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«People Matter: A hermeneutic exploration of reflective practice and facilities management Melanie Bull A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of ...»

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People Matter: A hermeneutic

exploration of reflective practice and

facilities management

Melanie Bull

A thesis submitted in partial

fulfilment of the requirements of

Sheffield Hallam University

for the degree of Doctor of Business


September 2014


This is a hermeneutic study exploring the use of reflective practice in the

context of facilities management. This study engaged facilities management

practitioners who had all completed a part time undergraduate certificate in facilities management, delivered via block study and distance learning. The research drew on their life histories and explored how professional facilities management students have engaged with reflective practice in the workplace.

The two main drivers for the research were to understand how reflective practice was used by facilities managers and to comprehend whether reflective practice had benefitted individuals from a personal and from an organisational/professional perspective.

Four key themes emerged from the research. These themes were drawn from the interview text and the life histories, they were: how reflective practice was used in the workplace; the use of reflective practice in decision making; the impact that reflective practice had on blame culture; and finally, the use of reflective practice in personal and professional development.

The thesis has provided a greater understanding of reflective practice in facilities management, as there was a dearth of literature in this area; secondly, there was an unexpected finding in relation to blame culture which led me to exploring how reflective practice can be used to address this. In relation to practice the research has evidenced that there are benefits to facilities managers being more reflective in their working practice and whilst this seems to be nominally added into the ‘requirements’ of the professional body, this needs to be better understood and articulated to the facilities management profession. Secondly, reflective practice should be embedded into all facilities management education and be a core part of the curriculum; and thirdly, facilities managers need encouragement to become reflective practitioners and therefore contributing to the wider organisation through improved service and innovation.

Table of Contents Acknowledgement 5 Author's Declaration 6 Chapter 1: Introduction  7 Background and Aims of the research Chapter 2: Preunderstanding 13  13 My personal journey of truth: a reflective review  19 My observa

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Acknowledgement Firstly, I would like to thank my partner Glyn, without him keeping me sane, I think I would have fallen at the first hurdle! Thank you for your love and support throughout this journey and for believing in me always. Special thanks to my Dad for being my rock and reminding me that I was “just doing this for fun”, to Sue for her love and support and help with the transcription; and to my brothers, Bob and John, for their humour and belief in me during this process.

To my best friends Lorna and Claire for believing in me and being my soundboard when I felt it was all falling down around me, and also for the morning chats via FaceTime and the evenings of wine and cider.

Thank you to my supervisors Jill Fortune, Phil Askham and John McAuley particularly to Phil who has kept me on the straight and narrow and has dealt with my meltdowns with practical advice and humour.

To my students past and present that took part in this journey with me, I thank them for their open and honest discussions during the interviews and their email responses.

To my work colleagues Jill, Tricia, Paul and Ian for their support and also for covering my workload to allow me to complete this journey through my sabbatical, and to Sheffield Hallam University for investing in my continued development.

Finally thanks to the wonderful lady that brought me into this world and always believed in me. I know she would be exceptionally proud of my achievements.

Author’s declaration I confirm that this thesis is sole work of the author Mel Bull Chapter 1: Introduction This study is a hermeneutic exploration of how reflective practice is used by facilities managers to understand what it is to be a reflective manager in the context of facilities management. The context of facilities management was the vehicle for the research rather than the main contribution. My engagement with the teaching of professional facilities managers (FMs) has led me to embark on this journey to understand how reflective practice is used by FMs; whether this has aided their own personal and professional development, but with wider implications for organisational behaviour more generally. As the study follows a hermeneutic framework, the thesis is not set out in the traditional sense, but follows a more fluid reflexive approach with me as the researcher very much a part of this journey. Hermeneutics follows a tradition of pre understanding followed by understanding through an interpretive process (Alvesson and Skoldberg, 2009). So to remain true to the framework, this thesis includes a pre understanding chapter, followed by methodology, the social actors’ life histories, the hermeneutic exploration itself, and my conclusions. I have endeavoured to explain to the reader my steps as I have been through the hermeneutic framework.

Background and rationale My research focus is on the use of reflective practice by facilities managers (FMs).

–  –  –

My interest in the topic is formed from my engagement with facilities management as a professional discipline, my personal engagement with reflective practice and also my general interest in people and their emotional and mental wellbeing.

The purpose and aims of this research is to develop a deeper understanding of whether reflective practice is used by facilities manager and what this looks like in terms of their personal and professional practice; and also to inform my practice in relation to teaching reflective practice. Methodologically, hermeneutics has key elements that engage a combination of "horizons, the hermeneutic cycle and the temporality of truth and dialogue" (Whitehead, 2004:513); it provides a blend of understanding the researcher's own horizons or prejudices (Gadamer, 1976) as researchers can never remove their past experiences from the research and therefore this is inextricably linked to the interpretation of texts (Thompson, 1990). As the text is interpreted by the reader, different readers may gain alternative meanings from the text but the journey of the interpretation should be understood by other readers (Benner, 1994). The hermeneutic cycle is the engagement with the text, "the circling discipline of reading, writing, talking, mulling, re-reading, rewriting and keeping new insights in play" (Smythe et al, 2008:1393). The temporality of the truth relates to the interpretation; the text can only be true at the last point it was analysed and therefore can only be an approximation of the meaning (Ormiston and Schrify, 1990). As Smythe et al (2008:1394) discussed, drawing on Heideggerian hermeneutic research, "the focus of the research is held, but the questions we bring to that focus will grow and change as our understanding builds". Drawing on the research area, my own philosophical position, and my own engagement with reflective practice, I believe this methodology to be most appropriate for my research.

The research interviews were with practicing facilities managers who have completed a reflective learning portfolio and reflective assignments as part of their course at Sheffield Hallam University and this will be discussed further within Chapter 2.

By way of definition, facilities managers are responsible for the management of services and processes that support the core business of an organisation, and ensure that an organisation has the most suitable working environment for its employees and their activities. This is a wide field with a diverse range of responsibilities, which are dependent on the structure of the organisation.

Facilities managers are involved in both strategic planning and day-to-day operations, particularly in relation to buildings and premises. (Bell, 1992; Nutt, 1999; Mudrak et al, 2004; Goyal and Pitt, 2007; Waheed and Fernie, 2009) In summary, the research focused on three primary aims to gain a clearer understanding on whether facilities managers are using reflective practice in their roles; to understand how this is used; and whether reflective practice has helped to enhance the delivery of their roles and their organisational contribution. There are subsidiary objectives to help to understand this: there is a need to explore how FMs have engaged with reflective practice during their studies; and also to understand whether this has helped them in their professional practice and in their own personal lives, as the practice should be "lived" (Dewey, 1933). Therefore the research has focused on the following

research drivers:

1) How is reflective practice used by facilities managers?

2) Can reflective practice benefit individuals from a personal perspective and from an organisational/professional perspective?

In Chapter 1 I have explained my research focus, the aims and objectives and the background and rationale for the research. In Chapter 2 I have developed my pre understanding by exploring my life history as the researcher, and I have also used this approach with my social actors in Chapter 4. I have used the term social actors as the individuals involved in this research are very much part of the process, and they have a shared practice or competence in facilities management (Schutz, 1962; Hughes and Sharrock, 1997). Weber (1969:88) defines social action as ‘an action is social when a social actor assigns a certain meaning to his or her conduct and, by this meaning is related to the behaviour of other persons.’ I have also explored my pre understanding in relation to the literature on reflective practice. This pre understanding allowed me to move forward with the interviews drawing on some understanding but without clouding my judgement and interpretation. The chapter explored the concept of reflective practice, reflective practice in teaching, reflective practice research in order to get a better understanding of how previous studies have been carried out; and self-awareness. There is also a contextualisation of facilities management included to aid understanding of the profession of my social actors.

Chapter 3 is an explanation of my research journey drawing on my aims and objectives and philosophical views. There is an exploration of constructivism and social constructionism, along with discussion on my research paradigm.

This chapter also addresses the methods and instruments used to gain my text and the use of the hermeneutic cycle. As part of the unstructured discussions with my social actors I have asked them to give me biographical histories to share some of their own backgrounds and also routes into facilities management. These are included within chapter 4 to set the scene for the hermeneutic interpretation of text, and life histories have enabled the reader to gain more understanding of the social actors involved.

Chapter 4 includes the life histories of the social actors; I felt the need to include this within the thesis as I am part of the research and have declared my life history. I felt their voices were imperative, as myself and the 12 interviewees form the backbone of the research and are all intertwined throughout the interpretation. Alvesson and Skoldberg (2009:129) discuss the text serving “as a model of interpretation for the spoken discourse the individual life histories are seen as symbols which can be endowed with a meaning only in light of their context.” Roth (1991) refers to life histories as a further text for the analyst to interpret. Hughes and Sharrock (1997:101) suggest “that meanings agents give to their actions and environment, all valid social analysis must refer back to these.” I have created ‘avatars’ to protect the anonymity of the actors and the avatars have been based not only on the text but also on my own understanding and knowledge of the individuals and therefore is based on my own subjective interpretation of the social actors. The term ‘avatar’ is generally used in online gaming or virtual environments and defined as a user-created digital representation that symbolises the user’s presence in a ‘metaverse’ (Bailenson et al., 2005). However, for the purpose of this research, there is a subjective interpretation that occurs through their text and the use of an avatar enabled me to draw on the interpretations of their life histories. As I engage in this research and an interpretation of the text, the social actors are part of my world and my philosophical position and, whilst I believe this is not widely used in terms of interpretative research, I found this aided further understanding of them from my perceptual position.

The hermeneutic exploration began in Chapter 5 drawing on the narrative from my discussions with the social actors and includes the key themes that have been taken from the narrative and also the exploration through the literature and my reflections on the various themes. The key themes were reflective practice in the workplace, reflective practice and decision making, reflective practice and blame, and reflective practice and personal development. These themes were drawn from a first pass of the text by listening to the interview recordings and reading the transcripts and then further explored within the text. The themes were created from categories in order to allow the social actors' voices to come through with their comments on these; for example personal development drew further on self-awareness, relationships, confidence and behavioural change.

The chapter concludes with a synthesis and a further exploration of any questions that may have arisen through the analysis to gain the fifth spiral of the hermeneutics, or the holistic whole.

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