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The Iss Acquisition Research Project Management Essay


This project, as previously stated (Ch. 2.1), has the following objectives placed within the context of M&A:

Identify appropriate theoretical support to understand and manage future post-acquisition cultural integrations;

Develop an analytical framework applicable to future acquisition cases;

Develop recommendations and the analytical framework to assist managers to develop a more structured approach in future integrations.

A valuable aspect of this project is the Objective 2 as, in order to reach it, it gives the opportunity to deeply study a post-acquisition integration implementation empirically (the ISS acquisition) addressing the following research questions (Ch. 2.4):

What were the main cultural issues faced during the ISS post-acquisition integration?

What impact have the indentified cultural issues had on the unit?

How did IBM manage the issues raised during ISS post-acquisition integration and how could management of future integrations be improved?

Having analyzed the literature and theory (Ch.3) regarding the cultural integration in M&As and having highlighted the relevant gaps, the Objective 2 – covered in Chapter 4 and 5 - takes this project one step further through the collection and analysis of empirical data to develop a framework useful for future needs. Comparing theory with practice (i.e. Literature Review findings with a specific real case) will help gaining a wider understanding of the cultural issues arising during post-acquisition integration and giving a more appropriate and useful contribute to future IBM post- acquisition integrations. Hence the following elements will be verified during the empirical case analysis (ISS) that will be carried out:

existence or not of cultural fit between IBM and ISS;

selected acculturation mode in the case study;

psychological consequences arisen in the post-integration phase;

assessment of the communication adopted;

assessment of the cultural leadership adopted;

assessment of likely other issues.

This Chapter – Research Methodology - will provide details in regards of how the research will be conducted:

the research philosophy guiding the analysis (Ch. 4.2);

the research strategy adopted to address the research questions (Ch. 4.3);

the means of collecting data (Ch. 4.4);

the framework for data analysis (Ch. 4.5);

potential limitations of the chosen methodology (Ch. 4.6).

Research Philosophy

Theoretical Concepts: Paradigms, Theory and Observations

According to Babbie (2004), there are paradigms, underlying social theories and research, that represent conceptual models or frameworks within which the researcher’s observation and understanding of the reality take place. A paradigm is ‘the basic belief system or worldview that guides the investigator’ (Guba and Lincoln, 1994, p.105) on how data about a phenomenon should be gathered, analysed and used. It is ‘based on Ontological (the reality under investigation), Epistemological (the relationship between the researcher and reality), and Methodological (the techniques selected to analyse the reality) assumptions’ (Guba and Lincoln, 1994, p.107).

Easterby-Smith et al (2002) identified the following benefits of understanding research paradigms in social research:

clarification of the overall research strategy to be used;

better evaluation of different methodologies by identifying the approaches limitations;

creation or adaptation of methods that were previously outside past experience.

Social researchers have developed several paradigms to understand social behaviour (i.e. Guba and Lincoln, 1994) that can gain or lose popularity, but are seldom completely disregarded. They give a variety of views of reality highlighting different aspects of social life (Babbie, 2004).

According to Corbetta (2003) two general paradigms have historically oriented social research since its inception: the ‘empiricist’ vision (positivism) and ‘humanist’ vision (interpretivism).

They differ in terms of their relation to the Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology assumptions, which is how they respond to the fundamental interrogatives facing social research (Table 2).

Table 2 Partially Adapted from Guba and Lincoln (1994): Basic paradigms Characteristics

Proctor (1998) considers that the essential ground for any research project is consistency and coherence between research objectives, research questions, research philosophy and strategy. It will follow a brief overview of the positivism and interpretivism philosophy, according to Proctor (1998) suggestions of understanding the two extremes of research philosophy before deciding which research strategy and methods to apply.


‘Positivist approaches to the social sciences….assume things can be studied as hard facts and the relationship between these facts can be established as scientific laws. For positivists, such laws have the status of truth and social objects can be studied in much the same way as natural objects’. Smith (1998, p.77)

Hence positivists consider reality as stable, objective and independent of human behaviour, consequently measurable and predictable (Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991; Remenyi et al., 1998). As a result, their research is more reliable. The phenomena can be isolated, observations can be repeatable and predictions are possible basis of the previously observed and explained realities (Bryman and Bell, 2003).

While positivism has found successful application in physical and natural science, it has been debated its suitability for social research (Hirscheim, 1985) as social research involves and is influenced by human participation and observation. The application of positivist philosophy in social research implicates the acceptance that human beings behaviours are considered irrelevant and beyond the scope of positivism (Crossan, 2003) and consequently not examined.


Interpretivists contend that reality can be fully understood only through the subjective interpretation of and intervention in it (Corbetta, 2003). Hence it becomes crucial studying the phenomena in their natural environment and accepting that researches cannot avoid affecting phenomena under investigation. They admit that there may be many interpretations of reality, but these are all in themselves part of the scientific knowledge they are pursuing (Corbetta, 2003).

For interpretivists reality is not a rigid thing, but a creation of the individuals involved in the research, hence, many constructions of reality are possible (Hughes 1994). Proctor (1998) suggests that the most significant factors influencing reality construction are: culture, gender and cultural beliefs. Interepretivism recognises the intricate relationship between individual behaviour, attitudes, external structures and socio-cultural issues and accepts that, although a real world driven by natural causes exists, it is impossible for humans to truly perceive it with their imperfect capacity (Crossan, 2003).

Interpretivist approaches limitations generally relate to the interactive and participatory nature of qualitative methods Parahoo (1997).

The interpretivist philosophy is considered the most appropriate for this project as it focuses on the issues arising in the IBM-ISS post-acquisition integration phase and on individuals’ behaviours, reactions and relations to this specific event that, on the contrary, would be neglected with the adoption of positivism approach.

Another point of reference in social research is represented by theories as ‘systematic sets of interrelated statements intended to explain some aspects of social life’ (Babbie, 2004, p.43): deductive or inductive. According to Babbie (2004), while with a deductive theory the researcher derives (deduce) an expectation and finally hypotheses testable against reality, starting from a general theoretical understanding (i.e. theory guides research), inductive theory, moving from the particular to the general, first observes aspects of social life and then seeks to generalize findings of the studied phenomenon to relatively universal principles and laws (i.e. theory as an outcome of research) (Table 3).

Table 3 Major Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research

Source: Saunders et al. 2000

This project will use a mix of both theories as suggested by George and Bennet (2005, p.239) contending that in ‘many research projects, a combination of induction and deduction theories is useful or even necessary, depending upon the research objective, state of development of the research program in question, and availability of relevant cases to study’. In fact the research starts with the identification of the research questions and continues with the analysis of the appropriate literature on cultural issues in M&As and, following a deductive approach, the identification of a list of variables and propositions (main issues in M&As) that have to be verified with the research. In addition the inductive theory will be used to discover new issues related to IBM-ISS post-acquisition cultural integration during the interaction of the researcher with the field, trying afterwards to generalize findings of the studied phenomenon. Furthermore, the application, in the case study methodology, of the inductive study of deviant cases not fitting with existing theory in the later stages of a research once theories have already been established, as it is applied in this project, may refine the theory and/or add new variables (George and Bennet, 2005).

Finally social research tries to transform observations of reality (i.e. seeing, hearing and touching) in measurement of what is observed. Each observation can be represented by qualitative or quantitative data that means through methods giving numerical and non-numerical data (Babbie, 2004).

Quantitative methods are interested in measures, relations of causality, replication of observations and possible generalization of obtained results (Bryman and Bell, 2003). The quantitative methods are the preferred ones by positivist researchers.

However according to Bryman and Bell (2003) quantitative method applied in social research is not free from criticism, for the following reasons:

Scarce applicability to social research as not characterized by rigid rules;

The measurement process risks to be artificial (i.e. false sense of precision);

Excessive reliance on instruments and procedures;

Static view of social life that is not so: the obtained model becomes completely independent from people’s life.

Qualitative methods, being able to see ‘through the eyes of the people being studied (Bryman and Bell, 2003)’, can analyze and describe the context and the processes maintaining flexibility and using limited structures not to contaminate the observed reality. Being people that think and react to the context, in social research, the object of study, the ultimate aim of qualitative analyses is not measuring, but understanding people’ point of view. Strauss and Corbin (1998, p.11) describe the qualitative approach as ‘a research about persons’ lives, lived experiences, behaviours, emotions and feelings about organizational functioning, social movements, cultural phenomena, and interactions between nations’.

Also this method is not free from criticism; in fact main critiques are:

Subjectivity as results are influenced by the researcher;

Difficulty of replication due to the methods used;

Impossibility of generalization due to the relatively small sample often involved;

Lack of transparency depending on the researcher interpretation.

The project will make use of qualitative methods as it will include the understanding of human behaviours and the reasons guiding these behaviours. It allows researcher to study the identified issues in depth and to detail the events as perceived by the individuals (Patton, 1990). Furthermore qualitative method can answer to the following questions: ‘why..? ‘what..?’ and ‘how..?’ (Saunders et al. 2000). Therefore, in answering to the research questions it will use and obtain qualitative data because quantitative research, in this context, it is less important as its numerical analysis is not appropriate to answering the main question regarding the M&As complex issues of the research.

In sum, as far as it has been seen until now in this project there will be consistency and coherence between research objectives, research questions and research philosophy as required by Proctor (1998).

Table 4 Synthesis Positivism vs Interpretivism Characteristics and Coherence

Research strategy

There are many different research strategies available for conducting research and the applicability of the different alternatives depends on the research questions to be answered and the research aim to be reached (Ref). Yin (2003) suggests the following five research strategies: experiment, survey, archival analysis, history and case study.

Denzin and Lincoln (2005) state that research adopting qualitative methods should use the case study strategy as they are powerful for studying processes and human behaviour aspects. The use of case studies is particularly useful when ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions are being asked about events over which the researcher has a limited control and it is necessary to understand the nature and complexity of the processes taking place (Yin, 2003). Hence it seems particular interesting and suitable to develop this project that has the aim to find how cultural integration and the related issues are managed.

Case studies may be positivist or interpretivist in nature, depending on the researcher approach, the data collected and the analytical techniques employed (Bryman and Bell, 2003). Furthermore in case study research strategy when the predominant research theory is qualitative, a case study tends to take an inductive approach to the relationship between theory and research (Bryman and Bell, 2003).

The primary advantage of the case study, in this project, is that a specific organization (i.e. ISS) can be investigated in depth. This highly focused attention allows the researchers to analyze the events and/or identify the relationships among organizations (i.e. IBM and ISS) and individuals (Yin, 2003).

According to Yin (2003), there are multiple-case and single-case study: while single-case regards the study of only one case, the multiple-case regards the study of more than one case. Multiple-case is more valid and may help in generalisation; it also allows cross-case analysis, a necessary feature for generalisation of theories. Single-case can be useful to test existing and established theories.

Case study design (single/multiple) can be holistic and embedded (Yin, 2003) (i.e. single-case holistic design, single-case embedded design, multiple-case holistic design and multiple-case embedded design). The difference between holistic and embedded design concerns the number of units analyzed in the case study: while a holistic case study takes one unit of analysis with a global approach, the embedded one involves multiple units of analysis within the same case.

The most appropriate research design for this project is the embedded single-case approach where the case will be the ISS Company and the units of analysis the ex-ISS employees plus the manager of the security organization in the post merger phase.

However, the case study research strategy is subjected to some critics and has limitations in its applicability that need to be mentioned. For example Yin (2003), Adelman et al. (1977) and Borg (1981) highlighted also that it is too situation specific and it does not provide a solid basis for scientific generalization. In this project selecting one specific case - cultural integration issues in the ISS post-acquisition integration – it has to be considered ‘that generalization is not always possible…’ Bell (2005, p.11). Hence, how can a single case yield findings applicable to other cases? For example, how could the findings from this research on ISS acquisition be generalizable to all IBM acquisitions? Of course, it is not possible as a case study is not a sample of one. Case study researcher, instead, is trying to understand what is happening in a particular setting (Saunders et al. 2000), consequently adding knowledge to subjects related to cultural integration in M&As The contribution of this project will be developed through the integration of the outcomes of the ISS case study with the findings of the Literature Review and it is expected that as more case studies are implemented within IBM then the contribution to the body of the knowledge of M&As cultural integration will be progressively improved.

Case study research is criticized also for its validity as a research approach. In order to establish validity, case studies require multiple data collection methods and Yin (2003) identifies the following methods:

direct observation of activities and phenomena and their environment;

indirect observation or measurement of process related phenomena;

interviews (structured or unstructured);

documentation (i.e. written, information about the company and its operations);

Data collection methods

According to Sekaran (2002), data collection methods play an important role in research design, and the nature of research project help in choosing the appropriate method. Data collection refers to the collection of either secondary data or primary data or a combination of the two. Primary data are collected in order to have a deeper knowledge of the context under study (as in the context of this project) or in case the data already available are not sufficient for the analysis. The most common methods of data collection are interviews and observations (Merriam, 1998). Secondary data, instead, consist of data previously collected and published (i.e. internal and external company documents, articles, newspaper and magazine articles).

This project will make use of primary and secondary data, but mainly primary ones collected through interviews. The interview is probably the most widely employed method in qualitative research (Bryman and Bell, 2003) for the flexibility offered by this method. Qualitative interviewing are flexible, following the direction proposed by the interviewees and perhaps highlighting new significant issues emerging in the course of the interviews (Gillham, 2000).

Interviews in qualitative research can have the form of unstructured and semi-structured interviews: unstructured interviews are characterized by the possibility to make a single question to interviewees that are allowed to respond freely (Gillham, 2000); semi-structured interviews are driven by a list of questions on specific topics (i.e. interview guide) and interviewees have an additional degree of freedom in answering. Questions may not be exactly what already included in the interview guide but the interviewer is allowed to pick up interesting elements of what said by interviewees. The idea of an interview guide has not to be assimilated to the notion of a structured interview schedule; in fact it can be considered just a list of memory prompts of the areas to be covered (Gillham, 2000).

In both cases, the interview process is flexible. If the researcher has a fairly clear focus it is likely that the interviews will be semi-structured ones, so that the more specific issues can be addressed (Bryman and Bell, 2003).

This data collection method places great interest in the interviewee's point of view that is crucial and required in this project where the focus is concentrated on cultural issues risen in the post-acquisition integration phase of ISS with the associated emotional aspects felt by employees.

It follows an illustration of the process to be followed and the people to be involved in the interview process based on the steps suggested by Bryman and Bell (2003).

Fig.3 The main steps of the Qualitative Research Process

Source: Bryman and Bell (2003)

The first phase of the research consists in deducting the main issues related to cultural integration aspects in the post-acquisition phase of ISS merger and comparing afterwards them with the understanding of the IBM HR Department in charge of managing M&As integration through an unstructured interview.

The second phase consists in the creation of an Interview Guide based on the previous mentioned issues, to manage the semi-structured interviews with the people involved in the case analysed. To increase and motivate the participation of the people involved an e-mail presenting the initiative and project was sent by the project sponsor. Therefore the interviews were planned and they were conducted in face-to-face mode or by telephone call.

The sample of the case study includes people belonged to ISS (manager and no-manager role) and people belonging to IBM that covered, after the merger, a manager role during the integration. This choice was driven by two reasons: firstly to assess the response to the merger directly from the ISS people and secondly to have the management point of view.

Hence the sample was made up of two different categories of interviewees:

IBM managers that led integration initially and lead at present the Security Division.

ISS employees covering different roles in ISS before and IBM now.

The sample include n. XX people obtained with a simple random sampling strategy but taking care of covering all the aspects relevant to the human and organisational aspects of the ISS integration with a reasonable heterogeneity of visions.

The choice of the quite small sample size is justified by the time constraints and by the difficulties in reaching the entire population involved in the merger (25 people).

Framework for data collection analysis

The ISS case study raw data comes, as previously mentioned, from two sources: primary data (i.e. interviews to employees and managers) and secondary data (i.e. internal documents, articles).

According to Bryman and Bell (2003), qualitative research methods prescribe data coding and reduction after they are collected. Hence, to make it easier analysing qualitative interview data they will be firstly organized into identified hierarchical categories/codes (Miles and Huberman, 1994) (i.e. Psychological Impact, Corporate Cultures and Cultural Integration, Communication and Relationships, Leadership, Tasks and Rewarding system) [1] and then results will be compared. The categories reflect this project’s objectives, the consequent research questions and the main areas of interest (issues) in the M&As cultural integration arisen from the literature review (Ch.3).

The organization by categories help the interviewer and interviewees to keep focus during the interview and give an in the data analysis. Further, each category has a different number of questions for the depth of the research and depending of the interviewee (employee or manager) there are for each categories another set of questions.

The previously showed Figure 3 illustrates the main steps of the qualitative research process the will be adopted to analyse data from the ISS case study, based on an iterative process of data collection (3), interpretation (4), conceptual and theoretical work (5), more detailed specification on research questions (5a), collection of further data (5b) and again interpretation (4) (Bryman and Bell, 2003) of the collected data, with regard to the already identified categories and the likely emerging ones (inductive approach).

Even if it is easier and simpler taking notes during the interviews, it has been decided that all the interviews will be recorded on tape and transcribed. Even being time-consuming, this activity will give the opportunity to the interviewer to concentrate on the interview process and to capture everything said by the respondents and to afterwards analyse and interpret the data.

Furthermore this project will analyze the case study data: firstly comparing and contrasting the different obtained answers and perspectives and secondly reflecting on the case study results with respect to the Literature review findings.

Limitations and Potential Problems

This research presents limitations and issues related to subjectivism and generalizability of the results as a consequence of research philosophy (interpretivism), method (qualitative) and strategy (case study and interviews) adopted. Hence the results of this study cannot be generalized neither to the issues experienced in all IBM Italy M&As nor to the issues arisen during ISS acquisition in the other countries; in fact although employees and managers will be interviewed and internal documents will be taken into account, the study of a different case study (a different IBM acquisition) or different country may lead to different results.

Nevertheless, it is not to forget that the contribution of this project will be developed through the integration of the ISS case study outcomes with the Literature Review findings and that, as more case studies are implemented within IBM (i.e. repeating the study on other IBM acquisitions), the contribution to the subject of M&As cultural integration will be progressively improved.

There are also limitations of research reliability due to the use of interviews as the main data collection methods as it relies on personal opinion consequently open to bias.

Yin (2003, p.38) states that dealing with reliability in a case study is to ‘make as many steps as operational as possible and to conduct the research as if someone were looking over your shoulder’. Hence, following his suggestions, this chapter provides details of the consistency of the case study strategy to the project research objectives, as well as all the information regarding the data collection method, the people to be interviewed, the specific categories/issues to be analysed, the interview guide and the method of data analysis.

The issue arising from the dependence from interviews as main source of data, it is partially overcome in the following ways:

Interviewing a number of people with different roles and level in the company (i.e. employees and managers) in order to have different point of views.

‘Repeating’ some questions in different categories giving the opportunity to consider some topics from different point of view (i.e. D8 and E5)

Using secondary data (i.e. internal documents, articles) to understand better the case study and its context.

Considering that the most of the respondents answers in a professional and competent way.

To manage a further issue of objectivity linked to the fact that the researcher interviews colleagues, it has been adopted the codification of the interviewees, minimizing consequently the possibility of bias while analysing and interpreting the different views. The researcher has also to gain the trust from the colleagues (interviewees) on the role played by the colleague (researcher) and on the use it will be made of the project. Hence, the researcher planned to proceed with an introductory e-mail of the project sponsor to the interviewees and a brief introduction of her and of the purpose of the research before the interview guarantying also the anonymity of the information provided.

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