Managing Human Behavior in Public & Nonprofit Organizations

By Yang, Kaifeng | Public Administration Quarterly, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Managing Human Behavior in Public & Nonprofit Organizations


Yang, Kaifeng, Public Administration Quarterly


Denhardt, Robert B., Janet V. Denhardt, and Maria P. Aristigueta (2000). Managing Human Behavior in Public & Nonprofit Organizations. Sage Publications, 456 pages, $54.95 (Paperback). ISBN 0-7619-2474-4.

As the authors intend, this book is "a core text in management and organizational behavior as taught in undergraduate and graduate programs in public administration, especially in M.P.A. programs" (xiii). Its contents, language, structure, and organization are deliberately designed or chosen to make it a sound and important, if somewhat stiff, choice for classroom discussion.

This book offers a thorough summarization of organizational behavior theories, including almost all major topics in the field: self-perception, creativity, stress, decision-making, motivation, leadership, power and politics, communication, groups and teams, conflict, and organizational change. These topics are well connected by a common theme: to understand public administration from an organization behavior perspective at the individual level of analysis.

More important, the topics are introduced and discussed in the background of public administration with particular attention to the uniqueness of public and non-profit organizations. Not only is the literature review and theory introduction public administration oriented but there are also examples and questions in the book.

Meanwhile, beside offering insights on the major topics such as "leadership in the public service," the authors contribute two chapters on "representing the organization On the outside'" and "managing behavior in the public interest," respectively. In the former chapter, they advocate transforming public managers' role and behavior to adapt to the changing environment and new reality of public administration: network, fragmentation, decentralization, and collaboration. They introduce "new" skills for public managers to play a conciliating, mediating, and adjudicating role such as how to listen to citizens, clients, and "customers" and how to involve citizens in the work of government.

In the latter chapter, the authors caution us not to view public organizational behavior in a normative vacuum, calling for a new public service attending to the public interest and community needs. In appreciating multiculturism and learning cultural awareness, they enlighten the readers that public managers should act ethically when trying to make cultural changes. After 13 chapters advising how to change human behavior, it is an important reminder that the change should be done ethically.

Another attractive feature of the book is its professional and practical orientation. The chapters are organized in the same manner: "Introductory Paragraphs; Where Do We Begin; Ways of Thinking; Ways of Acting; and Thinking in Action." In "Where Do We Begin," the authors provide instruments for students to reflect on their way of thinking and behaving as well as to assess their skill levels in different areas. In "Ways of Acting," the readers are presented with general lessons and behavioral guidelines that help hem to deal with specific managerial jobs. In "Thinking in Action," the authors offer vivid cases, examples, exercises, and simulations so that the readers can experience public management in real life and practice the skills they have learned. All in all, this book rises above others textbook choices by its unique potential for helping readers overcome the knowing-doing gap through constant self-reflection and practice.

Nevertheless, this book could be improved. …

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