Action Research Design for Solving a Business Problem

Action research (AR) design is the applied research aimed at solving practitioner problems and encompasses both the collection and evaluation data, as well as undertaking particular initiatives. Such initiatives are focused on solving a specific problem, improving a process, or addressing a deficiency. AR adheres to the plan-act-reflect pattern that is repeated multiple times to concentrate on sound and feasible findings. According to Coates (2005), AR engages practitioners in examining their professional practice and developing their own questions. Furthermore, it provides methods to broaden “people’s behavior and worldviews” (Marshall et al., 2017, p. 98). Thus, by linking the research process to the action, it makes a significant difference.

Action research within the business sector can be implemented through a variety of models. They include PhD model, DBA model, the Figure of Eight Framework, the Dialectical Soft Systems Framework, and the use of grounded theory as AR (Sankaran & Hou, 2003). Such research has the ultimate goal of evaluating, developing, and enhancing one’s entrepreneurial practice. The following research is grounded in a complex organizational transformation initiative encountered by a family-managed food industry enterprise through an action research project.

Description of the Problem

The organizational transformation within a complex business complex poses a critical challenge that involves a more comprehensive theoretical analysis. The key issue might be exploring the potential interactions of individual and plural perceptions of leadership at the top of the management. A transformational leadership embodies a corporate culture aimed at infusing a vision that encourages the leader’s followers to surpass the individual performance and, thus, act in the collective interest. The action research is focused on the leadership transformation by demonstrating the findings regarding key stakeholders, actions, and behaviors. The main research question that guides this business study is: Does the organizational change, together with its different stages, affect the individual and plural leadership, as well as the implementation of various transformation driving forces?

In addition, the research examines the process of organizational change in terms of leadership and records the dynamics of employing a CEO who is not a family member. Family-owned enterprises encompass the critical issue of business and family relationships, which might define particular organizational features and progress, specifically concerning relationships between family and non-family employees. Therefore, the following research is conducted within the family business context that determines the nature of relationships with employees, managerial roles, and strategic decisions. As such, developing a successful transformational plan and research might require the effective dynamic management of different leading subjects.

Proposed Plan for the Action Research Project

The successful implementation of the action research depends on a well-developed plan before the research project. Iterative by its nature, the plan should define the overall strategy for undertaking the proposed research. As described by Adams et al. (2014), action research is closely associated with planning and introducing policy changes. By engaging qualified researchers, the overall process implies the monitoring and possible evaluation of the AR effects, which is why it is also called evaluative research. Action research is considered the appropriate choice for change situations since it aims to lead the change and, therefore, sets the change as the ultimate goal (Fig. 1). First, the overall AR project should be based on high-standard collaborative relations, such as forming a team of researchers and practitioners from the company. More specifically, the research relies on creativity and organizational transformation in family-owned enterprise.

The AR plan focuses on the organizational transformation process and indications of leadership to promote research findings that can be applied for subsequent business strategies. Following ideas of Dick (2014), the action research plan should be developed according to the following steps of the change process, such as:

  • entry and contracting,
  • diagnosis,
  • intervention,
  • evaluation,
  • closure.

With that said, the following actions should be considered for the action research project targeted at the organizational change process in the leadership context. First, one should enter the client system and undertake negotiations concerning their role and the role of the researcher. After that, they collaborate on defining the area of interest that needs the transformation. The final stages imply remedy intervention and withdrawing from the system. The transitional stage of evaluation should be immersed in every action research cycle.

The main scope of the research team’s inquiry process encompasses developing the research process, including the ongoing meetings, cooperative creation of data collection tools, and collective data interpretation. Furthermore, the key stakeholders that need to be involved in this AR project are chief executive, family members that run the business, senior managers, middle managers, as well as practitioners and experts. The major steps regarding the defined problem of the family-managed business and transformational change of the organization cover the long-term plan. The primary idea of engaging the outsider CEO into the family-owned business might be caused by significant net losses. The proposed actions cover the initial steps regarding the transformation process of the organization. After that, the research collaboration begins together with empirical inquiry. The final stage of transformation is followed by the end of the research. The next action implies positioning a CEO in the family succession and further interviews. The transformation itself consists of the following steps, such as the initial phase, the first part of core transformation, the second part of core transformation, and the final phase.

Systemic organizational cultural change model. Retrieved from Molineux (2018), Using action research for change in organizations: processes, reflections and outcomes
Figure 1. Systemic organizational cultural change model. Retrieved from Molineux (2018), Using action research for change in organizations: processes, reflections and outcomes

Identification of Data Resulting from the Proposed Action

The action research approach helps assess the needs, record the steps of inquiry, examine data, and make informed decisions that might result in targeted results. According to Ferrance (2000), data collection is crucial in deciding what action needs to be taken. The broad range of sources is also applied for better understanding of the extent of activities within the analyzed field. Data for the following study is examined in the context of a wider, long-term action and collaborative research process and is conducted through semi-structured interviews. Therefore, the data is based on the answers developed for the interviews, including questions focused on organizational transformation, the critical activities and drivers, the stakeholders, and leadership styles.

The data resulting from the proposed actions should provide the proper information about the actions that are carried out, the coordination between leaders and relevant roles, and the success of particular goals. It is planned to apply the iterative approach to coding through three phases until a reached agreement between the researchers concerning categorization and sense-making of the data. Such codes primarily refer to the transformation activities and related behaviors and are arranged into categories that demonstrate the correlation between transformation activities and leadership behaviors, including individual or plural, and transactional or transformational ones. The data received shows the recurrent patterns of three main indications of leadership regarding the phases of the transformation.

Evaluation and Reflection on the Data: Forecasting Actions for Next Iteration

The data is shared with the researchers and the CEO after analysis to reach a shared understanding and explanation of the data and evaluate the findings. Action research is based on strong ethics, including “emancipatory values and an inclusive and dynamic worldview” (Molineux, 2018, p. 21). Hence, such a research approach contributes to authentic collaboration and helps define the intentions. With that said, action research, as the participative and reflective method, promotes social and business situations by generating critical knowledge. During the transformation process for the following study of the family-owned company, three recurrent models of leadership were defined, considering both individual and plural leadership behaviors and interaction with the transformation drivers. Such manifestations that emerged from the AR data include communicating leadership, envisioning leadership, and enabling leadership. Actions for the next iteration might investigate new variables in relation to drivers of transformation and leadership integration, including broader contexts compared to the family business, corporate culture and vision, and various forms of leadership.


Understanding the organizational changes and leading transformation within the business sector is indeed a complex issue to examine. This study defined action research design and its successful implementation into adopting different transformation drivers to promote the organizational transformation of the family-owned business. The three recurrent leadership indications were identified based on leadership behaviors regarding transformational changes in business. By defining the business problem, developing the AR plan, analyzing the data, and key stakeholders, one might take significant benefits from this research methodology and apply it for further business research situations.


Adams, J., Raeside, R., & Khan, H. (2014). Research methods for business and social science students (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications.

Coates, M. (2005). Action research: A guide for associate lecturers. The Open University.

Dick, B. (2014). Areol, action research and evaluation on line, as a web-based program. Areol.

Ferrance, E. (2000). Action research: Themes in education. LAB, Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University.

Marshall, J., Coleman, G., & Reason, P. (2017). Leadership for sustainability: An action research approach. Routledge.

Molineux, J. (2018). Using action research for change in organizations: processes, reflections and outcomes. Journal of Work-Applied Management, 10(1), 19–34.

Sankaran, S., & Hou, T.B. (2003). Action research models in business research, pp. 8–12.

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