Sub-theme 64: Challenging Public Management: A Fresh Look at HRM, Organizational and Individual Behaviour in the Public Sector

Alessandro Hinna
University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy
Fabian Homberg
University of Southampton, United Kingdom
Andrea Tomo
University of Naples Federico II, Italy

Call for Papers

In the last three decades the waves of reforms that allegedly reshaped the panorama of public administrations around the world (Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2011; Vigoda-Gadot & Meiri, 2008) led to an enormous increase in the knowledge built around the analysis of reform implementation in public sector organizations. Even though the literature did not lack critical perspectives, those works were mainly focused on discussing the validity of New Public Management as a paradigm (Barzelay, 2001), including the championing of new paradigms or the recognition of regional versions of this “universal concept” (Public Governance, New Public Governance, Public Value, New Weberian State; see also Van Wart et al., 2014). Other works studied the rhetoric of reforms (Cheung, 1996) and their actual implementation, focusing mainly on macro-level analysis of compliance to new legal frameworks introducing new management policies or performance management systems.
Notwithstanding, the efforts put in making sense of public sector reforms research after the mid-2000s underscored a series of unsolved contradictions in the New Public Management (NPM) approach arguing that NPM failed to deliver better value, since proponents underestimate the complexity permeating the public sector (Lapsley, 2009). Additionally, according to Noordegraaf and Abma (2003), it should be acknowledged that trends such as NPM, “performance-oriented management”, and the rise of the “audit society” indicate that the world of public management has now become a world of measurement.
While public sector organizations struggle to cope with the contradictory demands (Ackroyd et al. 2007) of such reforms (i.e. managerial autonomy/disciplinary-control systems; customer orientation/standardization; competence development/skills alignment), little attention has been paid to the design and consequences of public sector personnel strategies, HR policies, and training schemes. The few “street level” analyses of the organizational impact of public administration reforms have, however, highlighted both the need for more evidence on these issues and the need to embrace a more practice-oriented, contextual perspective. It is further unclear how HR policies, training and personnel strategies actually contribute to creating organizational realities that achieve their institutional mission in face of contradictory forces (Kettl, 2000).
Additionally, coping with the aforementioned challenges demands a more nuanced understanding of the role of public managers in implementing change is strongly needed (Dopson & Neumann, 1998; Emery & Giauque, 2003; Tummers et al., 2009; Tummers, 2011). This requires stronger attention towards individual level behaviours. In this regard, recent literature is arguing that behavioural, human, and psychological aspects must be integrated in the study of public administrations (Grimmelikhuijsen et al., 2017).
Thus, the main issues addressed by the sub-theme focus on possible gaps in this field of research concerning: (1) how the principles of “Good Administration” are being enacted in a context of increasing external control and lack of resources; (2) the comparative analysis of cross-sectoral and cross-national experiences of public management reforms, focusing on the deconstruction/reconstruction of cultural/professional paradigms and identities within administrations; (3) the role of civil servant training, and its possible function as a place where conflicting objectives and demands are being managed; (4) the shortcomings of performance management systems in the Public Sector; (5) behaviours related to issues concerning HRM (such as selection, motivation, competences, incentives, personality, gender); (6) behaviours related to issues concerning organizational structure and culture (such as rules and norms, culture and values, structures and task characteristics, leadership, ethics, and integrity); (7) behaviours related to issues concerning interactions (such as trust, power, emotions, influence); (8) behaviours related to issues concerning organizational climate (such as conflict, commitment, job context).
Hence, in this sub-theme we seek theoretical, empirical and practice-based research applying a behavioural lens when studying for example:

  • The varieties of organizational coping strategies following public sector reforms and the (un)surprising organizational responses to the managerialist reform waves in public organizations

  • The consequences of recruitment and HR policies on organizational capability to cope with reforms

  • The challenges of managerial competence development in public organizations

  • The development of organizational well-being and happiness in public sector organizations, as well as of stress-reducing policies, work practices and other coping mechanisms and their implications for HR strategy and training

  • Innovative training methods in the public sector to address the questions above-mentioned

  • Institutional power-relations and the role of higher education in preparing for public administration

  • Organizational transformation influencing both political and cultural aspects of public organizations

  • The challenges of managerial competence development in public organizations

  • Dynamics of conflict and negotiation within public organizations

  • Strategies to cope with the typical bureaucratic issues such as red tape, stress



  • Ackroyd, S., Kirkpatrick, I., & Walker, R.M. (2007): “Public Management reform in the UK and its Consequences for Professional Organization: A Comparative Analysis.” Public Administration, 85, 9–26.
  • Barzelay, M. (2001): The New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Cheung, A.B. (1996): “Efficiency as the rhetoric: public-sector reform in Hong Kong explained.” International Review of Administrative Sciences, 62 (1), 31–47.
  • Dopson, S., & Neumann, J.E. (1998): “Uncertainty, contrariness and the double bind: Middle man- agers’ reactions to changing contracts.” British Journal of Management, 9, S53–S70.
  • Emery, Y., & Giauque, D. (2003): “Emergence of Contradictory Injunctions in Swiss NPM Projects.” International Journal of Public Sector Management, 16 (6), 468–481.
  • Grimmelikhuijsen, S., Jilke, S., Olsen, A.L., & Tummers, L. (2017): “Behavioral Public Administration: Combining Insights from Public Administration and Psychology.” Public Administration Review, 77 (1), 45–56.
  • Kettl, D.F. (2000): “The transformation of governance: Globalization, devolution, and the role of government.” Public Administration Review, 60 (6), 488–497.
  • Lapsley, I. (2009): “New Public Management: The Cruellest Invention of the Human Spirit?” ABACUS, 45 (1), 1–21.
  • Noordegraaf, M., & Abma, T. (2003): “Management by Measurement? Public Management Practices Amidst Ambiguity.” Public Administration, 81 (4), 853–871.
  • Pollitt, C., & Bouckaert, G. (2011): Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis. New Public Management, Governance and the Neo-Weberian State, 3rd. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Tummers, L.G., Bekkers, V.J.J.M., & Steijn, A.J. (2009): “Policy alienation of public professionals: Application in a new public management context.” Public Management Review, 11 (5), 685–706.
  • Tummers, L.G. (2011): Explaining the willingness of public professionals to implement new policies: A policy alienation framework.” International Review of Administrative Sciences, 77 (3), 555–581.
  • Van Wart, M., Hondeghem, A., Schwella, E., & Nice, V.E. (eds.) (2014): Leadership and Culture. Comparative Models of Top Civil Servant Training. New York: Springer.
  • Vigoda-Gadot, E., & Meiri, S. (2008): “New public management values and person-organization fit: a socio psychological approach and empirical examination among public sector personnel.” Public Administration, 86 (1), 111–131.

Alessandro Hinna is Associate Professor of Organization Studies at Tor Vergata University of Rome, Italy, where he currently teaches Organization Theory, People Management and Public Management. In the same university he has got a PhD in Public Administration, he is acting as Scientific Director of the International Master in Economics of culture: policy, government and management. Nowadays, he is Professor of Public Management at the Italian School of Public Administration. Alessandro is Editorial Board Member of the ‘Journal of Management and Sustainability’, the ‘International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics’, and the “Open Journal of Leadership“. He is Editor of the book series “Studies in Public and Non-Profit Governance” for Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Fabian Homberg is Associate Professor in the Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour at Southampton University Business School, UK. His current research interests are public service motivation and incentives in private and public sector organizations. Fabian has also been involved in research projects on top management team diversity, motivation, and recently small scale corruption. Among others, his research has appeared in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Group and Organization Management’, ‘Public Administration Review’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘International Journal of Manpower’, ‘American Review of Public Administration’, and ‘Journal of Management and Governance’.
Andrea Tomo is Assistant Professor of Organization Studies and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Naples Federico II, where he is adjunct professor in Negotiation and Organizational Behaviour. Andrea is member of the organizing committee of the Master in Public Managerial Practices at the University Federico II and Associate Editor of the Journal of Economic and Administrative Sciences. His current research examines change and identity processes in the public sector and in professional service firms.