Not All Research is Meaningful

by Mike Myatt

Not All Research is MeaningfulJust because something gets published doesn’t necessarily mean it has any value. In fact, misleading or wrong information that finds its way into the public domain can be quite harmful. I just finished reading a research study conducted by Harvard Business School (HBS) that is nothing short of academic hoo-hah, and is a case study with everything that’s wrong with business schools today. The HBS research is laughable, and lends credence to the old axiom “don’t believe everything you read.” While the study accurately concludes there is value in CEOs spending time with employees and directors (duh), the conclusion that there is no value in CEOs spending time externally makes me cringe.

Where a CEO chooses to spend their time is without doubt an important decision. Furthermore, it would be a gross simplification to create an either/or scenario by suggesting that spending time in one arena vs another holds more value. The simple truth is that CEOs need to spend time with a wide variety of constituencies (that’s the job), and the best CEOs know how to generate a return on their time regardless of who they’re meeting with. I don’t disagree with Harvard’s point that spending time with employees and directors is valuable, I just disagree that time spent with other individuals and groups has no value.

Having a sample pool of CEOs that I’ve worked with which is far larger than that of the 94 CEOs tracked in the HBS study, I can tell you with great certainty that my experience differs from the conclusions drawn by the professors who authored the study. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if I interviewed the 94 CEOs tracked in the study they would agree with my conclusions more than those produced by the study itself. The following statement exposes either an extreme bias or a very healthy naïveté: “the time CEOs spent with outsiders had no measurable correlation with firm performance.” The aforementioned statement is utterly ridiculous and patently false.

To be fair, CEOs who squander their external facing time don’t get much of a return on said time, but then again, they don’t typically remain in the C-suite for very long. However my experience with CEOs is that engagement with external constituencies is highly productive. Following are a few questions for you to ponder – When a CEO meets with a prospective customer and generates a huge contract, does that not impact performance? What about when a CEO favorably negotiates a contract dispute that both saves an existing account and avoids costly litigation – no value here either? How about when a CEO improves credit accommodations which result in substantial reduction in interest carry? I guess that doesn’t count as productive either. While I’m at it, I guess an accretive acquisition, lowering manufacturing costs by making supply chain enhancements, making key external hires, or opening new distribution channels or geographic markets probably didn’t get on the radar screen of the faculty either.

The study had other flaws such as viewing CEOs as predominantly management types as opposed to leaders, inaccurate allocations of how CEOs spend their time, and other fallacies that could only surface in the halls of academia. The point I want to make here is just because research is produced at a business school, shouldn’t automatically qualify it as good research. Bottom line – just because this study found no corollary between CEOs spending time with constituencies outside the company and gains in performance doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means that the study was biased, flawed or both.

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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