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Time for trust? Post-New Public Management reforms in the Swedish social services
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE).
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm Centre for Organizational Research (SCORE).
2019 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In recent years, the criticism of New Public Management (NPM) and its modes of management and governance has increased. As always when a ‘management fashion’ (Røvik, 2008) has been put to the test for some time in actual complex organizational practices, its’ downsides and problems appear. As demonstrated by reform scholars (Brunsson and Olsen, 1993; Røvik, 2008) fundamental ‘wicked problems’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973) such as that of the balance between centralization and decentralization and the question of how to prioritize and evaluate complex missions in the public administration, are always sensitive to new solutions. This is because they are, in a sense, unsolvable by nature (Brunsson, 2006). From this perspective, the current times may be seen as a formative ‘critical juncture’ (Djélic and Quack, 2007), in which it is expected that many will express the desire to leave the old (and now disappointing) management fashion (i.e. NPM) behind and open up for new and promising modes of public management and governance (Ivarsson Westerberg, 2017).

This paper draws on an in-depth case study (Alexius and Sardiello, 2018) of attempts by a Swedish municipality to explore post-NPM modes of ‘trust-based management’ in its Social Services operations (e.g. Bouckaert, 2012; Bentzen and Jagd, 2014; Curry, 2014; Bringselius ed, 2018). 

A first central conclusion of our paper is that it takes time to develop trust-based relationships. Building and maintaining trustful relationships require time both in the sense of endurance – to acquire the appropriate knowledge, such as for example coaching skills (Sardiello 2018) - and in the sense of accessibility in everyday work life - to make oneself psychologically and physically available for informal coordination with others (Alexius and Sardiello 2018).

Regarding governance and culture, we found that the municipality of Borlänge has made a parallel governance and culture change in the last decade from distrust to increased trust. First and foremost, in the early days of the reform, politicians and senior managers were engaged in closer collaboration than ever before, which fostered trust. In recent years, relationships within the administration, among managers as well as between managers and co-workers have been in focus for the reform. Organizational core-values have also been successfully internalized and are extensively used in everyday interactions by co-workers at all levels.

Regarding organization and working methods, we found interesting differences in how different staff groups perceive the ongoing reform towards more trustful relationships. These differences may be understood with reference to the degree of professional self-confidence and experience, and with reference to whether the individual has managerial responsibility or not. Time for dialogue and ability to improvise with judgement in light of given roles were two highlighted key conditions to develop and cherish trust-based relationships. In this sense we found Borlänge municipality has succeeded in relieving their first level social workers but a remaining challenge is staff turnover that often does not leave these officers enough time for supervision or coaching.

Empirical evidence from our studies also shows that the unit managers have to bear a heavy administrative burden of sediments from previous reforms, and that this burden reduces their time for a more coaching leadership. A future challenge for the municipality will be to motivate and relieve the unit managers. A solution that has been tried so far, but has been insufficient, has been to create assistant roles and various staff functions. However this has been insufficient mainly because of the unclear division of labor and responsibility among these different positions, implying a waste of time in terms of coordination (Alexius and Sardiello, 2018).

Despite the fact that the municipality's trust reform emphasizes decentralization, it requires the recruitment and formation of competent and responsible street-level bureaucrats who are willing and are put in the conditions to stay and take part in the committed interplay (Velten et al 2017). Clarifying the division of labor and responsibility between them and their managers and informing them (not only their managers) about the new coaching philosophy would save time in the already time-consuming work of building and maintaining more trustful relationships in the public administration.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
Keywords [en]
NPM, trust, trust based management
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Business Administration
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-179928OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-179928DiVA, id: diva2:1414739
Conference
EGOS conference, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, July 4-6, 2019
Projects
STORMAvailable from: 2020-03-16 Created: 2020-03-16 Last updated: 2020-03-17Bibliographically approved

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