Public sector ethos and private sector legitimacy: the paradox of political and managerial rationalities in a shared service organisation

2017-01-13T13:51:51Z (GMT) by Ian Herbert Rhoda Brown
Drawing on evidence from the creation of a shared service centre (SSC) within the UK public sector, the paper explores the contribution of the SSC to the institutionalisation of new working practices and how key stakeholders made sense of a range of ideological, political and management tensions that arose from a governmental change programme within the schema of ‘New Public Management’. The findings suggest that the overly ambitious scale and nature of the changes were partly a result of a desire to be seen to be changing and partly a shared belief in the ‘certainty’ of planning procedures, all-inclusive committees, new technology (ERP) and, not least, the symbolic language of the new agenda. Whilst to many people, the SSC model may be viewed as a low-level, mostly technical matter, the actual process of sharing professional support services and collaborating in the design and operation of common systems, processes and protocols is rooted in complex and competing organisational logics. The eventual success of the case SSC in providing a vehicle for structural and behavioural change is a result of institutionalised actors successfully negotiating the new private sector logics of marketization, outsourcing and privatisation. The paper concludes that the public sector might learn from many private sector SSCs in two respects. First, a cautious, more evolutionary approach is adopted, which seeks to change human behaviour by fostering collaboration and building trust through small scale projects before adopting organisation-wide structural solutions. Second, as the SSC becomes systemic, top management support is required to drive sensible harmonisation of routines. Some suggestions are made for further research.