Bert’s research has provided important evidence on a number of public management themes. Below, the main contributions of his academic articles (for a full list of all publications see Publications & Awards) clustered in three categories: Strategy, behavior and performance.
Bert’s strategy research has focused on two core aspects of strategy – namely strategic planning and strategic management. Before presenting the evidence, you can read more about the definitions of strategy, strategizing, strategic planning and strategic management in public administration here.
Strategic planning is a deliberate approach to strategy formulation aimed at achieving important goals and creating public value (Bryson & George 2020).
– Strategic planning has a positive impact on organizational performance, particularly on organizational effectiveness. Make sure it is formal (i.e. includes an analysis of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses as well as its environment’s opportunities and threats; and also the formulation of concrete strategies, goals and plans explaining what one wants to achieve, why, how and when). Also make sure it is comprehensive (i.e. many strategic options are formulated and considered before final strategies are selected) and includes careful stakeholder management (i.e. who will be involved, why, when and how?). Link to our meta-analysis.
– Ensure that strategic planning is done in a systematic manner and also includes lower-level employees as well as external stakeholders. This increases the likelihood of producing high-quality strategic plans (as opposed to empty pieces of paper). Link to our study on Flemish municipalities.
– Ensure that strategic planning teams involve people with a creating profile – who like to innovate, think out-of-the-box and avoid routine. These people are more likely to accept the strategic planning process and be the change champion needed to sell the strategic plan throughout the organization. So do not only include analytical and planning profiles. Link to our study on Flemish municipalities.
– Public organizations often have a politicized environment. Political diversity makes it harder for politicians in public organizations to have a shared understanding of strategic plans, which could hamper implementation. So actively think about how to clarify strategic plans to political actors to avoid misinterpretation. Link to our study on Flemish municipalities.
Strategic management includes strategic planning and links it to strategy implementation activities as well as organization learning (Bryson & George 2020).
– Careful when using narrow performance measurement to implement strategic plans. In human service organizations, it might be more important to link strategic plans to the objectives and evaluations of senior managers to help them make better strategic decisions. Also ensure that throughout strategy implementation, senior management teams make decisions in a procedural just way – as opposed to being dominated by dictators or personal conflict. Link to our study on Flemish pupil guidance centers.
– It is important to avoid that the implementation of strategic plans becomes a blame game where strong accountability mechanisms dominate and the plan is considered “holy and fixed”. This can be avoided by ensuring that one’s organization is a learning organization that is particularly responsive to its staff as well as other stakeholders; which in turn helps to ensure that selected strategies remain relevant or, when outdated, are changed. Link to our study on Welsh schools. We have also developed a measurement tool that specifically centers on measuring schools as learning organizations, but it can be adapted to other contexts as well – see our study based on Welsh data.
– During strategy implementation, lower-level employees might have a different understanding of the strategic priorities compared to top management. To avoid this lack of consensus, it is important that high quality information on the strategy is shared throughout the organization and different levels of the organizational hierarchy communicate with one another about the strategy. Link to our study on Flemish hospitals.
Bert’s behavior research has focused on cognitive biases that might influence policymakers when making strategic decisions as well as employee and managerial behavior.
Cognitive biases influence decision-making and – in essence – make decisions less reflective. Cognitive biases could be avoided or might be exploited for better outcomes.
– Discriminatory bias: Politicians are more likely to prefer a younger candidate than an older one for a top management position, even when all other variables are constant. Moreover, politicians that are strongly leftist are more likely to favor woman and candidates with an Arabic name whereas those from the right are more likely to favor men and candidates with a Flemish name. Discriminatory bias could thus influence an important strategic decision in public organizations. Link to our study on Flemish local politicians.
– Social norm: Politicians are more likely to use information coming from performance dashboards when this information is bench-marked with a social norm coming from their authorizing environment (i.e. a coercive pressure) or a professional organization (i.e. a normative pressure). Hence, when providing this type of information to politicians it is important to include these benchmarks and increase the likelihood that the information is actually used for strategic decision-making. Link to our study on Flemish local politicians.
– Negativity bias: Politicians that are confronted with negative performance information as opposed to average or positive, are more likely to invest in the bad performing policy domain. This is labelled as negativity bias, and implies that spending decisions by politicians – which are important strategic decisions in public organizations – might not be rational but could be based on blame avoidance mechanisms due to bad performance. Link to our study on Flemish local politicians.
Employee and managerial behavior
These articles particularly look at how employees and managers behave in practice and how “desirable” behavior can be stimulated.
– Management tools are more likely to be used by executives in central governments that are bigger, have clear goals and are agencies as opposed to ministries. This finding implies that public management reforms geared towards central governments need to adopt a contingency approach – taking into account the context. One-size-fits-all reforms are unlikely to yield success. Link to our study on 18 European countries.
– Innovative behavior is an important outcome to achieve among one’s employees. Using consistent employee performance management practices helps to induce innovation, particularly when employees have a good relationship with their leader. Hence, carefully consider how you evaluate your employees – make sure this is consistent with the overall strategy and leaves room for innovation. Also make sure that leaders are trained in the necessary soft skills to communicate with employees. Link to our study on Flemish elderly homes.
– Having employees with affective commitment to the organization is important. But how does one stimulate such commitment? The type of employment relationship one has matters here. Employees that feel their employer invests as much as they do in their relationship are more likely to show a higher degree of affective commitment. Link to our study on a Flemish public organization.
Bert’s performance research has focused on identifying antecedents of performance in public organizations. Bert’s academic articles linking strategy and behavior with performance have already been mentioned earlier, so the following are articles on performance that do not include strategy or behavior as its antecedent.
– Innovating and optimizing have been argued to increase the performance of public organizations. But can public organizations go too far? This study suggests that optimizing contributes more to performance than innovating but its contribution is curvilinear – its impact flattens out the more optimization is conducted. This is, however, not the case for innovation. This study suggests that public managers need to carefully balance optimization; not too little and not too much; to increase performance. Link to our study on Dutch water authorities.
– Financial performance in public organizations is important. But what is the role of organizational and environmental factors that are out of the control of public managers? This study shows that the budget and previous financial performance in public organizations matter more than their size or environmental factors. Hence, policymakers trying to improve financial performance of the public sector need to careful consider how to offer specific aid to those already performing poorly as opposed to identifying quick fixes or one-size-fits-all reforms. Link to our study on Flemish municipalities.
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