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Organizational culture in the public sector.

1. Introduction

Considerable research attention has focused on the underlying conceptual values on the need for diversity in organizations, the relationship between public sector reform and processes of identity formation, and market-based and performance-driven change programs. The material gathered in this study provides a rich and diverse context for understanding the role of managers in the change process, the influence of culture on employee discipline, the multiplicity of conditions that are working in concert to change the public workplace, and the flaws of the rigid civil service system.

2. Managing Workforce Diversity and the Organizational Change Process

Batchelder and Alexander write that the use of "at-will" employment practices (1) have come full circle from the spoils system, through the merit-system, and are returning now to a modified political patronage system: managers should receive institutional incentives, encouragement, and support to develop and augment their personnel-related management techniques and strategies. Public administration officials are operating in a shifting environment. The political-administrative separation acted as a check on the corruptive influences of the spoils system. Bureaucracies are slow to react to the changing demands of managerial, employee, and customer needs.

A related point is that there are advantages and disadvantages to the changes that are occurring in personnel management. As Batchelder and Alexander explain, employees can no longer be treated as "costs" or "resources" as they were under the bureaucratic paradigm. Managers must develop a new skill-set to be able to effectively deal with contractors providing government services. Government employment is returning to a modified civil-service system. The goal of civil-service reform is strengthening the authority of middle and lower managers. "Reinventing" government will modify the civil service system and bring about a greater use of the merit-based performance system. (2)

Franklin and Pagan hold that explanations for variation in discipline practices can be discerned by exploring the influence of cultural cues supervisors receive regarding appropriate behavior. First-line supervisors face the challenge of deciding what action to take when faced with employee performance problems. In terms of employee discipline, an organization's culture could define what a supervisor should consider as a problem that must be addressed, prescribing what an acceptable response is. The supervisor has discretion in determining what constitutes a discipline problem requiring action. The use of informal strategies should examine the cultural cues that supervisors receive regarding how they should handle discipline problems. Norms on discipline are shaped in practice by a whole range of informal practices.

But perhaps even more importantly is that the choice of discipline strategies may be based on cultural cues suggesting that formal strategies are not the way things are done in an organization. Franklin and Pagan focus on operationalize culture as a system of shared values and beliefs constructed by an organization (3) and by its employees through tangible and intangible cues. New employees learn culture after they enter the organization. In terms of employee discipline, ensuring consistency in supervisors' actions can depend on the resources committed to a systematic acculturation process. Written documents influence supervisors' approaches to employee discipline. First-line supervisors' handling of employee discipline can be affected by unclear delegation of authority or variation in the span of control.

In sum, there is considerable theoretical support for the notion that the people inside the organization can provide intangible cues about expected employee behaviors. Franklin and Pagan contend that formal strategies will be favored when the employee has unsatisfactory personal skills. Referent groups occur inside and outside the organization's boundaries. The choice of discipline strategies can be influenced by the values the supervisor holds that are reinforced by individuals and groups outside the workplace. An organization's culture is composed of one dimension that constitutes the official culture of what we do and how we do it, and the operating culture of how work is really done. The operating culture defines how things are really done and outlines where there is flexibility in following official standards. Informal strategies are common when supervisors confront discipline problems. There are cultural factors that can explain why there is variation in the selection of discipline strategies. (4)

3. Managerial Decentralization in the Public Workplace

Brewer and Walker focus on the effects of overly burdensome personnel system constraints at the organizational level (5) and investigate intraorganizational variation in the perception of constraints and their impacts on performance, examining long-standing personnel constraints that involve the inability of public organizations to reward good managers with higher pay and to remove poorly performing managers. Little progress has been made in developing strategies to remove poorly performing managers. Managers' inability to punish low performers lowers organizational performance. Lower-level managers perceive more personnel constraints than other managers. Manager's perceptions of personnel constraints vary by organizational level and managerial rank. Personnel system constraints are more prevalent in the public sector than in the private sector, binding public managers and lowering organizational performance. Intraorganizational variation among levels of the hierarchy is extensive. Intraorganizational variation should be expected on the density and role of personnel constraints in public organizations. Managers' perceptions of personnel constraints will increase the further one looks down the organizational hierarchy.

The important point here is that personnel constraints perceived by managers at different organizational levels will have varying impacts on performance. Brewer and Walker report that senior-level managers at the corporate center of an organization may not think that personnel constraints are as harmful as lower-level managers. The perception of constraints increases the further we look down the organization. Perceptions of personnel constraints vary within organizations (officials at lower levels perceive more constraints), growing larger as we move down the hierarchy from top-level officials to chief officers and to service managers. The inability to remove a poorly performing manager harms the performance of public organizations. Programs of reform should take into account the publicness of government organizations, the complex motives of public employees, and the intricacies of public policy. Reform efforts to reduce personnel constraints in public organizations have not played out in the ways anticipated by those who designed them. Pay for performance, as represented by the notion of rewarding good managers with higher pay, does not produce the anticipated benefits. Persistent efforts to implement pay-for-performance systems will likely continue to fail in public organizations. (6)

Ratner claims that the process-based framework of organizational becoming is a favorable one for understanding the interplay between processes of group identification (7) and interpretations of management concepts. Collective processes of identification dealing with uncertainty frame individual processes of sense-making. Identity negotiations are not a flexible and individual process of reconciling opposing values. Identity formation is not so open-ended: it takes identity to be linked to membership of a social group rather than self-knowledge (it is constructed in a relational context where individuals position themselves in terms of social groups). Interpersonal interactions are highly constitutive of how individuals understand themselves.

As is no doubt obvious, identity is an emergent concept that comes about as the effect of various constitutive factors that inform group dynamics. According to Ratner, the abstraction of a changing phenomenon to a stable entity is performative and constitutive of change. Group identities are temporary fixations of alliances. Perceptions of uncertainty affect the shaping of group alliances. Group identification conflicts are both informed by and shape organizational change. Employee conflicts provoked by public sector change limit the ways that identity can be formed. Interpreting reforms may not be an open-ended process grounded in an individual's ability to hybridize and reconcile opposing expectations. (8)

4. The Critical Role that Public Managers Play in Bringing about Organizational Change

Ewoh explores some of the challenges facing public managers in managing and valuing diversity in the 21st century (the real opportunity to new potential workers would depend on having access to high-paying and meaningful jobs): employers of labor should manage and value diversity by transforming the European American male culture of most organizations into multicultural entities that nurture and sustain all employees. Today's employees will try to protect and nurture their ethnic and cultural traditions while receiving the respect of their peers. Diversity deals with the issue of how society wants organizations to look like. Current demographic and economic changes are compelling organizations to implement workforce diversity: it makes good business sense and guarantees the survival of organizations as legal entities.

What these latter observations reveal is that most organizations at the private and public sectors are not properly equipped to manage all the important dimensions of diversity. Ewoh says that bottom-up organizational input from diverse workers can increase the quality of decisions, (9) leading to more innovative and substantive policies. The inclusion of women and other minorities in the policy-making apparatus of modern organizations provides opportunity for political representation and solidifies the notion of value-added associated with rational decision making. The difference in people will enhance and strengthen the organizational capacities and missions.

All this necessarily leads to the conclusion that public managers must attempt to acquire the skills necessary for managing workforce diversity and the organizational change process to help nurture, sustain, and manage diversity in their respective organizations. Ewoh states that valuing diversity fosters interpersonal relationships and cooperation, eliminating the use of blatant expression of racism and sexism in the working environment. A diverse workforce will enhance and foster employees' creativity and problem-solving abilities, increasing its flexibility to tackle new challenges and providing a competitive edge in meeting organizational goals and objectives. Managing and valuing diversity approaches require the sum total of individual, group, and organizational efforts. (10)

Fernandez and Rainey point out that managerial leaders must build internal support for change. Change involves a political process of developing and nurturing support from major stakeholders and organizational members. Involving organizational members creates psychological ownership, promotes the dissemination of critical information, and encourages employee feedback for fine-tuning the change during implementation. Top-management support and commitment play an essential role in successful change in the public sector.

Now, it is interesting to note that successful implementation of organizational change often resembles a hybrid combining elements of lower-level participation and direction from top management. Fernandez and Rainey think that top-management support for change may require the cooperation of top-level career civil servants (11) in addition to politically appointed executives. Public managers implementing change in their organizations must display skill in obtaining support from powerful external actors. Frequent shifts in political leadership and short tenures for political appointees can cause commitment for change to wane. (12)

5. Conclusions

This paper seeks to fill a gap in the current literature by examining the transformative nature of organizational change, the complex way in which personnel constraints are manifested in public organizations, and mechanisms and processes of coordination and cooperation among levels in the hierarchy. The findings of this study have implications for the process of implementing change within organizations, the critical role that public managers play in bringing about organizational change, and the capacity of managers to bring about change.


(1.) Popescu, Gheorghe H. (2012), "Corporate Governance and Managerial Cognition," Economics, Management, and Financial Markets 7(4): 245-250.

(2.) Batchelder, John Stuart, and Ross C. Alexander (2009), "Effects of Personnel Policy on the Public Administration Paradigm Shift: From Merit to Neo-managerial," The Social Science Journal 21(2): 153-159.

(3.) Vasile, Marian (2013), "The Gender of Silk," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 3(1): 102-107.

(4.) Franklin, Aimee L., and Javier F. Pagan (2006), "Organization Culture as an Explanation for Employee Discipline Practices," Review of Public Personnel Administration 26(1): 52-73.

(5.) Ionescu, Luminita (2012), "Corruption, Unemployment, and the Global Financial Crisis," Economics, Management, and Financial Markets 7(3): 127-132.

(6.) Brewer, Gene A., and Richard M. Walker (2013), "Personnel Constraints in Public Organizations: The Impact of Reward and Punishment on Organizational Performance," Public Administration Review 73(1): 121-131.

(7.) Lazaroiu, George (2012), "Epistemic Ecologies of Knowledge," Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 4(2): 348-354.

(8.) Ratner, Helene (2012), "It Was the Night of the Long Knives," Public Management Review 14(1): 23-40.

(9.) Berna, Ioana-Bianca (2013), "Democracy and Gender Inequality in China," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 3(1): 119-124.

(10.) Ewoh, Andrew I. E. (2013), "Managing and Valuing Diversity: Challenges to Public Managers in the 21st Century," Public Personnel Management 42(2): 107-122.

(11.) Lazaroiu, George (2013), "Besley on Foucault's Discourse of Education," Educational Philosophy and Theory 45(8): 821-832.

(12.) Fernandez, Sergio, and Hal G. Rainey (2006), "Managing Successful Organizational Change in the Public Sector," Public Administration Review 66(2): 168-176.


Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest

[c] Elvira Nica
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Author:Nica, Elvira
Publication:Economics, Management, and Financial Markets
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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