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Teaching, Tasks, and Trust

Teaching, Tasks, and Trust: Functions of the Public Executive

John Brehm
Scott Gates
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Teaching, Tasks, and Trust
    Book Description:

    The mere word “bureaucracy” brings to mind images of endless lines, piles of paperwork, and frustrating battles over rules and red tape. But some bureaucracies are clearly more efficient and responsive than others. Why? In Teaching, Tasks, and Trust, distinguished political scientists John Brehm and Scott Gates show that a good part of the answer may be found in the roles that middle managers play in teaching and supporting the front-line employees who make a bureaucracy work. Brehm and Gates employ a range of sophisticated modeling and statistical methods in their analysis of employees in federal agencies, police departments, and social service centers. Looking directly at what front-line workers say about their supervisors, they find that employees who feel they have received adequate training have a clearer understanding of the agency’s mission, which leads to improved efficiency within their departments. Quality training translates to trust – employees who feel supported and well-trained for the job are more likely to trust their supervisors than those who report being subject to constant monitoring and a strict hierarchy. Managers who “stand up” for employees—to media, government, and other agency officials—are particularly effective in cultivating the trust of their workers. And trust, the authors find, motivates superior job performance and commitment to the agency’s mission. Employees who trust their supervisors report that they work harder, put in longer hours, and are less likely to break rules. The authors extend these findings to show that once supervisors grain trust, they enjoy greater latitude in influencing how employees allocate their time while working. Brehm and Gates show how these three executive roles are interrelated—training and protection for employees gives rise to trust, which provides supervisors with the leverage to stimulate improved performance among their workers. This new model—which frames supervisors as teachers and protectors instead of taskmasters—has widespread implications for training a new generation of leaders and creating more efficient organizations. Bureaucracies are notorious for inefficiency, but mid-level supervisors, who are often regarded as powerless, retain tremendous power to build a more productive workforce. Teaching, Tasks, and Trust provides a fascinating glimpse into a bureaucratic world operating below the radar of the public eye—a world we rarely see while waiting in line or filling out paperwork.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-080-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    Our first book,Working, Shirking, and Sabotage,asked who, or what, controls the policy choices of bureaucrats. The overwhelming evidence indicated that individual bureaucrats’ preferences had the greatest effect. Fellow bureaucrats, the public whom the bureaucrat serves, and supervisors played a role, but not the dominant role. Bureaucrats controlled their own behavior.

    To understand behavior, we must get a sense of what motivates people. As for the underlying motivation of bureaucrats, we argued inWorking, Shirking, and Sabotagethat in addition to the material rewards (which are the major focus of economic and rational choice theories of organization), two categories...

  5. Chapter 1 Alternative Roles
    (pp. 4-16)

    Suppose that it is your responsibility to encourage more effort from an employee on a task. The task might be straightforward (say, processing tax returns or collecting mail) or more complex (say, teaching children or managing the drug rehabilitation of recalcitrant clients). Even ascertaining how much effort your employee commits may be tricky. But let’s shelve those issues for the moment and ask, how do I persuade my employee to work harder?

    One solution—an intuitively natural one—is to monitor the employee’s performance by some objective set of standards and to reward the employee for meeting the standards. This...


    • Chapter 2 Empirical Data on Training
      (pp. 19-41)

      What is the strength of the evidence that training clarifies the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, or between what is meritorious and what leads to punishment? Training is one way to make the bureaucrat’s job less ambiguous, not so much by the addition of information as a way to reduce uncertainty, but by enacting (Weick 1979) a path out of the ambiguity. Enacting, to use Karl Weick’s phrase, entails “the important role that people play in creating the environments that impose on them” (5).

      Consider the delightful distinction between enacting and informing that opens Weick’s book, itself an excerpt...

    • Chapter 3 Adapting Preferences
      (pp. 42-60)

      Early management schemes, such as those mentioned in chapter 1, worried about characteristics of the division of labor between subordinates and supervisors that inhibited close supervision. Such scholars—especially Luther Gulick—debated optimum span of control, virtues of piece work, and scalar chains of command in the early twentieth century. In contemporary terminology, the principal may structure incentives or schemes of observation to overcome adverse selection and moral hazard.¹ These are classic examples of a coercive approach to management.

      But here the literatures depart ways: organization theorists began to question whether supervisors could expect orders to be followed simply because...


    • Chapter 4 Task Allocation in Public Bureaucracies
      (pp. 63-76)

      As should be becoming evident after reading this far, organization theorists are consistent in their argument that the coercive aspects of supervision in public bureaucracies alone cannot account for high levels of performance. Indeed, this point may have been ascertained by the reference to Barnard (1938/1968) in the subtitle of this book. Like those of the private sector executive, the functions of the public executive are many. Although coercion, in the form of the application of rewards and sanctions for performance, deters shirking and encourages working, it is a pale and limp tool for the supervisor seeking to generate significant...

    • Chapter 5 Task Allocation in Policing
      (pp. 77-108)

      In this chapter, we extend our analysis of the supervisor as coordinator within a public bureaucracy, a role consistent with both principal-agency approaches and organization theory.¹ In this role the supervisor must define and allocate tasks across subordinates (Wilson 1989). Tasks define what it is that bureaucrats, and hence bureaucracies, do. The challenge for the supervisor as coordinator is to match the right subordinates with the right tasks. This requires that subordinates be given tasks they prefer. In chapter 4, we formally demonstrated that an efficient solution to the task allocation matching game is possible. There exists an equilibrium solution...


    • Chapter 6 Trust Brokering
      (pp. 111-130)

      Trust is a central aspect of human relations, and within the context of organizations it plays a particularly strong role. Of course, just what one means by the notion of trust is decidedly unclear. One approach, quite popular with survey researchers, had been to use trust of government or of people in general as proxies for some generalized concept. Indeed, a mini-industry sprang up in the mid-1990s seeking to explain what appeared to be a cataclysmic decline in trust, particularly of governments but also to a degree of people in general.

      The typical analysis of declining trust in government would...

    • Chapter 7 Rules, Trust, and the Allocation of Time
      (pp. 131-143)

      In this chapter, we aim to synthesize the extensive literature in social psychology and organization theory on supervision and leadership. We take as our point of departure an argument from organization theory: the fundamental problem for public bureaucracies is ambiguity, and the fundamental function of the public executive is the resolution of that ambiguity.

      Until this point, we have been considering each of these proposed functions of the public executive—training, time allocation, and brokering trust—as separate dimensions. Here we propose that the three functions of supervision are interactive. As we explained in chapter 6, one purpose of training...

    • Chapter 8 Leadership: Middle Managers and Supervision
      (pp. 144-150)

      The most conventional view of leadership in political organizations is that leadership trickles down from the top. For example, Daniel Carpenter’sForging Bureaucratic Autonomy,uses the example of people such as James Wilson and Montgomery Blair (2001). Wilson helped shape the units of the federal bureaucracy in such fundamental ways that the Department of Agriculture transformed from a pork-barrel seed distribution agency to a research organization. Blair, the Civil War–era postmaster general, helped to convert a patronage laden postal service into a railway army providing free mail delivery. Indeed, most histories of public sector entrepreneurship focus on the “man...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 151-156)
  10. References
    (pp. 157-164)
  11. Index
    (pp. 165-172)