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ACPHIS Medal 2019 Winner - Dr Rehan Syed

Dr Rehan Syed was awarded the 2019 ACPHIS Medal after completing his PhD thesis titled "Leadership in Public Sector Business Process Management Initiatives: A Developing Country Perspective" at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

​[ORCID: 0000-0003-0415-1335]

Supervisory team:

  • A/Prof Wasana Bandara (QUT)

  • A/Prof Erica French (QUT)

  • Prof Glenn Stewart (QUT)

Link to thesis:

About the award winning thesis

Public sector organisations in developing countries have shown interest in Business Process Management (BPM) since the 1980s. However, the successful implementation of BPM initiatives has been a challenging task for the responsible agencies. Previous studies have identified many internal and external obstacles that can restrict organisations in achieving the intended potential of BPM. Top management support has been recognised as one of the key factors for BPM success. Although the importance of leadership is widely discussed under top management support, the manifestation and characteristics of leadership is an under-researched area in BPM.

This study investigated the role of leadership in BPM initiatives in public sector organisations in Sri Lanka (a developing country). Due to the transdisciplinary nature of the selected domain, this study followed a problematisation approach in progressively defining the research problem. First, a systematic literature review on critical success factors for BPM in the public sector confirmed leadership as an important area of research. Next, a second semi-structured literature review confirmed the scarcity of leadership research in BPM. Two preliminary exploratory case studies (one failed, and one successful BPM initiative) were then undertaken to develop contextual understanding and a further definition of the research problem. The insights gained from the exploratory case studies identified the existence of network relationships between the parties involved and the central role of the leader in managing conflicting interests. Hence, the alignment of these interests and how leadership can effectively influence the interest alignment was identified as the main focus area for the study. Using the four stages of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) (Problematisation, Interessement, Enrolment, and Mobilisation), this study explores the actions taken by the leaders in each stage of the translation process and the influences of contextual factors in BPM initiatives. Complexity Leadership Theory offered a lens to interpret leadership functions within the study.

A multiple exploratory case study methodology was chosen to undertake two revelatory cases in public sector organisations which have been successful in BPM design, implementation, and continuous improvement. Data was collected through in-depth interviews and secondary document analysis. The findings of the two case studies explained and confirmed the nature of leadership actions as well as contextual influences that align the actors’ interests leading to the success of BPM initiatives in public sector organisations. Emerging patterns of three complexity leadership functions (Operational, Enabling, and Entrepreneurial) were mapped on the four stages of the translation process (Problematisation, Interessement, enrolment, and mobilisation) resulting in a leadership-change framework. The findings explained a complex and networked interaction of key actors who play the vital leadership roles to manage the complexities in the nature and operations of public sector organisations. A key contribution of this study to the Complexity Leadership Theory is the discovery and explanation of the ‘Visible-Catalyst’ and ‘Invisible-Enabler’ roles to balance the leadership interventions in line with the complexity dynamics. Both roles are vital for the creation and sustainability of organisational change, innovation, process acceptance, and self-organisation. This study explains the nature and type of leadership actions undertaken by the focal actors which lead to a shift from reactive-management to proactive staff-driven change within public sector organisations. The resultant framework can be used as a best practice model for BPM in both public and private sector organisations. The findings also suggest that a high entanglement exists between Operational and Enabling leadership actions in successful BPM initiatives. This study further establishes that self-organisation and innovation do not habitually occur in the public sector in developing countries and advocates the need for effective leadership that is demonstrated by the focal actors acting as the initial catalyst to drive sociotechnical change in public sector organisations.

This study addresses the critical role of leadership in BPM initiatives and its interrelation and effect on key stakeholders in developing countries. It contributes to both theory and practice by explaining leadership and its manifestation in sociotechnical phenomena such as BPM initiatives in developing countries that can enable national Information Communication Technology agencies and various funding bodies to improve implementation of digital transformation endeavours.


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