Institutions or Contingencies? A Cross‐Country Analysis of Management Tool Use by Public Sector Executives

Date01 May 2019
Published date01 May 2019
330 This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
and is not used for commercial purposes.
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 3, pp. 330–342. © 2019 The
Authors. Public Administration Review
published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13018.
Abstract: Management tools are often argued to ameliorate public service performance. Indeed, evidence has emerged
to support positive outcomes related to the use of management tools in a variety of public sector settings. Despite these
positive outcomes, there is wide variation in the extent to which public organizations use management tools. Drawing
on normative isomorphism and contingency theory, this article investigates the determinants of both organization-
oriented and client-oriented management tool use by top public sector executives. The hypotheses are tested using
data from a large-N survey of 4,533 central government executives in 18 European countries. Country and sector
fixed-effects ordinary least squares regression models indicate that contingency theory matters more than normative
isomorphism. Public executives working in organizations that are bigger and have goal clarity and executive status are
more likely to use management tools. The only normative pressure that has a positive impact on management tool use
is whether public sector executives have a top hierarchical position.
Evidence for Practice
Management tool use might be a norm that public sector executives feel is required of them to be considered
“professional” top managers.
Similarly, management tool use might be influenced by the contingencies of the organization in which
public sector executives work.
Our results indicate that an organization’s contingencies better predict management tool use by public sector
executives than normative pressures.
In order to stimulate management tool use in public organizations, public sector executives working
in smaller organizations that have more ambiguous goals and nonexecutive status should be targeted.
The New Public Management (NPM)
movement of the 1980s generated an
influx of private sector management tools
into public organizations (Hood 1991; Osborne
2006). Instruments such as strategic planning,
performance appraisal, and management by
objectives became the core of the public manager’s
toolbox. Because the private sector was considered
a “role model” in efficiency and effectiveness, it
was argued that these tools could also generate
a more efficient and effective government
(Diefenbach 2009). In recent years, insights from
service management have complemented these
more organization-oriented management tools
with client-oriented management tools such as
client surveys and quality management systems.
These tools, it has been argued, can help public
organizations become more responsive to the needs
of their clients—thus answering the call for a more
service-dominant approach to public management
(Osborne, Radnor, and Nasi 2013).
At the heart of management tools’ popularity is the
assumption that these tools contribute to public
service performance—be it indicators of efficiency
and effectiveness or indicators of responsiveness
(Andrews and Van de Walle 2013; Walker and
Andrews 2015). Indeed, empirical evidence has
emerged to support positive outcomes resulting from
the use of organization-oriented and client-oriented
management tools by public organizations (e.g.,
Audenaert et al. 2016; Poister, Pasha, and Edwards
2013), and recent meta-analyses have confirmed
the significant and positive association, on balance,
between several management tools and public service
performance (Gerrish 2016; Walker and Andrews
2015). At the same time, critics have argued that
adopting management tools does not always make
sense and does not contribute to productivity or
efficiency. Andrews (2010), for instance, reviewed
studies on the introduction of performance
management in public organizations and found that
this made little difference to organizational efficiency.
Bert George
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Steven Van de Walle
KU Leuven
Gerhard Hammerschmid
Hertie School of Governance
Institutions or Contingencies? A Cross-Country Analysis of
Management Tool Use by Public Sector Executives
Gerhard Hammerschmid is professor
of public and financial management at the
Hertie School of Governance, Germany. His
research focuses on public management
reform, comparative public administration,
and institutional theory.
Steven Van de Walle is professor
of public management at the Public
Governance Institute, KU Leuven, Belgium.
His research focuses on public sector
reform, interactions between public services
and clients, and attitudes and behaviors
of public officials. His latest books are
Public Administration Reforms in Europe:
The View from the Top
(Edward Elgar,
2016, ed., with Gerhard Hammerschmid,
Rhys Andrews, and Philippe Bezes) and
Inspectors and Enforcement at the Front
Line of Government
(Palgrave, 2019, ed.,
with Nadine Raaphorst).
Bert George is assistant professor
of public management at Erasmus
University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
His research focuses on strategy, behavior,
and performance in public and nonprofit
organizations using observational, meta-
analytical, and experimental research
methods. He is director of the master’s
degree program in public management
at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He
co-chairs the European Group for Public
Administration’s Permanent Study Group
on Strategic Management in Government
and is a senior member of the Netherlands
Institute of Government.
Research Article

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