Business school rankings are byzantine exercises, each employing its own proprietary formula of survey results, reputation grades, test scores, career data and a murky burgoo of other qualitative and quantitative markers.
By comparison, b-school research rankings derive from a dead simple calculus: count the papers by each school’s faculty that are published in a set of academic journals, and compare.
According to the unequivocal Management Department Productivity Ranking, the Foster School is #1 in North America for research productivity across the eight most-influential peer-reviewed journals in the field of management over the year 2017.
It’s a remarkable achievement by Foster’s Department of Management and Organization. But what does it mean to be the best in management research? Let’s consider the impact of this #1 ranking across five dimensions.
There are more than 18,000 active management scholars in the world, each vying for coveted space in a handful of top-tier academic journals that publish four or six times per year.
The vast majority of those researchers would count a single publication in a top-shelf journal as the pinnacle of their career.
Last year alone, 17 of Foster’s M&O faculty co-authored 24 papers that were published in the discipline’s elite eight journals—Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of Applied Psychology, Strategic Management Journal, Organization Science, Personnel Psychology and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
Second place? That belonged to the Wharton School of Business, with five fewer papers in the same set of journals.
Foster’s 2017 publication rate of 1.04 papers per management research faculty was also best in North America, and was nearly double the average per-faculty publication rate of the top 25 schools ranked. And Foster’s tally was four times the average generated by the management faculties of the other 95 business schools that made the ranking.
The department’s “big year” is no outlier, either. In a cumulative index of Management Department Productivity Rankings over the past five years, Foster stands at #3.
Range + Relevance
This volume of studies covers a vast array of topics that tend to be more revealing and relevant to real-world management issues than you might think.
Among last year’s published papers were investigations of a broad spectrum of managerial considerations—from entrepreneurship to ethics, organizational behavior to corporate governance, teamwork to turnover, strategic management to sleep deprivation.
“Not only do we have a top-notch research faculty, but our research should resonate with managers,” says Suresh Kotha, the Oleson/Battelle Excellence Chair in Entrepreneurship and chair of the Department of Management and Organization. “We’re not just sitting up in an ivory tower. A lot of what we’re studying is immediately applicable to management practice.”
Another indication of real-world relevance arrived in a recent Academy of Management index that lists seven current or former Foster M&O faculty among the most influential of all-time, as measured by the number of times their work is cited in the leading organizational behavior and strategic management textbooks.
A faculty that produces so much high-caliber research impacts the learning environment at Foster in direct and indirect ways.
Elijah Wee, an assistant professor of management who has won awards for both research and teaching, says he and his colleagues try to bridge the two disciplines. “I like to bring interesting research into the classroom, and that’s easy to do here because there’s a lot of really interesting research coming out of the department,” he says. “So, if I’m talking about ethics and justice, I can draw on the work of Ryan Fehr or Elizabeth Umphress or Scott Reynolds. If I’m talking about transformational leadership, Bruce Avolio’s work comes into play.
“It’s important for students to realize that the very faculty who are teaching their classes are also making important contributions to really interesting and useful areas of research. Knowing this helps them get excited not only about consuming knowledge, but also about knowledge creation—which is at the heart of what we do.”
That ethic runs across the curriculum.
“Beyond the specific examples they might use in class,” adds Dan Poston, associate dean for masters programs, “the fact that nearly all our faculty are researchers means they can and do explain the underlying statistical data and rigorous analysis that supports the tools they teach students to use. The concepts we teach are not untested approaches or ideas people tried in past jobs and found to work. We teach carefully tested models and algorithms with evidence that proves they work.”
Research is a frequent proxy for an institution’s academic reputation, which is not otherwise easily quantified. It’s no coincidence that virtually all the top 25 MBA programs belong to business schools with prolific records of scholarship.
What does reputation get you? Interest from exceptional students and faculty, for one thing. Alumni pride. An increasingly valuable degree. A more engaged community.
Academic reputation certainly impacts b-school rankings, too, creating a distinct halo effect for the school at large. Financial Times, for instance, considers research productivity prominently among its criteria for ranking MBA programs. The U.S. News & World Report rankings lean on reputation scores that are influenced by individual perceptions of academic quality.
“Productive research,” adds Poston, “is a ticket to the upper echelon of respect among deans and directors at other business schools.”
That makes it an essential element in Foster’s efforts to become the #1 public business school in the nation.
Recruiting (and retention)
Kotha points out that Foster’s rise to preeminence in management research can be traced back to a 1950s Ford Foundation study that challenged business school scholars to adopt the rigor of scientific research. Foster took it to heart, replacing experiential case studies with evidence-based findings that would pass the exacting strictures of peer review.
A half-century on, the school has become a magnet for surpassing scholars in the fields of management and organizational behavior.
They are attracted by Seattle and its many natural wonders and cultural amenities, an endlessly innovative business community to study, a stunning campus and world-class facilities to call home.
But it’s Foster’s unmistakable culture of collaboration that keeps them here. “We have a dynamic group of young faculty in the most productive time of their careers and a strong doctoral program that keeps senior faculty embedded in research,” says Kotha. “They bring ideas, we bring ideas and then we work together.”
“We have a great culture of collaboration,” agrees Xiao-Ping Chen, the Philip M. Condit Endowed Chair in Business Administration, professor of management and associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. “And because so many of us have common or at least complimentary interests, we can work together pretty easily.”
That collaboration may be the key to keeping these scholars, many of whom could choose to work at any school in the world.
But there’s also the application of myriad insider information on the keys to high-functioning organizations. Tom Lee on job embeddedness. Chris Barnes on human sustainability. Bruce Avolio on authentic leadership. Michael Johnson on decision making. Kira Schabram on meaningful work. Elijah Wee on status and power. Crystal Farh on creativity. Xiao-Ping Chen on cultivating passion.
“We do try to practice what we preach, so to speak,” offers Chen. “That’s the fun part.”
M&O may be the highest flyer, but the Foster School’s leading scholarship is distributed across every academic department.
In its 2018 Global MBA Ranking, Financial Times ranks the entire Foster faculty #3 in the world and #1 among public business schools for research productivity in the leading 50 journals across business disciplines.
And the Top 100 Business School Research Rankings, which counts publications in the top 24 journals across all business disciplines, lists all five Foster departments among in the top 22 in the world, including: