Management prof: research and teaching are allies

February 28, 2014
Mark Gavin

Mark Gavin is coordinator of the new doctoral program in Department of Management and Industrial Relations and thinks being a professor at WVU right now is just great.

Dr. Gavin, who has been at the College of Business and Economics since 2012, said he is enthusiastic about being at the University during a period when scholarly activity is being augmented.

"WVU and the College are ramping up research, and it's exciting to be giving input and helping to shape this new momentum," he commented.

Boosting the University's research program could, he said, cut into another of its missions, namely student education, but Gavin doesn't think that's the case. "I like the balance," he said. "We are certainly staying student-centered while encouraging synergy between teaching and research. Keeping up on research makes classroom discussion more interesting and lively."

Last semester Gavin had the opportunity to teach an honors undergraduate class in the principles of management, and there is little doubt that his students benefited from his research focus. He doesn't generally go into details about his research when teaching undergraduates, but he uses research anecdotes as "a vehicle to start a larger conversation."

Last semester, for example, he told his students about one situation he had come across while doing research into trust in organizations, an area he is investigating. He told his students about a shop floor manager he had interviewed who showed him a large folder of correspondence from his bosses. The documents were meant to cover the manager should his actions be questioned. "I used this accumulation of materials in that folder as an example of what a lack of trust brings," Gavin said.

In another instance, he told his class about research he conducted with a former student. The pair had gathered data on emotions in the workplace, how they affect job performance and how one's ability to manage emotions comes into play. "I explained to the class how intense emotions—anger, happiness—can be experienced in the workplace, oftentimes, though not exclusively, as a result of work-related events. If one is not adept at managing emotions, the emotions can take over and keep one from focusing on the task at hand."

Everyone, he told his class, experiences emotions at work. However, those who are good at managing emotions recognize and understand the situation. "In turn, they respond with functional coping strategies that allow them to meet the demands of the job. Those who aren't good at it often respond with dysfunctional coping strategies, which takes them away from task performance."

The research he and his student conducted was in the context of police officers, he said, a situation where one would expect extreme emotions; however, he said, "the phenomenon easily generalizes to most any workplace setting."

In 2005, he published, along with R. C. Mayer of North Carolina State University, "Trust for Management and Performance: Who Minds the Shop While the Employees Watch the Boss?" in the Academy of Management Journal.

This research involved a manufacturing company with "a toxic environment" in terms of employee-management relations. "We were doing focus groups and quickly learned that the lack of trust was disastrous," he commented. "That's when I realized how much this matters, and I found out that there was a lot we did not understand about the issue of trust and the consequences."

Since then he has published additional research in this area in Group and Organization Management and in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, and he has presented papers on the topic at numerous academic conferences.

Gavin came to WVU from a position as the Carson Professor of Business Administration at the Spears School of Business, Oklahoma State University, where he also coordinated that school's Ph.D. program.

He said Oklahoma is similar to West Virginia in some ways. "Both states have incredibly hospitable people with a very strong work ethic," he said. However, geographically, the difference is night and day, or perhaps, straight versus curved. "It's certainly more interesting here geographically," he commented. "In fact, there are parts of this town that I never knew existed because there simply are no straight roads to them. This has been a challenge, but, it's also interesting."

Gavin is a 1997 graduate of the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue University, where he received his doctorate after completing his dissertation "Helping Behavior in Organizations: Examining Individual-Level and Group-Level Antecedents." He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at Indiana University in 1990.

Gavin said he also likes giving back to the profession through serving on editorial review boards: He is on six, including several of the top journals in management. He is also currently serving a term on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Management, a 20,000-member organization that is the premier international association for management scholars. Previously he served as chairperson for the research methods division of the Academy of Management and as president of the Southern Management Association.

When he has free time, he loves competitive racquetball, his 2005 Triumph motorcycle, day hikes and trips to Pittsburgh for arts and live music. His significant other, Dr. Jodi Goodman, is also on faculty in the Department of Management, and his daughter, Naya, is a freshman in general studies at WVU.