Management research topics

Research into management at the School tackles a very broad range of subjects, covering all sub-disciplines within the faculty. The department is currently enjoying significant investment – adding to already excellent facilities and attracting more leading academics to the fold.

Specific research strengths include organisational studies, operations management and strategy, entrepreneurship, and marketing and consumer research. There is also a growing trend of research into sustainability issues in management, and the department is home to one of only two research centres in the UK that focuses on service as a major topic.

Research centre: Centre for Innovation and Service Research (ISR)

These are some of the topics we are currently researching:

The tales top bosses tell to keep ahead of the game

Top bosses are expert storytellers who tell versions of the same four stories to keep ahead of the game, experts have found. Professor Mairi Maclean’s research team has discovered that four powerful messages are built into the often subtle and sometimes self-deprecating stories leaders tell about themselves. Professor Maclean said: “Inequalities of power and status require greater justification at times of economic crisis. Business leaders are acutely aware of this. In telling of how they give back to society, they present themselves as socially sensitive and rounded individuals who care about others.”

Operations and strategy in micro-businesses

According to MBA Director Stephen Hickman, “Operations management is like breakfast – the most important meal of the day!” He’s currently researching the topic within micro-businesses, and specifically within two separate networks of micro-businesses, operating in the UK shellfish industry. The first, a network of independent fishermen who search and gather shell fish (cockles) using highly mechanised dredgers operate in the Thames Estuary. The second group, again independent operators dredge for shellfish (oysters), by hand, under sail in the Fal Estuary in Cornwall.

Strategy in conflict and developing country environments

“Not many people have worked in Afghanistan and Iraq. It means I get to communicate with interesting people from all over the world”, explains Dr Ian Hipkin, Senior Teaching Fellow in Management at the School, who is currently involved in exciting research into strategy and technology policy in conflict and developing countries. Dr Hipkin is one of a very small group of academics conducting research in this area.

Effective business strategies

The key issue for organisations in all sectors is that they face conditions of enormous, and ongoing, change. This means that old ways of doing business are not appropriate. Instead, companies and organisations have to develop capabilities that will enable them to compete in very volatile conditions. Such capabilities do not come about by chance but are as a result of specific strategies being put in place. This is where the role of operation strategy, Professor Steve Brown’s main area of interest, is vital. It is when the right strategies are in place that organisations can become world-class.

‘Servitization’ and how to develop it

How do firms develop the in-service support skills – also known as ‘servitization’ – in complex procurement projects, such as hospitals, ships, aircraft? This is one area of interest of Professor Mickey Howard. He’s studying the temporal dynamics between manufacturing and public/private organisations, as they adopt an extended, through-life approach to such projects – and looking at what capabilities are needed for organisations to make the necessary changes.

The social context of markets

The last two decades has seen the growth of social movements that, in the absence of government action, have sought to ‘re-organise’ markets so they are more aligned to perceived social goals. Research questions relate to what processes and instruments are required for markets to re-organise? How do markets evolve in response to pressures from social movements? How effective and sustainable are the changes they achieve? Julie Whittaker’s research and teaching is focused in particular on considering to what extent market-oriented activities can be attuned to societal objectives, for example, within fair trade initiatives, socially responsible investment and in mitigating climate change.

Events management

Before joining the University, Paul Barton had a long and distinguished career as an event manager, before an industrial accident forced him to shift tack. Now an Events Management and Events Consultant to the Business School, his research and teaching is focused on events project management, and encouraging better communication between local authorities and the events industry. Paul believes there needs to be a more level platform as to how local authorities interact with events and events companies – some want to attract events to their area, while others treat them as a nuisance. Paul believes events now deserve the right to be recognised more for what they are – proficient, professional, innovative communication tools which, if used correctly and treated with respect, can add enormous value to a village, town, city, country and society.

Small businesses and entrepreneurship

Lindsay Stringfellow is currently researching small businesses and entrepreneurship, and the role that social and other forms of capital have on their performance. Professional service firms in fields such as law and accounting are of a particular interest. Her research draws upon social network theory and theories of capital developed in social science fields such as sociology. The social theory of Pierre Bourdieu, for instance, is drawn upon to understand the dynamics of the transforming professional fields and the positions occupied by small practitioners within it.

How can we engage people in learning and discovery?

This is the question that most interests Jackie Bagnall, Teaching Fellow in Management & Leadership. She believes that learning helps to create adaptive, resilient communities – and she is exploring innovative ways to engage people in learning. A recent paper of Jackie’s also explores the art of engaged learning, taking ideas from complexity theory and arguing that our goal as teachers is to create the receptive context within which we can support the learner to explore ideas and concepts.

Workplace equality / diversity

Dr Carol Woodhams’ research interests are largely, but not exclusively, bound by the underlying theme of workplace equality / diversity. She has researched and published theoretical and empirical accounts of human resource issues in managing disabled employees and the underlying principles of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). Disability equality is often analysed politically rather than as a human resources issue. Dr Woodhams’ research continues to fill that gap.

Organisational storytelling

Majella O’Leary has built up a strong reputation in the area of research methods and in particular, organisational storytelling. She uses storytelling as a vehicle for understanding the world of organisations and their members, and in particular for researching financial and moral scandals. One plausible account of these scandals is a failure of ethical leadership that derives from the preoccupation with the self that drives individuals to seek wealth, fame and success, regardless of moral considerations.

Venture capital and high tech young firms

Professor Gordon Murray has researched, lectured and consulted internationally since 1989, in the two related areas of the growth of new technology and knowledge based firms, and the international development of the venture capital industries. As well as conducting policy-focused research for the UK, German, Finnish, Irish and other European national governments, the Australian Commonwealth and the European Commission, he has undertaken consulting commissions for several financial service providers and the British and European Venture Capital Associations.

The process of innovation

Professor John Bessant is interested in the process of innovation and how it is managed. He is looking specifically at the key structures and behaviours that enable organisations to renew their business offerings, and the ways in which they create and deliver them. Product and process innovation of this type requires capabilities, both in 'doing what we do better' – continuous improvement' – and occasionally 'doing something different' – radical / discontinuous change. Professor Bessant’s work aims to improve understanding of what is needed here, but also to identify or develop tools and techniques to enable organisations to build and sustain these capabilities.

Retail innovation

Professor Gareth Shaw has a number of research interests centred around both retailing and tourism. These include the study of retail innovation and the process of knowledge transfer. In particular his work has been based on recent large-scale research grants from the AHRC and Leverhulme, which have funded a project called ‘The Coming of the Supermarket’. Exploring the nature of this retail innovation and its impact on consumer behaviour, Professor Shaw’s research has involved a major national survey of the shopping behaviour of consumers between 1945-1975. The results of this research are currently being written up as a book entitled The Coming of the Supermarket.

Tourism, supermarkets, faith-based institutions and Cadburys

These are all areas of interest of Dr Adrian Bailey. Much of his previous work has involved an historical perspective on innovation, charting developments in the hospitality and retail sectors. His interest in consumption and identity formation spans a range of subjects and time periods, tracing developments in industrial communities and religious movements in the 19th century, to more recent trends in shopping practices and hospitality management. He has also written about the impact of Quaker beliefs and practices on the business and planning activities of George Cadbury, and more recently has written extensively about how Methodism shaped everyday life in Cornwall.