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Challenges Faced by Managers in the Public Sector

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Business
Wordcount: 3004 words Published: 2nd Jan 2018

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There are different levels of management in the three different sectors of the economy. There are non-managerial employees, first-line managers, middle managers and the top managers. Robbins et al ;( 2009). This essay will critically evaluate the challenges faced by managers in the public sector organisations. The essay will assess the roles of the manager in this sector and the difficulties managers encounter whilst carrying out their duties. The challenges posed by organisational structure and design with an example from the Northampton Borough Council, the issues due to the organisational culture, privatisation of some of the public sector services, the strategic management of the public sector and the complexities due to the constant changing environment in which these organisations operate, and the challenges to managers of the most recent comprehensive budget cuts, will be evaluated in this essay.

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The typical roles of a manager in any organisation is to organise, lead, plan and control the activities of the people and other resources within it towards achieving the objectives of that organisation; Naylor (2004). The role a manager plays is dependent on the level of management position although each level has its challenges. At the senior level, the manager’s role is much broader and in depth and it requires creativity and innovativeness; Robbins et al (2009). The senior manager is involved in decision making, strategic management planning and control, the manager, at this level of management is expected to have an understanding of all areas of the organisation to enable sensible handling of any given situation Hanagan;(2008).

The role of the manager did not change in the 21st century rather the method of carrying out the above mentioned roles are different, for instance the manager has to organise work differently, communication is more sophisticated such as, the use of internet, mobile telephones and e-mail. In recent times, the management of change is considered as the most important skill of management due to the pace of change in the 21st century Hanagan, (2008).The rapid changes in technology, enormous improvements in communication, the increase in focus on global economy, and the environment are issues to the modern day manager. In addition to the above, the role of the manager in the public sector is challenged by the constant changes in legislation and political policies subject to government in power Hanagan (2008).

An organisation is an arrangement which has been set up for a particular purpose. Robbins et al (2009). Different organisations belong to different sectors of the economy. There are three sectors; the public, the private and the third sector such as social enterprises. This three sectors have some common characteristics which are: they all have distinct purpose, each organisation is made up of people, and all create a structure within which the people could carry out their duties Robbins et al(2009).

Organisations are grouped as public sector depending on certain factors such as; how much the organisation competes with similar organisations, goods and services are charged indirectly and how much it allows itself to be influenced by demand and supply of goods and services. The less such organisations are influenced by the above factors the more the organisations are considered as public sector organisations Hanagan (2008). Instances of these organisations are; Local Government council, Libraries, the National Police Force, the Defence Ministry, Colleges and Universities. The common features of these organisations are; they are set up to fulfil specific purposes, they are service motivated, they are accountable to many stakeholders and the public, they carry out their duties for the good of the people and they are funded through the use of taxpayers’ money. Avery important challenge to a manager whether in the public sector or in the private sector is to be aware of their relevant stakeholders and operate the organisation in ways which will yield maximum returns to each stakeholder group Bloisi et al (2007).

The public sector organisation has a centralised organisational structure whereby authority and decision making is made at the senior managerial level. Organisational structure is a connected arrangement of positions and work units through which the important tasks of an organisation are subdivided and categorised to form decision centres from where the strategic plans of the organisation are carried out Bloisi et al (2007). Most of these organisations have a Matrix design structure which enables double responsibility and reporting roles with particular projects. Bloisi et al (2007). The managers in the matrix organisation are challenged by the constant need to resolve conflicts due to differences in perspectives and priority Bloisi et al (2007). For instance, the organisational structure of the Northampton Borough Council has over five managerial levels of management.

According to Nicole Macdonald, a HR Manager Strategy with the council, one of the challenges they have is getting approval to carry out plans as quickly as possible. The council has about forty-seven councillors through whom decisions are made. These councillors represent different political fronts. Sometimes it is difficult to reach a consensus on certain issues and therefore arriving at a decision is elongated said, Cassie Triggs, a Democratic & Chief Executive Services Manager at the Northampton Borough Council. The manager in the private sector will in relation to their organisational structure which is much flatter be able to arrive at a decision much quicker. Private sector organisational structures are designed to embrace the pace of changes in technology and also to survive. Flatter structure allows for incorporation of ideas from almost every employee in the organisation Bloisi et al (2007). The manager in the private sector will be challenged by how to control an employee who is working from home and coming to the place of work only one day in a working week Naylor (2004).

Included in the challenges encountered by managers in the public sector are challenges due to the cultural beliefs of the organisation. Organisational culture is ”the way we do things around here” Robbins et al (2009). According to Meek (1988), organisational culture could be used as a means to find out how people behave in a complex setting Hanagan, (2008). Organisational culture can be something abstract or people’s perception and experience within an organised setting. According to Stacey, “the culture of any group of people is that set of beliefs, customs, practices and ways of thinking that they have come to share with each other through being and working together……….” Hanagan (2008). According to Handy, there are four major types of organisational cultures; the power culture in which the power and authority is from one person in a central position, the role culture which is labelled as a bureaucracy where the role of the individual specialists are more important than position and power, the task culture is about the activity which is being carried out and lastly the person culture which focuses more on what individuals do in a particular setting Mullins (2005).

The challenge of managing cultural change in a public sector organisation will depend on how strong the existing culture is and the weight of the proposed change Hanagan (2008).The difficulty is in bringing about the change. For instance the Further and Higher Education Act which made colleges and higher education in England to become Corporate Bodies Limited by Guarantee indicates that organisational culture can be overtaken by accountability to more prominent stakeholders as the organisation would want to survive Hanagan (2008). The challenge is even more where there is existence of subcultures within the organisation. For decades, Public organisations have been managed by people who have been raised into managerial positions through years of service to the organisation, for instance; football clubs were managed by ex-footballers, and schools were managed by former teachers, local government council by people who were promoted through long years of service Hanagan (2008).

There are difficulties faced by managers moving from the private sector to the public sector. The manager from the private sector is more focused on profits and accounting to shareholders, decision making is simplified, there is much flexibility and autonomy, there is power and authority attached therefore, the challenge to the private sector manager moving into the public sector will be changing the profit making, quick decision making mindset, there is less power and authority, no flexibility and autonomy Hanagan (2008). These challenges are not without approaches with which the managers could use to minimise them. For instance, the managers could use the recruitment process to recruit people who will fit into the existing culture, by the method of questioning they are made aware of what is important in the organisation, ”the induction process, promotion policy, training and development” Hanagan (2008).

Following the challenges posed by organisational structure, design and culture, are the challenges which managers face with the move of the UK government in the 1980s to privatise some of the services of the public sector when they realised that the costs of providing services were becoming too much, costs were weighing much on National budgets and the motive to make public sector organisations to work more effectively and efficiently Hanagan (2008). The move gave rise to such contractual arrangements as the Public Private Partnership (PPP) and the London underground contractual arrangement which came from a simpler Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which was set up to establish contracts between the local authority controlled London Underground and Tubelines and Metronet Hanagan (2008).

Privatisation as defined by Bryan Hurl (1992), is ” the sale of government owned equity in nationalised industries or other commercial enterprises, to private investors with or without the loss of government control of the organisation”. There are three methods which have been used by the government, these are; denationalisation which is the sale of public sector assets, deregulation which is removal of barriers to entry to a previously protected market to allow private enterprises to compete and franchising whereby the public sector provides the finance and the private sector provide the services Hurl (1992).

One of the key principles of managing resources to deliver better services is by setting up strong partnerships which means that various departments of the public sector are relying on other public, private and third sector to deliver public services, these organisations, most of the time may have better expertise and better understanding of the needs of the citizens Bourn (2003, p26). The increasing difficulty with which public services are delivered is a challenge. According to the National Audit Office, ”delivery of public services are no longer the duty of a single department for instance, different organisations are involved in provision of criminal justice such as the police, the crown prosecution service, the forensic Science service and the courts”.

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Changes in economic conditions and unforeseen circumstances could place much demand for public services, for instance, the sudden rise in unemployment during the most recent inflationary period. The volume and value of benefits payment made by the job centre plus or the unexpected foot and mouth disease and its effect to the public requires a good resource management Bourn (2003 p18). Some of the services provided by the public sector organisations are; Defence by the Army, Public Health by the NHS, Direct service delivery agencies which handle payments of benefits, issuing of prescriptions and National insurance numbers, processing of student loans, access to heritage, museums and galleries, developing frameworks for other service providers such as regulation of educational standards, teacher training and social housing, promotion of business opportunities abroad, transport integration, purchasing information technology systems and professional services and others.

The challenge to the manager is the ability to coordinate and monitor the different service chains involved in the delivery of public services and also the difficulty in ensuring that resources are channelled appropriately to the provision of the most required service Bourn (2003 p.20) .

” Strategic thinking, planning and continuous are important in every organisation” Bloisi et al (2007). Strategic thinking means being able as a manager to device ways to balance both the human, technical and the limited resources of the organisation and the environmental forces Bloisi et al (2007). The public sector manager has no power and authority, no autonomy and flexibility and therefore may not have as much influence in the decision making as their counterpart in the private sector Hanagan (2008). Strategic management is used in the public sector to find out schedules of activities in the sector which fit into the political agendas taking into consideration the politicians who might be looking for quick returns which they can point to as their successes and achievements Hanagan (2008). This means that the strategic planning has to be short term. There is lack of clarity in relation to what the manager is trying to achieve.

There is the constant challenge to the manager in the public sector as to whether you are trying to fulfil your statutory obligation, please the politicians, follow the directions of the board or the people for whom the services were meant for. The manager in the public sector is challenged as he cannot change or alter the system. There are too many stakeholders, interest groups to satisfy in the public sector therefore the manager in this sector has to device different kinds of ways to deliver information to the different groups in the public who believes they have a stake in the public sector, such methods are through, governing bodies, advisory committees, taskforces, public meetings and public announcements Hanagan (2008). The manager in the private sector uses strategic management to review actions, slow down processes and hence make changes where necessary, the manager in the private sector has a profit making mindset and therefore considers product viability, the private sector manager has power and authority, flexibility and autonomy and therefore decision making is quicker. The private sector manager is accountable to shareholders Bloisi et al (2007).

The public sector is funded by the government and the managers are accountable to whichever ruling political party at any given time. According to the National Audit Office, before the 1998 public service agreements, different departments were funded annually with some exception such as the Department of Health, so there was uncertainty as to whether funding will be the same as the previous year or reduced or increased. This was a challenge to managers as there was no certainty with the flow of funds to make long term plans as the private sector with assurance of long term financing. The agreement was set out with the awareness of the aims, ideals and targets of the various departments Bourn (2003 p.20).

Assessed so far are internal factors which challenge managers in the public sector however there are certain external factors which managers have to contend with as well. Some of these are; the speed of technology which has affected every process in organisations irrespective of sector, the force of competing interests who are not ordinary rivals to gain customers but those seeking for resources and those trying to make their points to be heard and the fluctuations in social behaviour which starts with movements in people’s expectations and values Bloisi et al (2007).

Finally, managers are currently facing challenges due to the recent comprehensive budget cut. There is greater demand for services however there are fewer resources to meet demand. It is morally challenging to managers to prioritize who to help and who not to

In conclusion,

Suggested approaches from management science which could alleviate some of the challenges are; the systems approach and contingency approach. With systems approach, managers could discuss their departmental needs in terms of the general organisational requirement. The use of this approach requires open communication and the removal of barriers between the individual departments, also the approach shows management consideration of all the systems involved, synergy that is ”the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” open and closed systems, limits, movements of information, materials and feedback through which the manager could monitor and evaluate progress reports Hanagan (2008). The second recommended approach is the contingency approach. This approach says that different problems requires different ways of solving them it all depends on how much experience the manager has because what might work well in one situation may not work well in another situation Hanagan (2008). Application of this approach requires that the manager recognises several view points, one of which is the pragmatic view point. Pragmatic viewpoint says that no approach is generally acceptable which means that the manager has to check the motives for every action taken for instance, the services being delivered, the availability of equipment required and also the internal and external environment Hanagan (2008).


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