Public Sector Change

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Journal of Change Management Vol. 6, No. 1, 99 –113, March 2006

Strategic Management and Organization Development: Planned Change in a Public Sector Organization HARRY SMINIAÃ & ANTONIE VAN NISTELROOIJÃÃ
à The Management School, University of Sheffield, UK, à à Department of Administrative and Organization Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

ABSTRACT This paper reports on a case study on the introduction of organization development (OD) techniques in a traditionally top-down lead public sector organization in the Netherlands. The findings suggest that an OD-inspired bottom-up change approach can have a place next to a top-down strategic management change approach. However, to reap the benefits of OD, the top management role appeared to be pivotal, especially with regard to creating the circumstances under which sufficient participation can take place. KEY WORDS : Organization development, strategic management, management of change, public sector, process research


Organization development (OD) is used increasingly in strategic change initiatives in public sector organizations (Ferlie et al., 1996; Robertson and Seneviratne, 1995; Patchett, 2005; Teo and Crawford, 2005). The reasons for strategic change in the public sector are mostly found in abrupt and predominantly exogenous jolts such as changing policies or legislation, technological change, top management replacements or reorganizations such as the joining together or the breaking up of public agencies. These kinds of development require decisive and large scale strategic change to regain congruence between the organization’s goals, the environment and the organization. In these instances, public sector organizations have a tendency to adopt a strategic-management-inspired approach of generating change in a top-down fashion (Ferlie et al., 1996). Such an approach Correspondence Address: Harry Sminia, The Management School, University of Sheffield, 9 Mappin Street, Sheffield, S1 4DT, UK. Email: 1469-7017 Print=1479-1811 Online=06=010099–15 # 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080=14697010500523392


H. Sminia & A. van Nistelrooij

seems particularly appropriate because the top management team is in the best position to initiate and implement quick and purposeful organizational change, and they have the means and the position to work from a system-wide perspective that does not reflect functional or departmental biases (Conger, 2000; Jensen, 2000). From an OD point of view, however, a bottom-up approach with the full participation and active involvement of all employees is seen as essential for generating commitment and ensuring the strategic reorientation actually is realized (Beer, 2000; Bennis, 2000; Dunphy, 2000; French et al., 2000; Cummings and Worley, 2005). The combination of both approaches is not an easy matter as a number of case studies have shown (Bate et al., 2000; Beer, 2001; O’Brien, 2002; Balogun and Hailey, 2004; Burnes, 2004). There are a number of profound differences between public sector organizations and private sector organizations when it comes to organizational change (Robertson and Seneviratne, 1995; Ferlie et al., 1996; Coram and Burnes, 2001; ¨ O’Brien, 2002; Harenstam et al., 2004). In many cases not only are the reasons different for initiating change but also change concepts and approaches that are transferred from the private sector to the public sector can lead to contradictory results. In comparison to private organizations, public organizations are more characterized by a multitude of decision-makers, by a larger diversity of stakeholders, by more intensive organizational dynamics and by a more bureaucratic organizational design. Or as Patchett (2005: 598– 9) puts it: ‘The political nature of the legislative and representation process and the functional expert and efficiency orientation of the administrative process produce important tensions in a public-sector...
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