Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

It's All about Context and Implementation Some Thoughts Prompted By: Unlocking the Human Potential for Public Sector Performance-The United Nations World Public Sector Report 2005

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

It's All about Context and Implementation Some Thoughts Prompted By: Unlocking the Human Potential for Public Sector Performance-The United Nations World Public Sector Report 2005

Article excerpt

The World Public Sector Report (WPSR) establishes at the outset two closely related thematic pillars which support much of the subsequent analysis and conclusions:

* The sometimes unsteady evolution of public sector HRM and the need to find a more settled and globally applicable model that lends itself to combining the best elements of traditional value-based (and rule bound) public administration, public and new public management which emphasize performance effectiveness and results, and responsive government which focuses explicitly on community engagement and delivery of valued customer service, and

* The tension which inevitably exists between permitting healthy flexibility and discretion in the delivery of public services in the most expeditious fashion and the need to protect standards and the fiduciary aspect of public administration. Responsive government should not compromise responsible government: they must coexist in stable equilibrium in the public HRM model of the future.

Here we will attempt to tease and test these pillars against four separate backdrops: (1) the sociopolitical dimensions of public sector HRM development; (2) the public sector HRM challenge of managing more porous boundaries between the public and private sector domains; (3) the expanding concept of the public sector career and employment lifecycle and; (4) the importance of making judicious use of what is typically found in the HRM toolkit.

The Socioeconomic and Cultural Context of Public Sector HRM Development

The WPSR conclusions and recommendations are cast in universal terms. Some naturally ought to be so--purging public sectors of corruption, for example. From a successful implementation point of view however, sociopolitical context and culture also matter. To take one clear example, the implication that new public management (NPM) may be better suited to certain cultures. The report (1) notes that the best known examples of NPM in action (even when the long-term benefits remain open to some debate) are to be found in Anglo-Saxon countries--chiefly Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, each of which has energetically embraced far reaching initiatives to devolve public sector managerial responsibility, closely track performance outputs and outcomes, impose internal market discipline, contract out, aggressively recover costs and promote semi-autonomous agencies.

Some of this gusto is traceable to political doctrine, ephemeral or otherwise; it is hardly coincidental that privatization of public services gained real momentum in the UK during the Thatcher era. Some may also be attributable to stages of economic development: successful privatization and imposition of market-based rules of service delivery depends on the existence of a strong private sector available to take up the transfer of ownership of services. Some, though, may also be cultural. (2) In addition to a shared political destiny, all three of the Anglo-Saxon countries mentioned are remarkably similar on the Hofstede ratings of national cultural differences, being relatively unhierarchical (3), individualistic and tolerant of risk; the perfect cultural disposition for a devolved, flexible but highly accountable model--NPM, in other words. But what about the public sector in countries which differ sharply in cultural or sociopolitical terms?

Malaysia offers an interesting study in contrast. Major reforms have been underway in the Malaysian public sector and wider economy since the 1980s. The desired paradigm is one of an innovative public sector which anticipates global change, is strongly customer oriented and supportive of the private sector in its efforts to compete globally and manage successfully an open economy (Malaysia is currently the 17th largest trading nation in the World).

Intriguingly, this model of the public sector as an agent of change has been imposed by prime ministerial flat (4) and is credited in part to the stability of the Malaysian economic and social order since the 1980s: a paradox of change emanating from the wellspring of stability and order. …

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