Dr. Ian Hesketh blog: Improving Lives– Academy of Management Conference - Chicago 2018

I was one of three academics and practitioners associated with The Open University’s Centre for Policing Research and Learning who participated in this conference.  My co-presenters from CPRL were Jean Hartley and Matt Jones. Prior to attending the conference, we were fortunate enough to pay a visit to Chicago Police Dept, hosted for the day by Commander Marc Buslik from District 19. In a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes we visited the Chicago Police Department Peer Support Programme and spoke to Jo, David, Andre and Denis about the critical work they did as part of the Employee Assistance Programme, which was created in April, 2000. The primary objective of the unit is to reduce stress by supporting, listening and providing appropriate resources for a whole range of operational issues. The ‘No Cop Outs’ work was particularly impressive, providing support to officers and staff members who are struggling. This certainly open our eyes to the scale of emotional labour Chicago PD endured on a regular basis, and cohered with the conference theme of ‘Improving Lives.’

Our next stop was the Chicago Police Academy, where we had the opportunity to see numerous training programmes in action. Commander Dan Godsel and Lieutenant Jack Benigno took us behind the scenes to show us the very latest in Police Training, including de-escalation and live firearms simulator training. Our brave colleague, Professor Hartley, even put herself forward for a run through; which was entertaining all round. The hammer- wielding hooligan eventually succumbing to her persuasive tones! A huge thanks, and great admiration to all at Chicago PD.


Now onto the conference itself, and our first great honour was to meet up with Profs Debbie Blackman and Michael O’Donnell along with practitioners Natalie Ashdown and Rebecca Woods from down under. A truly brilliant team, who we joined forces with in our UK/Oz collaboration to present  a professional development workshop  on academic/practitioner co-production, aptly titled ‘MAKING IT WORK: SKILLS FOR SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIPS.’ The full slides are available on the website. One of the take-homes from this was that although we co-presented with an academic/practitioner partnership from the other side of the planet, the symmetry was incredible and for me that pushed home the value this can bring; I would propose, to any organisation. I would urge anyone reading, who is interested in this, to contact the Centre for Policing Research and Learning for more insight. During the session we discussed how - to identify capabilities; employee performance management in the Australian public sector; making research in interesting to all parties and the use of diagnostics for cultural audits; and, of course, the differing views on speed! We emphasised that common purpose was important and that really this shouldn’t be something done just because you want to do research together, there should be more to it. We concluded that it is critical when embarking on co-production that the right job descriptions are drafted. This was shared by all parties, with an acknowledgment that people need to be recruited differently for this type of challenge.

We were fortunate enough to hold our own session early in the day, so with that over we were able to pick out interesting sessions from the rest of the conference, of course mine were centred on Wellbeing, of which there was lots to go at. Being the theme of this year’s AOM conference meant the AOM chair’s address related heavily to the wellbeing sphere. She made three propositions, asking, “What if …

  1. We become, as a scholarly community, more outward looking, to the audiences beyond those of the Academy, to better society and improve lives
  2. We stood together, as a community, and used our knowledge and research to advance the institutions around the world in need of help
  3. We recognised that, as a scholarly community, our responsibilities are not only to ourselves but to the world we live in…”

To get a scale of the size of the conference, there were 11,000 delegates in attendance and over 2,100 sessions. In terms of wellbeing, the chair posed the questions of how can organisations contribute to the betterment of society through elevating the health and wellbeing of those who liv in it? Further, what role can organisations play in improving the lives of vulnerable populations? And finally, if organisation’s purpose is to ensure lives are better, what should they do differently? With 95 countries represented at the conference, these questions were set to a truly global audience.

            To stay within our own boundaries of making publications ‘long enough to be interesting, but short enough to read’ I will provide a whistle-stop overview of just some of the sessions I attended, and, found very interesting. To whittle 2100 sessions down into a few fun-packed days is quite a tall order, and we all discussed varying methodological approaches for doing this (academics and all!). The conference has a superb resource in the form of an app. This gives information on scheduling and allows you to quickly search times, venues and create your own schedule. This is priceless in an event as frenetic as this.




First session to visit was focussed on wellbeing and resilience to influence innovation. Building employees’ subjective wellbeing and resilience is pivotal to facilitate ground for innovations at the workplace Research suggest that helping employee resilience positively impacts on subjective wellbeing outcomes. The speakers suggest that there is an association between employee wellbeing, resilience and innovation. The significant gap was that, most studies on the association of wellbeing and resilience have heavily relied on western data and theories. In this workshop the presenters explored cases from India in order to expand our understanding of the association between wellbeing, resilience and Innovation in India. This workshop was though provoking and included speakers from UK Universities. Pictured Shlomo Tarba from the University of Birmingham.

A mixture of US academics presented the next workshop. This was designed to address how positive relationships at work influence societal wellbeing. Workplace relationships represent a burgeoning research area that offers insights into how individuals make sense of the world, with implications for individuals and the teams and organisations they inhabit. This aims to address the specific role that workplace relationships have on four specific dimensions of wellbeing: physical, psychological, social, and financial. This is exactly the same as we look at in policing in the UK, so was of particular interest. What was interesting, as in so much of this conference, was the methodology employed to run the workshop. Through a hybrid design that included short research presentations, an expert panel, and both small and large group discussions, connected research on positive relationships at work with each of the identified four components of wellbeing. Very well put together and very enjoyable.

The day after I went to a session run by one of the AOM committees looking at how it could be more inclusive. A chance to chat to Prof Rob Briner, a great friend of the OUCPRL and meet the enigmatic Prof Doyin Atewologun from Queen Mary University in London. The workshop centred on the promotion of wellbeing, diversity and inclusion within the AOM. With a huge representation across the globe present (95 countries) this was a superb opportunity to get involved with the discussions. The conference later announced that it will be held in Vienna in 2020, a rare departure from the usual US location.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was on the subject of wellbeing, presenteeism and performance management. The interesting part (for me) was the way the session was run, with each of the delegates having completed a review of their colleague’s paper then present it. The Q&A sessions that followed posed questions to both the reviewer and the authors themselves, which was fascinating. The critique was very constructive and genuinely seemed to help the authors improve the quality of their papers. The first paper suggested that research on Human Resource Management often focusses on the high- skilled workforce. As a result, knowledge regarding low-skilled work, which is defined as work with no formal requirements for training and less challenging as well as standardized tasks, is rare. While the field of presenteeism, which analyses going to work despite illness, gains more and more attention in research and practice alike, research combining it low-skilled work is missing. This is particularly problematic, as low-skilled worker are already endangered through their employment and working conditions. Consequently, the risk for presenteeism and its negative consequences for individual and organization might be even higher. The paper provided suggestions for empirical examination and ended with a brief conclusion as well as limitations. The second paper explored the Implementation of Worker Health Promotion Programs through the AMO Mode (Ability, Motivation and Opportunity). The third explored Organisational Context, Employer-Employee Shared Intentionality, and Wellbeing Perceptions. The final paper in this session examined Succession Management Capabilities: Planning for the Inevitable Transition of Executive Talent, making use of a Succession Management Capabilities Framework (pictured) which was very interesting.

            Sticking with the wellbeing agenda, a further session (out of the 2100) was held on Managing and ageing workforce, with papers on retirement investment risks to Wellbeing task performance profiles, human capital pipelines and the impact on older workers engagement. Data on all of these issues provided compelling reading and the presenters made an extremely good job of relating the concepts to a mixed audience.




I will make a final overview of the Mindfulness session, which was really more about research methodology than the subject itself, with presentations on the extant literature about mindfulness with the help of two complementary bibliometric techniques: reference co-citation analysis and document bibliographic coupling analysis. The former helps academics to highlight the theoretical and methodological foundations of the field, and the latter the main themes of the current research front. The authors use a network analysis tool developed during the past decade, to help cluster references and documents, and graphically map the research field. Based on the results of bibliometric analyses, they reviewed the literature about mindfulness in both the psychology and the management fields in order to highlight research gaps in the management literature.

I will finish off by reviewing the purpose of the conference, and indeed the AOM itself. That being to consider the involvement of organisations in creating a better society. Some potential questions that the conference community were asked to explore: 

  • How, when, and why does organisational performance positively impact health and wellbeing?  
  • Under what conditions do structures and processes promote societal health and wellbeing in the short-term and longer term? How are organisational products and services making a difference to societal health and wellbeing?
  • What would it mean for organisations to seriously consider the health and wellbeing of their employees and those doing life-changing work in unique contexts? What initiatives make a positive difference to the health of employees?
  • What can organisations do to enhance financial wellbeing in society? What factors facilitate and reinforce attention and action on society’s health and wellbeing at different levels? How do advocacy groups and Internet activism positively affect organisations’ health and wellbeing goals?
  • How do organisations use their influence to advance the health agenda of public policymakers? What facilitating conditions support organisational success in improving health and wellbeing? How do institutional contexts facilitate the collaboration and pooling of resources to positively address societal health and wellbeing?
  • What organisational capabilities facilitate the detection of societal need for help in the context of natural and human-caused disasters? How does management education positively impact the health and wellbeing of students and contribute to improving the lives of vulnerable groups in society?
  • What role should management education play in promoting the health of the planet and the lives of its people? 

All these questions pose challenges for academics and practitioners alike. For anyone considering academic study the AOM provides a superb resource to scope out ideas and seek contacts with like interests. The OU CPRL can provide the environment to develop thinking and create knowledge where there are gaps.

Ian Hesketh

Our thanks to the Open University Citizenship and Governance Strategic Research Initiative, which funded this visit for Jean, Matt and me.