as a succession-planning tool, in order to retain millennial talents. Our purpose hence cate-gorizes as exploratory rather than explanatory or descriptive, as we seek novel insights about the nature of a topic or problem (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2012; Robson, 2002). By definition, explanatory research seeks to “provide causal explanations of phenomena” (Rob-son, 2011, p. 525) and a descriptive study aspires to “portray an accurate profile of persons, events or situations” (Robson, 2002, p. 59). Since we are not seeking to determine the causal relationship between talent management and retention of Millennials but are rather looking to explore how talent management as a phenomenon can be used in retaining talents, our study does not classify as explanatory. Neither is our purpose descriptive, because we do not seek to explain nor conclude an accurate portrayal of the phenomenon under study.
The exploratory nature of our study resulted in our choice of adopting an abductive research approach. Abduction is defined as the middle ground between inductive; theory building, and deductive; theory testing (Kirkeby, 1990; Coffey & Atkinson, 1996; Saunders et al, 2012). Dubois & Gadde (2002) emphasize that an abductive approach is “fruitful if the researcher’s objective is to discover new things — other variables and other relationships”, which makes it a particularly relevant approach in our study in which we sought to explore a yet unexplored context of talent management; MSOs. Contrary to induction, this approach accepts the de-velopment of a research framework prior to the empirical research, and further allows for a less theory-driven research process as opposed to deduction (Saunders et al, 2012). Conse-quently, abduction provided our research with a theoretical strength meanwhile giving us freedom when conducting our research. As suggested by Alvesson & Sköldberg (1994), the abductive approach to our research has implied that both established theories and novel empirical observations have assisted us in the completion of this thesis. In the spirit of ab-duction and as suggested by Alvesson & Kärreman (2007) we continually shifted our focus between theory and empirical findings in order to challenge the value and feasibility of our theoretical framework in relation to our researched phenomena, so that we could problem-atize our understanding and stimulate novel theoretical insights about talent management practices in MSOs.
Saunders et al. (2012) present various different research strategies out of which the case study strategy is best suited for our research purpose. Case study strategy enabled us to research a contemporary phenomenon within its context to understand the dynamics involved in its settings. Yin (1989, p. 23) defines a case study as ‘‘an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context when the boundaries between phe-nomenon and context are not clearly evident and in which multiple sources of evidence are used”. Rather than setting apart individuals from their normal life situation in e.g. standard-ized interviews or simplified settings such as those of laboratory experiments, within case study research the social phenomena is studied with as little disruption of the original condi-tions as possible. The majority of our interviews were conducted in the natural context (in the organizations) of the phenomenon, which enabled us to explore different social contexts, i.e. organizational contexts in MSOs, and their impact on the phenomena under study – talent management.
As there is currently no available theory with enough scope to capture the different elements or cause-and-effect relationships, and no methodological approach is considered more pref-erable than others, talent management with development in focus fits the criteria of a ‘phe-nomenon’ (Hambrick, 2007). To explore this phenomenon, we have applied a collective case study where, as defined by Stake (1995), each case serves as an instrument. In this study, we have selected different companies as cases in order to understand the phenomenon under study. Within these companies, managers were chosen as research subjects.
Talent management as a succession-planning tool is the underlying unit of analysis in our case study. Miles & Huberman (1994, p. 25) defines the unit of analysis as ‘‘a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context’’; the context in this research has been MSOs in Sweden.
Case study research is a particularly advocated strategy in new situations where only little is known about the phenomenon and where current theories are inadequate (Easton, 1995; Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1989), as is the case with talent development within MSOs (see Thun-nissena et. al., 2013). It is also a strategy that is recommended for studies in which the re-searchers wants to gain an extensive understanding of the context of the research and the processes being enacted (Morris and Wood 1991). Eisenhardt (1989) further underlines the potential of case studies to capture the dynamics of the studied phenomenon and emphasizes the multiple-sided view that it can provide of a situation in its context.
In the light of the abovementioned specifications, our conclusion is that case strategy has been the most suitable for our exploratory study of how MSOs in Sweden employ talent management as a succession-planning tool to retain Millennials talents in their organizations.
We selected MSOs operating in the Swedish private and public sector and targeted compa-nies from a range of industries, in order to illustrate the diversity of talent development initiatives pursued by Swedish MSOs. Such heterogeneous sampling may appear as a contra-diction when working with small samples, but as also argued by Patton (2002), we are of the perception that finding similarities in a diverse sample is strength. The collected data enabled us to document unique patterns, which have helped us form key themes.
We followed the suggestion of Patton (2002) and identified some sample selection criteria (different industries, sectors, organizational structures1, company age) to ensure as much var-iation as possible within our sample, but decided to pursue our study in a Swedish context in an attempt to minimize possible cultural influences on the perception- and practices of talent development within MSOs.
The companies were partly selected based on personal contacts and partly on a list of MSOs in Sweden provided by the Swedish employment agency. Out of 21 companies contacted, eleven accepted to participate in our study. In addition to lack of time, the main reason for declined participation was corporate downsizing, which consequently implied that the topic of our study was not of priority for the companies in question. On the contrary, what char-acterized all eleven participating companies was an expressed, genuine concern and interest in succession planning and talent development within their organization.
Different types of interviews
As a method of data collection, we decided to conduct interviews and triangulated the inter-view findings using company booklets and webpages. An advantage of triangulation is sug-gested by Hoque, Covaleski & Gooneratne (2013) to be that ut provides a richer view of organizational reality. Interview is a method that can be used in quantitative as well as quali-tative studies (McLaughlin, 2007), but is stressed to be of particular relevance in qualitative research (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). What characterizes qualitative interviews is their dynamic nature in which “how and why” questions are posed to stimulate a good inter-view interaction (McLaughlin, 2007; Kvale & Brinkman, 2009).
Current literature distinguishes between three general approaches to interviews; structured, unstructured and semi-structured (Saunders et al., 2012; DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006), in which the latter two are stressed to be related to qualitative research (King, 2004). Given the exploratory nature of this research, and our aspiration to allow for some flexibility in the interview process but not risk to miss out on critical topics and themes, we decided to use a semi-structured interview approach rather than the unstructured approach. As suggested by Saunders et al (2012) we had roughly predefined a set of questions, which provided a guiding structure that covered all areas of interest, whereupon we let the interviewees freely elaborate on answers to our questions and followed up on interesting topics that evolved from their answers. This process implied that questions and follow up questions differed somewhat between the different interviews that we conducted. Furthermore, the interview structure continuously changed as it was influenced by our successive findings.
Conducting the interviews
Interviews have been made with individuals responsible for talent development strategies in eleven MSOs. As some MSOs did not have an established HR department, in several cases the interview was conducted with executive managers in the company.
We personally met seven out of eleven interviewees at their offices, the remaining were in-terviewed via a video conference for the reason that there was too far of a distance for us to make it to their location within the limited time span that we had. Meeting interviewees in person are of course always to prefer over videoconferences, but as we still had face contact with our interviewees, the differences between the two interview techniques were limited. Possibly because our research topic is not touching upon any delicate company matters or issues as such, we did not feel any difference in how elaborative and open the interviewees were depending on whether we met in person or via a videoconference call.
As our research aimed to explore how MSOs in Sweden employ talent management as a succession planning tool for the retention of Millennials, we made sure not to only ask the interviewed executives managers about their current talent-and succession planning strate-gies, but also encouraged them to evaluate how their practices could possibly be developed to better cater to the needs of the millennial generation. We were aware of the likelihood that companies, at least initially, perhaps did not want to give the appearance of having an under-developed talent management strategy, so we did not buy into the attributed adjectives of their talent management strategies but carefully inquired about elaborations, examples and reflections of improvements. In some interviews we realized that the interviewee did not intentionally attempt to uphold a “good image” of their practices, but that they had not nec-essarily any insights in how their talent management could be developed to better combat the challenge of retaining talents. In some situations did we ourselves not realize fallacies with the companies’ succession-planning and talent management strategies until after exten-sive elaborations from the respondents. All in all, to avoid interviewee bias we experienced that it was good being two researchers conducting the interviews, and that our prior theoret-ical research on talent management strategies aided us in our reflections and follow-up ques-tions. Being two researchers also helped us minimize interviewer bias; after each interview session we reflected upon and provided feedback on each other’s interview approach, to e.g. avoid pose steering interview questions. During the interviews we also followed up on each other’s questions, hence the two of us together facilitated and drove the conversation.
In addition to us taking notes during the interview, all conducted interviews were recorded in order for us to objectively capture the information provided by the interviewees, for later transcription and analysis. After having critically analyzed and made sense of the transcripts, we contacted several of the interviewees again and asked for elaborations on specific subject matters for us to get further insights.
Analysis of empirical data
Our data was analyzed using a content analysis technique. It commenced with repetitive and thorough reading of the data to obtain immersion as described by Tesch (1990). Thereupon codes were derived, following the suggestions of Miles & Huberman (1994) and Morse and Field (1995), by highlighting and noting down exact words from the transcripts as well as initial impressions and thoughts. Given the abductive nature of our study, we compared these thoughts and codes with our theoretical framework, which had guided our research. The emerging codes were then organized into meaningful clusters, i.e. categories.
In order to get a holistic understanding and prepare for reporting the empirical findings, we created an Excel table in which extracts and quotations from the interviews were inserted under each identified category, to the point where every transcript had been broken down to quotations which were later placed under our identified categories.
The identified categories were succession planning, mentoring, feedback & reflection, job assignment, executive coaching, networking, action learning as well as the four nuances of succession planning practices and “The paradox”.
These categories are outlined in the analysis in section 4, and supported with quotations from our transcribed interviews.
Research Quality and Ethics
As this thesis has been based on qualitative research, there are some inevitable concerns about the dependability related to the process of the investigation and our responsibility as researchers for ensuring that the process was “logical, traceable and documented” (Schwandt, 2007, p. 299). Given that a semi-structured interview approach was used, the interview questions somewhat depended on the replies of the interviewees, which conse-quently implies that a replication of the study does not ensure the same results as the con-textual factors are likely to vary. Nevertheless, because we have presented and explained the research process, and provided a theoretical framework, the dependability of this thesis can still be considered given (Shenton, 2004).
Conformability is related to the accuracy of the report, in this case that the opinions of the interviews that are presented and not the one of the researchers’ (Shenton, 2004). We believe that conformability is given in this thesis as we provide extensive quotations, i.e. extracts from the interviews, which enables the reader to follow our interpretation process and con-clusions drawn from the empirical material.
Credibility is concerned with how congruent the findings are with reality and the issue of the inquirer providing assurances of the fit between respondents’ views of their life and the in-quirer’s reconstruction and representation of same (Merriam, 1998); Schwandt, 2007, p. 299). The referential adequacy of this study can be ensured, as we have been two researchers con-ducting the interviews together, transcribing them and compiling the findings. The tran-scripts and quotations were furthermore reviewed by each of our interviewees prior to pub-lication, to avoid wrong citations of the respondent’s answers.
Transferability is concerned with the possibility of the findings of one study to be applied to other cases as a result of having provided the reader with thorough information about the data (Schwandt, 2007; Merriam, 1998). As we provide in-depth analysis of the phenomenon under study within eleven different MSOs from different industries, the analytical conclu-sions that we have developed can be presumed to be applicable to other cases of MSOs operating in a Swedish context.
We have followed ethical principles and guidelines throughout the whole study. Anonymity was ensured by not revealing neither the respondents nor the company names, to not cause harm to any of respondents or the MSOs. A second aspect regarding the research ethics is that the transcripts were sent for proofreading before us analyzing the findings to ensure that we had correctly documented the citations. All respondents were participating voluntarily in our study, which is an important part according to Saunders et al. (2012). We guaranteed the participants confidentiality of all data, which means that we have ensured that the transcripts have remained confidential (Saunders et al., 2012), i.e. not revealed to any third party.
During our study we encountered many new insights on how MSOs employ talent manage-ment as a succession-planning tool. These strategies are in this section analyzed according to the companies’ ambition and practices in pursuing long-term succession planning which in literature has been argued to influence Millennials’ motivation and commitment to their em-ployers. What was remarking in our findings was that earlier outlined stereotypes of Millin-nials ware confirmed to a large extent by our respondents:
“For the Millennial generation, motivating and challenging work tasks are more central than a high pay” (Manager, MSO: 6). The manager of MSO 4 further stated that this generation seek “mean-ingfulness in their job”. These conceptions resonate with what Ng et al. (2010), writes, that although Millennials are high-achievers and value good pay and benefits for their contribu-tions, good pay is not enough as this generation seeks meaningfulness in their work.
“Another manager stated that “Millennials are used to continuous communication and feedback, they possess a prominent confirmation seeking behavior” (Manager, MSO: 8). This is line with what literature claims in that Millennials are generally seeking constant feedback in order to know that they are progressing and moving in the right direction (VanMeter, Grisaffe, Chonko & Roberts, 2013; Twenge & Campbell, 2012; Thompson & Gregory, 2012; Hershatter & Epstein, 2010).
“It is obvious that the younger generation are demanding flexibility to a larger extent than their precursors” the manager of MSO 1 declared, which can be related to the work-life balance that Ng et al. (2010) stressed as being vital for this cohort.
“They have been brought up in hi-tech societies and expect instant and regular interaction” the manager of MSO 11 noted, which also have been emphasized by e.g. Hershatter and Epstein (2010) in literature.
Millennial’s impatient demand for rapid career advancement and propensity to leave an em-ployer that can’t provide them with such opportunities that have been stressed by both Her-shatter and Epstein (2010) and Ng et al., (2010), was supported by all our respondents, for interview extracts see section 5.2.
In order to strengthen our analysis, we will continuously fall back on selected quotations from the interviews. These quotations will further give the reader an opportunity to under-stand our interpretations of the empirical findings as well as construct their own perception. Information about the companies interviewed in this thesis can be found under section 126.96.36.199.
Initially, the succession planning and talent management strategies and practices of the eleven interviewed MSOs are analyzed separately, whereupon the companies’ current ability to marry the two strategies is assessed in the Discussion section that follows the Analysis.
The suggested long-term approach to succession planning, in which succession planning and leadership development are married to optimize pro-active identification, development and placement of leader talents in the organization (Conger and Fulmer, 2003; Kur and Bunning, 2002; Groves, 2007), has proven to be employed to varying extents by our eleven interviewed companies.
In some of the conducted interviews with MSOs, we noticed that the succession planning and talent management strategies were still in their infancy phase. In fact, they resembled replacement planning as described by Watt and Buisine (2005) more than succession plan-ning; leadership replacements were managed ad-hoc as a reaction to job terminations and retirements to fill vacant leadership positions. In none of the companies in this category, was succession planning employed in a way that helped the organizations get a holistic view of their talent development practices, as suggested by McDonald (2008). The companies were lacking strategies for identifying and developing potential leadership talents; leadership po-tentials were identified based on which individuals that “put their best foot forward” (Manager, MSO: 1) in projects or current positions. This was also the case in MSO 2 as well as 7.
Amongst these managers we observed little insight into which employees within the organi-zation that had leadership potential and interest in developing into a future leadership role.
“I do not believe that anyone of our employees, neither the consultants nor sellers, have an interest in taking on a leadership role” the manager of MSO 7 initially expressed. Only after having asked him to elaborate on his statement, he then said “sure, there might be some sellers who aspires to undertake a leadership position, but whom have not expressed it to us, indeed thinking about it I know remember that was the case with our current sales manager”. In MSO:1, the manager stated that his company lacks the “softer HR values” which would “add significant value to their organization and enable them to get closer and better versed in what is necessary to provide for their employees in terms of career development opportunities order to retain them” In spite of these companies’ reactive approach, the managers seemed content with their practices and did not perceive enough value in pursuing a pro-active approach to succession planning to change their current approach. Employees were encouraged to undertake training courses for the sake of stimulating their professional de-velopment, but leadership development however, defined by Brungardt (1996) as develop-ment that promotes, encourages, and assists the expansion of knowledge and expertise re-quired to optimize one’s leadership potential and performance, they believed was relevant “only when the employees had been assigned a leadership role” (Manager, MSO: 2). We identified that these companies, i.e. MSO 1, 2 and 7, were not necessarily aware of the benefits of develop-ing their rather under-developed succession planning strategy.
In our research we encountered MSOs whom as well had an approach to succession planning that was rather reactive, but whom were fully aware of its shortcomings and prone to develop towards a long-term succession planning strategy in order to better grow internal leaders and retain millennial talents. These companies were discontent with their reactive approach but were struggling with how to develop it further.
“We have little insight in how many of our employees have ambitions of becoming a leader, and how many that are applying for leadership positions at other employers. Currently we don’t have a strategy for how to develop these talents with leadership potential, and that is what we would like to establish; although we don’t know how” (Manager, MSO: 10)
This was also the case for MSO 6, who currently did not have a strategy in place but had started contemplating of how to proceed with their identification and development of po-tential leaders.
In some other interviews, managers stated that they did not have any explicit succession strategies in place but we in fact observed that these companies nevertheless had a long-term, proactive and practical approach to grow their internal leaders.
“We don’t have an explicit talent management strategy, but we do want to grow and develop our own crown princesses and princes […] by assigning people responsibility for bigger projects or positions than what they initially might have thought they could manage, but which they can grow into.” (Manager, MSO: 4)
Another Manager said:
“ [..] We have a product developer whom is to retire in four years, and we have already identified and com-municated which young talents in the organization that could make good replacer for him.” (Manager, MSO: 3)
These cases might have had a long-term approach to succession, but they did not have an explicit leadership development strategy as defined by Brungardt (1996), which was interwo-ven with their succession planning; the identification of talents was managed on a long-term basis but the development of these talents was not properly organized. Both the managers of MSO 3 and 4 said that the talents identified did not follow any specific development program, so even though they had a proactive approach to identify leadership talents and potential successors, it was not supported by a formalized succession-and talent management strategy.
Such a formalized succession strategy we witnessed in other MSOs; in those cases, the iden-tification of leadership talents followed a structured and systematic procedure.
A recurring practice to manage the pipeline of leaders was one in which “vice leaders” was announced to every leadership position in the organization, this was the case in both MSO 5 and 11.
“It is important to us that we always have a plan B for every leadership position; we ask every leader to contemplate together with us about whom to appoint a “second leader” who can take the lead when they are not present” (Manager, MSO:11). As suggested by Charan et al. (2001), these MSOs strategi-cally worked to fill their pipeline of potential future leaders, but they however, did not nec-essarily manage to engage in educational and developmental practices to actually marry their succession planning with a leadership development process as advocated in literature (Con-ger & Fulmer, 2003; Kur & Bunning, 2002; Groves, 2007. Some were aware of this short-coming and others were not.
“We are good at announcing whom is to be the replacer, but we recently realized that merely identifying and communicating a leadership potential is not enough – we need to provide training and development for this individual in order for him/her to grow into a leader” (Manager, MSO: 11).
The manager of MSO 5 however expressed that he did not see how they could develop their talent management practices to better cultivate their own leaders.
In two of the cases we encountered advanced approaches to succession planning, in which a talent pool had been established for talents throughout the company in an attempt to pro-vide a structure for talent development as described by Byham, Smith and Paese (2002), accompanied by talent development practices. The manager in MSO 9 informed us about their thorough “leadership-and talent review” which was closely interlaced with their succes-sion planning. It encompassed a systematic categorization of talents according to their skills and potential. The categorization aspired to map potential leadership talents for future suc-cessions as well as to identify what development opportunities to provide for those high potentials in order to retain them. This MSO had a proactive, long-term approach in their succession planning and a clear strategy to marry succession planning and leadership devel-opment, embracing the urges of Conger and Fulmer (2003), Kur and Bunning (2002), Groves (2007) and Charan et. al. (2001).
In the case of MSO 8, we were informed about their previous development programs for young talents, which encompassed several activities that promoted, encouraged, and assisted the expansion of knowledge and expertise required to optimize self-awareness and leadership potential – practices that qualify for the leadership development definition by Brungardt (1996).
“The programs stimulated self-awareness, -development and -understanding. They provided a platform for our talents to mature as individuals, reflect upon their authenticity and develop their business skills” (Man-ager, MSO:8).
Table of Contents
1.2 Problem discussion
1.4 Structure of thesis
2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 The Millennial Generation: Who are they?
2.2 Stereotypes about Millennials in organizations
2.3 Succession Planning
2.4 Talent Management
2.5 Reflection on Theory
3 Methodology and Method
3.1 Research Philosophy
3.2 Research Purpose
3.3 Research Approach
3.4 Research strategy
3.5 Data Collection
3.6 Analysis of empirical data
3.7 Research Quality and Ethics
4.1 Succession Planning
4.2 Talent Management
5.1 Moving along the spectrum
5.2 The Paradox
6 Conclusion, Contribution and Future research
6.4 Limitations and future research
7 List of references
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