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Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

Describe action research and compare Lewin’s model with those of at least two other OD theorists.

State the importance of considering multiple levels of analysis in the planning phase.

Identify the steps of the planning phase.

Describe different types of research.

Describe different types of research methodologies.

Discuss �ive methods of gathering organization data, including strengths and weaknesses of each.

Discuss methods of analyzing the data collected.

Explain how to prepare for and manage the feedback meeting, including how to address con�identiality concerns and manage defensiveness
and resistance.

In Chapter 3, the QuickCo vignette provided one example of how OD consultants work. Jack, the internal OD consultant at QuickCo, led his clients, Ned (the shipping
supervisor) and Sarah (the manufacturing manager), through an action research process to solve communication and teamwork problems in the shipping
department. Action research, the process OD consultants follow to plan and implement change, follows three general phases:

1. Planning. Data is collected, analyzed, and shared with the client to determine corrective action.
2. Doing. Action is taken to correct the problem.
3. Checking. The effectiveness of the intervention is evaluated, and the cycle is repeated as needed.

Let us return to the QuickCo vignette and examine the action research steps taken. Ned and Sarah met with Jack to outline how employees were at each other’s
throats, letting con�licts fester, and failing to work well together. Their �irst meeting incorporated their planning phase. As explained in Chapter 3, this initial
meeting is known as contracting. During the meeting, Jack asked questions to begin identifying the root cause of the con�licted department. The three struck a
collaborative agreement and worked to devise a plan for resolving the issues.

The �irst action they took was to collect data. Jack reviewed the performance trends and customer complaints from the shipping department and interviewed the
employees individually about their views on the problems.

The planning also involved analyzing the data Jack collected to arrive at a diagnosis. When he met with Ned and Sarah to share feedback from the data collection,
Jack presented his analysis, noting, “Ned and Sarah, you have a dysfunctional team on your hands. They have no ground rules, collaboration, or means of handling

Action Research: The Planning
Phase

4

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Following the action research process helped the QuickCo
shipping department resolve employees’ interpersonal
con�licts.

con�lict. Everyone needs to be more understanding and respectful toward each other. It would also be helpful to create some guidelines for how the team wants to
operate and manage con�lict. Ned, you also need to take a more active role in resolving issues.”

Jack laid the problems out in a matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental way. Once all the analyzed data was presented, the three worked jointly to plan an intervention to
address the problems. They agreed to take the group through a facilitated process to address communication and team effectiveness. They also agreed that Ned
would bene�it from individualized executive coaching to help him learn behaviors that would be more productive for dealing with con�lict.

The second phase of action research, doing, occurred when Jack, Ned, and Sarah scheduled the intervention with the shipping department and implemented it. The
outcome of the intervention was a tangible plan for the department for how to be more effective, including speci�ic actions they would take to address con�lict.

The �inal phase, checking, involved Ned, Sarah, and Jack continuing to monitor the shipping
department after the intervention. Ned helped the department uphold its new ground rules on
a daily basis and coached employees to help them stick to the plan. He also asked for regular
feedback on his own management skills as part of his ongoing coaching. Ned, Sarah, and Jack
reviewed departmental data on productivity and customer complaints and learned that the
timeliness and accuracy of shipped orders had signi�icantly improved. Jack followed up a few
months later by conducting individual interviews with shipping department members. He
discovered that the solutions had been maintained. If and when new con�licts arise, or new
members join the team, it may be time to start the action research process over again to
address new issues.

The QuickCo vignette demonstrates all three phases of the action research process. This
chapter focuses on the �irst phase, planning. Chapters 5 and 6 provide a similarly detailed
look at the second and �inal phases, doing and checking, respectively. But before turning to
the planning phase, let us review action research.

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4.1 A Review of Action Research

Chapter 1 de�ined OD as a process of planned change that is grounded in a humanistic, democratic ethic. This speci�ic process of planned change is known as
action research.

De�ining Action Research

Action research is a recurring, collaborative effort between organization members and OD consultants to use data to resolve problems. As such, it involves
data collection, analysis, intervention, and evaluation. Essentially, it is a repeating cycle of action and research, action and research. However, the words action
research reverse the actual sequence (Brown, 1972), in that “research is conducted �irst and then action is taken as a direct result of what the research data
are interpreted to indicate” (Burke, 1992, p. 54). Moreover, the cycle yields new knowledge about the organization and its issues that becomes useful for
addressing future problems. It thereby allows organizations to improve processes and practices while simultaneously learning about those practices and
processes, the organization, and the change process itself.

Action research provides evidence, which enables a consultant to avoid guesswork about what the issue is and how to resolve it. According to French and Bell
(1999),

Action research is the process of systematically collecting research data about an ongoing system relative to some objective, goal, or need of that
system; feeding these data back into the system; taking actions by altering selected variables within the system based both on the data and on
hypotheses; and evaluating the results of actions by collecting more data. (p. 130)

Action Research Is a Democratic Approach to Problem Solving
Many theorists have characterized action research as democratic and collaborative:

“Action research is a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes,
grounded in a participatory worldview” (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 1).
“Action research is the application of the scienti�ic method of fact-�inding and experimentation to practical problems requiring action solutions and
involving the collaboration and cooperation of scientists, practitioners, and laypersons” (French & Bell, 1999, p. 131).
“Action research approaches are radical to the extent that they advocate replacing existing forms of social organization” (Coghlan & Brannick, 2010, p.
6).

In addition, Coghlan and Brannick (2010) identi�ied broad characteristics of action research:

Research in action, rather than research about action
A collaborative, democratic partnership
Research concurrent with action
A sequence of events and an approach to problem solving (p. 4)

These de�initions are similar in that they all characterize action research as a democratic, data-driven, problem-solving, learning-based approach to
organization improvement. Some other examples of how organizations apply action research include a nonpro�it organization that surveys donors or
bene�iciaries before engaging in strategic planning, a government department that conducts a needs analysis prior to a training program, or a corporation that
conducts exit interviews before initiating recruitment for positions.

Consider This

Can you recall a project in your organization that involved members in a collaborative problem-solving mission? Chances are it was action research,
even if that terminology was not used. Can you think of any other examples?

Action Research Helps Clients Build Capacity for Future Problem Solving
Although typically guided by a consultant, action research engages key stakeholders in the process. Indeed, its effectiveness depends on the active engagement
and accountability of the stakeholders. As discussed in Chapter 3, OD consultants are responsible for in�luencing the action research process while at the same
time exercising restraint to avoid solving the problem for the client.

An example can illuminate how action research helps the client build problem-solving capacity. Suppose an organization introduces a process of assimilating
new leaders when they join it (action). The organization hires a consultant to survey team members about this initiative’s effectiveness (research). The client
and the consultant collaborate to develop the survey and analyze the results. What is learned informs continued assimilation of new leaders and the way the
process gets modi�ied (action). The client is initially engaged to learn the process so that it can be repeated in the future without the help of a consultant. The
action research process helps the organization collect, analyze, and apply data to make informed decisions and not waste time and money on inappropriate
interventions. Helping organizations become pro�icient at the action research process is the outcome of effective consulting, because the best consultants work
themselves out of a job.

Models of Action Research

Recall from Chapter 1 that action research originated with the work of Kurt Lewin, the father of OD. Lewin’s model (1946/1997) includes a prestep (in which
the context and purpose of the OD effort are identi�ied), followed by planning, action, and fact �inding (evaluation). Several models of action research generally
follow Lewin’s, although the number and names of steps may vary. See Table 4.1 for a comparison.

Table 4.1: Comparison of action research models to Lewin’s original model

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Lewin’s (1946/1997) original
action research steps

Cummings and Worley (2018) Coghlan (2019) Stringer (2013)

1. Prestep to determine context
and purpose

1. Entering and contracting 0. Prestep: Understanding
context and purpose of the
issue

1. Constructing: Determining
what the issues are

1. Look
a. Gather relevant

information
b. Build a picture;

describe the situation

2. Planning 2. Diagnosing 2. Planning action 2. Think
a. Explore and analyze
b. Interpret and explain

3. Action 3. Planning and implementing
change

3. Taking action 3. Act
a. Plan
b. Implement
c. Evaluate

4. Fact �inding (evaluation) 4. Evaluating and
institutionalizing change

4. Evaluating action

Figure 4.1: Plan, do, check action research cycle

The plan, do, check model of action research was popularized by the total quality movement. The contemporary
research cycle has more steps, although it essentially accomplishes the same steps of diagnosing and designing (plan),
implementing (do), and evaluating (check). For more detail, select a phase in the interactive �igure.

The model of action research used in this book has three phases, paralleling Lewin’s (1946/1997) model (Figure 4.1): planning, doing, and checking. (See Who
Invented That? Plan, Do, Check Cycle to read about the person who originally developed plan, do, check.) Each phase has substeps derived from multiple action
research models:

1. Planning (the discovery phase)
a. Diagnosing the issue
b. Gathering data on the issue
c. Analyzing the data gathered
d. Sharing feedback (data analysis) with the client
e. Planning of action to address the issue

2. Doing (the action phase)
a. Learning related to the issue
b. Changing related to the issue

3. Checking (the evaluative phase)
a. Assessing changes

Plan

DoCheck

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b. Adjusting processes
c. Ending or recycling (back to the planning stage) the action research process

The action research steps may look simple, and it may appear that planning change is a neat, orderly, and rational process. In reality, though, it can be chaotic,
political, and shifting, with unexpected developments and outcomes. Nevertheless, learning the action research process equips consultants with a proven
method for navigating such shifts as they work with clients on organization challenges.

Who Invented That? Plan, Do, Check Cycle

Although often attributed to quality guru W. Edwards Deming, the plan, do, check cycle was created by Walter A. Shewhart of Bell Labs. Shewhart was
an American physicist, engineer, and statistician who was one of the originators of statistical quality control, which preceded the total quality movement.

Consider This

In your life, what example do you have of action research? How have you employed plan, do, check? What actions or adjustments were necessary?

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4.2 Planning: The Discovery Phase

When beginning an OD intervention, the initial steps taken to identify the problem and gather data about it are known as planning. The planning phase is a
diagnostic one. The client and consultant work with other organization stakeholders to study the problem and determine the difference between desired
outcomes and actual outcomes. The discrepancy between what is and what should be is known as a performance gap. For example, if an organization aspires
to be �irst in quality in the industry but lags behind in second or third place, that would be a performance gap. The organization would have to engage in
performance improvement practices to close the gap with its competitors. Or, perhaps a leader receives feedback that she is not as skilled at leadership as she
had thought. The leader begins to work with a mentor or coach to identify what behaviors she needs to be more effective. By improving listening, recognition,
and delegation behaviors, the leader begins to narrow the gap between her current and desired future leadership performance.

Organizations perform gap analysis to assess reasons for a gap between reality and the desired outcome. The performance gap idea can also be applied to
yourself. Let us say you aspire to a managerial position but have not achieved it. Upon analyzing the gap, you realize you lack the training and experience to
attain the position. If you decide to eliminate the gap, you might enroll in a graduate program, earn a leadership certi�icate, or �ind a mentor to help you attain
your goal. Consider a performance gap you have experienced and complete the chart in Figure 4.2.

Figure 4.2: Performance gap analysis

Use this chart to assess your own performance gap. Identify a desired reality—perhaps running a 5K. Next, honestly
note your current performance goal: Can you run around the block? Run or walk for a mile? Once you determine the
gap, �ill out the middle column with speci�ic action steps to move closer to your goal—how will you close the gap?
Download this �igure as a worksheet (https://media.thuze.com/MediaService/MediaService.svc/constellation/book/Bierema.
6269.20.1/{pdfs}performancegapanalysis_form.pdf) .

Now that you have applied the gap analysis to yourself, let’s think about using it in an organization setting. Identify a desired reality—perhaps being �irst to
market with a new technology. Next, honestly note the organization’s current reality. In the case of introducing the technology: Does it have the right people to
do the work? Is the technology ready for market? Is the marketing campaign ready to go? Once you determine the gap, �ill out the middle column with speci�ic
action steps to move the organization closer to its goal—how will you close the gap? What would be the desired reality in your own organization? How
equipped is it to close the gap? What other performance gaps have you experienced?

Bene�its of the Planning Phase

Planning is a critical phase of OD, because poor plans will result in poor outcomes such as �ixing the wrong problem, wasting time and resources, and
frustrating organization members. The bene�its of good planning include setting the OD process up for success through careful analysis and diagnosis of the
problem; engaging organization members from the beginning in the processes of collaboration, ongoing learning, and capacity building in the action research
process; and prioritizing issues. See Tips and Wisdom: Alan Lakein to read and apply tips about planning.

Tips and Wisdom: Alan Lakein

Time management guru Alan Lakein is credited with coining the phrase “Failing to plan is planning to fail” (as cited in Johnson & Louis, 2013, para. 1).
This advice is to be heeded in OD. Planning is key to effective interventions. How does Lakein’s quotation apply to your experience?

Many organizations rely on professionals to steer them through complex and changing environments with planned responses to problems and challenges.
These professionals are known as organization development (OD) consultants. Also called OD practitioners, human resource developers, human resource
managers, or learning and development professionals, OD consultants are skilled at assessing problems, providing direct feedback to the organization, and
in�luencing change. OD consultants help lead organizations through interventions that are based on careful study and preparation and are grounded in the
behavioral sciences. the systematic study of human behavior such as psychology, sociology, or anthropology, that attempts to make generalizations about how
humans will act in certain situations. The key stakeholder in the OD process is known as the client. Sometimes there is more than one type of client. For
instance, the person who initially contacts the OD consultant may provide introductory information about the problem but not be the owner of the problem or
the person paying for the services. It is important for OD consultants to correctly identify the client—an issue we will cover in Chapter 3.

Levels of Analysis

Before we delve into the steps of the planning phase, we should understand the location of the OD effort—that is, the level at which the action research might
occur. This is known as the level of analysis. The OD effort might focus on the individual, group, organization, or system. Each level comes with its own issues,

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needs, and appropriate interventions. These levels, along with appropriate interventions, were discussed in Chapter 2.

All levels of analysis, from the individual to the system, face similar issues. Cockman, Evans, and Reynolds (1996) categorized organization issues according to
purpose and task, structure, people, rewards, procedures, or technology:

Purpose and task refers to identifying the reason the organization exists and how its members advance its mission.
Structure pertains to reporting relationships and how formal and informal power relations affect the organization.
People issues relate to relationships, leadership, training, communication, emotions, motivation and morale, and organization culture.
Rewards systems include �inancial and non�inancial incentives available for performance and perceived equity among employees.
Procedures include decision-making processes, formal communication channels, and policies. These are an important category for analysis.
Technology involves assessing whether the organization has the necessary equipment, machinery, technology, information, and transport to
accomplish its tasks.

Table 4.2 identi�ies questions to ask about each area of Cockman, Evans, and Reynolds’s levels of analysis.

Table 4.2: Cockman, Evans, and Reynolds’s organizational issues and diagnostic questions

Organizational issues Diagnostic questions

Purpose and tasks What business are we in?
What do people do?

Structure Who reports to whom?
Where is the power?

People How are relationships managed?
What training is provided?
Who communicates with whom?
How do people feel?
How high is motivation and morale?
What is the culture?

Rewards What are the incentives to perform well?

Procedures What are the decision-making procedures?
What are the channels of communication?
What are the control systems?

Technology Does the organization have the necessary equipment, machinery, information technology,
transport, and information?

Source: From Client-Centered Consulting: Getting Your Expertise Used When You’re Not in Charge, by P. Cockman, B. Evans, & P. Reynolds, 1996, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Identify a performance gap you are aware of personally or professionally and see if you can answer Cockman, Evans, and Reynolds’s questions.

Steps in the Planning Phase

The steps in the planning phase include identifying the problem area, gathering data, analyzing the data, sharing feedback, and planning action. These steps
illuminate the core problem and identify key information for making an intervention.

Step 1: Preliminary Diagnosis of the Issue
When an OD process is initiated, it is imperative that the problem be correctly de�ined. Doing so involves a process of diagnosis. A consultant’s job is to push
the client to identify the root cause of the problem, rather than its symptoms. Considering the QuickCo example, it might have been easy for Ned to decide to
put the department through a customer service training based on the symptoms of late, erroneous orders. Had he done so, however, it likely would have
worsened matters, because no amount of customer service training would �ix the department’s interpersonal con�licts, poor communication, and ineffective
con�lict resolution. It may take intensive study and data collection to accurately diagnose a problem, but doing so is well worth it.

The action research process begins by de�ining a problem that warrants attention. Consultants must ask good questions to illuminate a problem’s source. They
can then move on to the next step in the planning phase. Questions a consultant might ask a client include the following:

“What do you think is causing the problem?”
“What have you tried to �ix it?”
“How has this attempt to �ix the problem worked?”
“What has been stopping you from fully addressing this issue?”

In addition to asking questions to pinpoint the issue, consultants must ask questions about who else will be involved in the OD effort. Also, as Chapter 3
explored, a consultant needs to uncover the client’s expectations regarding the duration of the project and make sure the client is willing to assume an equal
responsibility for outcomes.

Good questioning enhances one’s authenticity as a consultant. How have you diagnosed problems in your organization? Have you ever misdiagnosed an
issue? What were the consequences?

Step 2: Gathering Data on the Issue
Once QuickCo diagnosed the team’s lack of communication and interpersonal effectiveness as the source of the problem, it was ready to collect information to
inform next steps. This is known as data gathering. Data can be gathered in many ways. The most common data collection methods in action research include
interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, direct observation, and document analysis.

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Collecting data ensures the OD process is evidence based.

Jack, the internal QuickCo consultant, took several steps to better understand the problem.
He reviewed performance trends and customer complaints, interviewed department
members, and relied on his own working knowledge and observations of the department to
formulate a solid understanding of the issues. What types of data have you gathered to
better understand organization issues? Methods of data gathering are explored in detail in
the next section of this chapter.

Step 3: Analyzing the Data
Once data has been collected, it must be turned into something meaningful and useful for the
client. Data collected to provide information about a problem is not useful until it is
interpreted in ways that inform the issue and provide clues to possible interventions. For
example, a survey is not helpful unless it is examined within the organization’s context. Data analysis will be more fully de�ined in the data analysis methods
section later in this chapter.

Step 4: Sharing Feedback With the Client
Once data has been collected and analyzed, a feedback meeting is scheduled in which results are presented to the client. In the QuickCo example, Jack met
with Ned and Sarah to share his analysis. Feedback meetings require careful planning to keep the consultancy on track. Consultants should decide on the key
purpose and desired outcomes for the meeting. For example, do they want the client to better understand the problem? Agree on a course of action? Confront
some issues affecting the problem? Sharing feedback with the client involves determining the focus of the feedback meeting, developing the agenda for
feedback, recognizing different types of feedback, presenting feedback effectively, managing the consulting presence during the meeting, addressing
con�identiality concerns, and anticipating defensiveness and resistance.

Step 5: Planning Action to Address the Issue
The last step of the planning or discovery phase is to plan the action that will be taken. This planning might occur during the feedback meeting, or you might
schedule a time at a later date to give the client an opportunity to digest the data analysis and feedback. The outcome of the planning is to design the activity,
action, or event that will be the organization’s response to the issue. This is known as an intervention. The type of intervention selected depends on the
organization’s readiness and capability to change, the cultural context, and the capabilities of the OD consultant and internal change agent (Cummings &
Worley, 2018). The intervention will also target strategy, technology and structure, and human resource or human process issues. The consultant and the
client will collaboratively plan the appropriate intervention(s) to address the issue. Chapter 5 will address interventions in detail.

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4.3 Types of Research

OD is a joint endeavor between the client and the consultant that includes data gathering and analysis. Involving clients in the data collection process
reinforces their commitment to the OD process. The consultant’s role in this process is to help the client focus on the root cause of the problem and to
organize the data collection and interpretation. A consultant’s objectivity can be very helpful to clients, enhancing their understanding of how they might be
contributing to the problem or how the issue plays out within the broader organization context.

Einstein is credited with saying, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” (as cited in Albert Einstein Site, 2012, para.
4). People conduct research when they have questions that do not have obvious answers. Depending on the question they wish to answer, there are differing
types of research.

Basic Research

The word research might evoke images of people working in labs, examining petri dish cultures, and making new discoveries. This type of research is known …

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