Galloping Elephants: Developing Elements of a Theory

Galloping Elephants:
Developing Elements of a Theory
of Effective GovernmentOrganizations
Hal G. Rainey and Paula Steinbauer
The University of Georgia
Much of the theoryand discourseon public bureaucracies
treats themnegatively,as if they incline inevitablytowardweak
performance.This orientationprevails in spite of considerable
evidencethat manygovernmentorganizationsperformvery well,
and in spite of manyexamplesof their excellentperformance.
This article draws on the literatureand researchon effective
governmentorganizationsto select and developconceptualelementsof a theoryto explaintheir effectiveness.Theavailable
researchsuggests that such a theoryshould includethefollowing
components.supportivebehaviorsfrom externalstakeholderssuch
as political authorities;agency autonomyin refiningand implementingits mission;high "missionvalence" (an attractive
mission);a strong, mission-orientedculture,and certainleadership behaviors.The discussionfurtherposits that thesefactors
enhanceseveralforms of motivationof people in the agency-task
motivation,missionmotivation,and public service motivationthat can be differentiatedbut that mustbe linkedtogetherin
For valuable comments on earlier drafts
of this paper, I am grateful to Bob
Durant, Jameson Doig, Ken Meier, Patrick Wolf, and many of the participants
in the theory panel at the 1998 Midwest
Political Science Association meeting. I
could not take all their comments and
critiques into account in my revisions, so
they bear no responsibilityfor limitations
of this article.
J-PART 9(1999): 1:1-32
A corollaryof thisfact is thefalsity of an equally
commonclaim. thatpublic and nonprofitorganizations
cannot, and on average do not, operateas efficientlyas
private businesses. . . . (Simon 1998, 11)
The elephantserves as a virtuallyarchetypicalsymbol of a
large, cumbersome,lumberingbeing. Yet an elephantcan run
very fast. Pachydermmeansthick-skinned,yet elephantsdisplay
sensitivityin acts of altruismand nurturancebeyondthose that
1/Journal of Public AdministrationResearch and Theory
Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
are instinctivelyparentalin many animals. Governmentorganizations, or bureaucracies,have virtuallyan archetypicalstatusas
cumbersome,bunglingentities, yet many of them performvery
well. Impugnedfor centuriesas insensitive,they also commonly
display sensitivityand responsivenessto the needs of clients and
others (e.g., Goodsell 1994; Gore 1995, 49). This article
develops and advancesconceptsand propositions,summarizedin
exhibit 1, aboutwhy governmentagenciesperformwell, when
they do. In its presentform, this set of propositionswill evoke
comparisonsto the parableof the blind men tryingto describe
the elephant,becausethe propositionsneed much more articulation, justification,and specificationof relationsamongthem.
They do, however, considerand develop some fundamental
issues such as: Whatprovidesthe basic incentivefor effective
performanceof governmentagencies, in the absenceof economic
marketsfor their outputs?Is it a form of public service motivation or a motivationto achieve the mission of the agency, or is it
more specific task-relatedincentivessuch as interestin the work
tasks themselves,or is it pay or otherbenefits?The propositions
hold that all these forms of motivationcontributeto the performance of effective agencies, especiallywhen membersof the
agency see them as linkedtogether.The propositionsalso hold
that characteristicsof the externaloversightand political
influenceon the agency relateto its effectiveness, as do characteristicsof the agency's mission, culture,leadership,and tasks,
and thatthese factorsin turnenhancethe three forms of motivation just mentioned.
'Wolf (1993) tests seven theories of
bureaucraticeffectiveness and argues that
we do not need new theories, we need
tests of existing theory. The propositions
and discussion in this article draw on
Wolf's analysis as valuable, but also proceed on the argumentthat such theories
as we have need much more articulation.
This articledevelops such propositionsas a step toward
developmentof a theoryof effective governmentagencies on the
argumentthatwe need more theoreticaldevelopmentof that
topic.' Thatpublic and academicdiscourseon bureaucracytends
to be negativewill be consideredhere to be obvious and will not
be elaborated,even thoughthis mostly negativeorientation
involves many importantissues and nuances.Much of the
2Thisobservationoverstates the case in an
literaturetreatsthe governmentbureaucracyas a social problem
effort at lively discourse. In fairness one
and liability, ratherthan as an asset. Many authorsfocus on the
should acknowledge that the references
cited provide a more balancedand subtle problemthatpublic bureaucraciesare too bureaucratic,with too
analysis than depicted in this sentence.
much hierarchy,too little innovativenessand energy, too much
red tape, too much spending,too little efficiency, too little
3Whilenot necessarily negative in its
to almosteveryoneand everythingoutside their
assessment of bureaucraticperformance,
much of the academic literatureon public boundariesand most of what is inside them, too much of a lot of
bureaucracyconcentrateson the problem other bad things, and too little of a lot of other good things (e.g.,
of bureaucraticpower, whether there is
Barton 1980; A. Downs 1967; Niskanen1971; Warwick1975).2
too much of it, and how it can be conIf
this list seems long, it is ratherbrief comparedto Caiden's
trolled (see Hill 1991 and 1992; Durant
1992), ratherthan on when and why it
(1991) listing of 175 bureaucraticpathologies(cited in Bozeman
2IJ-PART,January 1999
Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
Exhibit 1
Propositions About Effective Public Agencies
Public agencies are more likely to perform effectively when there are higher levels of the following conditions.
Relations with oversight authorities(legislative, executive, judicial) that are:
* Attentive to agency mission accomplishment
* Supportive
* Delegative
Relations with other stakeholderscharacterizedby:
* Favorable public opinion and general public support
* Multiple, influential, mobilizable constituentand client groups
* Effective relations with partnersand suppliers
* Effective managementof contractingand contractors
* Effective utilization of technology and other resources
* Effective negotiation of networks
Autonomy in operationalizationand pursuit of agency mission, but not extremely high levels of autonomy
(a curvilinear relationshipbetween autonomy and agency effectiveness)
Mission valence (the attractivenessof the mission):
* Difficult but feasible
* Reasonablyclear and understandable
* Worthy/worthwhile/legitimate
* Interesting/exciting
* Important/influential
* Distinctive
Strong organizationalculture, linked to mission
* Stability (a curvilinear relationshipbetween leadership stability and agency effectiveness)
* Multiplicity-a cadre of leaders, teams of leaders at multiple levels
* Commitmentto mission
* Effective goal setting in relation to task and mission accomplishment
* Effective coping with political and administrativeconstraints
Task design characterizedby:
* Intrinsic motivation (interest, growth, responsibility, service, and mission accomplishment)
* Extrinsic rewards (pay, benefits, promotions, working conditions)
Utilization of technology
Development of human resources:
* Effective recruitment,selection, placement, training, and development
* Values and preferences among recruits and members that supporttask and mission motivation
Professionalismamong members:
* Special knowledge and skills related to task and mission accomplishment
* Commitmentto task and mission accomplishment
Motivation among members:
* Public service motivation
* Mission motivation
* Task motivation
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Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
On the otherhand, all along in academicand public discussion of the governmentbureaucracy,one can detect more
ambivalencethanrigid antipathy,even in predominantlynegative
treatments.Recently, too, more and more authorsdefendthe
public bureaucracyor debunkstereotypesand negativeallegations
aboutit (e.g., G.W. Downs and Larkey 1986; Goodsell 1994;
Milwardand Rainey 1983; Stillman1996; Wamsleyet al. 1990),
while othersdescribeand analyzeexcellent leadershipand
managementin governmentagencies (Ban 1995; Barzelay 1992;
Behn 1991; Cohenand Eimicke 1995; Cooperand Wright 1992;
Denhardt1993; Doig and Hargrove1987; Hargroveand Glidewell 1990; Holzer and Callahan1998; Osborneand Gaebler
1992; Riccucci 1995; Thompsonand Jones 1994). Recentempirical researchfurtherundercutssome academicassertionsabout
public bureaucracies,indicatingthatthey are not as evasive of
externalcontroland oversightas is often alleged (Rubin 1985;
Wood and Waterman1994) and thatpeople in them show more
effort and motivation,and less shirkingand slacking, than
sometimesis alleged (Brehmand Gates 1997; H.G. Rainey
1983). Recentresearchalso shows evidence of the historical
inaccuracyof some currentreformers'depictionsof public
bureaucraciesas traditionallyhideboundhierarchiesthatresisted
innovationand entrepreneurial
behaviors;rather,the evidence
indicatesfrequentinstancesof entrepreneurial,innovative,and
generallyeffective performance(Wolf 1997).
In addition,numerousspecific examplesof agency accomplishmentsprovideevidence thatgovernmentagencies often carry
out their tasks and missionsvery competently.About the Social
SecurityAdministration(SSA), for example, one can point out
the following:
* The agency operatesthe social securityprogramefficiently
in an administrativesense. An economistdiscussingreforms
of the system in 1998 pointedout that one reasonto save the
system is that it is very efficient, with administrativecosts
runningat 0.8 percentof benefits(Eisner 1998). This is
lower thancomparablefigures for privateannuitycompanies, even consideringthatthey must pay taxes and provide
payoutsto shareholders.The figure for SSA representsincreasedefficiency over the last decade. A Ropersurvey in
the early 1980s asked a representativesampleof Americans
to estimatethe percentof each dollar in the Social Security
programthat goes to administrativeexpenses. The median
estimatewas fifty dollarsout of every one hundred.The
4/J-PART, January 1999
Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
actualfigure at that time was $1.30 out of every one
* The efficiency gain reflects ongoing efforts to controlcosts.
Duringthe 1980s, SSA carriedout Project 17,000, which
reducedemploymentin the agency by 17,000 employees.
* OutsideKansasCity, large caves have been developedas
industrialstoragefacilities, and one can drive underground
on roads thatrun throughthe caves, accompaniedby large
trucksthatdeliver and receive materialsat the storage
facilities. The SSA Public Service Center(PSC) in Kansas
City operatesa file storagefacility in one of these caves,
containingmillions of file folders. SSA employeeswork in
this facility, communicatinginformationfrom the files to
otheremployees in the PSC offices downtown,who need
informationfrom the files to process client claims and
requests.The PSC operatesthis storagefacility to hold
down costs. It is much less expensiveto store the files in
this remote site thanto store them in office space in downtown KansasCity.
* SSA has proficientlyadvancedthe computerizationof claims
processing,with computersnow performingmany of the
functionsthat employeesonce performed.
* In 1995, the rankingsof a majornationalsurvey of customer satisfactionwith telephoneservice found thatthe SSA
rankednumberone in the nation. Othershigh in the ratings
includedSouthwestAirlines;L.L. Bean; Nordstrom;Xerox;
Disney; Saturn;FederalExpress;and AT&T Universal
Credit. Mutualfund companiesranked8th, and variable
annuityprovidersranked1 ith;these rankingsare noteworthybecausethese companiesprovide services roughly
similarto those of the Social SecurityAdministration(Gore
1995, 49-51).
* In the 1970s, SSA reorganizedthe structurefor claims processing in their large public service centers(Raineyand
Rainey 1986). To solve a problemof excessive delays in
processingthe claims, SSA createdwork modulesof about
forty people each, thatincludedall the specialistsnecessary
to process a claim from beginningto end. The work modules were essentiallyteams thatworkedon a particularset of
cases-much like havingwork teams build automobiles
ratherthanmanufacturingthem on assemblylines. The
changeto these moduleswas painful, difficult, innovative,
well-led, well-managed,and very successful. This provides
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Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
an excellent exampleof effective leadershipof major
organizationalchange (H.G. Rainey 1997, 344-48).
Significantly,one can also point to an exampleabouta very
distinctagency, the U.S. Departmentof Defense. In the Gulf
War, the militaryperformedso well in certainways that one
could call the resultsvirtuallymiraculous.In the years after
Vietnam,authorsmade nationalreputationsand became talk
show celebritiesby criticizingthe poor managementand leadership of the U.S. military.Whetheror not one approvedof the
Gulf War, and in spite of many controversiesand criticisms
relatedto it, the success in actuallycarryingout the operations
(includingrelatedfunctionssuch as logistic support)was so
evident, with such a low numberof casualtieson the part of the
U.S. and allied forces, that it has to be strikingto anyoneat all
familiarwith militaryoperations.
One can point to otherexamplesas well-such as the Centers for Disease Control-that typicallyreceive favorableassessments of their generalperformanceand professionalism,and still
others such as those describedby authorscited in this article
(e.g., Denhardt1993; Holzer and Callahan1998; Wolf 1993 and
1997). Gold (1982), for example, identifiesas well-managed,
successfulorganizationsthe U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. PassportOffice, and the governmentsof
Sunnyvale,California,and Charlotte,North Carolina.Wolf
(1997) identifiesthe Bureauof Standardsin the Commerce
Departmentbetween 1917 and 1924 as the agency most highly
ratedfor effectivenessin his large sampleof agencies, thus suggesting that effective public agencieshave been aroundfor a long
time. Significantly,also, Osborneand Gaebler's(1992) very
influentialproposalsfor reformsof public managementdraw
almost exclusively on examplesof practicesthat alreadyexist in
governmentalorganizations.The examplesillustratethe point that
in spite of immenselycomplex issues over what performance
means and how one assesses it, public agencies often perform
very well.
Anotherindicationof effective performanceby public agencies comes from the limited success of privatizationinitiatives.
Assessmentsof the privatizationof public services generallytend
to reportsavings that result from privatization,but the results
also show a mixed patternwith many instanceswhere no savings
were achieved, and with few findingsof the very large savings
projectedby some proponentsof privatization.The more carefully designedthe study, the smallerthe reportedsavings (e.g.,
61J-PART,January 1999
Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
Gill and Rainey 1997). Similarly,evaluationof the privatization
of state-ownedenterprisesis much more complicatedthan its
aggressiveproponentshave projected(Durant,Legge, and
Moussios 1998). These limited successes of privatizationsupport
Simon's assertion,quotedat the beginningof this article, that
public organizationscan and often do performas well as private
Lowery (1997), amongothers, helps to explainwhy one
shouldexpect mixed resultsfrom certaintypes of privatization
when he analyzesquasi marketfailures, such as the failureof a
marketto develop for the contract(i.e., there may be little
competitionfor the contract).As Lowery points out, the aggressive proponentsof privatizationimplicitlyrely on the dubious
assumptionthatthe bureaucratswho could not manageeffectively
before contracting-outsuddenlybecome transformedinto highly
efficient and effective managersof the developmentand monitoring of contracts.The mixed resultssuggest that the success of
privatizationinitiativesdependsheavily on soundmanagementby
governmentemployees, and they returnus to the questions:
When and how do governmentagencies and the people in them
performwell? Why would bureaucratswho otherwisehave weak
incentivesfor efficiency, or who otherwiseface dysfunctional
incentivesand informationpatterns,be motivatedto have a
In addition,the extensionof privatizationarrangements,and
the increasinglynetworkedor hollow state characterof many
public programs,strainsthe depictionof the public bureaucracy
as a centralized,retentive,monolithicentity. If so centralizedand
retentive,why has the bureaucracyallowed all this privatization,
and how could it remainso centralizedand retentiveif it is
sharingpower with so many entities (Kettl 1993; Milward,Provan, and Else 1993)? These developments,then, indicatethe
need to rethinkthe more negativedepictionsof public bureaucracy and to considertheoriesthatexplaineffective government
Business firms produceabundantexamplesof waste, inefficiency, blundering,and fraud,even in the most reputableand
admiredfirms. This raises the issue of whethermarketexposure
actuallycauses businessfirms to performmore effectively than
nonmarketgovernmentagencies. A rich traditionin organization
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and managementtheory involves a generic perspectiveon those
topics. This traditionis the idea that distinctionsbetween
public and private, and for-profitand nonprofitorganizations
amountto stereotypesand oversimplifications(H.G. Rainey
1997, 55ff). Many scholarswho study organizationsemphasize
the commonalitiesamongorganizations,especially amongthose
that purportedlydiffer by locationin the public and private
sectors. Simon (1998, 11), in the assertionmentionedabove and
quotedat the outset, providesan exampleof this perspective.
Significantly,in relationto the later sections of this article, he
attributesthe prospectsfor effective public organizationsto,
amongother factors, the presenceof dedicatedpublic servants
who are motivatednot by narroweconomic self-interestbut by
organizationalloyalty and identification(andby implication,an
ideal of public service). Simon also arguesthat effective public
administrationis essentialto democracy.He thus quite dramatically implies the need to seek explanationsand theoriesof effective governmentorganizations.
To develop a theoryof effective governmentagencies, one
obviously has to decide how to proceed. Lowery (1997), while
not directlypursuingmodels of effective agencies, suggests
employingconceptsand methodsfrom economics-basedand
public choice theoryto analyzesome of the oversimplificationsof
those same approaches.His analysisof quasi marketfailures
develops useful conceptsfor elaboratingthatdiscussion. The
approachin this article, however, focuses more on government
agencies and their generaleffectiveness, and it draws more on
case studiesand empiricalresearchin public administrationand
public bureaucracyas well as conceptsfrom organizationand
managementtheory. The propositionsadvancedlater will draw
on conclusionsfrom many of the authorson successfulleadership
and managementwho are cited above. Some of those authors
concentrateon one partof the elephantsuch as leadership,mission, or culture, and some draw only implicitconclusionsabout
linkagesto organizationaleffectiveness. The full groupof
referencesis not easily summarizedhere.
One subsetof the references,however, includesefforts to
characterizegovernmentagencies thatperformefficiently. These
profiles representefforts to develop models of excellent organizations and to specify their attributes.Exhibit2 summarizessome
of these profiles. An elaboratereview and critiqueof these
efforts is beyondthe scope of this article, but the row headings
on the left of the exhibit indicatecommontopics in the profiles,
8/J-PART, January 1999
Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
includingaspectsof the agency mission and public orientation
(includingpublic service), leadershipand primarymeans of
managingemployees, and task design and work environment.
Especiallyas summarizedin the exhibit, in ways that cannotdo
full justice to the analyses, the profiles need much more specification and articulationto move in the directionof a theory. Yet
some of their implicationsare clear, and they show up in the
propositionsin exhibit 1 and in the discussionof them that
Also of significanceare some omissionsin the implicit
models in exhibit2. (In the parlanceof organizationaleffectiveness researchers,they mostly representinternalprocess models.)
Additionalfactorsreceive emphasisin other researchon agency
effectiveness.Wolf (1993) analyzedforty-fourcase studiesof
federalagencies to constructmeasuresof the agencies' characteristics and their relationshipsto the organization'seffectiveness.
As do most of the profiles in exhibit2, his findingsindicatedthe
importanceof leadershipand sense of mission. In addition,however, he found importanta variablerepresentingpoliticalautonomy (thatincludeduniversalpolitical supportand/orfreedom
from directionby politicalauthorities).This variableindicatesthe
importanceof relationswith oversightauthoritiesand other
externalstakeholders,a topic thatreceives little or no emphasis
in the profiles in exhibit2. It also suggeststhe need for a supportiveand delegativerole by those authoritiesthat allows the
agency reasonableautonomyto develop and pursueits mission
(cf. Wilson 1989; Meier 1993a).
As we indicatedearlier, exhibit 1 statespropositionsabout
effective agenciesthatdraw on the referencesjust cited and on
additionalreferencesand examplesthatare describedbelow.
Exhibit3 providesa diagramthat suggestsa frameworklinking
these propositionsand their componentconcepts. While exhibit 1
does not clearlyposit all the relationships,it bears the implication
that all the componentsin exhibit 1 shouldbe positivelyrelated
in the more effective agencies. Also, in exhibit 3 and in the
discussionto follow, some of the relationshipsare hypothesized
so clearly thatthey have sharpand challengingimplicationsfor
research,theory, and practice.
In the literatureon organizationtheory, the topic of
organizationaleffectivenessis complex and inconclusivein
certainways, and it involves an unresolveddiversityof models,
9/J-PART, January 1999
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Exhibit 2
Characteristicsof High Performance Government Agencies
Mission /
public orientation
Gold (1982)
STEP (1985)
Wilson (1989)
Emphasize clear mission
and objectives
Closer contact with
customers to better
understandtheir needs
Mission is clear and reflects
a widely shared and warmly
endorsed organizational
Externalpolitical support
Employees take pride in the
organizationand its product
Focus on treatingemployees
fairly and respectfully
throughhonest and open
Emphasize delegation of
responsibilityand authority
as widely as possible
authorityfor managersand
employees for greater
control over accountability
participationtaps their
knowledge, skills, and
Executive takes responsibility for organizational
innovative ways of
Places great value on the
people in the organization
Job tasks and goals are clear
Leaders make peer expectations serve the organization
Maximize discretionary
authorityfor operators
Managementaims at challenging and encouraging
Task design /
work environment
Executives commandloyalty, define and instill a clear
sense of mission, attract
talented workers, and make
exacting demandsof
Partnershipsto allow the
sharingof knowledge,
expertise, and other
Improvedwork measurements to provide a base for
planning and implementing
service improvementsand
worker evaluation
Clearly defined goals
how critical tasks are
Agency autonomyto
develop operationalgoals
from which tasks are
Ability to control or keep
contextualgoals in proper
Note: Portionsof this exhibit are adaptedfrom Rainey (1997, 359) and from Hale (1996, 139), with portionsusing Hale's terminology
and summary.
1O/J-PART,January 1999
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Alliance (1994)
Hale (1996)
Holzer and Callahan(1998)
Dedication to public service
and understandingpublic
Mission clarity and
Focused mission that is
clarified and
Serving the public, which
representsdemocratic values
Leader demonstrates
commitmentto mission
Managerbuilds sense of
community in organization
Managerclearly articulates
Managers insist on high
ethical standards
Empoweredand shared
Maintain open and
among stakeholders
Empowered employees
resources for continual
Enabling leadershipthat
emphasizes learning,
communication,flexibility, sharing, and vision
Build partnershipswith
public and private
organizationsand citizens
Manage for quality using
long-term strategicplanning
with supportfrom top
Develop human resources
and empower employees
throughteam building,
systematic training,
recognition, and balancing
employee and organizational
Employees accept accountability to achieve results
with rewards and consequences
Motivate and inspire people
to succeed
Employees accept responsibility and performance
(change is natural,
Defined outcomes and focus
on results (performance
Approachto change is
creative and humane
Institutenew work
processes as necessary
Commitmentto values
Flexible, adjust nimbly to
new conditions
Competitive in terms of
Emphasize learning and
carefully supportlearning, risk taking, training,
work measurement
culture that is supportive
and emphasizes teamwork, participation,
flexible authority,and
effective rewardand
Restructurework processes
to meet customer needs
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Adapt technologies that
include open access to data,
automationfor productivity,
cost-effective applications,
and cross-cuttingtechniques
that deliver on public
Measure for performance
by establishinggoals and
measuring results, justifying
and allocating as necessary
resource requirements,and
developing organizational
Theoryof Effective GovernmentOrganizations
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includinggoal models, internalprocess models, stakeholder
models, resourcedependencemodels, participantsatisfaction
models, and competingvalues models (Daft 1998, ch. 2; H.G.
Rainey 1997, ch. 6). The discussionhere cannotresolve these
variations,but it can proceedusing a relativelystraightforward
definitionof agency effectiveness:The agency performswell in
dischargingthe administrativeand operationalfunctionspursuant
to the mission. It achieves the mission as conceivedby the
organizationand its stakeholders,or pursuesachievementof it in
an evidentlysuccessfulway. While it skirts some of the controversies over the conceptof organizationalperformance,this
approachto effectivenessbears similaritiesto conceptionssome
researchersand authorsuse (Collins and Porras 1994; Gold
1982; Peters and Waterman1982; Wolf 1997).
This conceptof effectivenessrefers to whetherthe agency
does well that which it is supposedto do, whetherpeople in the
agency work hardand well, whetherthe actionsand procedures
of the agency and its membersare well suitedto achievingits
mission, and whetherthe agency actuallyachieves its mission.
Does it producethe actionsand outputspursuantto the mission
or the institutionalmandate(Osborneand Gaebler1992, 351;
Wolf 1997), and does it appearto contributeto outcomesindicated by the mission?Did the U.S. militarywin the Gulf War,
does the CDC reducehealthrisks, and does the Social Security
Administrationpay benefits expeditiously,accurately,and appropriately, and do all these resultscome in significantpart from the
activitiesof the agencies and their members?As additional
examples, the Coast Guardhas statedas one of its centralgoals
the reductionof accidentaldeathsand injuriesfrom maritime
casualties(U.S. Coast Guard1996). The NationalHighwayTraffic Safety Administration(1996) includesin its mission the goals
of saving lives, preventinginjuries,and reducingtraffic-related
healthcare problems.Evidencethatthe agencies' operationshave
contributedsubstantiallyto the achievementof these goals
providesevidence of agency effectiveness.
This conceptof effectivenessconcernsthe organization's
administrativeand operationaleffectiveness, and not necessarily
the effectivenessof the generalpolicy design in which the agency
operates.For example, the Social SecurityAdministrationmay
operatethe Old Age and SurvivorsInsuranceprogramvery effectively, in the sense that claimants'benefits are expeditiouslyand
accuratelyauthorized,calculated,and paid in ways thatprovide
income securityfor the clients. The program,however, still may
need reformthroughsome form of privatizationor some other
adjustmentbecause of the fiscal and financialimplicationsof the
benefits and benefit schedulesthat Congressmandatedfor the
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program.As anotherexample, the U.S. militaryperformedwell
in the Gulf War, but critics can disputeor lamentthe policy
decision to proceedwith militaryforce. In addition,declaring
thatthe ForestService is an effective organizationdoes not
resolve controversiesover the use of public forests for timbering
by privatefirms.
Numerousotherconceptualand methodologicalcomplexities
can be discussedat length. The most importantobjectiveof this
article, however, is to advanceconceptsand generalizationsuseful to theorizingaboutagency performance,so it is best simply
to move to the propositionsthemselves.
The propositionsuse the termstakeholdersfrom the organizationtheoryliteratureto refer to persons, groups, and institutions that have an interestin the activitiesand outcomesof the
organizationsufficientto draw theirparticipationand attentionto
the agency. Oversightauthoritiessuch as legislative, executive,
andjudicial authoritiesare one obvious componentof this part of
the framework.Otherstakeholders,such as constituentand client
groups, the generalpublic, and variouspartnersand suppliers
such as contractors,exert less legally formalinfluenceson
Effectiveagencies will have oversightauthoritiesthat are
supportive,delegative,and attentiveto agency missionaccomplishment.The authoritieswill devote attentionto the agency, in a
demandingway that emphasizeseffective performance.Yet the
authoritiesalso will tend to be supportivein the sense of providing resourcesand authorizationnecessaryto supportgood performance.They will be delegativein thatthey will refrainfrom
and extensiveinterventionin decisionsabout
the managementof the agency.
As an exampleof these conditionsof oversight,one can
point to the responseof congressionalleaderssuch as Wilbur
Mills when the Social SecurityAdministrationwas having serious
problemswith backlogsin claims processingduringthe 1970s.
Congresshad expandedthe types of coverageand benefitsof the
social securityprogram,and the populationof entitledpersons
had grown rapidly.Decisions aboutclaims becamemore complicated, more varied, and simply more voluminous.More claims
took longer to process, and citizens complainedto their congressmen aboutdelays in receivinga responseabouttheir claims and
inquiries.To oversimplifyfor brevity, Mills and other congressional leadersessentiallytold CommissionerRobertBall to fix
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the problemand acceptedBall's assurancesthat such efforts were
underway.SSA actuallytook some time to adoptreforms, while
devotingconsiderableattentionto diagnosisand planning.The
ultimatesolution, which involvedreorganizingthe majorpayment
centers (publicservice centers)into work moduleswhere teams
workedtogetherto process claims, provedhighly successful.
While demandinga solution, congressionalleadersdelegatedthe
selection and managementof the solutionto the agency's leaders.
By contrast,in more recentyears observershave expressedconcern that rapidturnoverin the top executivesat SSA, due to
efforts by presidentialadministrations
to increasetheir control
over the agency, has damagedeffective managementwithinthe
agency (Raineyand Rainey 1986; U.S. GAO 1986). As a roughly
similarexample, the highly effective Gulf War operationswere
conductedrelativelyautonomouslyby commandersthere, without
extensivecontrolor interventionfrom Washington.As an
exampleof the failureof oversightofficials to focus on mission
accomplishment,the FederalEmergencyManagementAgency
(FEMA) had a reputationfor weak performanceat one point, frequentlyattributedto oversightofficials' use of the agency as a
haven for politicalcronies.
Summarizingresearchon the influenceof interestgroupson
public bureaucracies,Meier (1993a) concludesthat an agency is
betterable to obtain resourcesand autonomyof operationswhen
it has interestgroups that, in additionto being attentiveand
interested,are geographicallydispersed,diverse along various
dimensions(suchas demographicmakeup),mobilizable,and multiple. That is, an agency loses autonomyif it is capturedby an
interestgroup, and it gains autonomyand influenceif it has supportersthat are diverse but mobilizable.The agency can play
differentgroupsoff againsteach otherbut, as is elaborately
discussedin the literatureon publicbureaucracyand public
management,it usually needs the supportof interestgroupsto
gain resources.In addition,as is impliedin the discussionof
issue networks,policy subsystems,and subgovernments,other
actors, such as experts, play a partin this process.
Agencies will also tend to be more effectivewhen they have
favorablepublic support.This includesgenerallyfavorablepublic
opinionand mediacoverage.
More effectiveagencies also will manage well their relations
with allies andpartners(Holzer and Callahan1998) such as contractorsand otherpublic, private, and nonprofitentities with
which they interactin carryingout their work. For example, a
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growing literaturenow details the requirementsfor the effective
managementof contractsand privatizationinitiatives(e.g.,
Globermanand Vining 1996; Donahue1990; Gill and Rainey
1997; Kettl 1993; Lowery 1997; H.G. Rainey 1997; Rehfuss
1989) as well as the effective managementof networksof actors
and organizationsmore generally(Provanand Milward1995;
O'Toole 1997). Agencies thathave in place systems thatmeet
these requirementsshouldmore effectively managesuch relations
and therebyenhancetheir own effectiveness.
Governmentagencies will be more effectivewhen they have
higher levels of autonomyin relationto externalstakeholders,but
not extremelyhigh levels of autonomy.(Therelationshipbetween
autonomyand effectivenessis curvilinear.)
When oversightauthoritiesare supportiveand delegative,as
we have describedabove, they grantautonomyto the agency.
Autonomyto manageits mission and tasks tends to enhancean
agency's performanceof the mission and tasks. Yet the following
discussionof organizationalculturedescribesexamplesof agencies thatbecametoo insular.The SSA exampleabove illustrate
the responsivenessof the agency and its leadersto the demands
of stakeholders.An effective agency's autonomydoes not imply
extremeisolationfrom communicationand exchangewith external stakeholders;it shouldbe conceivedas a responsiveautonomy. Wolf (1998) concludesfrom his data that agency leaders
earn grantsof autonomyfrom oversightofficials throughskillful
managementof relationswith externalstakeholders.
The higher the mission valenceof the governmentagency,
the more effectivelythe agency will perform. The conceptof
mission valence drawson the conceptof valence from the expectancy theoryof work motivation.Formulationsof thattheoryuse
the conceptof valence from chemistry(the positive or negative
chargesof atomicparticles)to refer to the positive or negative
attractivenessof an outcomeof behavior-to how good or bad,
attractiveor unattractive,a personconsidersan outcometo be
(H.G. Rainey 1997, 229-32). An agency's mission can be attractive or abhorrent(e.g., combat, war) to individuals.The more
engaging, attractive,and worthwhilethe mission is to people, the
more the agency will be able to attractsupportfrom those
people, to attractsome of them to join the agency, and to motivate them to performwell in the agency (dependingon some
other conditionswe will discuss).
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The externalstakeholdersand the membersof the organization interactivelyestablishthe organization'smission. The
mission is the general social contributionand purposeof the
agency and its relatedgeneralgoals. The militaryservices must
defendthe nation,be preparedfor combatengagementsand,
when necessary,to win them. The Social SecurityAdministration
providesincome securityfor retiredpersonsand their survivors.
The Centersfor Disease Controlmust defendthe populace
againstdiseases and other dangersto health. Any organization
has a mission, in this generalsense, whetheror not the organizationhas joined the herd of organizationsissuing mission statements. The mission has highervalence when it has higher levels
of the dimensionslisted in exhibit 1 (cf. Behn 1991, 67-69;
Dilulio 1994; Hargroveand Glidewell 1990; Wilson 1989).
Effectivegovernmentagencies have a strong organizational
culture, effectivelylinkedto missionaccomplishment.
Organizationalcultureis probablythe most overusedand
loosely used term in contemporarymanagementdiscourse. Journalistsregularlyuse it to interpretdevelopmentsin businessfirms
and other organizations.In any brainstormingor planningsession
of governmentemployeesthat is concernedwith organizational
improvement,leadership,or relatedmatters,participantswill
repeatedlyrefer to the need to changethe culturesof agencies.
These casual uses of the term typicallyrefer to a subdimensionof
culture, such as employees' attitudestowardrisk taking, but their
commonusage suggeststhe need for a conceptsuch as culture.
Scholars,of course, have devotedmuch attentionto cultureand
regularlyassert its importanceto organizationalanalysis(Schein
1992; Trice and Beyer 1993), includingthe analysisof government agencies (Wilson 1989; H.G. Rainey 1997, 273-81).
Culturerefers to patternsof sharedmeaningin organizations, includingsharedvalues and beliefs aboutappropriate
behaviorsand actions. It also refers to such mattersas the nature
of the organizationand its relationto other entities or to the basis
for authorityin the organization.Culturecan be manifestin, and
influencedby, symbols, ceremonies,statements,and actionsof
leaders. The propositionabove assertsthat a strongorganizational culturewill be relatedpositively to agency effectiveness
when the cultureis effectively linked to mission accomplishment.
The literaturenow containsnumerousexamplesof strongor salient culturesin agencies thatpromotethe agencies' effectiveness
in accomplishingtheir missions and the roles of leadersin shaping such cultures(e.g., Doig and Hargrove1987; Lewis 1980
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and 1987; Maynard-Moody,Stull, and Mitchell 1986; Mashaw
1983, 216; Meier 1993a; Rainey 1997, 273-81; Wilson 1989). In
addition,authorssuggest guidelinesfor leaders in their efforts to
influenceand develop culture(Schein 1992; Trice and Beyer
1993; Yukl 1998).
Like otherpropositionsadvancedhere, this proposition
about strongagency cultureruns into complexitiesand potential
controversy,since a strongculturecould make an agency impervious to externaloversightand control, resistantto innovation,or
otherwisepoorly adaptedto imperativesof its environment.
Examplesof such a problemincludeHoover and the FBI, and the
case of a public healthagency in Kansasthatbecame so focused
on professionalautonomythat the legislatureultimatelyintervened to assert authorityover the agency (Maynard-Moodyet al.
1986). Strongculturedoes not need to imply insularityor arrogance. Values stronglyespousedin a strongculturecan include
adaptiveness,surveillanceof the environment,and responsiveness. The two examplesabove can be interpretedas illustrations
of ineffectivelinkagesto agency mission that in the long run
damagedthe agencies' effectiveness.
The more effectivethe leadershipof the agency, the more
effectivethe agency. More effectiveleadershipis characterizedby
more stability, multiplicity,commitmentto mission, effectivegoal
setting, and effectiveadministrativeand political coping.
Scholarsregularlycite leadershipas an essentialelement in
the success of public agencies. Leadershiphas long been treated
as an importantdeterminantof an agency's power and influence
(Meier 1993a, 75-77; Rourke 1984). More recently, numerous
authorsdescribeand analyzeeffective, innovative,and exemplary
leaders in governmentagencies (Behn 1991; Cooper and Wright
1992; Doig and Hargrove1987; Hargroveand Glidewell 1990;
Riccucci 1995; Terry 1995). As we noted earlier, Wolf (1993)
reportsempiricalevidence of a significantrole of leadershipin
achievingagency effectiveness. Holzer and Callahan(1998, 160)
reportresultsof a survey of winnersof an awardfor exemplary
state and local public service initiatives,in which the respondents
rate the supportof top agency executives as the most important
factor in the success of agency innovations.
Like most fundamentaltopics in the social sciences, the
topic of leadershipis vast, richly elaborated,and inconclusive
(Yukl 1998). Enoughlistings of desirableleadershipskills and
qualitiescould be gatheredto build anothergreat pyramid.They
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vary widely, and none of them can claim conclusivevalidation.
One could choose any of a numberof such listings, but one can
reasonablychoose, as a generalconceptionof leadershipskills
for governmentagencies, the ExecutiveCore Competenciesof the
Senior ExecutiveService (U.S. OPM 1998). The competencies
includethe following: leadingchange(includingleadership
competenciesof creativityand innovationand service motivation,
amongothers);leadingpeople (e.g., conflict management,team
building);resultsdriven [sic] (e.g., accountability,customer
service); businessacumen(financial,humanresources,and technology management);and buildingcoalitionsand communication
(e.g., interpersonalskills, partnering,political savvy). From
many sourcesin the leadershipliterature,one can add thatleaders need a basic motivationfor the role, along with a drive to
take responsibility,to lead others, and to make a difference.
In additionto such generalconceptions,however, the
subdimensionsof leadershipcited in the propositionabove and in
exhibit 1 seem particularlyimportantto leadershipin government
agencies. First, scholarsand expertsemphasizethe problemsthat
resultfrom rapidturnoverof top executives in public agencies
(e.g., Warwick1975; Heclo 1978; U.S. GAO 1986). Conversely,
variousresearchershave reportedan apparentlinkagebetween
stable, long-termleadership-often from careercivil servants
and effective performanceof public agencies (Behn 1991; DiIulio
1994; Doig and Hargrove1987; G.W. Rainey 1990; Raineyand
Rainey 1986; Riccucci 1995). Excessive stabilityof leadership
can build a harmfulinsularity,of course, and there are also
importantexamplesof generalistleaderssuch as Eliot Richardson
who earnedreputationsas excellent governmentexecutives
througha variety of relativelyshort-termposts in different
agencies. Riccucci (1995) providesadditionalexamplesof effective leaderswithoutlong-termgovernmentalexperience.Leadership stability,then, needs to be consideredin associationwith
other dimensionsin exhibit 1, which hypothesizesa curvilinear
relationshipbetweenleadershipstabilityand agency effectiveness.
Sharedleadership,for example, can make a short-term
leadermore influentialon agency effectiveness. The literatureon
managementin both the public and privatesectors increasingly
emphasizesthe importanceof sharingleadershiproles among
teams or cadresof leaders, as well as the empowermentof individuals to assumeroles in the leadershipof variouspartsof the
work (e.g., Behn 1991; Denhardt1993; Huberand Glick 1993;
Sims and Lorenzi 1992; Terry 1995, ch. 4). As an exampleof a
skillful approachto sharedleadership,one can cite JamesWebb's
creationof a leadershiptriadat NASA and his emphasison
maximalleadershipcontinuityin the agency (Lambright1987).
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Althoughhe did not possess scientific skills, he establisheda
who did have
strongrelationshipwith assistantadministrators
those skills, and he therebyenhancedhis own legitimacy,and
more importantlythe qualityand legitimacyof the decisions of
the leadershipteam. Somewhatsimilarly,Nancy Hanks, as the
early and influentialchair of the NationalEndowmentfor the
Arts, empoweredher deputychairmanto serve as the chief
spokespersonfor the agency, to complementher own abilities
and her preferencefor workingin small, informalsettings
(Wyszomirski1987). Such skillfulexercises in empowermentand
team leadershipcan help even short-termpoliticalappointeesto
ensurethattheir influenceson the agency endure(Ingraham
The problemof turnoverat the top of many agencies also
makes a strongcommitmentto an agency's mission an important
aspect of leadership.The most effective agency executives, such
as RobertBall, HymanRickover,Nancy Hanks, JamesWebb,
and GiffordPinchot,all embodysuch a commitment.Analystsof
their careersconcludethatthey displayeda desire to "makea
difference"(Doig and Hargrove1987, 11) coupledwith an ability to see new possibilities,which led them to focus on the
agency and its mission as an avenuefor exertinginfluenceon the
developmentand pursuitof new possibilities.
The most frequentlyrepeatedobservationaboutthe distinctive characteristicsof public agenciesconcernsthe vagueness,
multiplicity,and mutualconflict amongagency goals. Therefore,
skillful leadershipthroughmissiondevelopmentand throughgoal
settingin relationto the missioncontributesignificantlyto
agency effectiveness. The literaturenow offers numerous
examplesof such leadershippractices(e.g., Behn 1991; Denhardt
1993; Riccucci 1995; Wilson 1989).
Finally, it seems to be obvious thatleadersof effective
public agencies will display skills in coping with the politicaland
administrativepressuresand constraintsof their roles. Yet the
importanceof this dimensionof leadershipis reflectedin frequent
expressionsof concernthatthese constraintspenalizeeffective
leadershipand make it scarce in public agencies (e.g., National
Academyof Public Administration1986; Thompson1993, 1822). Significantly,accountsof the most influentialand innovative
agency leadersemphasizetheir abilityto turn into opportunities
the constraintsthat supposedlyimpedemany executivesand to
cope with the pressuresand complexitiesof their roles (Ban
1995; Doig and Hargrove1987; Hargroveand Glidewell 1990;
Lewis 1980 and 1987; Riccucci 1995).
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The more the task design in the agencyprovides extrinsic
and intrinsicrewardsto individualsand groups, the more effective the agency.
In additionto the generalmission, there are more specific
characteristicsof the work people do, and in the frameworkthese
are includedin a broadconceptionof task. Includedin this conception of task are those factorsassociatedwith an individual's
relativelyspecific ongoing activitiesthatprovideextrinsicand
intrinsicrewardsfor work. Organizationalbehaviorresearchers
commonlydefine extrinsicrewardsas those mediatedexternally
to the individualand providedby the organization,such as pay,
promotion,and physicalconditionsof work. Intrinsicrewardsare
mediatedinternallyto the individualand includepsychological
rewardssuch as interestin the work, enjoymentof the work, a
sense of growthand development,and a sense of worthwhile
accomplishment.Organizationalpsychologistshave developed
measuresof the motivatingpotentialof jobs, which assess the
degree to which the job providesautonomy,task significance,
task identity,feedbackfrom the work, and skill variety. These
factorstend to increaseintrinsicwork motivation(Hackmanand
Oldham1980). This conceptionof task design is intendedto
includeconditionsmentionedin the profiles of excellentpublic
organizationsdescribedin earlier sections, such as whetherthe
membersare empowered,whetherthey are organizedinto teams
and have a teamworkorientation,and whetherdecisions are
Includedin this conceptionof task and task design are
extrinsicrewardsassociatedwith the more specific, day to day
work of the individual,such as those that are mentionedabove.
These rewardswill also depend, of course, on organizational
structuresand policies such as humanresourcemanagement/
The distinctionbetweentask and mission is useful in
analyzingwhetherthey are two distinctsourcesof incentiveand
motivationin governmentagenciesthat are separablebut that
need to be linkedtogether.For example, considera professor
who is excited abouther work for the day. How much is she
motivatedby the overall mission or general societal contribution
of the university,and how much by the intrinsicrewardsfrom
her enjoymentof the more specific activitiesof teachingand
research?A NASA employeemay enjoy his job designingand
implementingtrainingproceduresfor space shuttleastronauts.
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How much additionalmotivationdoes he derive from the overall
mission of advancingspace explorationand travel?
Exhibit 1 hypothesizesthatutilizationof technologyand
developmentof humanresourcesrelateto agency effectiveness,
becauseHolzer and Callahan(1998) emphasizethe importanceof
these processes in innovativegovernmentagencies and becauseof
the obvious importanceof such processes in buildingthe internal
capacityof an agency. Holzer and Callahanprovideelaboration
on effective utilizationof technologyand humanresources;other
examplesand case studiesabound.SSA, for example, has used
computerizationto improvemarkedlythe efficiency and accuracy
of case processing.HerbertKaufman'sclassic study, The Forest
Ranger, providescase illustrationsof the effective development
of humanresources.
Variousauthorsattributeagency effectivenessto professionalismamongthe membersof the agency (Brehmand Gates
1997; Wilson 1989; Wolf 1993 and 1998). Authorsin public
administrationhave analyzedprofessionalismin that field, and an
elaborateliteratureexaminesthe topic of professionalismin
sociology and organizationtheory. This lattermaterialdevelops
the conceptmore elaboratelythando some of the authorswho
write aboutprofessionalismin public agencies. For example,
sociologistsdefine professionsas occupationswith the following
characteristics:they apply advanceskills based on theoretical
knowledge;they requireadvancedtraining;they requiretesting
of competencethroughexaminationsand other means;they are
organizedinto professionalassociations;they emphasizeadherence to a code of conduct;they espouse altruisticservice. Members of such professionalizedoccupationstend to have values and
beliefs that accordwith the occupationalcharacteristics,such as
belief in collegial maintenanceof standardsamongprofessionals,
identificationwith otherprofessionals,and commitmentto professional norms. Authorson professionalismin public agencies
tend to define it less elaborately-as involving specializedskills
thatrequireadvancededucationor training,membershipin professional groupsoutsidethe agency (Wilson 1989), or simply a
commitmentto professionalnormsof performanceand behavior
and to do the work right and well (Brehmand Gates 1997).
Professionalismcan enhancean agency's performanceby
increasingits autonomy,due to the social statusand intellectual
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authorityand independenceof professionalsin the agency (Wolf
1998). In addition,professionalnormsand technicaltraining
provide incentivesand guidelinesfor individualsin the agencies
(Wilson 1989; Brehmand Gates 1997).
Effectivegovernmentagencies have high levels of motivation
among their members,includinghigh levels of public service
motivation,missionmotivation,and task motivation.
The precedingpropositionslead to this one. The framework
and propositionsgenerallyassert the importantrole of motivation
that stimulateseffort and effective behaviorsamongpeople in the
organization.The propositionrefers to all of the several forms of
motivationto emphasizethe importantquestions:Can we actually
conceive and validatethese three separateforms?Is there a
generalmotive to serve the public?Is it stimulatedin government
agencies, stimulatedto higherlevels in some than others, and in
turn translatedinto motivation,effort, and effective behavior?
Public service motivationcan be defined as a general altruistic motivationto serve the interestsof a communityof people, a
state, a nation, or humankind.Majorsocial scientistsrecently
have referredto evolutionarydevelopmentsthathave fosteredin
humanbeings motives and attitudesconduciveto communaland
collective behaviors,includingtrust, reciprocity,and identification with organizations(Ostrom1998; Simon 1998). Since
animalsdisplay altruisticbehaviors,behaviorsthat involve selfsacrificeon the part of their groups, these motives shouldbe
consideredfundamentalin humansas well, and in some persons
as strongas the more extrinsicmotives for money or other
materialgain. Such forms of motivationhave been part of human
discoursesince classic times, when, for example, Athenians
pledged to leave their city betterthanthey found it.
A form of public service motivationhas been partof
discoursein public administrationfor a long time. Frederickson
and Hart (1985), for example, discuss a "patriotismof benevolence" that involves benevolentimpulsesand behaviorstowarda
broadcommunity.They define it as an affectionfor all people in
the nationand a devotionto defendingtheir basic rights, as
grantedby enablingdocumentssuch as the Constitution.Frederickson (1997) treatssuch a motive, and associatedethical and
equitablebehaviors,as a centraltheme in public administration.
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Interestingly,however, this topic has attractednot nearlyas
much systematicresearchas one might have expected, Various
surveys have found that governmentexecutives and managers
tend to express a motive to serve the public or society in a
worthwhileway (e.g., Sikula 1973). Kilpatrick,Cummings,and
Jennings(1964) found that federalexecutives, scientists, and
engineersgave higherratingsthandid their counterpartsin
businessto work-relatedvalues such as the importanceof doing
your best, even if you dislike your work, the importanceof doing
work that is worthwhileto society, and the importanceof helping
others. H.G. Rainey (1983) foundthat state agency managers
ratedthe "opportunityto engage in meaningfulpublic service" as
a more importantwork rewardthandid managersin large business firms. Among the very large sampleof executives and
managersin the FederalEmployeeAttitudeSurveys,high percentages of the respondentswho enter the federalgovernmentrate
public service and havingan impacton public affairsas the most
importantreasonsto enter federalservice; very low percentages
of these groupsrate salaryandjob securityas importantattractions (Crewson 1995, 94). Analyzingother large social surveys
such as the GeneralSocial Survey,Crewson(1997) also finds
thatpublic sector respondents,as comparedto privatesector
respondents,place a highervalue on work that is useful to
society and thathelps others. These resultsand other findings
within such surveys suggest the form that general service motives
in governmentmay take-placing a high value on work that helps
others and benefits society as a whole, on a degree of selfsacrifice, and on responsibilityand integrity.Public managers
often mentionsuch motives (Hartmanand Weber 1980; Lasko
1980; Kelman 1989; Sandeep1989).
Seekingto refine the conceptionof public service motives,
Perry and Wise (1990) suggest thatpublic service motives can
fall into three categories:instrumentalmotives, includingparticipationin policy formulation,commitmentto a public program
because of personalidentification,and advocacyfor a special or
privateinterest;norm-basedmotives, includinga desire to serve
the public interest,loyalty to duty and to government,and social
equity; and affectivemotives, includingcommitmentto a program
based on a convictionaboutits social importanceand the patriotism of benevolence(Fredericksonand Hart 1985; Frederickson
Perry (1996a and 1997) providesmore recentevidence of
the dimensionsof a generalpublic service motive and ways to
assess it. He analyzedsurvey questionnaireresponsesfrom about
four hundredpeople, includingmanagersand employees in
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variousgovernmentand businessorganizations,and graduateand
students.He developedscales for four dimensions
of public service motivation:attractionto public policy making,
commitmentto the public interestand civic duty, compassion,
and self-sacrifice.He foundhigherlevels of some of these factors
associatedwith religious involvementand family background.
These findingsand those cited above show thatpublic
service motivationis a complex conceptthatdeserves more attention. The evidence, however, stronglysupportsthe existence of a
generalform of public service motivationthat tends to be more
employees. The evidence also suggeststhatthis form of motivation involves a generalmotive to provide significantservice that
benefits the community,the public, or society in dutiful, compassionate, and self-sacrificingways.
The above propositionaboutmotivationalso holds that high
levels of mission motivationcontributesignificantlyto the
effectivenessof public agencies. Why coin a term such as mission
motivationand proposeit as a new concept?Wilson (1989)
describesthe existence of a sense of mission in such agencies as
the Army Corpsof Engineersand the ForestryService. Various
authorsdescribehow leadersdevelop a sense of mission for their
agencies and inculcateit into the cultureof the agency through
goal setting, symbolicactions, and othertechniques(e.g., Behn
1991; Cooper 1987; Denhardt1993). The propositionabout
mission motivationassertsthatmembershave perceptionsof the
mission of the agency and may be highly motivatedto contribute
to the achievementof the mission. When so motivated,an individual will extendeffort and seek to performwell in ways thathe
or she perceivesto be relatedto accomplishingthe mission.4
4A reason to use a term such as mission
motivation is that it implies a different
concept from a sense of mission. It includes not just the perception of a mission
but the extension of effort toward achieving it.
This patternof motivationdiffers from public service
motivation,althoughthe propositionsand frameworkassertthat
they have a strongrelationto each other in effective agencies.
While public service motivationfocuses on altruisticservice that
benefits a communityor a largerpopulation,mission motivation
has as its targetor objectivethe mission of the agency. For
example, this distinctionraises the issue of how much of a person's motivationis accountedfor by a sense thather actionscontributeto a generalpublic service, and how much is accounted
for by this sense of mission?When a tankcommanderin the
Desert Stormoperationworks hardto contributeto an effective
combatinitiativeby his unit, how much is he motivatedby a
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perceptionor belief thathe is contributinga valuableservice
to the nationor to humankind,and how much by a perceptionor
belief that his actionscontributeto the mission of winningcombat engagementsin defense of the nation?How much is a module
managerin a public service center of the Social SecurityAdministrationmotivatedby a belief thather actionscontributeto
somethingworthwhileand importantto the nationas a whole,
and how much is motivatedby a belief that soundmanagementof
her modulewill contributeto the mission of providingincome
securityfor the retiredpeople who have earnedit throughtheir
contributionsto the program?
An earlier section introducedthe conceptof mission valence
because of its relevanceto the role of mission motivation.A
mission can have a high valence for an individualand attractthat
person to an agency. Membersof NASA, for example, observe
that many people came to NASA and remainedthere because of
interestin and excitementaboutthe mission of space exploration,
when they could have workedin the privatesector for higher
pay. Motivationin organizationsalways involves at least two
general steps-first, joining and staying;second, workinghard
and well. One can take the first step withouttakingthe second
(Marchand Simon 1958). High levels of mission valence will
tend to attractcertainindividualswho will self-select into the
organizationon the basis of the valence of the mission for them,
but then their levels of mission motivationwill furtherdependon
their perceptionsaboutthe linkageof their work to the mission.
Buchanan(1974 and 1975) some years ago reportedevidence that
idealisticpeople may enter the public service and later become
discouragedbecausethey cannotsee the linkageof their work
activitiesto their ideals. Throughleadershippracticessuch as
those describedearlier, the agency must sharpenand make salient
the relationsof individuals'work to the mission. In turn, the
perceivedlinkageof the mission to public service values can
enhanceboth mission valence and mission motivation,such that
in the governmentagencies thatperformthe best, memberswill
show both high levels of mission motivationand high levels of
public service motivationand will feel thatthe mission of the
agency contributesto generalworthwhilepublic service.
The distinctionmade earlierin this articlebetweenthe
generalconceptof task motivationand the conceptsof public
service motivationand mission motivationserves a purposeof
distinguishingamongpatternsof motivation.Returningto the
exampleof the highly motivatedprofessor, considerhow much of
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thatperson's motivationmight derive from a sense of contributing a valuablepublic service; how much from a sense of contributingto the university'smission of advancingteaching,
research,and public service; and how much from enjoymentof
the specific work itself? Otherexamplesof the task motivationat
issue here includea NASA employeewho finds it fun and exciting to develop and implementsafety and emergencydrills for
trainingastronauts.Also, a districtoffice managerfor the Social
SecurityAdministrationenjoys the tasks of managingthe office,
supervisingpersonnel,and engagingin public relationsactivities
such as appearingon a local radio show to answerquestions
aboutthe social securityprograms.
These examplesillustratethe broadconceptof task
motivationadvancedhere. They reflect the influenceof the
relativelyspecific and immediateextrinsicand intrinsicrewards
availablethroughthe person's role in the organization,as
describedearlierin the discussionof task design. These factors
can be independentof, or weakly relatedto, public service
motivationand mission motivation.For example, agency
employeesmay express high levels of motivationin spite of low
levels of some of these rewards,such as favorablephysical
surroundingsat work. Ultimately,however, the frameworkand
the proposalshold that agency effectivenesswill be highest where
organizationaldesign, task design, leadership,and other factors
producedesirablelevels of extrinsicand intrinsicrewards
throughtasks and where membersof the agency perceive that
task activitiesand accomplishmentscontributeto mission
accomplishment,which in turncontributesto the provisionof a
worthwhileand valuablepublic service.
Ultimately,too, the propositionsand frameworkhypothesize
thatthe several forms of motivationplay a significantrole in
determiningagency effectiveness, as do the other factorssuch as
leadershipand culture.These actuallyposit very debatableand
researchableconceptsand relationsthat might be opposedby
other interpretations.For example, one might arguethatexternal
forces, such as technologicaland economicfactors, drive the
performanceof public agencies by providingnew technologies
and humanand financialresources,such thatthe espoused
motives of bureaucratsand the dramaturgyof leadershipprovide
merely a superficial,self-justificatorylabelingfor developments
that are essentiallyout of the controlof the people in the organizations. Such alternativeinterpretations,along with the general
importanceof the performanceof governmentagencies, provide
all the more reasonto continueto develop theoriesto explain
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The conceptsand relationsin the propositionsadvancedhere
need more developmentin a variety of ways. In particular,however, many relatedconceptsand topics that are not discussed
here need furtherconsiderationin relationto the propositionsand
agency effectiveness. These includetypologiesof agencies and
differencesby type of agency; organizationalsocialization
processes; organizationalcommitmentor identification;performance measuresand their availabilityand adequacy;and numerous
The lengthylist of variablesin exhibit 1 raises the question
of whetherthe list can and shouldbe pareddown to a more
parsimoniousset. In a sense, the set of variablesis not so vast if
one conceives it as basis for a LISRELanalysisor a similaranalysis that would treatthe subdimensionsunderthe more general
variablesas indicatorsof the more generalvariablethat would
factortogetherin measuresof it. As a hypotheticalstatement
aboutthe most importantvariables,however, based on the literature reviewedand cited in this article, one can posit that the
variablesfor the following conceptswill emerge as the most
important:relationswith externalauthoritiesand stakeholders,
autonomy,leadership,professionalism,and motivationamong
As we noted earlier, Simon (1998) emphasizesthe essential
role of effective public administrationin maintainingthe strength
of democracy.Othersocial scientistshave remarkedon the interesting tendencyof democraticsystems to coincide with free
marketsystems, and conservativeeconomistsoften have mentioned the need for an effective, albeit limited, governmentin a
prosperouseconomy. Analysis of effective governmentagencies
shouldbe part of a new dialogueon the role of governmentand
public administration(e.g., Durant1998) that recognizesthat
effective organizationsin business, government,and the nonprofit
sector benefiteach other. Pursuitof systematicexplanationsand
theoriesabouteffective governmentagencies shouldcontinueas
part of the effort to enhancethese mutualbenefits.
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Ban, C.
1995 How Do Public Managers Manage? San Francisco: JosseyBass.
Collins, J.C., and Porras, J.I.
1994 Built to Last. Successful Habits
of VisionaryCompanies. New
York: HarperBusiness.
Barton, A.H.
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