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1 - New Foundations for Civil Service Systems

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2020

James L. Perry
Indiana University, Bloomington


The chapter introduces core concepts to be explored throughout the book. The chapter begins by discussing the recent growth in public service motivation research and growth in related intellectual capital. In addition to a growth in research, more practical applications for examining public service values and motivations have emerged. The chapter subsequently addresses the continuing pressure being placed on traditional service systems. In the face of warnings about long-term mismanagement of human capital, governments around the world are under pressure. The chapter then outlines factors that tend to allow civil service systems to persist. Operating rules, which have rational origins as solutions to perceived problems, sensitize actors to values. The evolution of motivation is then discussed, with special attention towards New Public Management, contracting out, agentification, and high-powered incentives. Public service motivation is then proposed to be a foundation for reform. A comprehensive, coherent, evidence-based argument is outlined. The chapter concludes with a description of the organization of the book.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

There is a debt of service due from every man to his country, proportioned to the bounties which nature and fortune have measured to him.

President Thomas Jefferson 1796

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

President John F. Kennedy 1961

In its broadest sense, “public service” is a concept, an attitude, a sense of duty – yes, even a sense of public morality. These attributes are basic to democratic society – attributes lacking or of low priority in an authoritarian society.

Comptroller General Elmer Staats 1988

The “New Public Passion” emphasizes that officials need to be empowered, and to feel empowered, to do what they joined the public service for in the first place, namely to serve citizens.

Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 2015

The idea of public service – the motivation of people to contribute to the good of the community and society – dates back to Aristotle. As the epigrams above imply, the idea is resilient, surviving the test of time and geography. President Kennedy's call for service may be the most often repeated epigram, certainly in the United States, especially because many living Americans remember the Kennedy years. Similar sentiments are likely to be familiar to much of the world's population. The ideas are both resilient and widespread because they capture important sentiments and values of humankind – service, giving back, and duty.

Only recently has public service come to be formally studied by social and behavioral scientists as a force in individual and group behavior. During the past two decades in particular, the motivating power of public service has been studied with respect to different concepts – among them public service motivation (Reference Perry and WisePerry and Wise 1990), altruism (Reference Piliavin and CharngPiliavin and Charng 1990; Reference LeGrandLeGrand 2003), and prosocial motivation (Reference Brief and MotowidloBrief and Motowidlo 1986; Reference Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin and SchroederPenner et al. 2005; Grant 2008b). The volume and quality of research has reached a critical mass that is hard to ignore as an important source of intellectual capital for shaping the way the public sector operates. The purpose of this book is to delimit specific applications from the knowledge base of research on these concepts.

Almost forty years ago, soon after passage of the landmark U.S. Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA), Lyman Porter and I observed (Reference Perry and PorterPerry and Porter 1982) that the literature on motivation concentrated too heavily on employees within industrial and business organizations. The limitations of knowledge about the context for motivation in public organizations were borne out by failures associated with merit pay and other provisions of CSRA (Reference PerryPerry 1986), both in the United States and in countries globally following diffusion of the reforms (Reference Lah and PerryLah and Perry 2008). Some of the research questions we identified as needing attention in 1982 – for example, the individual-organization match, the effect of goal clarity on motivation and performance, and the motivational influences of job security – have been addressed by research and are now part of the knowledge base for better understanding the motivation of public servants. Scholars have advanced our understanding of how individuals choose organizations and how organizations attract individuals and how the attitudes, beliefs, and interests that an individual brings to organizational settings affect motivation.

The creation of new intellectual capital that potentially supplants motivational practices and assumptions grounded in market enterprises is important for reasons articulated by Reference Ferraro, Pfeffer and SuttonFabrizio Ferraro, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and Robert Sutton (2005). They argue that social science theories can become self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. Theory shapes institutional designs, management practices, and expectations about behavior. If the theory becomes taken for granted and normatively valued, it can take on a life independent of its empirical validity. No better example exists than pay-for-performance in the U.S. federal sector. First introduced in 1978, performance pay schemes have failed and been resurrected on at least three different occasions (Reference Perry, Engbers and JunPerry, Engbers, and Jun 2009). They are a classic reflection of the process of normatively valued management practices that have endured, despite repeated failures to demonstrate their empirical validity.

The research on public service motivation – embedded in different assumptions about human behavior and institutional context – has gradually begun to erode the premises of the old order as evidence of empirical incidence and effects have grown. Several articles have sought to articulate new sets of assumptions, institutional rules, and management practices. One of the first was by Reference Paarlberg, Perry, Hondeghem, Perry and HondeghemLaurie Paarlberg, James Perry, and Annie Hondeghem (2008) and identified fourteen tactics leaders and managers could employ to strengthen public service motivation to improve behavioral outcomes in public organizations. The tactics ranged across five units of analysis: individual, job, workplace, organization, and external environment, covering motivational contexts suggested in Reference Perry and PorterPerry and Porter (1982).

Although research on public service motivation was already well developed when Reference Paarlberg, Perry, Hondeghem, Perry and HondeghemPaarlberg, Perry, and Hondeghem (2008) presented their tactics, both the quantity and quality of research evidence has improved significantly in the decade following the first applications of the research. In light of the expansion of knowledge after 2008 (Reference Ritz, Brewer and NeumannRitz, Brewer, and Neumann 2016), Reference Christensen, Paarlberg and PerryRobert Christensen, Laurie Paarlberg, and James Perry (2017) synthesized research published between 2008 and 2016. New to their synthesis was consideration of a threshold question: To what extent is public service motivation a changeable individual attribute? They concluded that public service motivation, based on longitudinal and experimental research since 2008, can be an influential lever in motivational strategies. They extracted five overarching general lessons and implementing tactics associated with each lesson. The practices identified in Reference Christensen, Paarlberg and PerryChristensen, Paarlberg, and Perry (2017) did not duplicate all the tactics in Reference Paarlberg, Perry, Hondeghem, Perry and HondeghemPaarlberg, Perry, and Hondeghem (2008), but they were highly consistent.

Efforts by scholars and practitioners to extract practical applications from research on prosocial behavior and altruism have also emerged over time. Hans Reference BierhoffBierhoff (2002) discussed four areas of research application related to prosocial behavior: increasing the readiness to give first aid, solidarity in society, prosocial behavior in the workplace, and volunteerism. Some of these applications, such as readiness to give first aid, are distant from the concerns of managers and leaders inwork in the public sector, emphasizing public organizations, but applications related to prosocial behavior in the workplace and volunteerism are very relevant to public leaders and managers.

The biggest impetus for basic and applied research about prosocial behavior in the workplace is the research about organizational citizenship behavior – when employees help others on the job without the overt promise of rewards (Reference Organ and RyanOrgan and Ryan 1995; Reference Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine and BachrachPodsakoff et al. 2000). Some dimensions of organizational citizenship behavior, specifically altruism and civic virtue, map closely to dimensions of public service motivation, specifically self-sacrifice, civic duty/commitment to the public interest, and commitment to public values (Perry 1996; Reference Kim, Vandenabeele, Wright, Andersen, Cerase, Christensen and DesmaraisKim et al. 2013). More recently, research by Adam Grant and his collaborators (see, e.g., Reference GrantGrant 2007, 2008b; Reference Grant and GinoGrant and Gino 2010) has injected new life and attention into research about prosocial motivation and behavior.1

The UNDP, under the auspices of its Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (United Nations Development Program 2015b), initiated a program dubbed the “New Public Passion,” which began in 2015. The rationale for the new public passion program was concerns surrounding the implementation of the UN's 2030 sustainable development goals. Helen Clark and other UNDP leaders and stakeholders viewed effective public services as crucial for the success of the sustainable development goals, but saw public service, specifically morale and motivation, in crisis across many countries in the developed and developing worlds. As a consequence of the perceived deterioration of public services globally, the leadership of UNDP (United Nations Development Program 2015a) feared performance could spiral negatively out of control:

Public servants seem to have little trust in their own leadership. Job commitment, professional satisfaction and ethical climate in the public service is decreasing, putting at risk fairness and impartiality. In the long term, this could threaten citizens’ trust and state legitimacy, but in the short term may be resulting in increasing disengagement and lack of commitment, even misconduct.

(p. 1)

The GCPSE turned to the research on intrinsic and public service motivation as a guide for the new public passion. In “The SDGs and New Public Passion: What Really Motivates the Civil Service?” (2015b), they map motivating factors for work in the public sector, emphasizing intrinsic rewards and public service motivation. Although extrinsic rewards are included in the map of motivational factors, the report acknowledges that in developing countries “the scarcity of financial resources in the public sector to support extrinsic rewards provides additional impetus for the adequate provision of less tangible rewards…” (p. 9). Among the alternative levers for improving motivation, the report suggests developing pride and recognition in public service, establishing a merit-based, professional civil service, exercising care in using performance-related pay, promoting a values-based public service, and employee engagement. Many of the levers proposed for the new public passion are direct outgrowths of applying the intellectual capital from the public service motivation and related research referred to earlier. The Global Centre for Public Service Excellence concludes that, given the many demotivating influences affecting the public sector in the developing world, many countries need strategies for strengthening public officials’ passion and sense of mission.

To summarize, the idea of public service motivation is enduring, resilient, and meaningful in regimes and populations globally. The intellectual capital from social and behavioral science research has grown exponentially during the last two decades to the point where it can now sustain significant applications to improve civil service design and management practices. The supply of ideas is converging with demands for civil service reform, which have reached significant levels in both developed and developing countries.2

1.1 Continuing Pressure on Traditional Civil Service Systems

The sense of crisis afflicting both developed and developing countries is real. Governments around the world are under pressure. One prominent illustration of the pressure comes from No Time to Wait, issued by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) in summer 2017. The report's executive summary begins with a dire statement about the current state of affairs:

We launch this White Paper with a profound sense of urgency. In case after case, ranging from ensuring cyber safety to protecting the nation's borders, the federal government faces profound problems in making government work for the American people. And in case after case, these problems share a common root cause: the federal government's human capital system is fundamentally broken.

(p. 1)

Despite the dire warning about the brokenness of the federal system, the federal human capital system has been on the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) High-Risk List since 2001. Although GAO credits both the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and various federal agencies with some progress in its 2017 report, many years have elapsed since GAO first cited strategic human capital management as high risk. In a 2016 report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government, Donald Reference KettlKettl (2016) explored what lessons could be learned for improving government management from GAO's high-risk list. His conclusions about the centrality of human capital are startling:

Put sharply, most of the riskiest issues on the high-risk list are rooted in human capital. The challenges are increasing, especially because of the growing policy issues and difficulty of finding the right workers to solve them. Of all the issues on the high-risk list, this is the one most likely to lead future policy areas onto the list – and make it most difficult for policy areas already on the list to escape.

(p. 14)

Confronted by GAO's long-term warnings about strategic human capital management and the urgency of not one but two reports titled No Time to Wait (National Academy of Public Administration 2017, 2018), an obvious question arises: Why has action been delayed? In fairness to the originators of the warnings about risks associated with federal human capital systems, the current hyper-partisanship reigning in Washington, D.C. is sufficient to put a stop to the legislative action envisioned to reform federal civil service. And the capacity of the federal government to faithfully execute the laws is becoming increasingly problematic (Reference LightLight 2008, Reference Light and Perry2020). The persistence of the problem, however, transcends circumstances of political consensus and rests with the stock of intellectual capital and challenges to executing large-scale change in well-established institutional arrangements.

1.1.1 The Propensity for Civil Service Systems to Persist

The degree to which “broken” civil service systems persist, not only in the United States but other countries worldwide, suggests that more than dysfunctions of the US political system explain the challenges facing reformers. More than two decades ago, Hans Bekke, Theo Toonen, and I (Reference Bekke, Perry, Toonen, Bekke, Perry and ToonenBekke, Perry, and Toonen 1996) led a multi-investigator comparative study of civil service systems. A conclusion of the study was that civil service systems are overdetermined – caused and reinforced by a variety of external influences – which persist because they are perpetuated by the systems in which they are nested. With respect to nation-state development, for instance, we wrote: “The fact that civil service systems are outgrowths of external determinants suggests that they are not simple artifacts of their designers that can be remolded at will. Civil service systems are instead natural outgrowths of their context, in some respects organic parts of their surroundings” (p. 322).

Since Bekke, Toonen, and I first characterized civil service systems as overdetermined, scholars have routinely come to describe similar phenomena in terms of path dependence (Reference PiersonPierson 2000) and historical institutionalism (Reference ThelenThelen 1999). Kathleen Reference ThelenThelen (1999) offers an example of the persistence of a practice with which anyone familiar with civil service systems will be immediately familiar. She uses job classification systems as an example of a system originally imposed by employers on labor unions that subsequently became a system of union control because of rules attached to job classifications by labor unions. The ability of unions to adapt the institution to their purposes helps to explain its persistence. Reference ThelenThelen (1999) writes:

This system was originally imposed on unions by employers as a way of controlling labor. Unable to change the system, emergent unions adapted their strategies to it but sought to attach rules to these job classifications, and in doing so, they eventually turned it into a system of union control. In this case, “adapting” to the institution had the effect of transforming it altogether, so much so that now it is employers who attack the system, unions who defend it.

(p. 286)

Two general features of civil service systems, both elements of the system's operating rules, are consequential for their persistence. Operating rules serve to sensitize actors, particularly members of the civil service, to what they value. In doing so, the operating rules may become valued and protected. They can acquire a taken-for-granted quality, which reinforces persistence and constrains initiatives for change (Reference Meyer and RowanMeyer and Rowan 1977; Reference Tolbert and ZuckerTolbert and Zucker 1983; Reference ScottScott 1987). In the U.S. federal civil service, these types of operating rules were memorialized as “merit system principles” in the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. Any efforts to reform the system as it now stands must retain the valued operational rules or risk immediate dismissal as a viable reform option.

The second way in which operating rules affect persistence is that they usually have rational origins as appropriate technical solutions to perceived problems. Even when they fall short of performance expectations, however, they are likely to persist in the absence of a plausible technical alternative. The search for plausible alternatives is complicated by the interconnectedness of operating rules – changing one may cascade to affect many others, which increases the complexity of finding a plausible technical alternative. Position classification in the U.S. federal civil service exemplifies an operating system that persists, at least in part, because alternative technical solutions are unavailable (National Academy of Public Administration 1991).

1.1.2 The Evolution of Motivation in the Face of Persistence

Despite what seems at times as an imperviousness to reform, civil service systems and the organizations embedded in or linked to them do change. The reality, however, is that they are often less responsive to planned change – reform – and more likely to change as a result of processes driven by developments in their environments (Reference MarchMarch 1981). A look at the New Public Management (NPM), the name given to the movement to change the public sector beginning in the late 1970s, reveals a good deal about both change in the public sector and the evolution of public motivation.

New Public Management was the antidote for everything perceived as wrong about public bureaucracies that developed during the long period of bureaucracy's hegemony as an organizational form (Reference MintzbergMintzberg 1979) – inefficiency, lack of responsiveness, and ineffectiveness. Although NPM is often invoked as a unitary construct, its meaning varies across the literature that invokes the construct. New Public Management has been used to refer to private sector practices imported to the public sector, approaches to organizing public services that rely on quasi-markets, and specific management practices designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public services (Boruvka and Reference PerryPerry 2020). The diversity of meanings attached to NPM makes critiquing it a moving target, but several signature practices, among them high-powered incentives, contracting-out, and agentification, are closely identified with it (Boruvka and Reference PerryPerry 2020).

These signature practices were greeted with high expectations they would fix the bureaupathologies they were adopted to remedy. New Zealand and the United Kingdom, countries that were first movers on agentification and contracting-out reforms, failed to realize expectations on high-profile reform initiatives (Boruvka and Perry 2019). New Zealand's pursuit of agentification resulted in the creation of over one hundred units across government, intense attention to agency-focused goals and incentives, and, in turn, an inability to establish cooperation among units to address complex inter-unit issues. In the United Kingdom, reforms of the National Health Service in 1990 led to greater autonomy for health-care providers and less central monitoring of services delivered. Death rates increased during the course of the 1990s, leading the Blair government in 1997 to correct competitive processes introduced at the beginning of the decade.

As a lever for reform, high-powered incentives have fared even more poorly than contracting-out and agentification. Evaluations of pay-for-performance from the early 1980s to 2000s have consistently concluded that high-powered incentives usually fail to deliver expected results (Reference Perry, Engbers and JunPerry, Engbers, and Jun 2009).3 More importantly, the theoretical underpinnings for high-powered incentives have increasingly been called into question (Reference PerryPerry 1986; Reference FreyFrey 1997; Reference Frey and OsterlohFrey and Osterloh 2005; Reference Miller and WhitfordMiller and Whitford 2007). Scholars have not rejected incentives, but made a compelling case for low-powered rather than high-powered incentives (see Chapter 6 for further discussion of this research).

A long-term view of the evolution of public motivation from the late nineteenth century to the present provides perspective about transitions over time. Elise Boruvka and I analyzed the evolution of public motivation from the bureaucratic model to the NPM model to the model emerging today, which we call the new public service model. Our decision to call the post-NPM era the “new public service” motivation model stemmed from its re-emphasis of democratic and constitutional values (Reference Denhardt and DenhardtDenhardt and Denhardt 2015). The new public service motivation model elevates the prominence of “mission,” which serves to articulate public value in contrast to performance narrowly construed. Among the hallmarks of the emerging motivation model “is the centrality of socially acquired values in the motivational dynamic (Perry 2000), the stronger force of intrinsic in contrast to extrinsic motives, and the importance of personal development” (Boruvka and Perry 2020 p. 573).

Several facets of the evolution of motivation in public institutions stand out. One is the longevity of the bureaucratic model, which persisted in many developed countries for a century or more. The model's persistence masks patterns of change over time, best illustrated by Reference Barley and KundaStephen Barley and Gideon Kunda's (1992) conclusion that waves of change since the 1870s have alternated between rational and normative ideologies. Despite several waves of change arriving near the end of the twentieth century, the bureaucratic motivation model remained intact, relying on the member's commitment to institutional values, job security, significant deferred compensation, and flat or pay-for-knowledge salary structures (Boruvka and Reference PerryPerry 2020) as the core of the motivational system. New Public Management may represent the most radical wave of change, arriving near century end and substituting rational ideology for normative (Reference Moynihan, Perry and AnnieMoynihan 2008). Many of the motivational practices it brought, specifically agentification, contracting-out, and high-powered incentives, were grounded in principal-agent theory. In the aftermath of NPM, many of the motivational practices that accompanied it have been jettisoned. What remains is continuing attention to performance and symbolic action to sustain legitimacy (Boruvka and Reference PerryPerry 2020).

1.2 Public Service Motivation Research as a Foundation for Reform

The goal of this book is to advance change in civil service institutions and organizations throughout the public sector. Research about public service and prosocial motivation during the last two decades, however, gives me confidence that we now have the intellectual capital to lead the way to significant changes in civil service systems. Three facets of the research deserve mention as foundations for my optimism: its evidence-base, comprehensiveness, and coherence.

1.2.1 Evidence-based

A recent report from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (2017) called attention to two truisms: good government and good public policy rely on evidence; and we have too little evidence to meet our needs. The exponential growth in research on public service motivation and related concepts has crossed a critical threshold. The evidence today now provides a foundation for redesigning civil service systems and public organizations for the challenges of the twenty-first century. This observation does not mean that the research evidence is so abundant we no longer need to pursue basic and applied research to improve motivational outcomes from institutional arrangements of civil service systems. It does mean we now have evidence-based guidance to redesign institutional arrangements with good prospects for successful interventions.

Another reason for confidence about the evidence is not only the volume of evidence but its growing rigor. In their systematic review, Adrian Ritz, Gene Brewer, and Oliver Reference NeumannNeumann (2016) identified 323 articles on public service motivation that appeared in 12 public administration journals in the period 1990–2014. Among those articles, only 12, 4.7 percent of the total, used controlled experimental methods. A simple accounting of the research that appears in this book reflects more than forty experimental studies, more than half of them appearing since 2014, the last year included in Reference Ritz, Brewer and NeumannRitz, Brewer, and Neumann's (2016) systematic review.4

That much of the recent research on public service and prosocial motivation is experimental is not a great surprise given developments in the modern search for solutions to public problems. The United Kingdom's Behavioural Insights Team and President Obama's Social and Behavioral Sciences Team are two examples of relatively intensive efforts to experiment to find novel and sustainable alternatives to current civil service practices. Current evidence, coupled with the openness of many public organizations to rigorous experimentation, is a formula for making significant progress toward civil service reform.

Although we have no fixed standards for whether the volume and quality of research has reached a threshold for reforms of management practice, my reflection about the meaning of evidence-based management (Reference Rousseau and RousseauRousseau 2012; Reference Rousseau, Olivas-Luján and CooperRousseau and Olivas-Luján 2015) leads me to conclude we have arrived at the threshold. Reference Rousseau, Olivas-Luján and CooperDenise Rousseau and Miguel Olivas-Luján (2015) write that “the central idea of evidence-based management is that scientific knowledge is systematically applied in management practice and, as a result, managers will make better decisions, decrease the inefficiencies with which they operate, and improve the consistency and level of organizational outcomes” (p. 1). The ideas presented in this book adhere closely to the first of four characteristics Reference Rousseau, Olivas-Luján and CooperRousseau and Olivas-Luján (2015) associate with evidence-based management – use of scientific knowledge. Rather than turning to traditional foundations like managers’ experience, much of the evidence in this book is drawn from scientific knowledge “based on controlled observations, large samples sizes (N), validated measures, statistical controls, and systematically tested and accumulated understandings of how the world works (i.e., theory)” (p. 1).

Scientific knowledge is only one element of evidence-based management, it is with regard to the other attributes of the construct that the knowledge accumulated from recent developments in social and behavioral science research passes the threshold to drive reform. Reference Rousseau, Olivas-Luján and CooperRousseau and Olivas-Luján (2015) argue that using facts, i.e., organizational evidence, is an integral part of evidence-based management. All too often, however, stakeholders in public settings dismiss the reliability and validity of evidence proffered by “bureaucrats” or other knowledgeable stakeholders, owing to either stereotypes or the presumed superiority of practices in the private economy. The research streams (e.g., public service motivation, prosocial motivation, positive organizational behavior) contributing to the foundation of this book have a healthy respect for organizational evidence generated by actors and agents within public institutions. We also know that the other two attributes Reference Rousseau, Olivas-Luján and CooperRousseau and Olivas-Luján (2015) associate with evidence-based management – reflective judgment and decision aids, and making ethical decisions with consideration of stakeholders – are valued in public organizations.

1.2.2 Comprehensiveness

At the beginning of this chapter, I commented about the surging volume of research on public service motivation (Ritz, Brewer, and Reference NeumannNeumann 2016) and prosocial motivation (Reference Grant, Berg, Spreitzer and CameronGrant and Berg 2011). As the research has evolved (Perry 2014), it has expanded to address a range of issues that are pivotal to redesigning civil service systems specifically and public organizations more broadly. The breadth of the accumulating evidence provides an impressive foundation to drive the redesign of civil service systems. A sampling of the issues addressed in the research (Perry 2019) is listed as follows:

1.2.3 Coherence

By coherence, I mean the extent to which the key ideas associated with public service motivation are logical, consistent, and form a unified whole. Three forms of coherence are important. The first is how well the models of individual motivation fit with values embodied in public institutions. As I noted in the opening paragraph, the epigraphs heading this chapter capture values important in public institutions – service, giving back, and duty. The alignment of these values with motivational theories for public service represents institutional coherence. As argued earlier, the values of public service were misaligned with the theories used to motivate public employees. If theory shapes institutional designs, management practices, and expectations about behavior (Reference Ferraro, Pfeffer and SuttonFerraro, Pfeffer, and Sutton 2005), then theory grounded in values such as the public interest and common good is far better suited to the public sector than theory grounded in self-interest and opportunism.

A second type of coherence that applies to public service motivation is theoretical coherence. During the past forty years, scholars from sociology (Reference Knoke and Wright-IsakKnoke and Wright-Isak 1982), social psychology (Deci and Ryan 2000), economics (Reference FreyFrey 1997; Reference FrancoisFrancois 2000), organizational behavior (Reference Schneider, Goldstein and Brent SmithSchneider, Goldstein, and Smith 1995; Grant 2008a), and public administration (Reference Perry and WisePerry and Wise 1990; Perry 2000; Reference Perry, Vandenabeele, Perry and HondeghemPerry and Vandenabeele 2008; Reference Wright and PandeyWright and Pandey 2008; Reference Christensen and WrightChristensen and Wright 2011) have advanced theories and empirical research that is logical, consistent, and sums to a unified whole. These theories are discussed in greater depth in Chapter 2. The point is that theories advanced across several disciplines and the empirical research they spawned have created a coherent body of compelling evidence.

The third type of coherence is synergy, which represents consistency across practices that contributes to self-reinforcing effects when they are implemented.5 The self-reinforcing effects across the policies and practices mean the systemic outcomes are likely to be greater than the sum of effects from individual practices, emulating outcomes identified for high-performance work practices (Reference Combs, Liu, Hall and KetchenCombs et al. 2006). Two questions are at the core of identifying synergy across practices. Does the practice enhance public service or prosocial motivation among employees and across the workforce? Does the practice undercut or detract from public service or prosocial motivation? A high degree of synergy means the practices collectively will contribute constructively and minimize detracting from public service and prosocial motivation.

1.2.4 Organization of the Book

Chapter 2, Theoretical and Empirical Foundations for Public Service Motivation, examines the primary theories animating public service motivation research. The discussion is organized around three clusters of theory: (1) predisposition-opportunity theory and related theories about attraction–selection–attrition and person-fit, (2) self-determination theory and related theories associated with motivation-crowding, and (3) goal-setting theory. The chapter calls attention to both the theories that are most prominent in public service motivation research and relevant findings from the empirical research related to each research stream.

Following the broad review of theory and empirical research foundations for public service motivation, Chapters 38 are devoted to articulating practical principles and findings that flesh out new directions for civil service design and public management strategy and practice. The six chapters are organized around a classification of analytic units used previously (Reference Perry and PorterPerry and Porter 1982; Reference Paarlberg, Perry, Hondeghem, Perry and HondeghemPaarlberg, Perry, and Hondeghem 2008; Reference Christensen, Paarlberg and PerryChristensen, Paarlberg, and Perry 2017) to identify characteristics that affect motivation: (1) individual, (2) job, (3) work environment, and (4) organization. Chapters 38 are organized around units of analysis rather than the theories presented in Chapter 2 to capture the full expanse of ways in which interventions can alter employee motivation. The practical principles call attention to management practices that tap into the motivational potential of public service to energize, direct, and sustain employee behaviors. These chapters engage direct ways to motivate by selecting people predisposed to public service motivation and designing their work to activate prosocial behavior. They also examine ways to support value systems that motivate individuals to engage in public service behaviors. The model of value management extends to managing such values in all aspects of the organization, from work environment to organizational mission. The proposals reach beyond formal human resource management systems to look at leadership, culture, and interpersonal relationships that shape employees and their attitudes and behaviors.

Chapter 3, Selecting for High Public Service Motivation Is a Priority, focuses on attracting individuals whose predispositions will create a foundation for high-quality service to citizens. Arguing for public organizations to attract individuals with high public service motivations means that merit, which has traditionally been associated with competence alone, would be defined more broadly, to include service predispositions. This chapter identifies methods for attracting and selecting staff with high public service motivation.

Chapter 4, Leveraging the Meaningfulness of Public Work, looks at another avenue for energizing public service motives, that is, the work itself. The potential of public work to motivate employees begins with an understanding that governments are different: They are entrusted, especially in democracies, by society to make and enforce the rules of a society. Public institutions create and provide access to public goods, oversee the stewardship of common-pool resources, and promote fairness and access for citizens. Assuring the public interest and sustaining the common good are among the most cherished prosocial goals in a society. That government is the institution entrusted with the public's work is a significant structural advantage for energizing, directing, and sustaining the behaviors of employees situated in this context. The chapter identifies systematic ways for leveraging the meaningfulness inherent in public work to exploit its motivational advantages.

Chapter 5, Creating a Supportive Work Environment, looks at attributes of the work environment that encourage employees to develop strong ties between their values and the organization's. Creating a supportive work environment provides a context in which employees can pursue and realize their innate needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. An environment within which employees can pursue their basic psychological needs creates a foundation for psychological health and well-being that, in turn, permits employees to connect their values and goals with those of the organization without diversions. The chapter examines steps to intentionally nurture public service motivation and, on the other side of the ledger, to purge practices that are harmful to creating a supportive environment and assure a freer rein for employees to connect their values and the organization's.

Supportive managers, coworkers, and policies represent the “soft” side of the work environment. The “hard” side is represented by compensation systems, which are the subject of Chapter 6, Aligning Compensation Systems and Public Service Motivation. Compensation and public service motivation have intersected frequently in research, particularly research on pay-for-performance. Although intersections between performance-based pay and public service motivation are most prominent, many areas of compensation policy are highly relevant to public service motivation. This chapter highlights principles for aligning compensation policy and public service motivation, assesses inferences that professionals can draw from research for compensation policy and practice, and identifies compensation strategies that align compensation policy with public service motivation.

Although public organizations should strive to recruit staff with high public service motivation, leaders need to assume that some employees will arrive who are not predisposed to public service or that, over time, employees will benefit from continuing socialization to public service values because both organizations and staff change. Chapter 7, Providing Opportunities for Newcomers to Learn Public Service Values, recognizes the need for socializing both new and established staff. Several mechanisms available for strong culture creation are considered in this chapter, among them new-employee orientation, onboarding, and mentoring. The processes discussed in Chapter 7 represent ways to fill gaps in selection systems and broaden and strengthen public service values across the workforce.

Chapter 8, Leading with Mission, Inspiration, and Communication, explores the roles of leaders in stimulating the salience and responsiveness of staff to public service values. Many employees sustain their motivation through self-regulating processes. Others benefit from stimulation of their aspirations. This chapter discusses two general paths worth pursuing as ways to enhance public service motivation through leadership. The first of these paths involves leaders articulating mission and vision as a means to stimulate, reinforce, and direct staff toward salient public service values. The second path is for leaders to pursue value-based leadership.

The book concludes with Chapter 9, Designing Civil Service to Unleash Public Passion. A central issue taken up in the conclusion is whether the perspective conveyed in the first eight chapters may be either too optimistic or overlook a dark side to the enthusiasm for public service motivation as the intellectual capital for rethinking how we motivate public employees and design our civil service systems. Although my answer may be easy to anticipate, I believe there is value in visiting whether the case built here either has been too optimistic or has ignored a dark side of public service motivation. The book concludes with a summary of key ideas about how to advance the redesign and realignment of public services.

1.3 Conclusion

This book navigates well-traveled territory with a goal of advancing civil service reform. What distinguishes this enterprise is that it begins from a new foundation, one built on recent social and behavioral science research about public service. Because of the research, we now possess a critical mass of intellectual capital to rethink civil service designs, policies, and management practices to change civil service systems around the globe. I explain in Chapter 2 the theories that are prominent in public service motivation research and relevant findings that serve as a new foundation for civil service systems.

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