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Management: The Public Sector versus The Private Sector - Part II of II

March 25 2019 - by Dr. Kenroy C. Wedderburn, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies & Associate Professor, School of Business - Wayland Baptist University, also Alum of CLP's Leadership Development Programme

In my last post I promised a Part II follow-up to my article on Management in the Public versus Private Sectors. To recap – I had the privilege of working in both the public and private sectors in Jamaica. I was a senior manager at Scotiabank for the better part of a decade, a director in two different government ministries for four years (Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Education), and I was the CEO of a government agency for another four years. This article concludes my review.

In my previous article I concluded that in the Caribbean, and particularly in Jamaica, it is a challenge to attract and retain quality personnel primarily because of the anemic salaries and benefits being offered. There is also a severe issue with non-efficient processes that inherently cost more to run, and produce less at the end where it matters most – that is, service to our citizens. So, should government be run like the private sector?

Kerry-Anne Mendoza (writing from a United Kingdom context) did not hide her disdain for even thinking that government could be run like a business when she wrote in The Guardian, “A public service is an inherently different beast from a business and asking one to behave as the other is like asking a fish to ride a bicycle.” She subsequently pointed out that the clue is in the name since the public service is there to provide – you guessed it – a service to the public! She concluded her article by declaring that public sector leaders should “join forces” and bring back the “ethos of the public service.”

On the other hand, Jesse Samberg wrote an article in the Yale Insights which, in my opinion seems to be fairly balanced, and indicates a direction that I would advocate for our public services in the Caribbean. Samberg, who has experience working both at IBM and at New York’s Metropolitan Transport Authority, conceded that the private sector and the public sector serve totally different purposes, with that for businesses being to operate in a competitive market place to supply consumers with goods and services. He elaborated that “in the private sector, the profit motive drives change, efficiency, and innovation. The government is a very different animal. It has to respond to all kinds of different, competing interests, including political considerations.”

So if you were to ask me which job is more difficult, managing in the private sector or managing in the public sector – my answer would be “both”. Both have their complexities and unique challenges. I, therefore, agree with Samberg’s conclusion that, even though the public sector is different, we should have government-run entities that are “efficient, effective and deliver on its mission in the least costly way possible.”

 One way to start with that is to recruit the best leaders possible for public sector entities. I believe that is one way to start by getting the best bang for the buck. I love to cite the case of a secondary school in Jamaica that at one point was viewed as a school that no self-respecting parent would want their child to attend. Then a school principal who retired from another successful secondary school was sent to that school as the interim principal. The subsequent changes have been stupendous!

I think there are several ways for tremendous improvements in our public sector – and it does not necessarily require a lot of money.

What are your thoughts on management in the public sector versus private sector?