Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods on Human Resource Management
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Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods on Human Resource Management

Innovative Techniques

Edited by Keith Townsend, Rebecca Loudoun and David Lewin

This Handbook explores the opportunities and challenges of new technologies for innovating data collection and data analysis in the context of human resource management. Written by some of the world’s leading researchers in their field, it comprehensively explores modern qualitative research methods from good project design, to innovations in data sources and data collection methods and, finally, to best-practice in data analysis.
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Chapter 10: An experiment with “the miracle question”: an innovative data collection technique in HR research

Keith Townsend


The field of human resource management (HRM), if we were to attempt to provide a single overarching summary, is designed to understand aspects of managing people in workplaces. Research within the field is diverse in many ways, ideological starting points, data collection techniques, units of analysis and methods of analysis. Within the HRM realm a wide variety of project designs are used. Researchers can focus on single topics, for example, recruitment, or training. Alternatively, they can examine how various elements of the HRM architecture in a firm interact together, for example, the high performance body of research. Adding more complexity to this web of research is the implied “intention” of the research – for example, is the research intended to increase efficiency in the workplace? This approach can place increased pressure on employees in an attempt to lift organisation profits and performance. Or is the research intended to improve the working lives of the employees studied? Sometimes the problem with HR-focused research is that it can be too concerned with the organisation at the expense of the employee’s views and experiences or, alternatively, too concerned with employees’ individual characteristics without adequate consideration of important contextual factors within and external to the workplace. In this chapter we propose a method that we have found to assist with generating employee views of the issues that face them in the workplace. We found ourselves in a position of some freedom – we were provided with a large enough sample of qualitative interviews that we could experiment with data collection, and if the experiment failed, we would still have adequate interviews to reach the important point of data saturation as per Creswell’s (2007) recommendations of around 35 interviews. Our research project aimed to understand both employee and managerial experiences of change programmes that were designed to implement high performance work systems in Australian hospitals.

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