“Only when certain political and organizational preconditions are met” can substantial improvements be made in big organizations. At least that is the conclusion suggested by a recent article in Public Administration Review. The authors suggest six preconditions (pg. 238):
- Support from a powerful political source,
- Recognition by the public & media that current conditions are unacceptable,
- A leader with unusual control over personnel policy,
- Substantial talent within or available to the organization,
- Useable & timely data systems, and
- A leader with an understandable vision for improvement.
These six factors are rare in big complex organizations. The authors offer four hypotheses explaining the obstacles building those preconditions.
- Members of an organization need time to become familiar with data-driven management. After a time, data-driven management can make large-scale, long-term reform possible (pg. 237).
- “Aggressive reformers will tend to appear in times and places where (current) outcomes are completely unacceptable and be dismissed or moderated once outcomes reach a merely acceptable level.” Or leaders will be “victims of their own success” if their political masters think they are “too big for their britches” (pg. 237).
- Organizational innovations…will diffuse more when leaders transfer to new places than through adoption by other leaders in the organization (pp. 237-38).
- Organizational reform occurs more readily when leaders control personnel policy (pg. 238).
Although not impossible, the authors conclude that reforming big organizations will be rare.