This study is also available in French.
An increasing number of writings on governance, administrative reforms and managerial innova- tions stress the growing cynicism of individuals, as citizens and clients, toward their political and adminis- trative institutions. Many authors see this cynicism as a major trend that is affecting all industrial democracies indiscriminately and reflecting the demands and high expectations of citizens and clients who are now more educated and better informed as a result of information and communications technologies.
This study examines the phenomenon within the more specific context of the public service of Canada. The author distinguishes between cynicism and organization- al disillusion by highlighting the elements of rupture and continuity found in the managerial discourses and prac- tices favoured in the federal public service. He suggests that it is the basic contradictions inherent in these dis- courses and practices that account for the organizational disillusion within the public service. Through a critical review of the key texts on identity construction and sym- bolic orientation, such as management frameworks dis- seminated by the central organizations, the author shows that the problem is much deeper than the phenomenon of cynicism. He traces its roots to the incremental rise of an organizational culture of disillusion, understood as a social process that is dynamic and iterative.
Among the topics discussed in this text are the search for a balance between managerial and legal rationali- ties; the endless search for organizational leadership; the ongoing transition from the old to the new psycho- logical contract; the distinction between alienation, cynicism and organizational disillusion; and, lastly, the difficult and uncertain renewal of managerial thinking. This analysis of the Canadian case leads us to challenge, in a more general way, the precepts of the new public management that are being put forward to modernize public management. As the title suggests, the author views it as a factor of confusion rather than one of enrichment of managerial discourses and practices. Hence, a true renewal of the public serv- ice, as both a field of knowledge and a field of action, will only be possible after it has been entirely and definitively liberated from the yoke of new public man- agement. In other words, rather than being part of the solution, the new public management movement is part of the problem.
In Canada and elsewhere in the world civil services have been the object of much criticism over the past few years, often the manifestation of an increasingly widespread cynicism on the part of the population. This growing problem, which affects the federal and provincial civil services, seems to be exac- erbated by the perception (by no means always justi- fied) that the civil service is inefficient and does not respond to people’s needs. Moreover, some civil ser- vants themselves, disillusioned in their jobs, share this feeling.
To examine this phenomenon, the IRPP organized working lunches in Quebec City and Ottawa at which Isabelle Fortier and Christian Rouillard, professors at the École nationale d’administration publique and specialists in this area, were the featured speakers. The overwhelming success of these events was a clear indication that this issue was of interest to a large number of people, both within and outside the public service. This Choices paper, part of the IRPP’s Governance research program, presents essays writ- ten by Fortier and Rouillard on the basis of these working lunches.
The IRPP asked the authors to examine the notion of cynicism (within and toward the civil service) and to respond to the following three questions: How do you define cynicism? In what forms does it manifest itself? What are its causes? In her paper, entitled “From Skepticism to Cynicism: Paradoxes of Administrative Reform,” Isabelle Fortier shows that cynicism among civil servants, like that in the general public, is caused by ambivalence and paradoxes in the discourse of reform. She argues that this discourse, which is supposed to be restoring the public’s confi- dence and mobilizing civil servants, is in reality hav- ing the opposite effect.
Christian Rouillard, in his paper “From Cynicism to Organizational Disillusion: New Public Management as Confusion Factor,” distinguishes cynicism from organizational disillusion. He maintains that this dis- illusion is a cultural and organizational phenomenon that is much more profound and more difficult to deal with than cynicism. In his view, the increasing organizational disillusion in the federal civil service can be explained by contradictions in the reform dis- courses and in managerial practices.
In addition to shedding light on the issue of cyni- cism in and toward the civil service, the authors examine the major ideas that have influenced administrative reforms over the past 10 years. They also caution against the adoption of private sector principles that might not only be unsuitable for the reality of the public service, but also call into ques- tion the fundamental role of the State.
Canada’s public service, at all levels, contributes to the high rating Canada and the provinces receive from international organizations that assess honesty and the absence of corruption. While as a society we tend to focus on things that need improving, many of our public sector systems actually work quite well. These two essays explore the kinds’ of internal atti- tudinal and confidence issues that those who care about the quality of our public services and the excellent people in its ranks need to consider.
Legislative change alone will not allow us to attain our objectives. Cultural change is needed too — change that begins with leadership and is reinforced by action.
Some believe that since its inception in the early 1980s new public management (NPM) has effected a renewal in managerial philoso- phy that has given rise to new ways of thinking and new practices within Canada’s federal public service. NPM certainly appears stronger than ever nowadays, and it has a profound and abiding effect on major identity-building, symbolic, direction-setting man- agement texts from which are derived planned changes2 aimed at renewing and modernizing the public service. Though its relevance is now largely recognized by the academic community and civil ser- vants alike, NPM is nonetheless at times called into question and has even been met with opposition which, in its most extreme expression, could lead to its rejection and outright dismissal.
The discussion developed in the following pages fol- lows this line of thought. It suggests that, over the past decade, managerial theory and practice in the public service of Canada have been profoundly affected by NPM and are fraught with basic inherent contradictions that have been given expression in the gradual emer- gence of an organizational culture of disillusion. Indeed, since the publication of Public Service 2000, whose rec- ommendations largely fell on deaf ears, major manage- ment policies upon which the intended changes are based have not led to the creation of new spaces for empowerment; on the contrary, they have further subju- gated those who participate in the asymmetrical exercise of authority and further ossified the principle of hierar- chy already present in the bureaucratic environment.
In the following pages we shall deal with the issues of organizational leadership, the transition from the old to the new psychological contract, as well as organizational cultures, ever numerous and distinctive, to explain the emergence and subsequent development of an organizational culture of disillu- sion. We shall also observe that this disillusion is not to be confused with the cynicism to which is com- monly ascribed the lack of enthusiasm or commit- ment and even haphazard participation in the federal public service. Finally, we shall extend our critical discussion beyond the federal public service to the larger discipline of public management and argue, from both theoretical and normative perspectives, that there is a need for a renewal of management philosophy.
NPM is a managerial and political movement aimed at reforming public administration practices by replacing the bureaucratic orga- nizational principles of the Weberian model with dominant management tenets and teachings of the private sector. The federal public service of Canada is markedly influenced by NPM at present. Though there is a lack of agreement on the overall characteristics of NPM in the extensive literature devoted to the field,3 it can be distinguished from traditional public adminis- tration by its focus, primary mode of operation, socio- professional characteristics, organizational cultures and politico-administrative structures (see table 1). That said, this way of distinguishing NPM from traditional public administration tends to caricature the features of the latter and unduly play up the claims of uniqueness and enrichment as well as the tangible empirical accomplishments of the former.4 In other words, NPM appears all the more innovative and modern the more obsolete and passé traditional public administration is perceived to be.5 NPM emphasizes intrapreneurship, creativity, flexibility, risk-taking, managerial freedom and a client-focus as means of achieving organization- al effectiveness and efficiency and ultimately improv- ing the quality of government services.
The dynamic relationship developing between the teachings and precepts of NPM on the one hand and the constraints and requirements of traditional public administration on the other may be seen as a search for equilibrium between managerial and legal rationalities. Such rationalities differ in the following respects: the legitimacy of legal rationality refers to compliance and conformity with procedures, whereas that of managerial rationality is related to their effectiveness/ efficiency; the former emphasizes means and stability, while the latter considers goals and change to be paramount; legal rationality is based on analytical, linear and deductive reasoning, while managerial rationality is synthetic, systemic and teleological; the former considers the administrative apparatus as a closed system, while the latter views it as an open one; the former relates authority to a unilateral hier- archical order, while that of the latter is linked to del- egation, incentives and negotiation; finally, legal rationality exerts control over rules, while managerial rationality exerts control over results.6
In addition to the distinctions mentioned above, it is important to note that each rationality can only truly be understood in relation to the other and that they both characterize all politico-administrative activity to varying degrees according to the space and time. Thus, the significant advancement of the managerial rationality within the Canadian federal public sector, whose pace was stepped up in the 1990s, should not be perceived as the substitution of rigid and backward-looking reasoning and practices, those of traditional public administration, for more flexible and innovative ones, those of NPM. It should rather be interpreted as a dynamic manifestation of tensions between these two rationalities. In other words, the rise of managerial rationality and the decline of legal rationality are indicative of a shift away from the emphasis on the administrative princi- ples of compliance and efficiency.
It should also be observed that tensions between legal and managerial rationalities are accompanied by various conflicting interpretations of the State/ civil-society dynamic and different conceptions of the space that public and private spheres should and must occupy, as witnessed by academic treatises on the similarities and differences between public and private management.7 Indeed, the search for equilib- rium among differing — sometimes complementary and sometimes conflicting — managerial values, among various sectoral interests in civil society, as well as between respect for individual rights and freedoms and concern for social cohesion and soli- darity is the very purpose of government activity. The gradual rise of NPM and the decline of tradition- al public administration heralds the achievement not of a new equilibrium, but rather of a relative and temporary triumph of managerial rationality over legal rationality (as can be seen in table 1).
We have chosen to review seminal, identity- building and symbolic direction-setting managerial texts8 as they include compo- nents of the ongoing exercise to redefine and mod- ernize the federal public service of Canada. While the dissemination of these managerial texts is not in itself problematic in complex bureaucratic organiza- tions such as those in the federal public service (cen- tral agencies, departments, service organizations, Crown corporations, etc.), their common interpreta- tion and acceptance remains uncertain. Multiple actors and organizational environments give rise to multiple interpretations. The complexity of this dis- course precludes any claim that ours is a definitive interpretation. Rather, we propose here to present a critical review of major managerial policy documents. We do not claim that the case we make in the follow- ing pages is empirical in nature; our aim is to enrich, from both theoretical and normative perspectives, the debate among academics and practitioners on the rel- evance of NPM in the context of the renewal of the federal public service of Canada.
When we refer to seminal, symbolic, direction-set- ting and identity-building managerial texts, we mean management frameworks, including La Relève and Results for Canadians, as well as the prime minister’s annual reports on Canada’s civil service, produced by the Office of the Privy Council pursuant to the Civil Service Employment Act. In addition to clearly stat- ing major theoretical, conceptual and ideological parameters, these texts collectively serve as a frame of reference for other pronouncements made by vari- ous organizations within the public service.
In all seminal managerial texts, leadership is con- sidered one of the paramount tools for redefining organizational culture, viewed as homogeneous and consensual, and for encouraging “the development of a management culture that supports initiative and builds an exemplary workplace.”9 In keeping with NPM values of intrapreneurship, managerial freedom, flexibility and risk-taking (see table 1), such organi- zational leadership in some ways buttresses the work of modernizing the federal public service10 insofar as it addresses managers and nonmanagers alike, regardless of hierarchical level. Thus, a Privy Council report to the prime minister states:
A leader is the person who guides the efforts of a group toward a result beyond its current reach. Leaders are not necessarily managers — they can come from anywhere in the organiza- tion. And no leaders lead all the time. They know how to follow the lead of others and rely on the strength of others. Human qualities — not posi- tion or title — make a leader. The signs of out- standing leadership are found among the followers, for without them there would be no leaders.11
Considered in these texts to be “the foundation of a strong public service,”12 the exercise of leadership within the federal public service of Canada is under- stood to be a set of individual skills and competencies which, if well suited to a particular environment, increase group performance by, for example, building a climate of confidence.13
While organizational leadership is inextricably linked to public management of which it is some- times the complement or the substitute (although this last term is sometimes tautological), the prevailing interpretation of the concept refers primarily to par- ticular socio-psychological characteristics and indi- vidual traits that enable those who possess them to play a central and distinctive role, especially in an environment of ongoing redefinition and planned change. Although this dominant interpretation of leadership implies that it is an activity or process that, as such, anyone can perform, the present con- ceptual clarification is indicative of persistent seman- tic confusion. Indeed, while works by the Leadership Network and the Canadian Centre for Management Development14 emphasize that leadership is “an activ- ity or process and not a personality trait,” they also explain that it is a set of “attributes, skills, attitudes and characteristics”15 while at the same time espous- ing the views of the Canadian Public Service Com- mission, according to which leadership is a set of 14 cognitive, managerial, relational and personal compe- tencies.16
In spite of the commonly held view that leadership should not be confused with management, the former being to change what the latter is to stability,17 the two are often embedded in dynamics that reduce leadership to a mere component of management. In simple terms, a manager, whether in the public or pri- vate sector, must be a leader. What, therefore, are these personal, static attributes that, some claim, are inseparable from their possessor, that transform him or her into a leader and on which leadership is grounded?
While it remains more often than not undefined18 — which is somewhat surprising for a subject of such strategic importance — leadership can essentially be understood in terms of what makes a leader, namely, an individual capable of grasping and communicating the meaning of events as well as the increasing complexity of the organization’s environment. Leaders must also have the ability to build and consolidate the confidence of their followers by appealing not only to their intel- lects, but, even more importantly, to their hearts and even their consciences.19 More precisely, a leader must possess the following attributes:
1) Helicopterability — the ability to see the whole picture in both time and space.
2) Good judgment — the ability to make sound decisions based on facts, experience and intelligence.
3) Imagination — the ability to be creative and see opportunities beyond the obvious ones.
4) Analytical ability — the deductive intelligence to draw conclusions in a logical sequence from available facts.
5) Efficiency — the ability to make decisions of crucial importance to the enterprise with high productivity.
6) Ability to win trust and inspire respect.20
Presented as socio-psychological skills, these sub- jective attributes are supposed to illustrate that “each individual leader acts in a certain way and displays a distinct set of character traits and behav- iour patterns,”21 whence the highly general nature of this definition. Though it is extremely rhetorical, the main problem with this definition is on another level. In addition to referring to an indeterminate set of static, personal attributes, it groups together characteristics selected on the basis of the personal- ity of a manager in charge of a project or organiza- tional unit that is considered to be productive or innovative. In other words, despite the claims of a high value added and the apparent sophistication of certain discourses, the logic on which they are based is at best doubtful and at worst circuitous, in that it is based on the rule that “one observes leaders’ be- haviour, and then tries to draw empirical conclu- sions from their actions.”22 This would presuppose that one must recognize organizational leaders from the get-go, that one can identify them from among the ever disparate group of human beings that make up the organization, and one can then determine the nature of leadership from their behaviour and acts. If claims of universality and timelessness are some- what relativized, that of transferability is fully maintained.
Briefly stated, the dominant discourse suggests that leadership is simply what leaders demonstrate through their actions. But it is also the inevitable product of the ethical and political preferences — implicit and unavowed — of the author/researcher, who in this way constructs his or her own object of study. In this respect:
While large parts of leadership research are implicit in political bias — the strengthening of asymmetrical social relations and the construc- tion of social relations alongside a leader/follow- er dichotomy — parts of it are close to [being] openly propagandistic. Sometimes the self- aggrandizing reports of managers — in (often transparent) tests, questionnaires or interviews — are uncritically reproduced as research results… Also a lot of research on charisma tends to uncritically reproduce strongly positive images of the heroes — partly recycled in popular media, including the heroes’ book about themselves (Carlzon, Iacocca) — and sometimes comes close to providing propaganda for certain mass media figures and express a worshipping attitude to charismatic leadership.23
As suggested by the above, the presence of leaders involves that of disciples, assistants or subordinates and therefore encourages the maintenance and rein- forcement of the asymmetry of intra- and interhierar- chical power relationships rather than calling them into question. In La Relève, Results for Canadians and other seminal managerial texts produced by the fed- eral public service, leadership is understood to be individual participation in the process of organiza- tional change brought about, that is, designed and built, by managerial elites. Viewed in this light — through inter- and intrahierarchical responsibility/ empowerment — the tangible exercise of leadership amounts to a collective acquiescence to the macro- managerial vision, the objectives and challenges, even the values and interests as defined by these managerial elites. Paradoxically, while the leader is antinomy to the disciple or the assistant, this leader- ship is clearly understood to be the preferential use of individual subservience or subjugation to the hierar- chical power structure. This is all the more paradoxi- cal as it occurs in an organizational environment that emphasizes increased involvement and empower- ment. It may therefore be argued that:
[M]any of the changes involving empowerment may be seen as an attempt to shift blame and responsibility for organizational problems from the top management to other organizational members without a corresponding change in actual power relationships. Alternatively, imple- menting empowerment programs may also be viewed by other organization members as an attempt to co-opt them by creating the illusion that a decrease in top management control and an increase in self-monitoring is equivalent to equal participation in decision-making processes (illusionary power equalization).24
In other words, this paradox also entails an addition- al problem, even a threat: the individual empowerment and accountability on which this consensual leadership is based may constitute a roundabout, unavowed and even unwitting strategy to increase the accountability, and thus the potential blame, of participants without a commensurate increase in their formal authority or creating opportunities for the real exercise of critical leadership. Thus, the pre-eminent position of consen- sual leadership as a preferred source of individual empowerment might well result, not in more, but less involvement in the planned change. This enigmatic phe- nomenon of empowerment therefore marginalizes and excludes its beneficiaries from the strategic decision- making process, which remains the prerogative of the upper echelons of the civil service. The dynamic of mar- ginalization and exclusion reached a pinnacle in the Canadian federal public service with the downsizing exercise of the second half of the 1990s, the effects of which included a definitive redefinition of the informal and tacit relationship between the individual and the organization in the form of the psychological contract.
Those who have an interest in workforce reduc- tion maintain that symptoms of the survivor syndrome25 appear when the downsizing process breaches the ethico-political contract, com- monly called the “psychological” contract, linking the individual to the organization, and substitutes a new one that is as different as it is unexpected.26 Although this dynamic of rupture did not cause the survivor syndrome to appear and develop,27 it may nonetheless be a perverse effect of workforce reduction. However, such a dynamic can only come into play logically if individuals view their relationship with the organiza- tion in a long-term perspective and, in this respect, enjoy guarantees of continuity and stability.
The psychological contract is commonly defined as a set of reciprocal, quite often informal, interpretative and tacit expectations, promises and obligations between individuals and their organizations.28 In the situation under review, the ethico-political or psycho- logical contract may be summarized as follows. In exchange for his/her full and complete involvement in the organization’s best operation, the organization offers the individual the opportunity to gradually build a career within its ranks, satisfactory and/or superior work leading to periodic promotions, and new chal- lenges and responsibilities. However, breaching the ethico-political contract cannot be cited as the cause of the survivor syndrome where such a contract does not exist. The Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics highlights this point by suggesting that this per- ceived breach of the psychological contract between the individual and the organization is based on a misun- derstanding of the contract’s real meaning.29 According to task force experts, workforce reduction is not a breach of contract for the simple reason that no clause precluded such action. They believe that the size of the public service in a representative democracy is a corol- lary of the defined roles and functions of the State and, as such, it remains the prerogative of elected gov- ernment. Simply put, that which never existed cannot be breached.
The above interpretation is as surprising as it is problematic, not only because it was not shared by the Supreme Court of Canada when it was asked to rule on the “Work Force Adjustment Directive” of 199130 but because it puts paid to the common under- standing of job security in the federal public service, to which most civil servants gave credence. The clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the Cabinet explicitly recognized the existence of the psychologi- cal contract, going so far as to call it traditional, thus leaving no doubt as to its formality:
The traditional contract between federal public servants and the government has been based on a commitment to provide employment security within the Public Service. Changes in recent years have led the government to revisit certain ele- ments of this employment contract, while main- taining a commitment to the historical underpinning of the contract. The changing nature and role of government will inevitably lead to other changes in working conditions in the public sector.31
The existence of a psychological contract based on such a shared belief (some have no qualms in referring to it as a “basic bargain,”32 thus evoking its fundamen- tal nature) is not only accurate from a legal standpoint, but was also recognized as such by the head of the public service in one of her most significant symbolic, direction-setting and identity-building documents and by those who are studying the issue of job security in the federal public sector.33 This psychological contract, seen as a basic and formally sanctioned instrument, is called into question not so much by workforce reduc- tions per se as by a pre-existing, deep-rooted phenome- non that is part of a much more long-term dynamic than staff cutbacks. We refer, of course, to contracting out.34
As suggested by the innovation dynamic set out in table 2, the new psychological contract between the individual and the organization following workforce reduction is perfectly in tune with the spirit and the letter of NPM. Indeed, both claim to effect a substitu- tion of creativity/flexibility for caution/stability and of the organic metaphor for the mechanical metaphor,35 the achievement of results for compliance with process- es and contractualization for career orientation, in other words, a move from a long-term to a short-term relational dynamic between the individual and the organization. Thus, intrapreneurship, autonomy, mana- gerial freedom, flexibility and empowerment, among others, are so many shared component parts of the new psychological contract and NPM.
In this respect, table 2 clearly illustrates the com- mon innovation dynamic underpinning the compo- nents and highlights the conversion of strategies, values, vision and interests linking the new psycho- logical contract and new public management. These components are also related on a complementary level or may even be interchangeable, as the new contract is embedded in some respects in the larger whole that is NPM. The fundamental difference between them is therefore one of inclusion. The new psychological contract, like the related concept of job contractualization, must be viewed as an element of NPM. Given that the development and dissemination of NPM in the form of a strategic managerial project predates workforce reduction by several years,36 the perceived breach of the ethico-political contract between the individual and the organization goes back to the former and not to workforce reduction as such.
Our intention here is certainly not to suggest that staff reduction is free from perverse effects or un- wanted consequences, but rather to propose that it is all the more significant and problematic, for both management and individual members of the organi- zation, because it is part of the same continuity dynamic as NPM. More specifically, workforce reduc- tion is part of various organizational changes, includ- ing those that occur over a period of time, those that were thrown out or never realized, as well as those that were anticipated. In this respect, one of the per- verse effects of downsizing is the attendant work restructuring that produces a considerable increase in civil servants’ workloads, as shown in the 1999 Survey of Public Service Employees.37 The report of the COSO Subcommittee on Workforce Well-Being, the body responsible for survey follow-up, could not have been clearer in this regard:
[T]he evidence we have reviewed leads us to believe that workload is the primordial issue affecting the quality of life in the Public Service of Canada. The survey results indicate that almost one-in-two respondents who said that the work- load is not reasonable also tend to have substan- tially more negative views of their future career and their workplace.38
Such observations highlight individual perceptions and are of particular interest for the critical analysis set out above, inasmuch as they underscore the phe- nomenon of civil servants’ pessimistic take on their future career, and thus demonstrate the importance of grasping the complex issue of the perverse effects associated with NPM through a long-term temporal dynamic. This critical interpretation is also based on an understanding of organizational cultures that dif- fers markedly from the one claimed explicitly or at times implicitly by NPM, which is perfectly in tune with the letter and the spirit of the third type of man- agement described by Charih.39 This type of manage- ment was introduced in the federal public service at the beginning of the 1990s. It emphasizes the impor- tance of individuals and groups rather than structures and processes, as well as leadership and accountability.
The above reading of organizational cultures, dominant in managerial studies, values consensual participation while discouraging critical participation, itself considered an obstacle to co-operation and understanding, the foundation of planned change. This view emphasizes organizational culture as a managerial exercise for manipulating and controlling norms, values, beliefs, as well as attitudes and behav- iours. Not only does this simplistic stance implicitly deny the indomitable social nature of any corporate process, it also displays shortsightedness, even igno- rance regarding the temporal dimension from which planned change in complex organizations must be contemplated. Organizational cultures are long term in nature and are based on our interpretations of pre- vious processes of change as well as assumptions about future ones. They can only be understood, ulti- mately, through a radical break with the instrumental, consensual and apolitical view propounded by the major managerial policy documents within Canada’s federal public service.
Though the concept of alienation derives from Hegel and is therefore removed from the pre- vailing doctrine of managerial studies, it is taken up by Feuerbach, who emphasizes its religious component, then by Marx, who makes use of it ini- tially to explain the perverse effects of paid work in the industrial environment of late-nineteenth-century Western democracies. In simple terms, early Marxist literature postulates that workers, by selling their abil- ity to work, are isolated from the work itself both as a process (means) and a product (result). From this perspective, alienation refers to both an economic and a psychological dispossession prior to giving way to the notion of exploitation to better convey the social rela- tions of production and ideology. According to a con- temporary interpretation, organizational alienation may essentially be perceived as a major loss of sense of purpose by an individual belonging to an organiza- tion, who henceforth only identifies tenuously, or not at all, with his or her duties or responsibilities, as well as with the organization’s major objectives and chal- lenges.40 The notion may be described fundamentally as follows when considered as an individual socio- psychological state.
Work alienation reflects an attitude or a condi- tion in which an employee cares little about work, approaches work with little energy, and works primarily for extrinsic rewards…Work alienation is defined as a generalized cognitive state of psychological identification with work insofar as work is perceived to have the potential to satisfy one’s salient needs and expectations.41
Work alienation is reactive and therefore dynamic in nature, and while in its simplest expression it encompasses only the cognitive dimension of the individual, it must not be confused with a near immutable or static character or personality trait. It is therefore likely that the third type of management would seek to eliminate it through an organizational culture that is both instrumental and homogeneous and favours convergence through consensus.
Cynicism, a concept we owe to the ancient Greek philosopher Anisthenes, himself a disciple of Socrates, must be distinguished from socio- psychological alienation inasmuch as it is grounded in the relative demonization of human nature and individual acts as well as politico-administrative institutions in general. Within an organizational context, this notion of demonization also applies to managerial norms, rules, conventions, roles and functions, as well as to hierarchical authority and planned change initiatives.42 When viewed accord- ingly, organizational cynicism may be considered an obstacle that is particularly difficult to overcome for the third type of management, ever desirous to increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency through individual responsibility and collective involvement. The notion has been defined as fol- lows, with particular emphasis on organizational behaviourism:
Organizational cynicism is a negative attitude toward one’s employing organization, compris- ing three dimensions: (1) a belief that the organization lacks integrity; (2) negative affect toward the organization; and (3) tendencies to disparaging and critical behaviours toward the organization that are consistent with these beliefs and affect.43
Organizational cynicism is therefore, like alienation, an individual attitude or socio-psychological state. Further, it refers to the shared perception of an abiding lack of integrity within the organization and hence among managerial elites and, at a higher level, is dependent on the demonization of these same elites. As is the case with alienation, cynicism is assumed to be dynamic, inasmuch as it may not be reduced to a per- sonality trait, but rather, is linked to the tangible and ever personal experience of the individual belonging to the organization. When perceived in this light, and despite the challenge faced by the third type of manage- ment, the latter is capable of quashing and overcoming such organizational cynicism.
For its part, the organizational culture of disillusion rejects the exclusively reactive nature of alienation and the explicit demonization of organizational cynicism. It also denies their common dimension as a socio- psychological state or attitude as well as the possibility that it can be set right through a managerial exercise of control and manipulation. An organizational culture of disillusion is akin to an incremental and ongoing social process, which itself refers to an organizational con- struction in which management and individual mem- bers take part in a manner that is as skewed as it is indirect and involuntary. It leads, through a series of managerial projects and initiatives, to a growing gap between the individual and the organization, at the emotional, cognitive, political and symbolic levels.
In the particular case of the federal public service of Canada, the causes of the corporate culture of disillu- sion are twofold: firstly, the contradiction between inclusionary statements and exclusionary managerial practices and, secondly, the high level of confusion caused by the principal components of the seminal managerial texts. Those who claim they are striving to develop a new collective identity exclusive to the public service and distinct from those of the private sector and traditional public administration put as much effort, though implicitly and unavowedly, into promoting — at times to the point of sanctifying — managerial values hitherto restricted to private compa- nies.44 Whereas on the one hand they attest at times to the specificity of the public sector, on the other hand they advocate that it emulate the private sector, trig- gering confusion while claiming to seek a balance. With this in mind, it is at best saintly, at worst ill- advised, to suggest that:
From the point of view of these values, it is most important for the future that we learn to use and take advantage of private sector terms without being captured by them, or allowing them to supplant the key concepts or principles that underlie public service.45
Seminal managerial texts play up the collective intelligence of civil servants and its instrumental value for modernizing public administration. However, even though some claim the added value of the public service can only derive from this collective intelligence,46 NPM links this intelligence, through the values to which it refers, to ongoing emulation of the practices of the private sector. One might ask whether it is at the very least contradictory to participate in the development and promotion of a collective identi- ty specific to the public sector whose defining ele- ments are akin to those of the private sector; whether promoting such public sector specificity ultimately promotes that of the private sector. Given that NPM implicitly makes less distinct or erases the boundary between the two sectors, the public sector’s true speci- ficity, namely, the defining elements it does not share with the private sector, is reduced to a negative col- lective identity from which it is necessary to free oneself to better participate in modernizing public administration.
The juxtaposition of elements drawn from mana- gerial and legal rationalities, to wit, the emphasis placed on the market values of the private sector on the one hand and the democratic values of the public sector on the other, does not help to reduce the con- fusion that mars the reasoning and structure of the federal public service. On the contrary, the relentless quest for a balance between the two rationalities is a way for management to avoid dealing with the issue more than a way to see clearly through the confu- sion. That said, it would not be enough to conclude, while recognizing the potential for conflict, that:
The true role of public servants is not just to serve “customers” but also to balance the inter- ests and preserve the rights of “citizens”…In summary, renewal of the public service does not mean choosing between the “traditional” and “new” values. Rather, serving the public interest, in some instances, means finding the appropri- ate balance between them.47
Although initially it may seem reasonable and level-headed, this insistence on achieving a balance between public and private managerial spheres, this concern for combining their respective advantages to better renew and modernize the federal public serv- ice, is one of the ongoing sources of confusion that the approach is supposed to resolve. Surprisingly enough, this culture of disillusion was acknowledged recently, in a limited though forthright way, by the clerk of the Privy Council, secretary to the Cabinet and head of the public service, who had this to say:
Leadership is never easy, but it is particularly diffi- cult when expectations for results are high. The modernization of human resources management will provide tools for those willing to use them. But there is a great deal of skepticism and cynicism across the public service, a feeling that those tools will never be picked up and used. I understand the disillusionment that comes from hearing a lot of talk without seeing very much action. But today we have an opportunity for fundamental change…48
However, there remains an indomitable difference. This recognition of a phenomenon of collective skepti- cism and disillusion within the public service is due, according to the Ninth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, to the gap between managerial discourse and practices or, in other words, to the fact that those responsible are not as swift to take action and such action that is taken is not as extensive as this same discourse would lead us to believe. The critical analysis set out in these pages suggests rather that the organizational culture of disil- lusion may be ascribed to the fact that managerial statements are, in and of themselves, fraught with con- tradictions and are thus vectors of organizational con- fusion.49 More specifically, the notion of disillusion is utilized because it expresses more accurately than any other the gradual loss of illusion as the members of the organization increasingly realize that the inclusive dimension vaunted in seminal managerial texts is sys- tematically missing from decisions or processes linked to significant organizational change. This ongoing absence becomes highly apparent in an organizational environment characterized by ongoing redefinition,50 such as that of the federal public service, where orga- nizational change or even an intention to proceed with such change could very well become an end in itself.
Furthermore, resistance to change may also be attri- buted to its expected effects on formal and informal power relationships among individuals within the organization. Any change, however small, causes a shift in these relationships and power struggles, which do not in all cases work to every individual’s advan- tage. Some are winners, others are losers. For this rea- son, the problem is not solely related to the conceptual or symbolic dimension of the project or change, nor to its advantages or disadvantages. It is also, and perhaps primarily, related to individuals’ understanding of its future effects on their ability to operate as independent actors within the organization. An actor is not only egotistical and rational nor only altruistic and emo- tional: he or she possesses all of these traits at once within an uncertain dynamic relationship.
Such resistance is also due to the fact that any new project or change is partly assessed in light of previous initiatives, those that succeeded, those that failed as well as those that management was commit- ted to deliver but for one reason or another never came about. Managerial statements and projects have a cumulative effect, each building on or multiplying the scope of all that came before. There is no clean slate or return to square one. All these precedents, regardless of their number, come into play in the dis- course and organizational environment, from which one can never be emancipated. Thus, contrary to what normal dichotomic analysis suggests, all change involves both rupture and continuity: rupture because it is inherent in the nature of change, and continuity because one’s understanding of change and, beyond this, its potential for success, is determined by prior changes as well as those that current changes may be seen to portend.
In addition, the difficulty of breaking with current mindsets, with associated material, emotional and political interests, as well as with power relationships that have emerged within the current institutional environment, is exacerbated by the difficulty of assessing proposals for change in any way other than within the framework of those same mindsets. True change is rarely achieved by means other than a cri- sis situation, due to the fact that the institutional environment affects not only the selection of means/ strategies used to achieve particular objectives, but also the objectives/challenges themselves. In effect, a project for change always involves elements of both stability and crisis. There is no basis for seeking out a consensual, interactional dynamic presumed to be nonconflictual — a managerial panacea if there ever was one. Some crises are resolved through group learning, others are not. It is on this issue, that of group learning, that managerial thinking must con- centrate, and definitely not on the necessarily vain search for a so-called consensual process.
For all of the above reasons, the case of Canada’s federal public service, ever influenced by NPM, is cer- tainly not unusual in the field of managerial studies, and the critical analysis developed to this point also addresses public management as an academic disci- pline. As suggested by this critical discussion of the prevailing interpretation of leadership and organiza- tional cultures, as well as the transition from the old to the new psychological contract, a renewal of public management philosophy requires an important break with, even a rejection of, all its component parts. To this end, though it may appear to be in its very early stages or even purely rhetorical, the recent anti-admin- istration perspective is conducive to a fresh approach, distinct from what has been prevalent until now in the field of public management.
Problems or lacunae in the area of managerial studies as a field of applied knowledge include claims of universality, timelessness and transfer- ability, which are best illustrated by monographs, as numerous as they are superficial, on “winning” prac- tices, upon which any managerial renewal or modern- ization exercise — whether in public administration or a private firm — should supposedly be based. We obvi- ously wish to avoid this type of intellectual over-sim- plification and we do not claim therefore that the following is part of a manual for managerial action; our purpose, rather, is to support a critical renewal of public-management philosophy. While our recommen- dations may not be universally accepted, we hope they broaden and enhance theoretical and normative think- ing in this field. Table 3 sets out elements for a renewal of managerial philosophy.
The biomedical drift in managerial studies can be described as a particularly heavy, perhaps undue, emphasis on the socio-cognitive dimension of an organi- zational phenomenon and a disregard for its political, identity, symbolic and collective dimensions. It is also expressed through the use of terms borrowed — frequently without recognition of the source — from med- icine, psychiatry and psychoanalysis, including such words as “diagnostic,” “syndrome,” “symptoms,” “needs” and “health.” The biomedical drift also overemphasizes the need for groups, projects and organizations to adapt to their environments, like a living organism does, eradicating in the process any influence they themselves may exert on their environ- ments. Specialized literature on downsizing and the survivor syndrome as well as the organicistic current in organizational theory are so many examples of this biomedical drift, ever more prevalent in managerial studies.
Consensual participation is marred by a conserva- tive bias insofar as it is based on current, recognized and ossified roles, functions, identities and expecta- tions. Critical participation includes the ability to deconstruct and reconstruct identities and roles. As discussed earlier, contrary to what is suggested by the dominant discourse and popular belief, the consensu- al dynamic is one of marginalization and exclusion and must not be confused with unanimity. It is also liable to reproduce the asymmetry of existing power relationships through the unspoken, though implied, rejection of individual and collective dissidence.
Consensual leadership, as the adjective suggests, espouses the same enigmatic dynamic as consensual participation. It rests on the tacit and passive accept- ance by managers and nonmanagers that they would be excluded from the design and development phases of projects aimed at implementing planned changes. As previously suggested, major modernization endea- vours within the federal public service that emphasize consensual leadership do not create new spaces for empowerment; rather, they contribute to subjecting participants to the asymmetrical exercise of power and to crystallizing the hierarchy principle. In other words, such consensual leadership leads to a decrease in managerial control along with an increase in indi- vidual self-control; it is not synonymous with greater involvement in the decision-making process by any stretch of the imagination. Thus, traditional power relationships are maintained through this fictitious empowerment phenomenon, and the democratization of managerial practice does not occur.
Differing radically from leadership defined in terms of abilities and competencies, leadership as a social process affords an opportunity to recognize the politi- cal dimension of organizations as well as the primacy of communication, deliberation, negotiation and com- promise in order to implement planned change.51
Power is neither dangerous nor problematic as such in an organizational environment, each collective action being itself the product of the exercise of power taken not as a personal possession but as a fluctuating and nontransitive capability. There is no doubt that power has a constructive side that must be reappropriated through this leadership as a social process resting on the contribution of those who are implicitly stigma- tized as nonleaders, subordinates or assistants because they are not explicitly recognized as leaders. In this sense, this leadership spells the end of the spinning of an organizational mythology that explicitly legitimizes heroes, messiahs and other managerial demigods.
The appropriation of a bureaucratic heritage is obviously counter to the prevailing discourse in man- agerial studies that continues to distort bureaucracy and reduces it to its perverse effects.52 Bureaucracy, as an organizational form, is far from limited to its per- verse effects and unwanted consequences: the princi- ples of standardization, specialization and hierarchy, to name only three, will persist and outlive any half- hearted desire to “debureaucratize” organizations.53 The notion of heritage hinges on the idea that it is something to be accepted, appropriated and trans- formed in light of a given organizational environ- ment that comprises particular challenges, objectives, constraints and resources. In this respect, and despite the well-known pronouncements on its rigid and backward-looking nature, bureaucracy is also a dynamic form that can range from its coercive vari- ant to its facilitative one.54
The constructive dimension of power is simply that any collective action — including those that are part of public management practice — is an exercise in power, therefore a shared exercise. Power is not just domination, confrontation or conflict. Its tangi- ble exercise is as much a good opportunity as it is a limitation on organizational creativity; the real man- agement challenge in this regard is to transform limi- tation power into opportunity power.
Recognition and appreciation of the multiple iden- tities of every individual are good ways to create spaces for meeting and discussion within the organi- zation.55 The idea is to authorize rather than force each individual to move beyond the restrictive state of organizational identity, which undoubtedly restricts his or her action. Such recognition is not, therefore, a negation of traditional identities based on managerial roles and functions, but rather a rejection of their hegemonic nature. It must be distinguished from the pluralistic project of representative bureau- cracy,56 which is just as constricted as the one whose shortcomings we have demonstrated (negation of multiple identities of each individual for the benefit of the multiple identities extant within the organiza- tion). The rather recent interest shown in diversity by the federal public service, as demonstrated by several major identity-building, symbolic, direction-setting managerial texts,57 is in keeping with this pluralistic and conservative vision that seeks to maintain the oversimplification of identities rather than promote their complexity and number.
The managerial utopia we are discussing consists in creating symbolic direction-setting elements through management frameworks — the achievement of which is not valued as much as is their pursuit (de- emphasizing management by results) — and thus in ceasing to contribute to the development of collective expectations that are systematically left unfulfilled. This managerial utopia, which recognizes the impor- tance of increased collective participation, also recog- nizes the role of ongoing negotiation and bargaining among participants and thus supports the transition from the consensual variant to the critical variant.
Simply stated, the intrapreneurial spirit (private company) is the antithesis of concern for the State and the spirit of public service (public organization); while the latter would never be valued in a private firm, why should the former be valued in a public organization? According to NPM’s basic — implicit and unavowed — logic, public management itself will only be as efficient as its counterpart in the private sector to the extent that both are identical, a view- point that puts paid to the very notion that public management is not only innovative and forward- looking but also autonomous and differentiated.
The anti-administration perspective, still in its early stages, proposes rather a theoretical and norma- tive reasoning that hinges exclusively on the speci- fics of public administration. Anti-administration aims at developing reflection on the theory and prac- tice of public administration through the following components: an anti-administrative consciousness — open-mindedness and ambiguity: a source of anti- administrative attitudes — skepticism and hope (critical participation); and anti-administrative aims — rediscovery of the human element of the bureaucratic organization (noninstrumentality).58
This anti-administrative awareness banks on open- mindedness and ambiguity to throw off the weight of rules and norms that circumscribe individual and col- lective creativity, thereby increasing the space allotted to dialogue and the number of participants in the dis- cussion without perpetuating the efficiency requirement of new public management. Contrary to the traditional field of managerial studies, anti-administration empha- sizes the need to recognize that whereas uncertainty is reduced or even eliminated by an increase in the quality or amount of information available, ambiguity is an inherent feature of managerial documents and remains linked to their interpretation by individual members of the organization. In other words, in an ambiguous rather than an uncertain situation, “the resulting call for more information (and perhaps more information pro- cessing equipment) may then only further obscure the political and social judgments that must inevitably be made.”59
Skepticism and hope are closely linked within anti-administration as safeguards against managerial dogmatism, meaning they allow us to keep in mind the fragile nature of our organizational knowledge without going so far as suspending judgment through absolute doubt. This philosophical concept is derived from the academic or mixed skepticism of David Hume (1711-1776), for whom “the most extensive share of our knowledge is composed of beliefs” and who emphasizes that “no rational principle legiti- mates political authority, only custom and social util- ity.”60 [translation] Anti-administration is also illustrative of a mitigated postmodern sensibility to the extent that, as a school of thought, it rejects the notion of truth while espousing that of progress — though in a limited way and in a contextual perspec- tive — and also authorizes a return to collective emancipation initiatives.
On a final note, the rediscovery of the human ele- ment within a complex organization seeks to overcome the significant perverse effects of bureaucracy, namely, its relative dehumanization that causes its individual members to perceive themselves only as functional pigeonholes and categories as they perform their duties. In this respect, the anti-administration perspective implicitly embraces the notion of multiple organiza- tional identities as a vector of new spaces for gathering and dialogue.
This set of elements of theoretical and normative reflection, though it may seem rudimentary and abstract, informs the development of an alternative vision of public administration that does not perpetuate the claims, teachings or precepts of the new public management but strives rather to design a public man- agement that is essentially autonomous and differenti- ated, forward-looking and innovative, and that firmly challenges — from both an academic and a practical perspective — the influence of private enterprise and its attendant market. Far from being a guide for man- agerial action aimed at overcoming organizational disillusion, this stance nonetheless extends and en- hances the debate on the perverse effects of planned changes carried out over the past decade within the federal public service of Canada.
Seminal identity-building and symbolic direc- tion-setting managerial texts in the federal public service of Canada, influenced by new public management, do not create new spaces for empowerment; on the contrary, they encourage sub- jecting participants to the asymmetrical exercise of power and crystallizing the hierarchy principle within the bureaucratic environment. Not only does the new public management movement not live up to its claim to bolster collective mobilization, it is also a source of confusion that, beyond its marginalizing and exclusionary effects, contributes to the creation and gradual but steady spread of an organizational culture of disillusion.
Despite the appearance of openness and pragma- tism, the relentless quest for equilibrium between the requirements of traditional public administration (transparency, probity and equity) and the precepts of new public management (efficiency, flexibility and a client focus) is more a managerial side-step than a meaningful way to stem the confusion in the dis- course and structure of Canada’s federal public serv- ice. Indeed, juxtaposing a discourse of inclusion with exclusionary actions, a discourse of consensus with conflictual practices, does nothing to increase mana- gerial credibility. Rather, it demonstrates the exis- tence of a vicious circle, in which these elements are made all the more suspect and incongruous by the fact that they are diametrically opposed. Thus organi- zational disillusion is due not only to the gap between managerial discourse and practices, but also to their intrinsically contradictory nature. A simple call to action through the wholesale implementation of organizational and consensual leadership therefore remains nothing more than vain rhetoric that has perhaps seen better days. The move from the old to the new psychological contract, related not so much to the downsizing that occurred in the mid-1990s as to the earlier breakthrough of new public manage- ment, is in keeping with this exclusionary dynamic and, beyond this, nurtures the organizational culture of disillusion.
In the same vein, a clear distinction must be made between the notion of culture of disillusion and those of organizational alienation and cynicism. Conceptu- ally, the culture of disillusion rejects both the reactive nature of alienation and the managerial demoniza- tion of cynicism. It is also not based primarily on the socio-psychological dimension. On the contrary, the culture of disillusion, taken as a separate organiza- tional phenomenon, is a social process built by indi- vidual members of the organization over the years through their multiple interactions, in light of planned changes. In this sense, this notion of disillu- sion, viewed once again in opposition to alienation and cynicism, extends beyond the solely cognitive dimension to the political and emotional ones. Indivi- duals’ perceptions of a significant change are never limited to its potential costs and benefits; they are also shaped by their residual perceptions of both prior and anticipated significant changes. As such, these residual perceptions are indomitable institutional constraints that bear permanently on individuals and groups, influencing their current perceptions, which themselves are associated with a dynamic of anticipa- tion of great changes on the horizon.
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For Immediate Distribution – Thursday, August 12, 2003
Montreal – Rather than being part of the solution, the new public management movement can be part of the problem, new studies from IRPP reveal. Attempting to simply emulating private sector practices to reform the public service, as suggested by some in the new public management movement, has contributed to aggravation, cynicism and decreased morale among civil servants, say two new studies published today by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).
In Canada and elsewhere in the world over the past few years, bureaucracies have often been the object of much criticism. This growing problem, which affects federal and provincial public services, seems to be exacerbated by the perception that public service is both unresponsive to people’s needs and inefficient, a perception that has led to several efforts at reforms of the public service, often modelled on private sector principles. Instead of solving the problems, the two IRPP studies have found that, in fact, these reforms have fed cynicism and disillusionment among civil servants.
The IRPP asked two professors from Quebec’s École nationale d’administration publique to examine the issue of cynicism (both within and toward the public service) and to respond to three questions: How do you define cynicism? In what forms does it manifest itself? What are its causes? In her paper, entitled “From Skepticism to Cynicism: Paradoxes of Administrative Reform,” Isabelle Fortier argues that cynicism among civil servants, like that among the general public, is caused by ambivalence and paradoxes surrounding the reform process. While not denying that there is room for improvement in public organizations, or that bureaucratic management can produce pernicious effects, she maintains that the efforts to improve public administration may be compromised by the very ideas that are supposed to bring about the desired changes.
In his study, entitled “From Cynicism to Organizational Disillusion: New Public Management as Confusion Factor,” Christian Rouillard maintains that the new public management movement does not live up to its claim of bolstering collective morale, and it is a source of confusion that contributes to both the creation of and the gradual but steady spread of an organizational culture of disillusionment.
The authors caution against overemphasis on some private sector principles that might be unsuitable for the reality of the public service and call into question the fundamental role of the state.
The two papers are part of IRPP’s governance research program and are published in the latest issue of Choices, now available online in Adobe (.pdf) format on the Institute’s Web site (www.irpp.org).
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Founded in 1972, the IRPP is an independent, national, nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve public policy in Canada by generating research, providing insight and sparking debate that will contribute to the public policy decision-making process and strengthen the quality of the public policy decisions made by governments, citizens, institutions and organizations.