Espacios. Vol. 34 (12) 2013. Pág. 4
The use of Grounded Theory in the Construction of a Model for Sustainable Management in a Computer Company
O uso da Grounded Theory na Construção de um Modelo de Gestão Sustentável em uma empresa de informática
Recibido: 29-08-2013 - Aprobado: 02-10-2013
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Sustainability is a topic that has been highlighted in most academic research since the end of last century; furthermore, it has gained an ever increasing importance in the present century. The scarcity of resources, the increment of norms, and the impact of brand image as well as the financial returns are but a few of the many elements that have driven studies and encouraged sustainable business practices.
Securing a sustainable development has been a major challenge for managers in the contemporary world. Besides, this calls for the creation of efficient models of management and measurement, where sustainability is something that definitely adds value to the operations and to the end products and services.
As a result, business activities are no longer limited to focus on economic returns alone; it is necessary to understand that the existing activities generate impacts on society and on the environment. Similarly, the organization stakeholders are affected by these activities (Azevedo, 2006).
The models of sustainability indicators are too many. These models show where sustainability gets linked to the geographical space. Many of these models address the unique economic-financial-social and environmental characteristics.
This work is in essence a case study. It intends to present a management model that focuses on sustainability based on the Grounded Theory methodology, and is based on the data obtained from an outstanding company in the State of Paraíba (The Paraí Informatics), which has been searching for the internationalization of its products and services.
The Grounded Theory methodology has its origins in sociology. It has become important in applied social sciences and in health sciences; however, it is still very little used in Production Engineering; and it is exactly here where the present proposal makes its most important contribution. Interviews with all members of the organization, direct observation and document analyses were among the many tools employed in our data gathering. The present research is consideredpure, and essentially qualitative in nature.
Thus, the objective of this research is to develop, by means of the Grounded Theory methodology, a new management model for corporate sustainability, considering those peculiar elements of sustainability. To achieve this, a theoretical review of corporate sustainability and Grounded Theory is presented, following by a description of the company being studied, the analysis of data, and, finally, the implementation of a scheme of sustainable management model.
The concept of corporate sustainability has gained widespread knowledge today (Araujo et al, 2006). Many factors have contributed to its dissemination, which creates a more pro-active behavior on the part of the companies; either by market impositions or by the present legislation, or merely by an awareness that emerges from an environmental context of destruction and degradation, which demands from society and companies decisive actions towards environment preservation, the country’s economic growth, and action transparency (Azevedo, 2006).
The concept of sustainability within an environmental dimension reached the corporate world in the mid-1980s, and it evolved during the 1990s from the perspective of cost management practices in environmental management. The purpose was to foment activities known as win-win solutions whose objective was to minimize the consumption of resources. This was driven by efficiency and competitive advantages. (Young, Tilley, 2006). The result of this was the beginning of companies that created a collaborative environment, promoting greater focus on social and environmental issues, which ended up by providing general social development.
However, the idea of corporate sustainability is dependent on the following: the thinking of corporate managers, the interference of both national and international markets, the reactions of society in relation to the company’s posture in connection with the generation of their products or services, and on how the State intervenes and legislates in issues of corporate sustainability. (Azevedo, 2006). However, according to Nidumolu, Prahalad and Rangaswami (2009), many companies believe that, by going sustainable, they will incur in more costs, which, in the end, will not guarantee the immediate return of their investments. This view limits the concept of sustainability to ideas that require little financial sacrifice from the company, restricting as well their actions in the long run. This very often prevents the full realization of the company’s sustainable development.
Consequently, one should observe that companies do not act simply out of good will or zeal for the environment, but in response to reflexes as to innumerable agents that call for more sustainable behavior in the market. They also aim at obtaining competitive advantages and better brand acceptance, mainly pointed towards profit making.
There has been great emphasis in the literature on the initiative to create models in order to build up and measure sustainable management. Tayra and Ribeiro (2006) believe that in many cases the variables are not presented in a logical and interconnected manner. These cases focus mainly on some specific problems, responding only to pre-determined, geographical boundaries, which make both the aggregation of this set of variables and the harmony of the model most difficult to handle.
Moreover, it is clear that most studies focus on creating models for highly structured corporations. However, small and micro enterprises also need simple and inexpensive management models to match their realities. Some of the main models of sustainability are described in Table 1 which focuses mainly on models of systems with indicators of sustainability.
Table 1 - Key management models of sustainability
According to Veenan and Polytilo, as quoted by Lilian and Quelhas (2006), it is understood that sustainability is a term which is too complex to have only one definition. It is difficult to put it into practice and it is difficult to measure it. The problems involving measurement and creation include the construction of highly theoretical models, which make both their understanding and their organizational practice hard to implement. Additionally, there comes the notion that many managers do find too costly to deploy a sustainable model to bring in an immediate return.
This situation has gradually changed the world business environment. Bonnie and Huang (2001) argue that strategies in the area of corporate sustainability have diverted from the level of control to become much more preventive; therefore, creating a more pro-active awareness of the scenarios they are exposed to.
In such a scenario, the creation of a management model from the Grounded Theory makes up for these shortcomings; since, to begin with, one considers the views of all stakeholders involved. This takes place, in theory, with no dependence to preconceived concepts, but to the relationships between the data collected in the organization.
Known as an approach and also as a method, Grounded Theory is a way to formulate a theory inductively grounded upon data by means of qualitative analysis, aggregated or related to other theories. As a result, one can add or bring in new knowledge to the area of the phenomenon (Cassiani; Caliri, Pelá, 1996).
Grounded Theory was first introduced in 1967 by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss following the paradigm of qualitative research. It comprises a methodology for the development of a theory grounded upon data which are systematically collected and analyzed. According to Goulding (2002), this is a qualitative method, and it is similar to other qualitative methods, such as ethnography and phenomenology, i.e. it places strong emphasis on the subjectivity of the reality constructed by respondents.
For Bianchi and Ikeda (2009), Glaser and Strauss have claimed that there are two basic types of theories: the formal theory and the substantive theory:
Although the purpose of this methodology is the construction of theories, its usefulness is not restricted to the participation of the researcher, because, as Strauss and Corbin in Ikeda and Bianchi (2009) state, "the researcher can use some but not all procedures to meet their research objectives.”Although the researcher's role is mainly to develop a theoretical judgment of the general features of a topic, an assessment based on empirical data observations may also be possible (cited in Orlikowski LAWRENCE; FERREIRA, ROSA, 2008).
The Grounded Theory is, in this way, a research method that uses a systematic set of procedures to develop and inductively derivative theory based on a given phenomenon. For better understanding of the Grounded Theory interface with phenomenology and ethnography, Ikeda e Bianchi (2009) show the table 2
Table 2: Comparisons between Grounded Theory, Phenomenology, Ethnography, and Symbolic Interactionism.
To develop this method, we have used the agents that better provide access to primary information. This was done by means of interviews, observation, written material and a combination of all these sources. Numerous methods were used for collecting data – such as: surveys, experiments and case studies.
In fact, the Grounded Theory method was developed as an answer to the scarcity of new theories in sociology and its importance lies on the socially constructed character of reality, producing interpretations that may explain the social phenomenon, and provide valuable information for those involved with the study of behavior.
With such procedure one seeks to identify conceptual categories derived from data by means of comparative methods, by verifying the incidents found in the data and by the emerging theoretical concepts (LAWRENCE, FERREIRA, ROSA, 2008). According to these authors, the Glaser & Strauss’ goal was to fill in the gap in the methodological between the implementation of large theoretical systems and the empirical research. This is not to verify, by means of empirical testing, the value of observation statements, but to generate a theory that is inductively based on empirical data.
Buckley and Waring (2005) report that one of the advantages of this methodology lies in the fact that researchers need to examine critically their attitudes towards the research being conducted; and similarly, they should search deeper in the literature for support in the study thematic area. This places researchers in direct confrontation with the object of their research. Another advantage posed by Douglas (2004) lies in the fact that this methodology possesses a strong, structured foundation of practical measures aimed at generating a grounded theory. Thus, the Grounded Theory seeks to obtain from the available primary data the answers required to support the theories that accounts for problems inherent to the environment and to the goals of the present study.
However, Ikeda and Bianchi (2009) claim that most problems related to Grounded Theory focus on "the difficult operation of the process - from an initial definition of the study elements to the formulation of the theory, and the role and posture of the researcher."
In conclusion, Grounded Theory is a method of data analysis, particularly responsive to contexts, which allow us to understand the meaning of the data in certain situations. Thus, the theory is discovered, developed and verified by collecting and analyzing the data related to the phenomenon itself.
This study is classified as pure research; it is primarily motivated by the researcher’s intellectual curiosity with the purpose of creating or speculating on theories (Vergara, 2009). The approach is qualitative, because it seeks to understand and decode a complex system via interpretative techniques (Neves, 2006). We have adopted this model after taking into account the fact that "there is a dynamic relationship between the real world and the individual’s subjectivity, in other words, there is an inseparable link between the objective world and the subjectivity of the subject” (Silva and Menezes, 2001), which matches with the method of Grounded Theory.
The research is exploratory for the mere fact that it is taken out to the field to substantiate a new theory on a specific reality still unknown to academic circles (Acevedo and Nohara, 2007). We have worked with a universe of employees and shareholders of the company-case. The study is presented as a unique case, because it "can be conducted as an introduction to a more accurate study and as an exploratory mechanism, or even as a pilot case, being, as it is, the first study on multiple cases" (Yin, 2005).
The Grounded Theory methodology was the main methodology used in this research, which, as part of its historical development, it proposes the use of one of two historical trends: one, presented by Strauss, of a more rigid character; and the other, shown by Glaser, which corresponds to a freer trend, with many more risks for the research development. Our work has been based on the model proposed by Strauss for reasons of its existing features.
For data capture, Bianchi and Ikeda (2008) suggested that the wording of questions should allow the respondent the ability to stand up openly in support of the subject studied; since our main objective was to develop a theory. The above mentioned authors have also stated that the questions should be opened in order to allow for a deeper analysis of the behaviors being investigated.
In fact, the study of the different behaviors – not merely those concerning human actions should be viewed as something changeable under the focus of Grounded Theory, from which there could emerge new questions and new observations in accordance with the length of the time along which the research was laid. In this sense, Grounded Theory has been characterized as a systematic method of collecting, organizing and analyzing data that have been extracted empirically from the company. This operation was distributed along three phases, namely: open coding, axial and selective.
Table 3: Grounded Theory Phases
According to Santos and Pinto (2007), an important thing to consider is the researcher’s sensitivity to the identification, construction and measurement of the concepts that make up the emerging theory. For these authors, theoretical sensitivity refers to the ability to give meaning to data as a result of the scientific knowledge accumulated by the researcher; something that goes besides their professional and personal experience. In fact, completing the stages of encoding, Lawrence Foster and Rose (2008) claim that the delimitation of the new theory is created at the time a researcher can discover uniformities in the original group of categories and is capable of formulating the theory out of a small group of highly abstract concepts, defining both the text and its terminology.
The Grounded Theory saturation was obtained when no new data added new nuance to the process of analyzing and categorizing, identifying at this point the development of the new theory, which is the model of sustainable management. The central category was the one that was most employed during the first coding phase, and the one that took longer to reach saturation: namely the environmental dimension.
The purpose of the present work was to study the company Brazil Ink Industry Commerce Services and Machinery Ltd., belonging to the Paraí Informatics. We have chosen this company for being a mid-sized enterprise explicitly concerned with its social/environmental responsibilities and with aspects sensibly related to sustainability in general.
Brazil Ink Industry, Commerce Services and Machinery Ltd. is a private company (a Ltd. company) and its fancy name is Paraí Innovative Solutions. The company’s purpose is to "provide the best equipment and supplies for recycling printer cartridges, serving customers with its enormous business relationship experience in the development of new products and new technologies, seeking the success of all parts concerned", and the advantage of "being recognized worldwide for its credibility, services and innovation in the recycling of cartridges."
The company was founded on November 21, 2001, and it deals with computer (accessories), being primarily engaged in the "Production, Commercialization of Services and Machinery for Recycling Printer Cartridges" (Paraí, 2009). However, the company’s history begins in 1999 when its owner created a crafty recycling cartridge machine, whose framework was built on a mineral water support (patent: No. PI0003237). The company sells machines and products and supplies recycling cartridges to dealers all over Brazil and abroad.
The company’s main product – a vacuum filling cartridge machine – has been granted an official patent, but there are eight other pending patents in the United States, Brazil and other countries. By virtue of quality programs, there is a culture of participative management which allows for a friendly atmosphere to be developed at all levels among the entire company’s workforce. The employees, a total of forty-five, (38 directly employed by the company, six third-part hired, and a trainee”) are called “collaborators”.
The company has also developed an internationalization strategy, presenting its product in international trade fairs, workshops, etc. The Paraí machines can be found in over 68 countries and have won four international awards, among them two from the journal Recharger Magazine in 2007 with the station + in-Vac (chosen by readers of the magazine as one of the five best new products) and in 2008, with the new INVAC.
The great question that has been posed is this that the existing recycling market in the world in nearly 30 years has shown an exponential growth (for 2009) where competitiveness is concerned, bringing into focus the need for environmental protection. Thus, the recycling cartridge industry has undergone many changes: the quality of the recycled cartridges and their increased popularity has changed for the better.
As a result, the industrial design of the Paraí machines are being improved to meet future requirements concerning recycling and sustainability; requirements that can no longer be neglected. The organization has always stood out in excellence and quality; a factor that has promoted their positive image in the market. The company now seeks to advance further with the technological development of its products, making the issue of sustainability in its managerial model its primary policy.
Therefore, the sustainable management model was created based on Grounded Theory and outlined by the authors using the scheme Ikeda and Bianchi (2009):
Figure 1 – A Scheme for the Creation of a Sustainable Management Model
Source: Adapted by the authors for the company based on Ikeda e Bianchi (2009)
In the present study we were concerned with defining a management model for corporate sustainability by using the Grounded Theory methodology. We have based ourselves mainly on our convictions and organizational existing processes, seeking to include three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.
In constructing the sustainable management model, Paraí introduced values ??such as customer focus, results orientation, valuing people and social and environmental responsibility along the following five categories: customers, employees, partners, suppliers and society. Consequently, a smooth flow of efficient and effective communication is obtained, providing, as a result, accurate information for the conduct of tasks and attitudes which promote motivation, cooperation, and the employees’ satisfaction.
In the face of it, the organization was examined several times, and the documents detailing the profile of its structure and processes, as well as the employee input manual were analyzed, in addition to the interviews held with all members of the company to understand and decode primary data. The sustainable management model is shown in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2– The Paraí Model of Sustainable Management
The five different categories (Customers, Employees, Partners, Suppliers and Society) were considered strategic in building up the model, defined in our research as key fields, where the company builds up and develops activities which generate sustainability. The component activities of the key fields of activities are supported by a broad set of structures that allow tasks to be carried out efficiently and effectively. Within this set of structures, we will include: Facilities, Marketing, Production, Strategic Planning, Technology, Human Resources, etc.
These structures are different and are required to work well so as to achieve optimal levels of satisfaction as to the results of activities. By observing a failure in the implementation of activities, one should seek to obtain from the supporting structures the right answers to solve the errors that may occur during activities. Nevertheless, when one gets the activities fully implemented, it is then possible to reach a well-thought vision of the strategic planning, and, therefore, its organizational mission.
When the mission is fulfilled, Paraí’s goals of excellence will have been achieved. This will come to as a result of the company’s innovative policy, certificates and awards obtained in acknowledgment for its practices to benefit of society and the environment.
One would also to consider the fact that the supporting structures do behave unsustainably from time to time. This tends to happen very often during the smooth course of actions. In order to minimize this effect, the present model developed a feedback tool that allows us to make corrections in the structure in order to develop and improve the system, avoiding failures and reducing costs.
In fact, the model emerges from the key fields to support the structures, indicating how and why certain supporting elements are not contributing towards the effectiveness of activities, and consequently towards the achievement of those goals of excellence.
The customer’s key-course deals with each customer’s key necessities and with the necessities of the markets. Features like fair price and emergency care during and after sales will guarantee the returns expected by the company, generating a collaborative business environment to embrace social factors such as a sense of commitment and dedication in the pursuit of excellence.
The collaborators of any organization should be seen as the main key to the company success. To manage the work environment and promote safety and health allows the company to reduce costs and create a collaborative environment that will eventually meet most social and environmental requirements.
The members and owners of an organization need to be aware of the company’s reality, for this is what defines budget spending, and controls financial perspective. Socially and environmentally it is they who have the stronger power to decide on actions to be taken. They need to remain aware of the impacts that these will cause.
The suppliers’ key field is of the utmost importance to the organization. The activities within this group have characteristics that remain with the company for a long time, and mutual trust is the link between suppliers and the company. Therefore, the lack of inputs limits sustainability in all aspects. The group company notes a series of activities that contribute to its development. To provide cleaner products, develop actions to promote growth and education and well-structured processes besides assisting academic development – these are the elements that help meet financial perspectives, social, environmental and cultural.
Accordingly, if the five key fields are sustainable, this sustainable corporate vision will be fully achieved. The organizational mission can only be sustainable if this view is sustainable, and if it really contemplates those five key fields.
The degree of difference of this model lies in the notion that organizations are to be seen as complex systems with a structure founded on the strategy. The organizations’ sustainability should be seen as something dynamic. Therefore, in this model, both the processes of support and the key fields of activities interact dynamically to eventually become an indirect reflection of one another.
Figure 3 – Paraí Synthetic Model of Sustainable Management
Source: Research Data
Once the model of sustainable management was completed and analyzed, it was then found that it would be possible to replicate the theory from the operation details of the organization and apply it to other organizations; and what is more, to expand this model configuration to other companies from different branches and sectors, if they fell in between the status of medium and the small sized enterprises. This possibility is supported by Grounded Theory, when one finds that, within new interaction of data gathering (from another organization), the data and the theory found at Paraí served as a starting point for the development of new theoretical frameworks.
The study demonstrates how a theoretical model, developed from a new methodology in the field industrial engineering, secures sustainability to organizations (Grounded Theory). To illustrate this, we have used the Brazil Ink Industry Commerce Services and Machinery Ltd., known as Paraí Informatics.
The model reveals the study’s organizational complexity, focusing on strategic groups of interest to the company. Moreover, it has been observed that the settings meet satisfactorily the company's vision and mission, and their organizational practices, supporting a large range of sustainable measures.
The Grounded Theory methodology proved most effective, since it allowed the researchers and the company to develop a model that sticks to sustainability issues, involving their financial, social and environmental prospects. However, it suggests a new vision on how to manage activities in order to attain success, excellence and sustainability.
It is important to remember that both the key fields and the activities that comprise them are flexible, repeatable, and can be adapted to all situations and to all companies. This is important because each organization has different patterns and different structures which need to be adapted and revised as strategic objectives. Grounded Theory helps them achieve this goal.
The proposed model is not only concerned with one aspect of sustainability, like some well-known models found in the literature, but it also encompasses the concept of sustainability as a whole. In addition, this new model is not restricted to evaluating local activities, but it allows comparison to be drawn in any geographical area or at any organizational level.
The model also demonstrates that sustainability is to be achieved by degrees i.e., little by little. This is made possible by starting from the structural supporting elements, establishing the key fields, the firm’s vision and mission that will help the company to reach the strategic goals of excellence in sustainability. To secure such objectives, the company will take sustainability for granted only when all, or almost all items of the previous level, have been achieved.
We hope that an increasing number of companies will turn their attention to the advantages of developing management processes focusing on sustainability. To understand that a social and environmental concern is the modern attitude that brings in financial and non-tangible advantages to the organization constitute indeed one of the most natural elements in today's businesses.
To delve into such ideals will certainly have a positive impact on any company’s brand image in relation to their customers, and creates internal satisfaction among collaborators and shareholders, improving their relationship with suppliers and with society as a whole. Sustainability must be made part of business strategies, and more than that, it must be embodied in the minds of people and their organizations as a daily practice.
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