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News Review

Differing Values

Nov 99

Wasted Values (ISBN 1 898531 56 0) is available price 13.95 (inc. postage & packaging) - send a cheque made out to the Public Management Foundation to PMF, 165 Grays Inn Road, London, WC1X 8UE. Phone 020 7278 1712, email:



A report from the Public Management Foundation on research into the goals and motivations of senior public managers. It concludes that public sector managers and their private sector counterparts are motivated by very different things. In June this year, the Foundation undertook a nation-wide survey of 400 of the UK’s top public, private and voluntary sector managers. Asked about their goals and about what motivates them to do their job well, managers in the three different sectors gave some revealingly different replies. Voluntary sector managers show a mixture of public and private sector views. (1/11/99)

Starting points

This book, subtitled "harnessing the commitment of public managers", raises various issues around the management of different types of organisations. Clearly the the publishers are largely interested in the public sector (health and local authorities and police forces were included in the study) and state that 'the overall aim was to explore the ways in which senior managers can be helped to make a greater contribution to the public value of public services'.

The limitations of the survey in respect of the voluntary sector perspective should be noted. About 150 senior managers from each of the public and private sectors were interviewed by phone, but only 91 voluntary sector managers were. These were taken from registered charities with a turnover of at least £million working in social welfare or health fields. While this slant is understandable, as the types of services being delivered by the organisations will be more comparable, it does mean that the conclusions reached can't automatically be applied to the whole of the voluntary sector.

This article attempts to draw out the points which are of potential use to the voluntary sector.

The issues

In the foreword, Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science, says: 'I am particularly intrigued by the finding that voluntary sector managers have a kind of hybrid of public and private interests: deeply concerned about the public welfare, but also about the financial survival of their organisation. This has implications .........that their own financial considerations may on occasion dominate the public interest.'

The response could be that this concern is actually very positive, as there is little point providing high quality services today if tomorrow the organisation will fold - a concern which does not seem to bother the public sector as they cannot envisage that extreme. However, this observation appears to be made on the basis that 14% of senior voluntary sector managers rated 'improve financial performance of organisation' as one of the two most important goals as opposed to 5% in the public sector.

For me, the more interesting differences are around:

- The low levels across all sectors of recognising 'knowing about customers needs and satisfaction' as a factor in helping managers achieve their goals. The voluntary sector was ahead, at 9%, against 7% for public sector and an abysmal 3% in the commercial world (who are supposed to be driven by this!).

- The low opinion of Performance Related Pay (PRP). While the treatment in Wasted Values appears to be bordering on a crusade against this as a motivational tool, the figures come out as:

  • Private sector: 75% receive PRP, 66% said it was very or fairly important in work motivation
  • Public sector: 20% receive, 75% said considered it wasn't effective for motivation
  • Voluntary sector: 10% receive, and 0% (none) believe it is effective

- Staff motivation was the third most important goal for private and public sector managers, but did not fall within the top ten for voluntary sector. Perhaps we take it for granted?

- When judging whether their organisation gave enough, too much or too little emphasis on various performance assessments, the voluntary sector was least concerned out of the 3 groups on 'improving staff motivation and performance'. However, all sectors gave this the largest 'too little' rating out of the eight different performance areas.

- 'Innovating and developing the organisation and its work' was the next 'too little' emphasised performance assessment across the board. The study points out that 'the voluntary sector has always prided itself on being innovative and developing new approaches, (so) ...may be concerned that ... one third of its senior staff consider this area to be undervalued.'

- 'Lack of clarity and poor communication' came out lowest in the voluntary sector as a factor preventing achievement of goals (i.e. we are doing well on internal communications). From my experience, I find this surprising - with the rating in the public sector being twice as bad I would reckon they would be totally headless chickens!

The other point that gives me some concern is the statement that accountability is likely to be more complex in the public sector. With the multiplicity of audiences that the typical voluntary sector manager is trying to please (OK not exactly the same thing as accountability), continually changing and conflicting demands are significant factors in struggling to achieve goals. In the study, these type of issues have been put under 'policy changes by central government' but for the voluntary sector, they may have been expressed more as 'factors outside the organisation, in the market'. The various sectors still tend to make different presumptions and use different terminologies, and we could be comparing chalk and cheese at times.

A useful study for those interested in these types of issues.

John Howes, November 1999.