Changing public service values: limits of fundamental reform and rhetoric




Vakil, Thea

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study of public service reform examined how the Liberal BC government attempted to convince public servants to adopt private sector-type work values (referred to in this study as contemporary values). To accomplish this goal, government top advisers designed a change management program for senior managers known as Public Service Renewal. The research problem was framed as a special case of change management to investigate what until now have been unanswered questions on the adoption of new, contemporary work values in the public service. The study asked questions about the government’s reform strategies, change management processes, rhetorical tactics, and the extent to which values currently held by public servants reflected new public service work values promoted by the BC government. The main findings of this study are that BC’s senior public servants hold strong traditional Westminster-based values concerning public servants’ commitment to serve the public good, be respectful of the government of the day, behave responsibly and be willing to be held accountable and above all, take pride in public service integrity. The value profile of senior public service managers presented in this study shows these traditional values to be relatively robust as there was only minimal adoption of contemporary values. The study also highlights the important role played by socio-demographic variables in determining public servants’ orientation towards their work values. There were significant value differences between men and women, between managers who worked in social and land ministries and between managers older and younger than 45 years of age. Other value differences were found between managers engaged at the (senior) strategic levels in the organization and those who ranked lower in the hierarchy, and between managers who have been with the government for more than 15.5 years and those who have lesser seniority. The research further established empirical support for the construct of contemporary values and suggests that traditional values may be weakening, presumably as the result of the latest wave of public sector reform known as the New Public Management. Based on these key findings this study concludes that the BC government’s effort to encourage the public service to adopt contemporary work values did not succeed. Several factors contributed to this lack of success including the normative perspective of the New Public Management which holds the unproven view that private sector management principles create a more effective and efficient public service. Other contributing factors included incoming politicians wary of the public service, inconsistencies between rhetoric and reality, fragmentation and ultimate demise of the original vision of Public Service Renewal, shortcomings of the implementation process, and the persistence of traditional public sector work values.



Values, Change, Government, Public Service