Commenced in January 2007
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Edition: International
Paper Count: 60795
Autonomy in Healthcare Organisations: A Comparative Case Study of Middle Managers in England and Iran

Authors: Maryam Zahmatkesh

Abstract:

Middle managers form a significant occupational category in organisations. They undertake a vital role, as they sit between the operational and strategic roles. Traditionally they were acting as diplomat administrators, and were only in power to meet the demands of professionals. Following the introduction of internal market, in line with the principles of New Public Management, middle managers have been considered as change agents. More recently, in the debates of middle managers, there is emphasis on entrepreneurialism and enacting strategic role. It was assumed that granting autonomy to the local organisations and the inception of semi-autonomous hospitals (Foundation Trusts in England and Board of Trustees in Iran) would give managers more autonomy to act proactively and innovatively. This thesis explores the hospital middle managers’ perception of and responses to public management reforms (in particular, hospital autonomy) in England and Iran. In order to meet the aims of the thesis, research was undertaken within the interpretative paradigm, in line with social constructivism. Data were collected from interviews with forty-five middle managers, observational fieldwork and documentary analysis across four teaching university hospitals in England and Iran. The findings show the different ways middle managers’ autonomy is constrained in the two countries. In England, middle managers have financial and human recourses, but their autonomy is constrained by government policy and targets. In Iran, middle managers are less constrained by government policy and targets, but they do not have financial and human resources to exercise autonomy. Unbalanced autonomy causes tension and frustration for middle managers. According to neo-institutional theory, organisations are deeply embedded within social, political, economic and normative settings that exert isomorphic and internal population-level pressures to conform to existing and established modes of operation. Health systems which are seeking to devolve autonomy to middle managers must appreciate the multidimensional nature of the autonomy, as well as the wider environment that organisations are embedded, if they are about to improve the performance of managers and their organisations.

Keywords: Autonomy, new public management, middle managers, healthcare organisations

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