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How Does a Senior Manager Experience Change?

Contents
Page number
Abstract        3
Introduction       4
Method        7
Analysis        9
Discussion        19
References        22
Appendices        24
 
 
 
 
Abstract
The study aimed to develop an understanding, of how a senior manager in a social care organisation experiences strategic issues within change in her organisation and to explore aspects of her responses as both positives and negatives.
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis which is based on a double hermeneutic method of analysis of the phenomenological ‘lived experience’, was conducted on a single interview transcript provided by Coventry University. The participant was a single interviewee employed as a senior manager in a social care organisation.
The participants perceptions of organizational strategy were interpreted into three themes, termed: decide, then consult; disempowerment to empowerment and leadership responsibility.  These three themes captured how the participant defined, perceived and responded to strategy in a number of ways.  Decision-making was autocratic but shielded under a guise of participatory/consultative management; disempowering forces lead to empowerment in some situations and  not in others, where it lead to attempt at enforced empowerment;   and leadership responsibility extended to all aspects of the organisation, including strategy where it was taken to extraordinary, almost dictatorial, lengths seemingly for the good of the organisation.
The interviewer asked open questions on strategic management and thinking, and although the participant understood this referred to a longer term or overall set of aims, the responses ranged widely, including business planning, operations, decision-making, marketing and recruitment.  The above themes, however, permeated these areas, and suggested that this manager had conflicting thoughts informing her view. On the one hand, she put great emphasis on collaborative, team-based consultative decision-making, but her actual descriptions suggested this was more of an after-thought, following on from her deciding what she already knew intuitively was right.   This was echoed by expressions favouring internal experience over external expertise, and also reflected in her style for communicating, which consisted mostly of her telling people and then getting buy-in retrospectively.
The analysis reveals an individual who feels strongly ‘in charge’ but who also feels the need to soften or even disguise their autocracy for staff cohesion.  They saw their role as someone who accommodates change (whether imposed or home-grown) by empowering and bringing staff on board with honest and open communication.
Some of the immense complexity, nuance and obcure nature of one manager’s engagement with the concept of strategy and change within her organisation has been revealed.  The manager’s own struggle with contradictory motivations and how she made sense of it and her eventual responses allowed an insight into her world, and an empathising and understanding of the complications as she saw them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Introduction 
The literature shows that strategy is one of the most controversial topics within organisations (Ridwan, 2017).  It is argued that business environments have changed in recent decades, to become more volatile and erratic. Hence there has been a move away from detailed, analytical strategic planning, towards broader approaches such as guidelines-based (Grant, 2013 p13), or eclectic (Mintzberg and Lampel, 1999). Yet another strand of research suggests a profound perspective shift is necessary, away from having strategy to doing it (Johnson, 2007,p19) .  Thus modern strategic management psychology focusses on the people involved, and overlaps with leadership (Harrison, 2018), decision-making and change management (Cameron and Green, 2004 pp 128; Kuipers et al, 2014). However, empirical psychology research within these areas is still predominantly quantitative (Langfield-Smith, 2006; Yasir, 2016; Drago & Clements, 1999) .   Although there are, increasingly, qualitative contributions to organisational change research (Garcia and Gluesing, 2013), they are principally not psychologically oriented.  So the ‘voices’ of people involved in issues around strategy, have, largely, not been heard.  Although there are many modern qualitative psychology methods, only interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) brings together the capture of the ‘lived experience’ (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009 p15) along with the double hermeneutic of the researcher making sense of the participants’ making sense of their world (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009 p7,) in a way that crystallizes and clusters at whatever level of drill-down the researcher chooses.   IPA requires researcher immersion into the world of the participant(s), their perspectives, viewpoints, judgements, opinions, language and ideas (Biggerstaff & Thompson, 2008).  The epistemology of IPA is that, through methodological interpretations of the participant’s responses, it becomes possible to access a representation of the participant’s cognitive inner world and allow insights into the underpinnings of the way they see, opine and act in their environment.
IPA was used in preference to discourse analysis (DA which is the study of ‘language-in-use’ (Tyler  et al., 2005), that is to say it analyses the purposeful use of language in its social context, and outside of any cognitive attribution (Morgan, 2010).  However, this study was focused on the underlying cognition and lived experience of a senior manager involved in strategic planning, rather than the way they used language.
Research aims for the analysis chosen:
To explore the lived experience of a senior manager in a social care service around strategic planning.
To identify key concepts within this manager’s processes and connections between them and the wider world.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Method
IPA involves a systematic process (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin, 2009[1]), which has been adapted as described below, for the purpose of this study.  A transcript from a semi-structured interview was provided by Coventry University.   The transcript text was then re-arranged into the center column of a 3-column table.
Stage 1; Reading and re-reading transcript  Repeated reading of the text is carried out during this process, the researcher noted their observations and reflections on only the participant’s (P.) responses, in the right hand column. These notes were colour coded under categories of ‘description’ (content), ‘language’ (uses of language (eg metaphor) and ‘concepts’ (ideas). The purpose of this coding was to ensure the researcher included aspects from many different points of view.  Personal judgement must be set aside or ‘bracketed’ (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin, 2009 p25), to avoid researcher bias. Rather the focus was solely on P’s statements within the transcript data, looking at it only from P’s stated point of view.
Stage 2 Emerging Themes This next stage of the process involved a clustering and crystallizing process of the data while maintaining its complexity.  The researcher reviewed the transcript table, especially the notes column and by combined focus on discrete chunks of P’s responses as well as knowledge and awareness of the overall, broader content. In this way emergent themes were identified that captured, some of the essential qualities of the interview. The emergent themes were recorded in the left hand column of the transcript table.
Stage 3 Consultation and audit Conducting IPA analysissingly, it is difficult to keep the bracketed perspective. Biggerstaff and Thompson (2008), highlight the importance of collaboration when going through emergent themes. Therefore a colleague was enlisted to check and assess the coherence and plausibility of the interpretation.  The process involved the colleague reading the product of the above stages and raising any queries which did not make sense or could not be justified.
Stage 4 Theme Development.  The themes which represent a condensate of the emergent themes were recorded, with substantiated interpretations and linked evidence from the interview, as extracts.
Stage 5 Discussion   Theme by theme, the main points of the analysis were discussed in light of the specific participant and the wider literature.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Analysis
Theme 1 – Decide, then consult
Strategy is synonymous with planning which is connected to leadership – a unitary position. But planning is also part of management which is inevitably linked to team-working.  P.’s concept of combining these two consists of a subtle autocracy in decision-making within the organisation, alongside comprehensive, ongoing consultation exercises giving the semblance of participatory leadership.  
(N.B. some extracts are combined from the original transcript table as, although they were separated by an utterance from the interviewer, they were part of the same response.)
(P= participant interviewed)
“to me the stra strategy means that the way that the organisation is going, my my plan if you like or our plan, because because we are very much into teams”
P., demonstrates by the above paragraph that she thinks strategy is inextricably associated with planning. And that strategic planning is consistent with a team approach.
“..yeah, well yes and no in in in terms of actually developing the business plan that that comes from probably J and myself to start with as as its never first roll out, you know OK OK what do you think of this so you have draft on draft on draft…..
P. explains the process of plan initiation as starting with herself. J. is not introduced, so this seems to be P. designing the initial plan.  But she is very careful to stress it is a very, very preliminary, early stage, first of many draft. But clearly the plan is written first and then people are asked ‘what do you think if this?’
“……. So we have a draft, take it to, take it to the trustees usually, see what they pick over with it, and they may, but its still only a draft, discuss it with the ops managers and see what they pick over erm usually take it to the managers and say you know this is our draft strategy, you know and usually then at that level then after its gone to the trustees, the ops managers and the managers we usually take on board, you know those view of people and put it together, erm unless unless of course there’s something in there and which there was when we wrote this which you know, which will be 3 and a ½ years ago, when we wrote this there were some changes in there that that actually again was the first draft of change in our management structure which we actually did discuss with the staff”       
The draft is circulated widely, to all levels of the organisation, it seems, simultaneously. They are all invited to ‘pick over’ the draft, which implies look at the fine detail.  It appears they are not invited to comment on the overall direction or any major stages, projects or milestones.
“………erm having said that once we’ve got a business plan we’re not so rigid as to say, you know two years into that we think actually this is not applicable, we’ll need to revisit it”     
 “Yeah I mean we review our strategy, we have, we review our strategy every 12 months anyway….
….but in between that, I mean we have, we have a conscious review every year of our strategy because the trustees erm J and myself always, and for ½ a day we invite the senior management to that as well, we have an away day where we review the strategy and where we review our business plan.  Its certainly done annually but in between that erm J my co-director and myself would be reviewing that and er, we have an away day where we review the strategy and where we review our business plan.  Its certainly done annually but in between that erm J my co-director and myself would be reviewing that and almost I wouldn’t say continually but we’d certainly review it every couple of months..”  
P. is describing reviewing overkill for her plan. Three away days and then reviews every couple of months.  But it makes sense if P. is really the driver behind all of this, and at each iteration she can make small alterations that bring the plan closer and closer to where she thinks they should be, or wants them to be.
“….and so, actu, to be honest you achieve things on it and you say actually, in fact we looked at it the other day and J we we actually sat down and said we’ve actually done all of this and we’ve got two years to go (laugh) you you know, and encompassed the changes so we we’re in fact that’s out next plan is our five year plan, where we’re actually 18 months ahead.” 
P, apparently, noticed they were 2 years ahead of the plan, which P must have intended all the time, with all the reviewing.  It seems P is jubilant at this discovery and equates this with success.  Again, this seems to be her own idea, not one that has been imposed from any third party, and not one she is admitting to having planned.
            “….how would we go through the process of choosing, of choosing which one (strategic option)…
…. well I think again, I think we we’d, J and I, would say well well you know, it would be about whats financially viable, what you know what do we feel, well is it within our articles to do this, I think we’d certainly discuss it with the senior management, I don’t think we ever implement a business plan without involving some people, even to say actually J and I think this is the only option”.
P. is explaining that decision-making within the plan is firmly within the ‘J & I’ partnership. Who decide if it makes sense financially (but no financial director or legal dept. input)?  She says she doesn’t think she would ever implement a business plan without consultation, which implies she might go ahead unilaterally. Furthermore, it is she who is deciding whether, who and how to consult, whether, and how to amend and whether or when to implement.
             “… but actually before we did it we did talk to the ops managers and say, look this is, you know this is what we want to do, really what we are going to do and this is how we’d like to do it now they actually agreed that we would of done that, you know that would have been a senior management decisions from our from the directors so this is what we’re doing…”
P. adds, retrospectively, that they wouldn’t actually impose a new plan on staff, unwarned.  But the explanation has an immoveable, rigid, autocratic tone here in.
this is what we want to do, really what we are going to do”  followed by “this is how we’d like to do it”.
These are not questions, but dictates. And, in an even heavier-handed addition, P. says had the staff not agreed, she would have told them the change was coming down from higher up the organisation (which it did not).
   … fortunately people were on board but but do you know what I mean…”
P. seems extraordinarily open and honest about the possibility for opposition, although she doesn’t offer any solution if that were to happen. I wonder how she can be sure people are on board, as it is possible they are aware of P’s style, and therefore make sure they are seen to be in full agreement.
 “….erm, five erm, I think there’s a there’s a very clear distinction between management and leadership and I think that leaders erm need to have that extra bit if you like, leaders, management is about er (laugh) as I often say to the managers, management is about moving cups around the table and making sure everything, leadership is about actually saying, you know all this is going we’re having a new dinner service (laugh)……”
Here we get an insight into the rationale behind P’s style.  A leader makes big changes and decides; and a manager only readjusts and rejigs.  It seems P. very much sees herself in the leader role, and although she sees the roles as distinct, rather than just different, she also sees the leader as being more important.
I wonder what reaction the managers have, to being often told by P. that all they are there for is too refine her ideas.  Apparently, according to P……..
they do see me though that I am very firm but it would go with fair”
I agree that P. treats equally, all the staff hierarchy, as being the people whose views she has to be seen to be trying to incorporate.  And she is firm, but sneaky.
“……so you know and and and I think, I think that when you know you you, you stop managing and you lead and erm I think so I think as I say I suppose that comes into the distinction really to know the difference from your leadership skills and your management skills”
P. clearly thinks she knows all there is to know, and that you need to rely on personal judgment. It seems she is the only one who knows, and I do not know where this leaves J. as I am not sure there is room here for co-leadership.
Theme 2 – Disempowerment to empowerment
P.’s organization is going through a period of change, to the way their care services have to be delivered reported by her to be mainly driven by government required changes. 
“now there has been a new development within health and social care that will affect us in the future which has come from the government….
….erm and I wont go into all the ins and outs of that but it but there is going to be a huge difference in the way social care is going to be delivered, now what that has meaned, what that has meant or what that does mean for providers is that you actually either let it happen in which case you’ll probably find yourself out of business or like us we, you may not be totally comfortable but accept that these changes are going to take place and Ok we need to look at what we’re doing now, what we’ve got to do in the future in order to be prepared for these changes”
P. explains that the impending changes are so profound, that organisations who do not respond adequately will close down.  But her attitude is positive – even though she isn’t ‘totally comfortable’, she also isn’t going to waste time protesting, as she gives the impression her time is better spent starting preparing for these changes.
“Alright, very important decision to the organisation, well I mean I can think of one that I had to make when J was on holiday when er we er had a decision to make on a erm some publicity we we were actually go ahead with and then when J was on holiday they came back with it and the cost was extortionate and I I thought this cost was extortionate and I thought and it it it was firstly something we were going to have produced by but they wanted a deadline and that we were going to have it produced on a dvd and now I have to say that I’m the first, I thought it was extortionate but I’m not very good at knowing whether it is….”
P describes a very important decision she made, which would have involved wasting significant expenditure for the organization, had she not intervened.  Some publicity materials had been approved for production but the cost was much higher than anticipated.  Plus they were working to a deadline.  P. admits this type of operation is not within her knowledge or experience, rather just a ‘gut feeling’ that this was not right.
“….to me it does cost a lot to provide a you know so I thought well I think this is a ridiculous amount of money but actually I know somebody that’s in the business (laugh) and I’m going to ring them and find out…
…….so I rang so and so who is actually nothing to do with the organisation and said to him and he said your being ripped off”.
P’s instinct turns out to be a good one as she discovers they were about to be overcharged. Showing P to have underlying innate confidence that maybe P isn’t even aware of. P. shows no indications of being maverick so either the organisation, her line management, either encourage or condone this, a powerful act.
 “Yes yes I think we made a very good strategic decision recently, erm given some of the outside factors erm, I I I its… ….. like I knew that we had to do something with again within the management structure and the way, because what we needed to do develop what I call tangelically we need to go into other counties…”
P. starts from a disempowering position, imposed on by ‘outside factors’, then she starts to explain that she had been reviewing their management structure with these changes in mind.   Clearly the changes will involve the organisation being paid less by government, which, ordinarily, would mean staff reductions. But P. is already thinking ‘tangelically’ about justifying staff by expanding into neighbouring counties.
“… OK but we had actually got enough management, if you took our 10% management within the organisation we have got more than enough…
….as a matter of fact we have got too much actually, er but we are not like, we are not making redundancies or anything like that we are going to hopefully grow so that we can because I don’t want to go that way but it just happens that way sometimes and I was I was I was sort of thinking we we need to go in go into different counties we need to do this, how are we going to manage the managers in order to actually erm split up their management responsibilities so that can actually have some room for growth…… ……we actually came out with a plan where we could actually use our management, what we’ve got but use it better, increase ops managers responsibilities so they could develop into other counties of which we’ve done this now and still retain our management and keep every hopefully keep everybody happy”. 
P. already has thought of a plan that by expanding the business, they can keep the staff numbers. She is musing how they might divide the new work load by elevating the operations manager’s responsibilities, moving them into neighboring management roles which will give them room to grow and develop themselves, as well as these newly acquired businesses.  Here she is turning the original disempowerment into empowerment of staff.
It is a moot point whether any of this would have been considered had the external changes not been imposed.
“…..and that’s in place and although we’ve got too much management at the next level, hopefully with the growth that the ops managers are going to have, so actually we presented, I did a PowerPoint presentation last meeting at the managers meeting and actually I am amazed how well its gone down, you know, I’m really they can see why its got to happen they you know”.
By giving a presentation at the managers meeting, P. is spreading the empowerment message more widely to staff, who are being given the opportunity to embrace P’s growth ideas.  Apparently they received them enthusiastically, and no doubt started thinking about possibilities where their contributions could fit.
  “….than you can in one home, erm so we have no plans to make anybody redundant what we want, the challenge is to grow the business so we’ll actually need more managers, because they know themselves that they haven’t got much to manage…”
P. is thinking broad and future, that if they can grow sufficiently, they might even need more staff. But hitherto, the staff had realised they had not enough work to justify their jobs, which was undoubtedly disempowering, as they could not influence it at all.
 “…..they can see that and I’ve said you challenge is to go and get yourself something, and and and I have just had a manager in the office today and she said I’ve got three new services, you know I’ve had three referrals and you know this is….”
Here P. is energising and deepening staff empowerment by challenging them to drum up business, and gives them an example of how she is already receiving enquiries.
“…..and you know I will say to the managers don’t come to me after 6 months when you’ve taken that person on and say you’ve really got a problem here its your problem you’ve got 6 months to manage this person and decide in 6 months and then you come to me after 7 months and say you I shouldn’t, that’s your problem you sort it you know and and er you know”
 
Finally P moves almost into empowerment bullying – she gives them the opportunity and freedom to recruit who they want, train them how they want but if they don’t get it right, they take the fall.  This could be very disempowering to some people… but to others the opportunity is there to make their own.
Theme 3  – Leader Responsibility
P. shows a strong sense of leadership responsibility for the staff, and for the ethical standards of the organisation. However, she takes less responsibility for her bad decisions.
     “…well I can’t think of a bad strategic decision erm well we’ve made I’ve made a poor appointment, I mean, I mean you know which does disappoint you because you think you know people you think your good at interviewing…….
….I also think that erm she was very good at talking the talk and we didn’t see through that…..
……some of my ops managers had and spoke very highly of her when It translated actually into work it didn’t actually match up”
P’s. Admission that she made a bad appointment is set against shifting the responsibility to the candidate who she considers ‘blagged’ her responses, and her colleagues who vouched for the candidate, mistakenly. As a leader, it doesn’t sit well to be a poor judge of character, and you could argue that here she is taking responsibility for her perception within the organisation.
 “going back to standards I think that every organisation and I think that this is an area for directors erm remit is and its one thing that if you like is erm I think I decision that you you would take personally is that you, there’s a certain standard that you will accept and you wont go beyond…
….and there’s and there’s certain things that you know there are certain things within this organisation that if we’re asked to do we wont do……
….. and I I will not move on those decisions……. Because
…..personally I have views about that…..
…..yes certainly, it’s a personal thing, it’s a personal thing as in as in erm its about quality now you know its it its personal the sense that because I think that people have ways…
….. Now my own view and and actually it is my own view but fortunately for me its its also he view of the trustees”
Here P’s leadership responsibility shows full force. She is unilaterally deciding on the ethical limits of the organisation, based on her own ethical stance.  She takes overall responsibility for the organisation sticking to its standards, which conveniently echo her own. However, she alludes to the quandary of her ethics not coinciding with the trustees of the organisation.
 
“you have to allay peoples fears erm and sometimes there’s to you you think there minimal but to them there mount everest so you you you have got to allay peoples fears and at the end of the day you have got to show people the bigger picture,” 
As a leader, P. understands that, for her staff, especially in a period of major change, there are anxieties about their role within the future organisation which can be blown out of all proportion – ‘Mount Everest’.  But she takes responsibility ‘…you have got to…’ for reassuring them, and she does it by revealing the planned future landscape, so their fears are kept in better perspective.
 
 
Discussion – Decide, then consult.
P. has revealed an autocratic tendency in which she orchestrates her own ideas being the ones incorporated throughout all aspects of the organisation. Rightly, she feels the need to conceal this within a superficial impression of consultation. In fact the literature refutes the idea of autocracy in a leader as always undesirable, describing many situations as benefitting from a single strong voice (Harms et al. 2018[2]).  However, there are associations of failure with autocratic-style leadership (Gabriel, 2011[3]) and other pejorative descriptions of the autocratic style, with more extreme versions such as despotic (Bass, & Bass, 2008[4]).  A more participative democratic style is more effective in experienced leaders with a familiar workforce, but otherwise, a ‘bossy’ leader can be more successful (Sauer, 2012[5]).  This style of management involving superficial consultation after decisions are made, might fit into modern ideas of eclectic strategic management, or could, rather, be a kind of structural bullying operating upwards, downwards and sidewards (Medhurst and Albrecht, 2016) [6]. A personal note was published recently highlighting strong negative feelings from staff in care contexts working with this type of autocratic manager (Rowe, 2016[7]).
Discussion – disempowerment to empowerment
The analysis illustrates how empowerment can be fostered on the back of disempowerment.  Lorion, and McMillan (2008[8]) raised this question whether you need disempowerment for empowerment to be possible, and this study supports that.  A large meta-analysis showed empowered staff are well known to be more productive, have greater job satisfaction and work commitment, but it’s only true for some people (Lee, Willis and Tian, 2018[9]).  Arnfjord and Hounsgaard (2015[10]) look at professional social workers in Greenland, where there was the possibility of the whole profession being disempowered.  But in that case, all the management hierarchy were similarly paralysed, frustrated and stymied, Whereas the extracts in this study show that combinations of empowerment and disempowerment can be positive, and are connected but in complex ways.  Another interesting insight showed that in another government imposed service alteration, young people were disempowered, initially. But they eventually embraced their disempowered status and developed levels of empowerment, not what had been imposed but successful in the participants’ terms (Trotter, 2008[11]).
Discussion-  Leader Responsibility
The literature supports the role of leader as someone responsible for staff – including job satisfaction (Hantula, 2015[12]) and team working, especially in care contexts (Kossaify, Hleihel and Lahoud, 2017[13]). In fact is has been asserted that ethical responsibility in professionals is the key factor than enables their effective responsibilities for staff well-being on wider platform (Berlinger and Dietz, 2016[14]).
Superordinate Themes
The themes of ‘decide, then consult’; ‘disempowerment to empowerment’ and ‘leadership responsibility’ all fall under the overarching theme of decision-making for change.  Change often involves a painful metamorphosis of people and processes as attempts are made to survive and thrive.
The strength of this study is that, almost uniquely among the literature, it gives rein to a very personal account of what it is like living through a complex, but not uncommon organisational situation.  This sheds light and opens up possibilities for further research that have not yet been explored elsewhere.  However, this is only a tiny fragment of the possibilities for this kind of study, which is likely to be lost in the mass of publiched work.
The weakness of the study is that the interview was conducted by a researcher unconnected with the research question.  This means interesting avenues were not explored, and the opportunity to hear and see the actual person of the participant might have positively contributed to the results.  Alternatively, personal interaction might have biassed the researcher negatively, if, for example, they disliked the participant’s voice or some other aspect.
The implication for occupational psychology is that this study highlights the need to hear directly from people involved in organisations. Only then can you obtain authentic evidence beyond all kinds of questionnaire or similar method.  However, these types of study are time-consuming and have a very small viewpoint on which they focus.  Also, the finding that seemingly undesirable characteristics can be combined with some contexts to produce successful outcomes, is an interesting contribution to a field often looking only for universal solutions. Organisational psychology learns from this study that there is important truth in the detail, and that complex situations can be mined for new insights not necessarily consistent with received wisdom.
Conclusion This study ‘shines a light’ into the rather chaotic and fluctuating world of a senior care manager immersed in imposed change. The key findings are that supposed negative characteristics in a manager, like autocracy, are not necessarily bad for some situations.  If the manager has an awareness of this, the capacity to soften its impact within a suitable workforce, and honourable motives, the situation can be exploited and utilised for her own and the organisations benefit.
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