I am interested in several research topics related to organization design and organization architects, including leadership, design thinking and practice, systems thinking and theory, quality management, performance excellence, and sustainability and leadership. Initially, I focused on performance excellence assessment and improvement using management models such as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In 2006, when I was the director of the Monfort Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, we planned and hosted a “summit” meeting of academic researchers and executives that produced a research agenda for the Institute (Latham, 2008). This collaborative summit meeting began a more coherent research agenda that has evolved and occupied my time since. Over time my research has evolved to focus on leading transformation and management design to achieve sustainable excellence. My research informs my practice and is the foundation of my studio.
Many of the most interesting management questions require collaboration with researchers from multiple disciplines, including operations research, systems thinking, design, quality management, and sustainability are all cross-disciplinary. In a 2013 paper on the future of research in quality management, I call for more collaborative cross-disciplinary research on the concept of Leadership + Design = Sustainable Excellence (Evans & QMJ Editorial Board, 2013, pp. 51-52). I know firsthand how hard it is to conduct and publish cross-disciplinary research. However, we need to figure out how to do this because some of the most important questions in management appear to be cross-disciplinary.
In the last several years, I focused on two interrelated areas of leading transformation and organizational design. In a “Perspectives” paper in 2014, I introduced the leadership research framework depicted above (Latham, 2014). In this paper, I call for the convergence of leadership theory that integrates servant, spiritual, transformational, and transactional theories into a coherent understanding of the three dimensions for leading an organizational transformation to sustainable excellence – the leadership system, the leadership style, and the individual leader. I use various research methods to conduct and publish quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research.
The conceptual framework Leadership + Design = Sustainable Excellence guides my research (Latham, 2014). The framework has emerged from previous research, practice, and collaboration with other researchers and practitioners (Latham, 2008) and eventually evolved into an overall “guide” for my research agenda. My research interests focus on discovering new insights and contributions to theories that can improve the human condition related to life in modern organizations and the value they create for multiple stakeholders. The framework includes three main parts: leadership (individual, style, and system), design (methods and management systems), and stakeholder value or sustainable excellence (the value created for multiple stakeholders).
Initially, I was a reluctant leadership researcher. My research agenda focused on organization design and systems that create sustainable value for multiple stakeholders. However, as Dr. Deming pointed out, leaders are the only ones with the authority and power to change the system. Consequently, I became interested in leaders as “architects” of their organizations and how they successfully lead the transformation of their organizations to achieve and sustain high performance. I focus on the leader as an organization designer and builder of the organization and systems. The leadership aspects of the framework include three key areas: individual leader characteristics, leadership style (behaviors), and leadership system (activities). The individual leader characteristics include personality, attitudes, motivations, worldview, talents, abilities, spiritual life, purpose, meaning, and so on. These individual characteristics influence the leader’s behaviors which combine to create a particular leadership style. The individual leader and their style influence the activities the leader chooses, how they do them, and how well they do them. This leadership triangle influences the organizational environment and the people who occupy that environment. | Leading Transformation Research
Leaders, whether they like it or not, wield power (position and personal) that influences the organizational environment and the degree to which it facilitates the creation of value for multiple stakeholders. The organizational environment includes the organization’s systems, the organizational culture, and the individuals who interact with the systems and culture. All too often, we study leadership and its impact on only one organizational environment dimension (or sometimes part of one dimension) and ignore the impact on the other two dimensions. This sometimes leads to leadership approaches that can detract from overall organizational performance. This framework suggests that to truly assess the effectiveness of the leadership triangle, one must understand how it affects all three organizational environment dimensions. I am also interested in learning more about the leader as the organization’s architect. Much of my focus in this area has been on developing design methods, principles, and considerations related to organization and management design methods and understanding how the design of specific management systems and models create value for multiple stakeholders or sustainable excellence. | Organization Design Research
The “true test” of leadership and design is their results. Stakeholder value or sustainable excellence is the dependent variable in this research framework and the formula. It is measured by a comprehensive scorecard that includes measures for multiple stakeholder groups. The notion here is that leadership and design are assessed based on their impact on six key stakeholder groups: customers (patients, students, etc.); workforce (including contractors and volunteers); investors (including donors and taxpayers); suppliers and partners; the community; and the natural environment. The measures of value for each of the six groups are assessed on three dimensions: (a) the level of performance; (b) the trends and slope; and (c) the comparison of the levels and trends to other relevant comparison organizations, standards, requirements, so on and so forth. My research interests are focused on studying the leadership and management models and methods used by organizations that have achieved ever-improving results across a comprehensive scorecard that represents multiple stakeholders and, thus, sustainable excellence.
While many academics search for universal solutions and generalizable research findings, most organizations seek unique competitive advantages. This is particularly true for strategy. Organizations are designed and constructed by humans for humans and thus can be redesigned and changed. Many of our efforts to understand human behavior are limited to these constructed contexts in which the participants work. This makes it difficult to generalize about many of the phenomena we study. The trick is to determine how and to what extent the context influences various human behaviors, activities, and organizational results. For many practical reasons, most research only considers some of the variables I propose in this research framework. This is part of the reason leadership research is a “messy landscape.”
Latham, J. R. (2008). Building bridges between researchers and practitioners: A collaborative approach to research in performance excellence. Quality Management Journal, 15(1), 20.
Evans, J. R., & QMJ Editorial Board. (2013). Insights on the future of quality management research. Quality Management Journal, 20(1), 8.
Latham, J. R. (2014). Leadership for quality and innovation: Challenge, theories, and a framework for future research. Quality Management Journal, 21(1), 5.
Research Canvas Book
The Research Canvas is a FREE ebook about the “art” and “science” of research design. It is a “how-to” guide for getting the “DNA” of your research study designed and aligned before writing more detailed descriptions of the methodology. The book emerged from my experience in doing my research over the past several years and helping other researchers learn the “craft” of research. The book addresses the nine components of the research design framework.