During my time at university I was constantly told how research and theories can explain almost everything we do. Want to improve culture in the workplace? There’s a theory for that! Looking at reducing employee turnover? Check out this model! Research could always explain our behaviour.

One tip I’ve learnt in my first graduate job, among many others, is that practicality is more important than following a theory word for word. In theory, research is great, but when it comes to real life, situations regularly influence the effectiveness of science and it is essential not to purely rely on research. At the end of the day, delivering a project which benefits as many parties as possible is the ideal result.

Practitioners need to be able to balance research with a practical mindset, and this is a difficult task to accomplish. Keeping an empirical foundation for ideas is great as using research in practice gives credibility and validity to your methods and ideas. However, this needs to be done in a way which keeps the real world in mind.

Be Adaptable!

Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as having a theory that works perfectly in practice, so it’s necessary to be agile and change ideas quickly.

I recently had a development project with a diverse senior leadership team. They all had different personalities, different backgrounds, and different working styles. Now, research on high performing teams suggests that this is a perfect combination – that drawing on their differences will make the team stronger and more efficient. However, this team could not bond and had subpar performance because of these differences, completely contradicting existing theory.

In these situations you need to adapt, and realise that one theory isn’t going to work perfectly for every situation. Research gives us a good base for practice, but can often struggle to account for individual differences.

Don’t limit yourself to one approach

Following on from the above point, there is often opposing theories for the exact same situation. This can sometimes be seen as contradictory in practice, but I see this as an opportunity to discover what works best in a particular situation.

Research suggests that working as part of a team leads to an effect known as social facilitation – where having others around you motivates you to perform to a higher standard, resulting in increased productivity. Contradictory to this, research also suggests that working as part of a team can lead to social loafing – where having others around you leads to decreased effort as you rely on others to do the work for you. The only way to find out how working in a team affects behaviour is to test it.

Research and theories are never right or wrong; they are just an approach towards understanding a certain behaviour. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Finding a suitable theoretical approach needs resilience, and once a fitting methodology is used, research can massively improve performance and add value to your business.

Always keep your audience in mind

One thing I’ve noticed so far in my new position, is that few people care for the semantics of research. What clients ask for is knowledge on how a piece of research will directly help them. It is very rare that people what to hear the intricate details of studies, and therefore it is vital to be relevant and solution focused. Using simple summaries and sticking to the practical implications of research is a great place to start, and if more information is required, that’s when you can go into more detail.

It’s essential to remember the goals of your audience. If you are working in the private sector, stay focused on the commercial benefits of research. If it’s the public sector, think of how research can assist the wider population. Never lose sight of who you are helping and use research which is relevant to this. Don’t be fixated on a single idea if it isn’t applicable to the people who will be using it.

How research helps

Using research as a foundation for practice can lead to very prosperous outcomes. Here at Optimum Consulting, we try to utilise research in everything we do.

From a recruitment point of view, we offer the ability to conduct psychometric assessments as part of the recruitment process. This is shown to improve the chance of finding the right candidate for a position and leads to greater validity in final decision making.

Similarly, our HR consulting services are also founded on research. Our own Employee Life™ tool was created in line with the latest advances in neuroscience while remaining practically relevant. This bespoke, cloud based tool allows companies to communicate, measure engagement, assist in career development, set goals, and receive feedback all in real time.

Research has massive benefits in practice when used effectively! If you want to learn more about how this can help your business, or if you want to explore our different service offerings here at Optimum, please get in touch.

Daniel Cosgrove – Consultant

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