PhD Applicants

COER is particularly interested in hearing from graduates that have an interest in undertaking PhD research in benchmarking, best practices, business excellence, productivity, or quality management. PhD students will have a unique opportunity to work on projects that are strongly linked to the needs of businesses in New Zealand and internationally. COER has excellent connections with businesses in many parts of the world through its leadership of major international change programmes /projects and through its partnerships. A PhD at COER provides the student  with a great opportunity to pursue a career in academia or business consultancy or move into a senior management role.

Areas of possible research at COER

COER encourages research in the topics described below. It is important that the research is of interest to you and aligned to COER’s areas of expertise. You may have other ideas for research topics, if so we would be pleased to discuss these with you.

Benchmarking Research:

  • Identifying the organisational structure and support mechanisms required to embed “benchmarking” within organisations. Therefore, how do organisations develop a benchmarking culture – a willingness to learn from others? What structures, processes and resources are required? What is required for formal and informal benchmarking to flourish?
  • Developing assessment tools that assess the maturity of organisations for both informal and formal benchmarking and guide them on how to improve.
  • Researching the impact of COER’s TRADE Best Practice Benchmarking methodology and how to enhance the methodology. 1,000’s of people have been trained in TRADE. TRADE has been at the cornerstone of major improvement initiatives such as the New Zealand Benchmarking Club (2000 to 2004), Singapore’s Jumpstart Programme for the public sector (2006 to 2008) and Dubai We Learn (2015 to 2022) for the government sector. This research will review how the methodology, project management system and associated training courses can be improved.
  • Investigating and documenting successful benchmarking projects so that other organisations can learn from these examples. There are currently very few documented case studies. Such research would identify the secrets of successful benchmarking.
    • Research into the benefits and pitfalls of formal benchmarking projects. How can formal approaches be more effectively utilised?
  • Researching the activities of Benchmarking Centres worldwide to help Benchmarking Centre’s become more effective in delivering a quality service to organisations.
  • Research into the global use of benchmarking, the types of benchmarking and the benefits obtained. Research into this is urgently required as previous related research is more than 10 years old and with advancements in digital technology, analytics and big data it is now easier to undertake benchmarking.
  • Research into Informal Benchmarking – therefore researching how organisations learn from each other in an informal way. Informal benchmarking is strongly related to knowledge management but focuses on the acquisition and sharing of best practices. This research will build on previous work conducted by COER on Informal Benchmarking.
  • Determining the relevance of benchmarking to SMEs and/or how SMEs can apply benchmarking effectively.
  • Researching the role and use of on-line resources designed to assist in knowledge and best practice transfer (such as COER’s Business Performance Improvement Resource ( and /or developing methods to increase the effectiveness of on-line resources.

Best Practice Research:

  • Identifying best practices in business excellence categories such as leadership, strategy, customer and market focus, human resource management, knowledge management, performance measurement and operations.


    • To identify how to foster a culture of innovation within an organisation.
    • To identify the steps and methods used to support and increase the level of innovation within a country in line with the Global Innovation Index.

Both the projects above may involve research into:

    • innovation models and definitions
    • the methods used to encourage innovation
    • the role of knowledge management, benchmarking, organisational learning in innovation
    • innovation standards
    • innovation awards
    • innovation self-assessments
    • innovation training courses/certificates and services provided by institutions to enhance innovation.

Business Excellence Research:

  • Why has the popularity of Business Excellence declined in some countries? What is the level of awareness worldwide? (Surprisingly little research has been conducted on the awareness and use of business excellence worldwide, research on this topic would be of great benefit to those institutions that are responsible for promoting business excellence). Is business excellence still perceived as relevant by organisations? Why in some countries is it popular and others it is not?
  • Assessing the impact of business excellence models in improving a nation’s competitiveness. For example, what role has business excellence played in the social and economic success of countries like Singapore and the UAE?
  • How important are business excellence self-assessments and award assessments for an organisation’s improvement journey? What are the best practices in conducting self-assessments or award assessments?
  • Identifying methods for effective action planning stemming from business excellence self-assessments or evaluations. At present little guidance is given on this critical part of an improvement cycle.
  • Determining the relevance of business excellence frameworks and assessment approaches for small organisations (with fewer than 20 employees).

Productivity Research:

  • Investigating the role that National Productivity Organisations (NPOs) play in promoting and enhancing productivity within their country. This research would examine the strategies, services, resources and effectiveness of NPOs. The research would be of interest to NPOs and the Asian Productivity Organisation.
  • Researching the role of Business Excellence as a driver for productivity improvement. Some countries consider business excellence models as productivity models and key drivers for achieving national productivity improvements. Other countries have not understood this link. This PhD would explore the impact of business excellence from a productivity perspective and how to raise the understanding of business excellence.

Quality Management Research:

  • Researching the general area of quality management and continuous improvement. This might encompass theoretical and conceptual developments in quality, or the application of specific tools and techniques such as six sigma, lean, ISO 9000, improvement teams and health and safety.