I am interested in a variety of 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. Originally my focus was 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 was the beginning of 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 that I have 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 formula Leadership + Design = Sustainable Excellence™ (Evans & QMJ Editorial Board, 2013, pp. 51-52). I am aware of just how hard it is to conduct and publish that kind of 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.
The last several years I have been focused on two inter-related areas of leading transformation and management design. In a “Perspectives” paper in 2014, I introduce the leadership research framework described 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 a variety of research methods and have conducted and published quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research.
The Leadership + Design = Sustainable Excellence™ research framework is the conceptual framework that guides my research (Latham, 2014). It is a visual depiction of the key constructs and relationships in the formula. 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 own research agenda. My research interests are focused on discovering new insights and contributions to theories that can be used to improve the human condition related life in modern organizations and the value they create for the multiple stakeholders. The framework can be divided into 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).
My focus is on the leader as organization architect or designer and builder of the organization and systems. The leadership aspects of the framework are divided into three key areas: the individual characteristics, the leadership style (behaviors), and the leadership system (activities). The individual leader characteristics include concepts such as personality, attitudes, motivations, world view, talents, abilities, spiritual life, purpose, and meaning, so on and so forth. 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 to do, how they do them, and how well they do them. This leadership triangle influences the organizational environment and the people who occupy that environment. I have several research projects focused on different aspects of this triangle including | leading transformation | motivational and attitudinal patterns | spiritual leadership | servant leadership
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 is composed of the organization systems, the organizational culture, and the individuals who interact with the systems and culture. All too often we study leadership and the 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 putting forth 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 architect of the organization. Much of my focus in this areas 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.
The “true test” of leadership + design is the results they produce. In this research framework and the formula, stakeholder value or sustainable excellence is the dependent variable and is measured by a comprehensive scorecard that includes measures for each of the 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 to most academics search for universal solutions and generalizable research findings, most organizations are searching for 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 make generalizations about many of the phenomenon that we study. The trick is to figure out how, and to what extent, the context influences each of the various human behaviors, activities, and organizational results. For many practical reasons most research never actually considers all of the variables that I propose in this research framework. This is part of the reason leadership research is a “messy landscape.” And maybe it will always be 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. | Download
- Evans, J. R., & QMJ Editorial Board. (2013). Insights on the future of quality management research. Quality Management Journal, 20(1), 8. | Download
- Latham, J. R. (2014). Leadership for quality and innovation: Challenge, theories, and a framework for future research. Quality Management Journal, 21(1), 5. | Download