Management by groping along


  • Robert D. Behn

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    • ROBERT D. BEHN is director of the Governors Center at Duke University and an adjunct scholar with The Center for Excellence in Government.


Public managers do and should grope along. They need to have a clear sense of mission for their agency. But they will never know precisely how to realize these purposes. Every new management task confronts even the most experienced manager with a new organizational, political, and cultural situation. Consequently, the public manager cannot develop the perfect plan from the beginning. Rather, he or she must experiment with various initiatives, trying to determine what works and what does not. Meanwhile, the successes that result from some of these initiatives move the manager closer to his goal, create new capabilities for his organization, and help motivate his staff by demonstrating that they can be successful. There are thousands of management principles, and it is never obvious which ones apply in a particular managerial situation. Thus, every public manager must grope along.