Public vs private – not

I’ve been looking at a very handy little book

by Marcial Boo and Alexander Stevenson. It is exactly what the subtitle suggests, a book of advice for people running public sector organisations, much of which would also apply to non-profits. The book divides the necessary skills into the personal (eg commitment, resilience), the basic (being strategic, gathering information) and the practical (finance, communication etc). Each chapter gives tons of straightforward, practical advice. It is also of our times – for example, it urges readers to regard being open with data and information as a strength and to do so as much as possible. I thoroughly approve. I’m not usually keen on anything self-helpy, but this is a very practical, useful book.

[amazon_image id=”1785890581″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Public Sector Fox[/amazon_image]  [amazon_image id=”1849549826″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]How to Be a Civil Servant[/amazon_image]

It’s interesting to compare this book with a previous excellent manual of advice,

by Martin Stanley. There is of course a distinction between the Whitehall civil service and everyday public sector management, between the analysis and giving of advice to ministers through the implementation of policies to the everyday management of public services.

But there are common threads as well. The thing that stands out is the emphasis in both books on commitment to the ideal of public service. “You care deeply about what you do, and about the people your work will help,” write Boo and Stevenson, describing their ideal public sector ‘fox’ (referring of course to Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 The Hedgehog and the Fox – “The fox knows many things…”).

For 25 years or more there has been a habit of looking down on civil servants and public sector managers, in contrast to the supposed efficiency of the private sector. But of course the contrast is a false one. There is lots of bad management in the private sector, lots of it  – in fact, many private sector folks would also benefit from reading these books. And managing in the public sector is far, far more complex than many private sector contexts, in a far, far less forgiving environment. So the jobs are more different than often supposed, and the level of performance more similar.

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3 thoughts on “Public vs private – not

  1. Re “bad management”, but if what you have to manage is a mess or unworkable because your bosses that is either politicians or politically appointed persons make decisions that lack sense or sensibility, meddle too much or delay and delay decisions that are necessary then you have problems, perhaps impossible ones. Certainly private sector parts can have their own failings but they may not have the same imperatives.

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