THEME: The Transforming Role of the Public Manager

Over the past two decades the role of the public manager has shifted drastically.  While still rooted in the foundations of public administration, emerging issues have shifted how public managers lead personnel in public organizations.  We are far removed from the assumptions of the traditional hierarchical organizational structure and power roles assumed within those structures. Public managers now also must function as change agents in seeking to improve and harness the potential of their personnel. Yet, public managers remain responsible for fulfilling the very same tasks as articulated by Gulick in 1937: namely PODSCORB.  How do public managers balance all of these roles in this dynamic environment?  The focus of this upcoming year’s TAD is on managing personnel in complex public service environments.

Proposed in 2013, the EGPA Study Group on Public Personnel Policies put forth a research program to advance a number of questions related to this topic. With direct guidance from that document, we are looking to build upon the foundation established and respond to the key question proposed by the study group: “How can personnel policies contribute to improving public services?” It is now commonly accepted that Human Resource Management (HRM) contributes to organizational outcomes (e.g. Combs, Liu, Hall & Ketchen, 2006), but the ways in which HRM impacts on organizational performance is still regarded as a black box (e.g. Guest, 2011).  More specifically we have seen growth in the conversation around public service motivation, executive leadership, government reforms, responding economic crises, and managing complex networks. As noted by Montgomery Van Wart (2013) “Today’s leaders must deal with ongoing fiscal stress, penetration of market mentalities in the public sector, employee cynicism fueled by fewer resources and greater responsibilities, massive technological and communication changes, the pressure to lead horizontally both inside and outside the organization, unraveling social consensus in many arenas, and, at a basic governance level, confusion about which paradigm to follow and when.”   While it is a large task to address all of these frequently competing challenges, we propose a program that will tackle a number of these issues.

The goal of the 11th TAD is to bring together scholars and practitioners from both sides of the Atlantic to stimulate a dialogue on the changing role of the public manager to develop sound knowledge about how to enable them to succeed.


Workshop 1 – Public personnel policies: Employee Wellbeing and Organizational Performance

Public personnel policies have been characterized as collective, standardized, paternalist and model employer approaches (Farnham & Horton, 1996). Their primary aim was looking after the wellbeing of employees rather than improving public service performance. Are public personnel policies now more strategically oriented at achieving the organizational goals? Are employee outcomes disregarded by personnel policies or merely treated as a means to an end (=organizational performance)? How does public service motivation feature in public personnel policies that aim to balance employee and organizational outcomes?

Workshop 2 – Have personnel management reforms helped to improve public services?

A growing concern and public criticism can be noticed as to whether two decades of public management reform have helped to improve public services, or rather whether some reform policies such as liberalization and the introduction of market-mechanisms have actually produced negative effects. Such concerns refer for example to the salaries and bonuses of public managers in semi-autonomous organizations (e.g. housing corporations, hospitals, higher education).  How have the changes in the status of civil servants affected such policies and management reforms?

Workshop 3 – Managing Personnel in Complex Networks

Another set of questions deals with the consequences of the increase of public service provision in organizational networks for personnel policies: does the status of public employees inhibit network collaboration? How does network governance impact hierarchical responsibility? What sorts of competences are needed by employees operating in organizational networks?

Workshop 4 – How to meet challenges in public personnel administration after the economic crisis?

A set of questions deals with the changes in the wider environment of public organizations that relate to the impact of the current economic crisis which has also led to a growing public debt and fiscal crisis. What are the consequences of austerity measures for public employment and the composition of the public sector workforce? How do austerity measures impact on public employee stress, motivation and job satisfaction? Longstanding questions remain on the agenda related to demographic and labour market changes. Are public organizations an attractive employer for individuals from diverse backgrounds, e.g. the younger generation of employees, minority ethnic groups etc.? How can public organizations adapt to the needs of older workers who have to work longer? How do HR policies affect retention and turnover of diverse groups of employees?

Workshop 5 – Leadership and organizational effectiveness

There are also a number of questions around the role of leadership and personnel in public organizations.  What is the role of leadership in establishing a culture of responsive employees?   What style of leadership can inspire public service motivated employees to contribute? How can leaders align strategic goals to improve effective service delivery?

Workshop 6 – Considering accountability, considering motivation: creating an ethical and value-driven workforce in a results driven environment

As many of the addressed topics suggest a shift in focus over the past two decades from process to results may have broader implications for ethical considerations, in particular accountability. This resonates with the Friedrich-Finer debate in which external accountability was posed against internal accountability: which strategy would be more beneficial in the current timeframe? In the same vein, the shift from process to results has created a need for more autonomously motivated employees since process controls have been reduced, also illustrated by the rise in public service motivation research. This session asks whether and how we can connect both research traditions to a mutual benefit and integrate the two streams from an ethics perspective? Can autonomous motivation (such as those found in self-determination or public service motivation theory) act as a proxy for internal accountability in creating outcomes? How do external accountability mechanisms and rules interfere with individual motivation (crowding in or crowding out), in particular given the shift from process to results?