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Motivational Differences? Comparing Private, Public and Hybrid Organizations


While studies of motivational differences between managers in private and public organizations proliferate, few have compared managers’ motivation in hybrid organizations to the motivation of managers in private and public organizations. This lack of studies is surprising, as corporatization has been an important trend in the public sector over the last decades. Using a large survey covering almost 3000 managers from a representative sample of organizations in Norway, this study fills this hole by comparing how managers in hybrid organizations differ on extrinsic, intrinsic and prosocial motivation from their counterparts in public and private organizations.

The interest in what motivates public servants has been central to public administration research since the writings of Max Weber and Woodrow Wilson. Consequently, empirical studies on motivational differences between the public and private sector abounds, especially if we include the current interest in Public Service Motivation (PSM) (Andersen et al. 20112013; Andersen and Pedersen 2013; Baarspul and Wilderom 2011; Brewer and Brewer 2011; Bullock et al. 2015; Crewson 1997; Frank and Lewis 2004; Jacobsen et al. 2014; Kjeldsen and Jacobsen 2013; Rainey 2014; Rainey and Bozeman 2000; Rainey and Chun 2005; Wright 2001; Wright et al. 2017). Still, all these studies base their empirical research on a dichotomous distinction between the public and the private (Bozeman 2013; Buelens and Van den Broeck 2007; Lee and Wilkins 2011; Ritz et al. 2016; Wright 2001).

This stands in contrast to the continuous “hybridization” of the public sector, with an increasing amount of organizations that find themselves somewhere between the public and the private (Emery and Giauque 2005; Johanson and Vakkuri 2018; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2017). Many previously public organizations have been “corporatized” or transformed into public businesses, partly removed from direct political control through the construction of partly autonomous boards and a strong focus on income from sales (Andrews et al. 2020; Bel and Fageda 2010; Ferry et al. 2018; Lægreid et al. 2013; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2017). Others have been privatized in the sense that they are no longer formally under the political control of an democratically elected council or parliament, but political control is still held through public ownership and – consequently – appointment of board representatives (Jacobsen 2016).

Given the fact that such hybrid organizational forms have become so common in most countries, and that these organizations are central in production of important public services, it is a lack of studies on the motivations of managers of these organization. In fact, there seems to be a more general lack of studies focusing on how individuals in hybrid organizations act and think (Grossi et al. 2017:383).

To define hybridity, this study relies on the basic notion of publicness, or the degree to what an organization is exposed to political and economic authority (Bozeman 1987). This approach makes it possible to compare not only public and private organizations, but also “hybrid” forms that mix institutional logics in different ways. Three well established notions of motivation – extrinsic, intrinsic and prosocial – are used to see if managers in hybrid organizations diverge in their motivational focus from managers in more “pure” public and private organizations.

This study is based on a large survey of managers at different hierarchical levels in Norway (N = 2488, response rate = 71%). Four different types of organizations are compared: “pure” public (owned by democratically elected representatives, financed over public budgets), “pure” private (owned by private investors, financed through market transactions), public business (owned by democratically elected representatives, financed through market transactions), and public/private shareholder companies (owned by both political representatives and private investors, financed through market transactions).