Everyday Mitsui & Co. HRD Institute uses information disseminated by countless people in both business operations and learning activities. We would like to introduce some examples of our work in the hope that we can contribute in some way to the work of those involved in corporate human resource development. In this article, we will look at interviewing, which is a key element in the creation of case studies.
As noted in the previous series, the purpose of an interview is to gather peripheral information that cannot be elicited solely from related documents. This can only be achieved if the interviewees were participants in a relevant past project. Our usual practice is to interview at least three people in order to examine each phenomenon from multiple and multifaceted perspectives.
The criteria for selecting interviewees will vary according to the theme and the points to be learned. For example, for a project that spans a long timeframe, we would base our selections on the time axis. Because the persons in charge often change over time, we select interviewees from different periods so that we can ask them about issues and policies at each stage, and the background of the decisions made based on the circumstances at that time.
If the theme is not suitable for division along the time axis, you can select interviewees according to position, such as role (management, superiors, subordinates, colleagues, etc.) or organizational unit (e.g., business divisions or corporate divisions). In this way, you can use interviews to ascertain how the project was perceived by people with different points of view.
One of the key points that should be remembered here is the importance of looking at a single phenomenon from multiple and multifaceted perspectives. Just as there will be multiple opinions and interpretations for any single phenomenon that we encounter in our current work situations, we can create excellent opportunities to gain a new view of diversity by vicariously experiencing and thinking about case studies. In addition, by providing participants with multiple perspectives and encouraging their discussions during the case study session, we can help participants deepen their learning experiences.
■ Prior Preparations
As explained in the previous section, the purpose of interviews is to gather information that cannot be obtained from documents. You should, therefore, begin the process by scanning through related documentation to gain an overview of the project. Gather as many internal documents as possible, including project proposals and ringi materials. If you first obtain general knowledge from books or the internet, such as an overview of the industry concerned, this knowledge will allow you to ask more penetrating questions that will be useful later when you write the case study.
It is important to consider the questions beforehand and inform the interviewee about the content of the interview. This will allow both you and the interviewee to identify the key points of the interview and take time for preparation, enabling the interviewee to provide more detailed responses. Of course, if new questions and opinions emerge during the interview, you can proceed while confirming these in real time.
Another method is to carry out interviews without preparing the questions in advance. While this approach tends to enable the interviewer to elicit fresh and unique views, it requires considerable skill on the part of the interviewer, and makes it more difficult to sum up the interview. We, therefore, do not recommend this method to interviewers with limited experience.
The selection of questions is a key factor determining the quality of the case study. First, always ask questions that are related to the learning point of the case study, as well as questions that you plan to ask participants during the case study session. For example, if the focus of learning through the case study will be the importance of communication, you can deepen the interview by asking questions about related matters, such as the frequency of communication between superiors and subordinates, and any special steps that were taken to improve communication. When you write the case study, this will allow you to create a story focusing on the learning point, which will in turn help the learners make new discoveries.
Second, ask about the interviewee’s career. For example, if the case study relates to the launch of a new business, you can ask questions about the interviewee’s experience up to his or her involvement in the new business. You will then be able to learn how the interviewee’s passion and networks related to the project were developed in chronological order. Through the numerous interviews that we have conducted about project development, we have learned that the thinking of the individuals involved, including their unshakeable commitment and focus, plays a vital role in project formation. Although the significance of this point differs depending on the theme of the case study, this is one of the key elements that we want all training participants to understand.
Third, ask questions that will deepen knowledge of the project itself. You need specific information about the reasons for starting the project, the reactions of other people to the proposal, and, most importantly, any issues or difficulties that arose during the execution of the project. Information about issues and how they were overcome is a very important source of learning for participants, and will be useful to them in their work activities.
■ Key Points during the Interview
In general, the time taken for one interview should, at most, be about one hour. Because interviewees take time out of their work schedules to assist us, it is very important to move forward at a good tempo and conclude the interview within the allotted time. You may find that you need to seek further details when you are writing the case study, so it is important to avoid anything that might later erode the goodwill of the interviewee. As obtaining accurate data from the interviewee is crucial, you should take care to prevent any negative bias. It is common to conduct interviews with a single interviewee on multiple occasions.
You should always take a printout of the questions to the interview and use it to take notes for each item. A voice recording of the interview will also be useful at the writing stage. We create and edit video recordings of interviews, some of which we use as course material after partial editing. This further enhances the effectiveness of learning by directly providing participants with the thoughts and voices of interviewees. Today, there are many easy-to-use video editing services, so it is relatively simple to create videos without hiring expensive specialists. Interviewees are more likely to agree to a video recording of the interview if you disclose this at the interviewee selection stage.
These are the main points to consider when conducting interviews. The case study examples mentioned above are from within the Mitsui & Co. HRD Institute, and we ourselves are still at the learning stage, so we are providing this information purely in the hope that it will be useful to you as a reference. In the next report, we will look at key points to consider when writing case studies.