The "Equalizer" Administration: Managerial Strategies in the Public Sector


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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this dissertation is to understand the managerial "action" of public administrators in the management of their organizations within the Brazilian context.

The research seeks to understand the relationships between managers and formal management mechanisms by exploring the complementary nature of the effective managerial action in the face of structural deficiencies and flaws, considering the possibility of overcoming the structuralism-subjectivism dichotomy present in the construction of the Theory of Organizations.

Initially, the study provides a review of the literature on organizational design. It highlights the "goodness of fit" proposition on strategic choice issues concerning the main organizational variables design and organizational goal attainment. It also calls special attention to the emerging interest of designing theorists on interpretivist approaches to the matter, such that of Karl Weick.

A review of the the administrative reforms in Brazil is made from the perspective of the main stream organizational design conceptual framework. It highlights the complex dynamics of a constant search for differentiation and flexibilization subject to patterns of advances and reversals, due to the centrality, strength and pervasiveness of the bureaucratic model. It is concluded that in no single given moment, a public manager and his team, may count on a formal organizational design which attends the"congruency" criteria, devised by organizational design conceptual frameworks, to explain organizational results in different environmental sets. Although this conclusion may explain failure at the public sector, it can not provide understanding on the many instances of significative success attained by government operations in spite of inadequate formal administrative structures. This point calls for a better understanding from the interpretivist approach, on how public administrators, strongly associated with good organizational results, engage into transformative action, in order to superate administrative structures flaws and dysfunctional cultural patterns of conduct, structurally present and constantly reproduced, in vigorous developing countries, such as Brazil.

The dissertation transcribes the testimony of four outstanding public administrators, doing a deep incursion in the managerial real world of public administration, as subjectively defined by them and transformed by their engagement into action.Through the thematic version of the Oral History methodology, full segments of the complete interviews are categorized into the thirty two managerial strategies captured which are presented on a recategorized manner under eight main strategies: (1) Interchanging Frames of Reference; (2) Exploring the Formal Limits; (3) Playing the Bureaucracy Game; (4) Inducing the Inclusion of Others (5)Promoting Internal Cohesion; (6) Creating Shields against Transgressions; (7) Overcoming Internal Restrictions; (8) Letting the Structures Blossom. Each one of these eight blocks of strategies presented, deserves further reflexive interpretation by the author, on the light of the interpretivist approach to organizational design.

A final effort is made, now on theory building, for improving understanding on the matter. In order to find a significant meaning underlining all the strategies extracted from the "practical consciousness" of the interviewers as revealed in their report, the author resort to a metaphor. This metaphor helps to: (1) better describe and understand a not adequately treated phenomenon, namely, good results under inadequate structural social and organizational conditions; (2) reveal the logic and the meaning underlining all the strategies adopted to generate results under these unfaithful conditions; (3) name, accordingly to the nature of the managerial transformative social action involved, an open ended class of managerial interventions of a pragmatic sort driven by an ethics of results much common to good managers, that is, the concept of "managerial equalization"; and (4) give back to public administrators, represented by the interviewees, to be incorporated in their "discursive consciousness", something the most effective and experienced public managers already have as tacit knowledge built in their "practical consciousness", and so, help the education and development of new talents.



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