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Can business learn from the public sector?

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to challenge conventional wisdom suggesting that public sector entities should learn from the private sector, and to state some potential lessons for business based on case study research in leading edge public sector entities. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The approach is longitudinal case study research using the interview method and a literature search on public sector management. Findings ‐ Business organizations can learn valuable lessons from leading edge public sector entities, such as the need to employ technology to reinvent themselves or to support unconventional strategies rather than just support existing processes; to change proactively rather than wait for a crisis; to strive for strategic innovation rather than simply incremental improvements; and to develop a heightened sense of competition to fight inertia and groupthink. Research limitations/implications ‐ One limitation is the small number of leading edge public sector entities studied here. Further research can include a larger sample, to explore the validity of the lessons stated here, and to derive additional lessons from leading public sector entities. Practical implications ‐ Business managers should take seriously the potential to learn from leading public sector entities. Originality/value ‐ The paper provides a challenge to conventional wisdom that public sector entities should learn from business, rather than the other way round, by examining two leading edge public sector entities; Singapore Airlines and the National Library Board of Singapore.
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Keywords: Corporate strategy; Learning; Public sector organizations

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-06-26

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