This chapter will explain the methodical standpoints and understandings that are held by the researchers, and outline their view of the world. Furthermore, it will proceed to describe the data collection, the analysis, the measures taken to ensure trustworthiness, and ethical considerations that are taken in this research.
To continue our research, we must first explain our philosophical standpoint to which our research guidelines will follow. The philosophical assumptions held are crucial to the shaping of the study in terms of research questions, methods and the interpretation of findings (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2016). Research philosophy can be described as containing “important assumptions about the way in which you view the world” (Saunders et al., 2016, p.150). Bringing awareness to these assumptions can further impact the quality of the research positively as well as contribute to the researcher’s creativity (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Jackson, 2018). Research philosophy is often described in the form of paradigms, which combine a view on ontology, epistemology, and methodology into one belief system (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). With many different paradigms in existence, no paradigm is objectively right, but instead, it is dependent on the researchers own beliefs about the world. Our beliefs as researchers are best encompassed by a research paradigm referred to as constructivism (Guba & Lincoln, 1994) which will, therefore, be our guide on how to construct this research. Constructivism will be explained through the ontological, epistemological and methodological choices which it entails and how they are connected to our research.
In this study, we aim to uncover the factors that influence a leader’s crisis preparedness priorities in their companies, and how that, in turn, influences the organisation’s crisis preparedness. We are aware of the complex nature of this question and know that there is no single truth to answer it. In our understanding of the world, the nature of reality is dependent on the observer. To explain this in terms of ontology, it is the “nature of reality” (Saunders et al., 2016 p.127), and it is linked to the assumptions held by researchers concerning how the world operates. As we argue that the world is subjective and that there is no single truth, but rather that laws are created by people (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018), we do not believe in the realism standpoint and the belief that the world is concrete and external and thereby can only be observed. To continue, the two remaining ontologies approach reality from a different standpoint. Either in the nominalism view, that argues for the case that there is no truth and that facts are purely created by humans, or the relativism point that argues for many truths and that the facts depend on the observer’s view (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018). In line with our overarching research paradigm, we agree with the relativism standpoint, due to our belief that laws are created by people, and their perception is highly dependent upon their personal identities.
Continuing with epistemology, in regard to philosophy, it is the “study of nature of knowledge” (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018, p.69). As such, epistemology relates to what can be seen as acceptable, valid, and legitimate knowledge (Saunders et al., 2016). Based on our research paradigm, we take a subjective standpoint in terms of epistemology (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). The focus of subjectivity origins in the way the reality is constructed through understanding and interactions by people (Saunders et al., 2016). As established earlier, facts are determined by observers rather than external factors, and the knowledge or rather the findings emerge from the interactions between the researcher and the observer. Subsequently, we point out that crisis preparedness consists of an extensive collection of components constructed in their own way. The aim, therefore, is to look beyond external factors and to instead put emphasis on different experiences people have.
Finally, a research paradigm does not only involve thoughts about the nature of reality and how knowledge is created but also what methodology should be used in order to pursue this knowledge, however it may be created (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Due to our beliefs that knowledge is created in interaction between the observer and the observed, we will, in accordance with the constructivist paradigm, base our methodology on this interaction between the researcher and the research object in a qualitative manner (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). This process will be described in detail in the next sections of this methodology section.
The core of research design is about the justification of the data collection, as well as where it will be collected from and how (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018). Three different research designs are presented by Saunders et al. (2016); exploratory studies, descriptive studies and explanatory studies. Descriptive studies are generally highly structured and aim to understand general patterns that occur by testing a theory or a hypothesis. Because our thesis aims to gain an understanding of a topic within crisis preparedness, which has not yet been extensively researched, a descriptive study is not considered appropriate.
Furthermore, while an explanatory study aspires to understand the relationship between variables, an exploratory research design aims to gain insights about a particular topic, discover what is occurring, and clarifying a clear understanding of a problem. Considering the nature of our research problem, our primary focus does not lay on the size of the company and the linkage with crisis preparedness, but rather on the understanding the leaders’ prioritisations in crisis preparedness in an SME context. Therefore, we argue that an exploratory research design is the most suitable for the purpose of this thesis. Qualitative exploratory research examines an interesting topic with questions in order to discover and gain further insights into the topic (Saunders et al., 2016). This is done to further clarify an understanding of a problem, for example, if the nature of the problem is unclear. Exploratory research can be done in several ways, including interviews with individuals, groups or experts. A common characteristic of interviews within an exploratory study is that they are likely unstructured and are built on contributions from other participants (Saunders et al., 2016).
It is crucial to understand how theory is developed when conducting research; either the research one is conducting aims towards testing theory or developing a theory (Saunders et al., 2016). Saunders et al. (2016) present three research approaches; a deductive approach, an inductive approach, and an abductive approach. Through a deductive approach, one adopts a clear standpoint for testing theory by using existing literature, while an inductive approach aspires to provide a theoretical explanation, which is based on the data collected. Considering that our chosen topic is previously researched within other contexts however, unexplored within SMEs, we have therefore chosen to proceed with a combination of a deductive and inductive approach, the abductive approach. An abductive approach allows one to alternate the two and move back and forth between the approaches (Saunders et al., 2016). Dubois and Gadde (2002) argue that textbooks on research methodology fail to see the opportunities that are presented by moving back and forth between literature and data, and by embracing this, one can broaden the understanding of both theory and empirical phenomena. Van Maanen, Sørensen and Mitchell (2007) also express the advantages of absorbing knowledge from literature related to the field and not purely being tied to data. By adopting an abductive approach, we will, in our opinion, be able to create a deeper understanding by both striving to develop our own theory with crisis preparedness within an SME context, while drawing knowledge and inspiration from already existing theories and cases.
To proceed with our research, a research strategy must be decided upon. A research strategy outlines a plan for the course of action that will be taken in the journey towards answering the research question (Saunders et al., 2016). While all strategies have disadvantages, some strategies are a better fit with one’s research philosophy and are more suitable to answer the purpose of the study. Yin (2018) argued that experimental research carries disadvantages in its nature as a result of the separation between the phenomenon and its context hence ignoring the context. Correspondingly, survey research has a limited capacity of investigating the context itself. Further, neither survey or experimental research is in-line with our chosen qualitative research design, and therefore, none of them will be considered further. Easterby-Smith et al. (2018) and Saunder et al. (2016) present the following strategies as appropriate for conducting qualitative research: action research and cooperative inquiry, archival research, ethnography and narrative methods, case study, grounded theory and mixed methods.
The case study approach refers to the process of examining a topic, phenomenon, organisation, or individual within its chosen context or number of contexts related to the real world (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018, Saunders et al., 2016, Yin, 2018). Case study research can be approached both from a positivist standpoint, which is a more structured design of the data collection and analysis process (Yin, 2018) and from a more constructivist standpoint (Stake, 2006). From our more constructivist point of view, it is vital when conducting case studies to pay close attention to the context of the case and to aim for the most thorough understanding of the case as possible.
A case study does not follow a specific procedure, but can be conducted in a multitude of ways (Stake, 2006; Yin, 2018). One can choose to conduct a single case study, or a multiple case study and one can choose to include qualitative or quantitative data collection in different ways. Depending on the purpose of research, a case study can, therefore, take many different forms. The case study approach draws knowledge from prior research to form the research framework and benefits from various variables that are of interest to the study and build upon numerous sources of evidence (Yin, 2018). However, the reason to use a case study as a way of answering the research questions is to look at a phenomenon in its natural context and answer questions such as ‘why?’, ‘what?’, and ‘how?’ (Saunders et al., 2016). The purpose of this thesis is to gain an understanding of the motivations behind crisis preparedness and to gain a depth of understanding, therefore answering questions relating to ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ is of high importance to our result and we, therefore, see a multiple case study as appropriate. However, a multiple-case study bears both clear advantages and disadvantages one needs to recognise when choosing it as a research strategy. As a result of investigating multiple cases, the multiple-case study is often treated as a more relying source of research (Yin, 2018). In turn, it is more complex and hence, demands a higher amount of time and resources to investigate.
To continue, an additional choice must be made in a case-study approach, namely if we wish to pursue a longitudinal or a cross-sectional study. A longitudinal study applies a case-study approach over a longer period, and a repeated pattern of measurements to identify the development and change the studied organisation or individual goes through (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018). By doing this, a longitudinal study carries many advantages, mainly the ability to study change and development over a period of time (Saunders et al., 2016). Due to the time constraints in our research process, we have decided to use the second approach, namely the cross-sectional approach. We recognise that it may carry limitations in terms of the ability to explain why the observed behaviour or pattern occurs (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018). Cross-sectional studies focus on defining a particular incident of a phenomenon or aim to provide an explanation of the relationship between factors and organisations and provide a snapshot of the perspective (Saunders et al., 2016).
To gain further knowledge within our research topic, the processes started with a literature review. Easterby-Smith et al. (2018) describe the literature review as an essential tool to provide a deeper knowledge within the field and how it develops over time and what still is undiscovered. It can be seen as an analytical summary of the current research being conducted and clarify what research has already been done. It is necessary to provide an understanding of the previously conducted research within the field and its key theories as well as the concept and ideas, in addition to the issues and debates (Saunders et al,. 2016). Further, it can then give an indication of what is missing and essentially providing an understanding of what contribution research can make to the field and provide a justification of why the specific research is important (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018). The research contribution that is conducted in this thesis will inevitably be compared and criticized in association with other research made within the field (Saunders et al., 2016).
A literature review can be done in different ways. Easterby-Smith et al. (2018) present the following two, a traditional review and a systematic review. There is a significant difference between them, where the traditional approach exclusively considers the sources that the reviewer finds the most relevant and the systematic review takes all the relevant studies in the research topic into account while mostly only considering peer-reviewed academic articles to include in the research. In our literature review, we have conducted a traditional approach. To apply a systematic approach is unreasonable in terms of our research, due to the high number of articles that are included within the research context that is investigated. Instead, we aimed to include as many relevant and high-quality articles as possible, while excluding certain articles which were deemed as not highly relevant to our specific research topic.
To start the process of writing our literature review, the following areas within our topic were discussed and agreed upon; The Crisis, Crisis Management, Crisis Preparedness, Crisis and the Leaders, and SMEs. To include all relevant studies in our literature review would, therefore, not be possible due to the high number of articles within each given field. The way the literature review was approached was by solely including peer-reviewed articles identified by the Scopus database. The aim was that the articles should come from journals that had an ABS list rating of 3 or higher. However, the decision to include journals that did not meet this criterion was made because of their high relevance to our research, such as the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. For the same reason, it was decided to include handbooks which were edited by researchers pioneering the field of crisis management research.
In the literature review, 57 articles were included. These articles were identified in Scopus through the search words: crises/crisis, crisis preparedness, crisis readiness, crisis management, organi* crisis, SME, organi* decision making, strategic decision making, and finally, leader* and decision making.
To gain the most appropriate selection of articles, business and management fields were selected to filter out inappropriate subjects. Further, a decision of excluding articles relating to the financial crisis was done for the reason that it does not directly relate to what we aim to investigate and was hence not of importance to our research. Through our use of a traditional approach we consequently decided upon the articles that were found to be of the most relevance to our given topic, these articles were selected through a thourough review of abstract, purpose and findings.
Based on what has been explained earlier, we have chosen to conduct this study as qualitative exploratory research in the form of a cross-sectional multiple case study. However, it is further important to determine how the data needed for this study will be collected most appropriately for our research. Qualitative data which is needed when proceeding a qualitative study is information that is collected in the form of a non-numeric structure (Easterby-Smith et al., 2018). Qualitative data is recognised by its form as well as by the interactive way it is obtained. Most commonly, qualitative data is developed by the researchers through interviews, which is an ongoing conversation around a given topic. In our complex research area, we believed that interviews could bring us the in-depth knowledge that is needed for this study. Therefore we proceeded to use interviews to conduct our data. The structure of interviews can differ greatly. However, they are commonly based upon predetermined questions designed to relate to a specific purpose and are used to thoroughly examine an experience or a topic to gain an insight into the respondent’s perspective. An important choice to make when conducting interviews is regarding the structure of the interview. Easterby-Smith et al. (2018) present three different formalisations; highly structured, semi-structured and unstructured interviews. Highly structured interviews tend to follow a detailed instruction of questions in a predefined order and occasionally predefined answers. More flexible interview structures such as semi-structured interviews instead might have suggestions of questions which could be addressed, but there is room to leave them out and add other questions instead based on how the interview goes. Lastly, an unstructured interview generally follows the characteristics of a conversation and is therefore rather hard to prepare for, if not impossible.
To gain an adequate picture of our interviewee’s situations, we aimed to gather as detailed and comprehensive answers as possible. However, we did want to make sure that we covered important areas within our topic. Therefore, we decided on adopting a semi-structured interview structure. Hence, we were able to follow a structure with predetermined questions while still being open-ended to gain deeper knowledge and understanding. The topic guide (Appendix 1) was constructed to assist throughout the interviews in order to cover all the essential topics necessary for our research purpose while taking into consideration what previous research has found
Further, it had to be determined which cases were going to be sampled and who would be chosen as interviewees. Firstly, a definition of SMEs was established based upon the European commission’s definition (European Union, 2015). The criteria for a small enterprise was defined as less than 50 employees with a turnover or balance sheet total of less than 10 million Euro (≈ 106m Swedish krona) and a medium-sized enterprise was defined as less than 250 employees with a turnover of less than 43 million Euro or balance sheet total of less than 50 million Euro (≈ 530m Swedish krona).
Table of Contents
1.1 Introduction and Background
2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 The Organisational Crisis
2.2 Crisis Management
2.3 Crisis Preparedness
2.4 Leaders and Decision Making
2.6 Summarising the Theoretical Framework
3.1 Research Philosophy
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Research Approach
3.4 Research Strategy
3.5 Literature Review
3.6 Data Collection
3.7 Data Analysis
3.8 Research Ethics
4 Empirical Findings
4.1 External Environment
4.2 Internal SME Environment
4.3 Understanding of Crisis
4.4 Perception of Risk
4.6 Style of Leadership
4.7 Leaders Personality
4.8 Attitude Towards Crisis Preparedness
4.9 Level of Crisis Preparedness
5 Analysis & Discussion
5.1 Factors influencing crisis preparedness
5.2 Relationship between factors
5.3 Prioritising Preparedness
5.4 The effects on the level of crisis preparedness
6 Conclusion & Implications
6.2 Theoretical implications and contributions
6.3 Practical implications and contributions
6.4 Societal implications and contributions
6.5 Limitations and suggestions for future research
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
Do Leaders Prioritise Crisis Preparedness?