Approaches to Managing Uncertainty

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Introduction

This chapter outlines the theoretical framework chosen for this study and the methodology of this research. Since a combination of a literature review and XYZ’s top managers’ survey and interviews with management is used, the methodology of the research is mixed. In addition, the author will outline personal observations regarding XYZ’s approach to managing uncertainty. The ways in which data was collected and analysed, as well as some changes, limitations and ethical considerations, are discussed in this section. The Appendix contains the questions for the survey that will be distributed to the top managers of the XYZ company.

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Research Approach

This research of XYZ’s strategic positioning is a mixed design study, which will utilise a combination of data from observations, managers surveys, top management interviews and literature review. Mixed method studies can be defined as a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection (Schoonenboom and Johnson, 2017). In this case, the quantitative findings will be obtained from the survey and interviews as well as partially from the literature review and qualitative findings will come from interviews, observations and research articles.

The goal of this approach is to obtain a multiple validity legitimation. This means that a combination of two distinct data collection and analysis methods will allow checking the validity of findings and make better conclusions, as the quantitative data will be supported by the qualitative findings. Notably, mixed-method research is more complicated and difficult to execute and therefore, it requires the researcher to dedicate more attention to the purpose, variables and data analysis process. According to Schoonenboom and Johnson (2017, p. 107), when designing a mixed-method study, the following criteria should be considered: ‘purpose, theoretical drive, timing (simultaneity and dependency), point of integration, typological versus interactive design approaches, planned versus emergent design, and design complexity’. Hence, when choosing a mixed-method, the author should be aware of the scope of questions that they need to address to appropriately design a mixed-method study. Therefore, mixed-method researches are complex, but they allow one to locate comprehensive answers to research problems.

Mixed methods are becoming more popular, and researchers use them to locate answers to the issues in the fields of healthcare, education, business and social sciences. As Fetters (2019, p. 10) notes, the mixed methods allow combining the strengths of quantitative and qualitative approaches and create something new, and the author illustrates this phenomenon by comparing mixed methods to a ‘1+1=3’ equation. As a result, a more holistic understanding can be achieved.

The convergent design is one type of mixed-method research that will be used in this study of XYZ’s strategy. According to Fetters (2019), with this method, the qualitative and quantitative data will be collected roughly at the same time. In this case, the surveys and interviews will be carried out simultaneously, meaning that the responses from one will not affect the way the other is designed and carried out. There are other methods for mixed research studies, where the two stages follow one another, allowing the researcher to design the questions at the second stage based on the responses from the first stage. However, with this paper, the scope of the study is both the managerial perception and the employee’s experience with protests and XYZ’s strategic management. Hence, it is not necessary to verify the quantitative findings with more qualitative information, and the two data collection approaches can be used simultaneously.

Theoretical Framework

Figure 1 is the representation of the theoretical framework used in this research.

Theoretical framework
Figure 1. Theoretical framework

Study Setting

There are three parts of data collection — interviews, surveys and observations were carried out at the XYZ’s headquarters in Hong Kong. Since the author observed the operations of XYZ since the beginning of the protests in 2019, the reflection contains details of the retail group’s strategic planning and any alterations to the plan within the last year. The surveys were distributed in September, and the responses were collected within one week upon initiation. Interviews with the top management were carried out within two weeks because it was difficult to arrange meetings with these executives. However, since this research has convergent design, one part of the study design does not depend on the other, and there was no need to arrange data collection in any other way.

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Research Subjects: Sampling

In this case, out of the 55 top managers or Grade 1 and above managers in the XYZ retail group, a sample of 15 was selected. The reason for narrowing down the sample was because the author could not meet all 55 executives, both due to their busy schedules and time constraints of this research. However, the selected sample size of 27% consists of managers responsible for the operations of different units, which will help understand how the protests affected the strategic planning of these departments.

Purposeful sampling was used since the author wanted to include the top manager responsible for convenience and bakery units, as this department continued to be profitable during the protests. This sampling technique is a non-probability method, meaning that the judgement of the study’s initiator is the main factor used to define who should be included in the sample (Gupta, Musarrat and Prathap, 2018; Hair, Page and Brunsveld, 2020). This method is applicable when the investigated sample size is small, which is the case with this research, where only 5 top managers for interviews out of 15 managers answering the survey, who are included in the investigation. Purposeful sampling allows focusing on some specific characteristics of the group of interest, in this case, the focus is on selecting top managers from the five identified units and fifteen managers from each of the units to make conclusions about their operations and strategic plans (Gupta, Musarrat and Prathap, 2018). The other four top managers were selected based on the losses and adjustments that the unit managers had to make to adapt to the political uncertainty, with the focus om talking to unit managers that experienced the most difficulties during this time. Another criterion was the responsibility of the top manager and the duration of their work for XYZ, with managers who had worked for less than one year excluded from the sample because they did not witness the start of the protests and cannot provide insight into XYZ’s plans before and after the political uncertainty unfolded.

For the surveys, a random sampling method was used, and 15 Grade 1 or above managers were selected from the five units chosen for the interviews. This sampling is a technique where each participant has an equal chance of being selected which allows the researcher to receive an unbiased opinion and make generalisations (Gupta, Musarrat and Prathap, 2018). The top managers were selected from the same units that the managers were from the interviews to compare the responses and fill the gaps in understanding the different perceptions that the executives have. The author used a corporate email address, after clarifying the aim of the research with the top management and receiving approval, and sent an email with an explanation about the purpose of the survey, anonymity, and a date when the surveys will be distributed and collected to the 15 managers. To have an equal distribution of respondents, managers from each unit were chosen. In addition, initially, the surveys were intended to be distributed to 10 managers, however, because the author anticipated that some of the respondents might fail to answer the question or return the survey, five managers from each unit were asked to respond additionally.

Questionnaire and Interview Design

Survey questions were designed based on the research hypothesis and objectives, with each hypothesis corresponding to two survey questions and are displayed as the Appendix. The unstructured interview design allowed the interviewer to ask some follow-up questions and clarify some of the responses. All interview responses were collected anonymously and the names and positions of the management will not be disclosed. However, each respondent is one of the 15 top-managers in the XYZ retail group. Hence, the author assumes that based on these responses a generalisation for the entire department and the retail group, in general, can be made, although there will be some differences since some departments experience a decline in sales while others manage to operate successfully.

Administration of the Data Collection

XYZ retail group specialises in the retail of the menswear, women clothes, kids apparel and consumer and convenience goods. Moreover, the company also has a division that specialises in luxury goods. XYZ has headquarters both in Hong Kong and outside the city, however, since the focus of this study is on the operations in Hong Kong, the Grade 1 managers and top managers of the units in the city were interviewed. Considering the broad scope of operations the author of this research had to limit the scope of study and select several units as collecting information from all departments would be impossible within this research. Hence, out of the different departments and managers, however, the names of the departments will not be disclosed to maintain the anonymity of the retail group. The author collected data in XYZ’s headquarters using paper surveys and face to face interviews.

Data Analysis

Out of the 15 surveys that were distributed to XYZ’s managers, 15 were returned. The data was analysed using visualisation tools that allow compiling and visualising the responses (McEvoy, 2018). The offline distribution was selected because it is more convenient for the author to contact the managers in person and allows the respondents to reply at any time. Moreover, this type of approach allowed discussing the purpose and scope of research with the subjects, protecting the identity of the managers, which was one of the core characteristics of the design for this research and contributing to the collection of observation data. Hence, the researcher was able to collect a sufficient number of responses to make conclusions about XYZ’s strategic position.

The interviews with 5 members of the top management team were conducted over the course of two weeks, with each interview lasting for 10 or fifteen minutes. All five executives participated and the average length of an interview was 13 minutes. The XYZ retail company has 5 core business units, each responsible for a distinct category of goods, such as branded goods, convenience, toys and children’s apparel, and luxury goods. However, the names of the departments will not be disclosed. Clearly, each of the departments was affected differently by the protests, for instance, the author’s observations show that convenience retail and bakery did not experience significant sales decline. Regardless, this unit had to prepare for the potential damage to the stores due to protests, which implies investment in protective equipment and other means of protection. For this reason, the researcher asked the top manager of the convenience retail unit whether they experienced any significant losses and if they recognise the difference in the impact that they and the other departments experienced. The responses to this question, as well as others, will be presented in the Appendix after the data is collected. Others, however, had to adjust to declining sales and the interviews with each department head will allow clarifying how these changes were planned and implemented and what effect the protests have on the strategic planning of the XYZ’s different units.

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The analysis of the data is carried out in accordance with the mixed design. The interview responses were recorded and later reread by the author. The inductive methods of analysis are applied for the interviews since the researcher decided to avoid using a pre-written framework for making sense of the top-manager’s responses. Instead, narrative analysis was used, which allows making sense of the respondents individual’s answers (Fetters, 2019). This approach was selected because the author anticipated that some significant differences in the way the different departments were affected by this political uncertainty and therefore different response strategies will be discussed by the managers. Hence, the analysis focused mainly on discovering how different units responded to the political crisis, the similarities and differences. As a result, key insights were drawn from the managers’ responses regarding XYZ’s strategy, investment climate, employee uncertainty and plans for the future, which will be outlined in the following sections.

Changes and Difficulties

Over the course of this project, no significant changes to the methodology were made. At initial stages, the author considered distributing surveys and using a combination of this literature review and some observation for a complete analysis, however, upon reflection, interviews with the top management team were added to the methodology. One reason for this choice is that by applying a semi-structured interview, the author would be able to ask some follow up questions, which is important considering that each of the 5 units was affected by the protests in a different manner.

Additionally, at the initial stage of preparing the study, the author planned on distributing 5 surveys to the managers of the XYZ. However, upon further consideration and examining the specifics of quantitative research, a decision to increase the sample size to 15 participants was made. Notably, the XYZ research group employs over 30,000 both in Hong Kong and outside, out of which 55 are top managers, and the chosen sample size represents 27% of the XYZ’s management. According to Boddy (2016) and Gray (2019), this sample size is sufficient to make conclusions and generalise the findings for the entire population, or for all employees working for the XYZ retail group. The author argues that in qualitative research, sample size depends on the study’s paradigm and is to be determined by the researcher.

The only difficulty encountered during the interviews was the time constraint. Since the methodology of this project required interviews with the top management, the author had to create a list of only four questions and limit the time for each interview to 10 minutes. This timeframe imposes some limitations on the findings since a longer discussion with the top management would allow understanding the strategic plans of XYZ more clearly. To address this concern, the executives of XYZ were informed of the purpose of this study and encouraged to add any information they perceive as important to any of the four questions.

Limitations

One major drawback of surveys used as a data collection method is the bias and subjectivity of responses. Moreover, the author anticipated that the managers would be reluctant to share any fears or negative feedback about XYZ because of the fear that their complaints may be discovered by the management. To address this, before beginning the survey and in the email preceding its distribution, the respondents were reassured that no personal data would be collected nor will the results be published with an indication of any information that can reveal their identity. However, it is possible that personal bias, such as the perception of the XYZ retail group, the upper management or the protests affected the way the managers evaluate the situation and therefore, their responses. The bias and subjectivity are issues with both the interview responses and survey question responses.

Another limitation is the number of respondents since XYZ is a large retain group that operates in Hong Kong and outside and employs over 30,000 individuals. Hence, a bigger sample would provide more clarity and better validity for the responses, but the researcher had a limited capability to obtain these responses. However, the sample size is limited by the authors’ ability to reach out to different managers and analyse their responses, hence a minimal sample size that allowed making a generalisation was chosen.

Finally, one implication of this study is to help other companies that operate in times of political uncertainty to adjust their operations and anticipate potential consequences. However, XYZ is a large retail group consisting of several distinct units and operating both in Hong Kong and outside. This means that not all businesses can adopt the strategies that XYZ uses. Moreover, the retail industry has its distinct specifics, such as dependence on the operations of the brick and mortar stores, which is affected by the protests. Hence, these considerations should be considered when reading this research and its results. Finally, the author acknowledges that the political uncertainty in Hong Kong coincided with the global pandemic, and therefore, some problems in XYZ’s operations and strategic planning may have been caused by the pandemic. However, COVID-19 consequences are not incorporated into the scope of the study and therefore, the survey questions, and data analysis will focus on the political uncertainty only.

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Ethical Considerations

This research was conducted with an adherence to the ethical standards. Ethics in business research is concerned with two primary questions — how to treat the research subjects and what activities to avoid. Hence, the design of the study and the research questions were developed to receive enough data that would help answer the research questions but would not compromise the position of the study’s participants. Appendix B contains the outline of the ethical implications of this research, which will be attached to each survey.

With this study, the primary ethical consideration is the anonymity of respondents. To ensure this, the members of the management teams were not asked their names or specific positions. Any information that can disclose their identity is deleted from the responses and data analysis sections. This ethical consideration is both a matter of morality and a legal necessity since according to the British Academy of Management (2015), the UK and EU laws prohibit researchers from disclosing the participant’s personnel information. Moreover, similar restrictions exist in Hong Kong, where the study was conducted.

The most recent guide on ethics from the British Academy of Management (2015) emphasises the importance of consent in business research. The main idea of this principle is that the participants should have sufficient knowledge of the scope and aim of research to make an informed decision and to either participate or resume to be a part of a research. To address this factor, the emails sent to the managers contained a brief outline of the research and a paragraph from a research proposal with the aims of the study. Before each individual could submit responses, they had to tick the ‘Agree’ boxes on their copy of the survey, or they could refuse to respond and choose the ‘Do not agree’ box that would mean that the author of this research cannot use their responses in this study.

Summary

Overall, Chapter 3 focuses on the methods and theoretical framework used in this study. The first paragraphs are dedicated to explaining why the mixed methodology was selected and the benefits of combining the qualitative and quantitative methods of research. Next, the study sample and why the author chose to interview 5 top managers and survey 15 managers is explained. Some limitations, such as the bias of the respondents, are addressed in subsequent sections. Finally, the ethical implications and the participants right to anonymity and concern are discussed.

Reference list

Boddy, C.R. (2016) ‘Sample size for qualitative research’, Qualitative Market Research, 19(4), pp. 426-432.

British Academy of Management (2015) Ethics guide. Web.

Fetters, M. D. (2019) The mixed methods research workbook. London: SAGE.

Gray, D. E. (2019) Doing research in business world. 2nd edn. London: SAGE.

Gupta, M., Musarrat, S. and Prathap, R. K. (2018) Qualitative techniques for workplace data analytics. Hershey, United States: IG Global.

Hair, J. F., Page, M. and Brunsveld, N. (2020) Essentials of business research methods. Oxon, Routledge.

McEvoy, D. M. (2018) A guide to business statistics. London: Wiley.

Schoonenboom, J., and Johnson, R. B. J. (2017) ‘How to construct a mixed methods research design’, Kolner Zeitschrift fur Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 69(2), pp. 107-131.

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BusinessEssay. 2022. "Approaches to Managing Uncertainty." November 25, 2022. https://business-essay.com/approaches-to-managing-uncertainty/.

1. BusinessEssay. "Approaches to Managing Uncertainty." November 25, 2022. https://business-essay.com/approaches-to-managing-uncertainty/.


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