The Current State of Knowledge About Business Consulting

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Research Method

This chapter presents, explains, and discusses our methodological approach, the applied methods, our ethical principles, and how we establish trustworthiness in our study. This chapter is crucial since we strive for our study to be consistent, rigorous, and eventually convincing to the reader (Zhang & Shaw, 2012).


This paragraph’s purpose is to highlight our philosophical position, research approach, and strategy.

Research Philosophy

Having defined our purpose to understand how approaches of advising family firms differ among formal business advisors (i.e. gaining insights, developing a model, suggesting further researches, and highlighting implications for practice in order to be able to respond to our research questions), this purpose requires involving different types of advisors to gain the sought for understanding. We, as researchers, and the advisors being researched are socially interacting human beings that we do not see as excluded from the reality we want to investigate. Hence, we take a relativistic stand to serve our purpose. This ontological position acknowledges that knowledge is created by people and their interaction (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2015), and, thus, denying “that there can be any universal or apodictic truths” (Smith, 2008, p.750). It also recognises that the understanding of emerging findings is relative (Smith, 2008) since people have different identities, knowledge, experiences, opinions, and so forth, which constructs a reality’s dependence on the involved people’s viewpoints (Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015), and reference points (Rorty, 1991).
Regarding such an ontology, the suitable corresponding epistemology is that of social constructionism. It assumes that many different realities may exist. These realities are socially constructed through social interaction (Staller, 2012; Costantino, 2008) and sense-making Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015). We acknowledge that our findings depend on the reality constructs of the individual advisors and the analysis of these findings on our construction of reality as investigators (Nordqvist, Hall, & Melin, 2009). Hence, such an epistemology coincides with our purpose of gaining an understanding of the advisors’ sense-making of soft issues, instead of giving a mere explanation of the phenomenon in question (Costantino, 2008). It also appears to be well-suited for studies in the field of family business (Nordqvist, et al., 2009). However, having chosen to apply such philosophical stands, we have to be cautious to not be drawn into a limitless loop of analysing and discussing findings, due to our willingness to explore a new aspects of family business advising previously ignored (Bernstein, 2011).
Accordingly, we conducted a critical literature review applying a snowballing approach (Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015) to let existing knowledge from different perspectives and gaps in the literature emerge without us being preoccupied with the belief that not only one line of arguments can serve our purpose (Staller, 2012). At the same time, we have been critical about relevant literature, challenging it from our points of view. As a result, we have identified gaps in the existing knowledge about advising family firms which then are used to develop the present research questions. Regarding the data collection, a researcher should collect heterogeneous data using multiple methods and involving many individuals and researchers triangulating the objectified reality in our study (Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015). Hence, we explain our sampling strategy, that enables us to disclose diverse realities, as well as our analysis approach, which allows different insights to emerge. Also, in our discussion, we make use of existing and discovered perspectives. Thus, the chosen philosophical stand permits this study to unearth a deeper understanding of how formal business advisors’ approaches of advising family firms differ.
From our point of view, a deep understanding is achieved if and when we are able to pinpoint the differences in the advisors’ approaches when they advise family firms, to sufficiently explain how soft issues are perceived and addressed. This also entails that we should be put in a position that allows us to provide the reader with descriptions of aspects that determine an advisor’s perception of soft issues and to argue reasons for advisors’ ways of addressing soft issues in family firms. Those descriptions shall be based on our considerations of gathered insights.

Research Approach

Social constructionism is strongly associated with qualitative research (Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015; Staller, 2012; Costantino, 2008). As a matter of fact, qualitative inquiries lack in easy access to data (Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015), which requires us to provide a transparent presentation on how we pursue this study, describing procedures, data collection, and findings, used methods and instruments. In general, a qualitative research process is iterative in nature and resembles another challenge for us as investigators (Bansal & Corley, 2012). Nevertheless, qualitative inquiries recognise diverse data as valuable sources of knowledge that enable generalisation in terms of theories that emerge organically (Easterby-Smith, et al., 2015; Staller, 2012). A related approach is that of induction (Bansal & Corley, 2012; Brewer, 2011) which gives the opportunity to respond to our research purpose holistically (Staller, 2012).
Inductive approaches can give rise to emerging theories since it sets crafted data as ground for knowledge development through letting “the data ‘speak for themselves’” (Staller, 2012, p. 155), by assuming as less as possible prior having analysed the data (O’Reilly, 2012). These approaches are able to link observations with theory through interpreting findings that have been generated using past experiences (Fox, 2012). Thus, induction is in line with our social constructionist position as it acknowledges that realities (or knowledge) are socially constructed. Our data is the result of social interaction between researchers and observed advisors, as well as the shared experiences of the advisors, which themselves were socially constructed (Saunders, 2011; Smith, 2008; Costantino, 2008). However, induction leads to the dilemma that generated knowledge is tentative and could easily be overturned by observing contradicting phenomena (Fox, 2012).

Research Strategy

Addressing this dilemma, we attempt to minimise the risk to develop invalid or uncertain knowledge. Hence, we apply triangulation in three different ways, as presented later in this chapter. On the other hand, in order to maximise the amount of findings that can be interpreted, an exploratory study is suggested (Stebbins, 2008). Based on our purpose, which focuses on gaining an understanding of a phenomenon and has led to the emergence of related gaps in the existing knowledge, we have formulated two research questions. Thus, the starting point has not been a defined theoretical framework but an exploratory purpose that aims to unearth theory in the process of data collection and analysis to identify relationships between existent and arisen knowledge. (Saunders, 2011) Therefore, with this inductive approach, together with our choice for a qualitative research design, we arrive at a research strategy that is pursued best by conducting an exploratory study (Stebbins, 2008).
An exploratory study is justified by the shown fact that our topic has not received sufficient “systematic empirical scrutiny” (Stebbins, 2008, p. 329). Nevertheless, we are certain that our identified gap is worth exploring and relevant to both theory and practice (Strike et al., 2017; Strike, 2013; Strike, 2012), substantiating an exploratory pursuit of our study (Stebbins, 2008). In addition, the present purpose refers to ‘gaining an understanding’ justifying an exploratory strategy reasonable. One way of conducting such kind of study is to interview ‘experts’ of the researched field (Saunders, 2011). Putting it in place altogether, we take a constructionist stand and choose to conduct a qualitative exploratory interview study.


This paragraph presents the method we adopt in our research, following the principles of completeness, clarity, and credibility (Zhang & Shaw, 2012). First, we discuss our data collection, focusing on gathering primary data through interviews, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of our choice. Second, we describe the sampling strategy and process, arguing for our selection. Third, we report the design of the interviews, providing a detailed description of them, and illustrating the questions proposed to the respondents. Finally, we outline our data analysis strategy, justifying it and describing the steps of the undertaken process.
Aiming to create and collect new insights about how content and process advisors perceive and address soft issues, we gather primary data. This type of data, although costlier both in terms of time and efforts, allows the researcher to gain a high level of confidence in the outcomes. (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2015; Malhotra, 2008). In this research, the primary data have been collected through qualitative interviews, evolving around a series of questions that allow to understand the respondent’s framework of meanings (Rubin & Rubin, 2012; DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006; Marks & Yardley, 2003). As a matter of fact, the interviewee is seen as meaning maker, while the interviewer derives interpretations (Warren, 2011). Furthermore, following the call for further research made by Cesaroni and Sentuti (2017), interviews are a suitable method “to analyse the role of advisors, hearing their voice, with the aim to comprehend their sensitivity and awareness towards the importance of soft issues” (p.183). Interviewing is one of the most well-known, adopted, and effective methods for collecting data in qualitative research (Cook, 2012; King & Horrocks, 2010; DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). Through interviews, we adopt a direct approach to the interviewees, disclosing at the beginning the purpose of our project to the respondents (Malhotra, 2008).
More in detail, we opt to conduct in-depth interviews, asking to each respondent to talk in depth about specific topics, and letting them elaborate for around one hour (Cook, 2012; Boyce & Neale, 2006). The aim consists in uncovering their attitudes, feelings, while discovering their perspectives, thoughts, and beliefs, for exploring patterns of similarities and differences (Schensul, 2012; Malhotra, 2008).

Table of Content
List of Tables
List of Figures
1 Introduction
2 Literature Review
2.1 The Current State of Knowledge About Business Consulting
2.2 The Current State of Family Business Research
2.3 The Current State of Knowledge About Advising Family Firms
2.4 The Emergence of Soft and Hard Issues
2.5 Emergent Types of Formal Advisors
2.6 Gaps in The Existing Knowledge
3 Research Method
3.1 Methodology
3.2 Methods
3.3 Data Analysis
3.4 Research Ethics
3.5 Trustworthiness
4 Findings
4.1 A Generated Tree-Diagram Based on the Content Analysis
4.2 Defining the Content Analysis’ Main Categories and Categories
5 Analysis 
5.1 The Advisors’ General Approach for Advising Family Firm
5.2 The Advisor-Client Relationship
5.3 Advisors’ Perception of Soft Issues in Family Firms
5.4 Advisors’ Way of Addressing Soft Issues
5.5 Tetris Model
6 Discussion
6.1 How Process and Content Advisors Differ In Their Approaches
6.2 How Process and Content Advisors Perceive Soft Issues
6.3 How Process And Content Advisors Address Soft Issues
7 Conclusion 
7.1 Summarising Our Study
7.2 Our Study’s Major Contributions
8 Managerial Implications 
8.1 Equipping Content Advisors with Broader Knowledge About Soft Issues
8.2 Broaden Content Advisors’ Mindset and Approach
8.3 Promote Family Business Advisors’ Existence and Their Capabilities
8.4 Promote and Exploit Advisors’ Reputation and Experience
8.5 Apply a Team Approach bringing Content and Process Advisors Together
8.6 Reduction of Advisors’ Stress thorough Emotional Recovery Methods
9 Limitations
10 Future Research 
Reference List 
Soft Issues in Family Firms: A Study About Content And Process Advisors

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