The principal responsibility of senior management and policymakers of state and local government is to evaluate the economies and the environment in which the organization operates, noting existing and potential opportunities and threats confronting the organization and the community. At the same time, the community and organization should be examined to ascertain strengths and weaknesses in such areas as organizational structure, finance, productivity, service delivery capability, community involvement and understanding, and overall management capacity. Through a systematic meshing of external opportunities and perceived threats with institutional strengths and weaknesses, the governing body. As far as emerging trends in local government, some may be important to a specific jurisdiction, some may not. Some trends are local or regional, some are external to the organization, and some are internal. All are important as public managers consider the future.
In public service, strategic planning has become the hallmark of well-managed organizations, managers are often skeptical about its usefulness and how it should be done. Some managers argue for a comprehensive, rational approach that lays out a course of action for five years or so. Yet, managers need to develop resources to face an uncertain future and react to opportunities and threats as they arise with these resources (Foster and Ketti 2006). Interpersonal skills, of course, are the key to using this analysis, and the overall concepts of organization development are important for public managers (Boyle,1996). But even the most outstanding interpersonal skills will not make up for poor strategy and tactics. Public agencies operate in turbulent environments that impose numerous, rapidly changing demands and require substantial adaptive capacity. In order to manage the future course of the organization and to establish the most viable strategy for achieving organizational goals, leaders must understand the dynamics of strategy in public organizations.
The key responsibilities of public managers are to apply ethical and moral principles into practice responding to community needs and expectations. In much of the management literature, strategy is presented from a process perspective, focusing on systematic analysis, comprehensive planning, strategy formulation, and purposeful choice and action by strategic managers and planners. In a separate stream of research, the content approach has emphasized understanding the specific pattern of both inside and outside forces that produce a strategy and set the direction for the organization (Frederickson et al 2003). Regardless of orientation (process or content), theories of strategy and strategic management generally have been concerned with private business organizations. The strategies of public organizations arise within a government authority system. That is, rather than being formed in response to the requirements of markets, the strategies actually carried out by public organizations are products of complex processes and interactions set in the context of constitutional government (Boyle,1996).
One of the most frequent complaints heard from both public and private sector top executives is that they are seldom provided with a true choice about the strategic direction of their organization. More often they are presented with a single proposed course of action on which they are expected to stamp their approval. This step in the strategic planning process is designed to provide decision-makers with a choice–an opportunity to select from significantly different strategic directions and to focus on the tradeoffs that may be required and the benefits to be derived. By following such a course of action, the chance of producing innovative, imaginative, and workable strategies greatly increases, and top management can more confidently select a strategy to expand, contract, continue “as is,” or proceed in some radically different direction (Frederickson et al 2003).
The efforts of executives to improve the management process have resulted in an influx of technological advances. Both public and private sector institutions have been introduced to a series of new management tools. Familiar tools include job enrichment, project management, time management, and management-by-objectives. The communication process is important in establishing priorities and alternatives and identifying roles that subordinates play in attaining overall objectives. Through this process, a system is set up for performance evaluation. The managerial philosophy underlying objectives is one which encourages the entire organization to be action-oriented toward fulfillment of a basic organizational mission. The result is greater organizational productivity. Strategic alternatives may be generated at all levels in the organization’s hierarchy. At the organizational level, alternatives are concerned with the form of government, its basic style and policies, and its central service delivery purpose and strategy (Boyle,1996). At the department level, alternatives deal with the direction the organization should follow for each major service being delivered. At the division level, alternatives are concerned with the direction the organization should take in regard to discrete systems, processes, methods, and approaches. All reasonable alternatives are subject to comparative evaluations of both non-financial and financial factors in order to ensure the selection of the most satisfactory strategy (Frederickson et al 2003). Elements of the organizational environment, feasibility, cost, and the desirability of the strategy with respect to organizational purposes and values make up the evaluation criteria. In the course of the evaluation, unsuspected obstacles may be discovered, or the possibility of a future controllable event may require that a “next best” strategy be considered as a contingency. Attitude toward change refers to the agency’s intentions with regard to itself and its environment. For example, strategies may be designed to produce a change in programs, organizational structure, service delivery systems, or relationships with external actors. Conversely, strategies may be designed to maintain the status quo both inside the organization and in its external relations (Foster and Ketti 2006).
The government has imposed laws, regulations, and other forms of persuasion on both businesses and the public. In turn, the business has used lobbying and its own form of persuasion on the government for favorable treatment, while the public, in general, has used the political process, voting, and pressure and interest groups to make their voice heard by the government. Much of this battle that goes on between government, business, and society is a result of the conflict that exists between these three areas and their different views on economic and social responsibility goals (Foster and Ketti 2006). Opinions differ between the goals and objectives of government, business, and society and how best to achieve these goals and objectives. The bottom line is that someone has to pay for any changes or dislocations that result from new laws and legislation; it does not come free even though some people seem to think that it does.
The federal government has held no privileged position in generating new laws and legislation in recent times. Even though the local and state governments lost much of their “state’s rights” control over their own territories to the federal government with the passage of new federal legislation, the local governments and state governments have generated a proliferation of new rules, laws, and regulations of their own. With the growth and expansion of towns and cities, the local and state legislatures felt compelled to write new legislation which would “protect the social welfare” of the increased and higher density population (Foster and Ketti 2006). New zoning laws were passed on lot sizes, fence heights and locations, sidewalk requirements, and on every imaginable subject one might think of. In all cases, the local governments must still comply with these additional laws and regulations at a cost to someone. Lower taxes, an abundant and/or low-cost labor supply, convenience to raw materials and/or markets, or other desirable factors may offset the other more restrictive laws and regulations of a particular location. Under a free-market economy local governments and county, state, and federal governments can and do, sometimes relieve themselves of certain costs associated with the disposal of waste materials by using the atmosphere, oceans, lakes, rivers, and landfills, as free waste receptacles. If it is to the economic advantage of the particular emitter to do so, it will normally take advantage of this free resource (Frederickson et al 2003).
In sum, managers in public service should possess high moral values and ethical knowledge in order to respond effectively to community demands and needs. Communication skills and a high level of the profession are important for public managers. Public managers should see their role as the helper, promoter, and protector of the general health and welfare of the nation, business, the community, and the consumer. With this complexity of new laws and regulations, the federal government has become all-powerful in its role with business and the public. Almost every move or decision made by either business or the public today is affected by one or more of these rules and regulations.
Boyle, R. (1996). Measuring Civil Service Performance, Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.
Fesler, J.W., Ketti, D.F. (1996). The Politics of the Administrative Process, 2rd edition.
Frederickson, J. et al. (2003). Public Administration: Theory Primer. Westview Press.