By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Academy of Management conference

I'm at the Academy of Management conference in Anaheim, Calif., about three blocks from Disneyland. (Musings about ironies are welcomed.) As obsessive readers of this blog or my FCW column — or those with elephantine memories — may remember, the Academy of Management is the major professional organization of scholars studying organizations, the vast majority at business schools, but some populating the Academy's Public and Nonprofit division. This is their annual meeting, with thousands of participants, a growing number from outside the U.S. (mostly Europe and Asia).

There are always interesting papers at this conference. A few that especially interested me:

  1. Carrie Leana and Frits Pil of the University of Pittsburgh have produced another great piece of research in their series of papers on school performance improvement. They find that in schools where teachers talk a lot among themselves about how to teach math, student performance (controlling for everything) is higher than in schools where teachers don't talk with one another. This result has broader significance for the impact of high levels of informal collaboration among colleagues on organizational performance — a finding of relevance to any government organization. (The findings are especially dramatic because many assume that teachers pretty much produce whatever they produce in the classroom in private, with little collaboration with other colleagues. These results might be presumed to be even more dramatic in many other government organizations.) A vote here for Web 2.0 technologies that promote collaboration, particularly informal collaboration.

  2. A paper by Daniel Whitman and David Van Rooy of Florida International University found, among other things, that managers in nonprofit organizations have on average a higher level of job involvement than government managers. For government managers, their performance level is highly related to their intrinsic motivation toward the work they do (a relationship that is much less strong for nonprofit managers). This suggests a homework assignment for government — to encourage development of intrinsic motivation among employees.

  3. A paper by one of my favorite public administration scholars, Hal Rainey of the University of Georgia, and a former graduate student of his, Sung Min Park at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, suggests one way to produce improved intrinsic motivation. They find that the development of intrinsic motivation among public-sector employees previously motivated only by money is encouraged by job designs that provide more opportunities for autonomy and self-determination. Another vote against excessive bureaucracy in government (and against the current political and fear industry environment) that promotes rules and regimentation over autonomy and self-determination.

Steve Kelman

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 12, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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