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Question: How would you differentiate public and business management?

02 Jul 2024,6:50 AM

Throughout this course, you will role play the role of a member of the press office for Fully Impact, a national non-profit organization located in Washington, D.C. Fully Impact works to lobby members of Congress on a variety of current issues.

Your supervisor is Cassidy Dada. As part of Dada’s team, you will complete research and analysis, draft reports, opinion pieces, participate in meetings, write blog posts, and respond to public requests for information.

Dada stops by your cubical and asks you to prepare a brief background memo that answers the following question.

How would you differentiate public and business management?





Differentiating Public and Business Management

Public and business management, while sharing core principles of administration and organization, diverge significantly in their objectives, accountability frameworks, operational environments, stakeholder engagement, and metrics of success. These distinctions are crucial for understanding the unique challenges and strategies inherent to each sector.


Public and business management are two distinct realms of administration that, despite their shared roots in management principles, operate under vastly different contexts and with differing objectives. Understanding these differences is essential for professionals navigating either field, as it influences decision-making, strategic planning, and operational execution. This memo explores the key differences between public and business management, highlighting how these variations impact the functioning and goals of organizations within each sector.

Objectives and Goals

The primary divergence between public and business management lies in their fundamental objectives and goals, which shape their overall strategies and operations.

Public management is primarily concerned with serving the public interest, ensuring the equitable distribution of resources, and maintaining public trust and accountability. According to Frederickson (1997), public administration aims to implement policies that serve the community, promote social equity, and enhance the quality of life. In contrast, business management focuses on profit maximization, shareholder value, and market competitiveness (Drucker, 1954). Theories such as the New Public Management (NPM) emphasize efficiency and effectiveness in public services, drawing parallels with private sector practices but with an underlying emphasis on public welfare (Hood, 1991).

A public manager at a city government might prioritize affordable housing programs to address homelessness, guided by social justice principles and public accountability. On the other hand, a business manager at a real estate development firm would focus on maximizing returns on investment, potentially targeting high-income housing projects that promise higher profitability.

The differing objectives of public and business management—public welfare versus profit maximization—set the stage for distinct management approaches, influencing everything from policy implementation to resource allocation.

Accountability Frameworks

Public and business management operate under different accountability frameworks, which significantly affect their decision-making processes and operational transparency.

Public managers are accountable to a broad range of stakeholders, including the general public, elected officials, and regulatory bodies. This multi-faceted accountability necessitates high levels of transparency and ethical conduct (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2000). Public Choice Theory suggests that public managers must navigate complex political environments and balance competing interests (Buchanan & Tullock, 1962). Conversely, business managers are primarily accountable to their shareholders and board of directors, focusing on financial performance and market share (Jensen & Meckling, 1976).

A public manager at a health department must justify budget allocations and policy decisions to taxpayers and government oversight committees, often through public reports and hearings. In contrast, a business manager at a pharmaceutical company would present quarterly earnings and strategic plans to shareholders, emphasizing profitability and growth potential.

The distinct accountability frameworks in public and business management shape the transparency and ethical standards required in each sector, influencing how managers navigate their respective environments and engage with stakeholders.

Operational Environments

The operational environments of public and business management differ in terms of regulatory constraints, funding sources, and organizational flexibility.

Public organizations operate within a framework of laws, regulations, and policies designed to ensure accountability and public welfare (Rainey, 2009). These constraints can limit flexibility and innovation but ensure consistency and fairness. Public Sector Motivation Theory suggests that public employees are driven by intrinsic motivations related to serving the public good (Perry & Wise, 1990). In contrast, business organizations have more operational flexibility and can quickly adapt to market changes and opportunities (Mintzberg, 1979). Resource Dependence Theory highlights how businesses strategically manage dependencies on external resources to enhance their competitive advantage (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978).

A public manager at an environmental protection agency must adhere to stringent regulatory standards and may face lengthy bureaucratic processes to implement new initiatives. Conversely, a business manager at a tech startup can swiftly pivot strategies and innovate to respond to market demands, leveraging venture capital funding for rapid growth.

The operational environments in public and business management, characterized by varying degrees of regulatory constraints and flexibility, impact how organizations plan and execute their strategies, influencing their capacity for innovation and responsiveness.

Stakeholder Engagement

The nature and scope of stakeholder engagement in public and business management differ, reflecting the unique priorities and expectations of their respective audiences.

Public managers engage with a diverse array of stakeholders, including citizens, advocacy groups, and governmental entities. This engagement is often guided by principles of democratic governance and participatory decision-making (King, Feltey, & Susel, 1998). Stakeholder Theory posits that public organizations must consider the interests of all stakeholders to achieve legitimacy and support (Freeman, 1984). In contrast, business managers focus on key stakeholders such as customers, investors, and employees, with an emphasis on enhancing customer satisfaction and shareholder value (Donaldson & Preston, 1995).

A public manager at a community planning department might conduct public forums and surveys to gather input on urban development projects, ensuring that diverse community voices are heard and considered. Conversely, a business manager at a consumer goods company would conduct market research and focus groups to understand customer preferences and tailor products to meet market demands.

The engagement strategies in public and business management reflect their distinct priorities, with public managers prioritizing inclusivity and democratic participation, while business managers focus on customer and investor satisfaction.

Metrics of Success

The metrics of success in public and business management are shaped by their respective goals and accountability standards, leading to different evaluative criteria.

Public management success is measured by the extent to which policies and programs achieve public goals, such as improved health outcomes, educational attainment, and social equity (Behn, 1995). Performance measurement in the public sector often includes both quantitative and qualitative indicators, with an emphasis on transparency and public accountability (Moynihan, 2008). In contrast, business management success is primarily evaluated through financial metrics, including profitability, return on investment (ROI), and market share (Kaplan & Norton, 1992). The Balanced Scorecard approach integrates financial and non-financial metrics to provide a comprehensive view of business performance.

A public manager at a transportation department might measure success through reduced traffic congestion, increased public transit usage, and positive public feedback on service improvements. Conversely, a business manager at a ride-sharing company would focus on revenue growth, user acquisition rates, and market expansion metrics.

The differing metrics of success in public and business management reflect their distinct objectives and accountability standards, influencing how performance is evaluated and reported in each sector.


In conclusion, public and business management, while grounded in similar management principles, diverge significantly in their objectives, accountability frameworks, operational environments, stakeholder engagement strategies, and metrics of success. These differences underscore the unique challenges and strategic considerations inherent to each sector. Public management prioritizes public welfare, accountability, and equitable service delivery, operating within a complex regulatory framework and engaging a broad array of stakeholders. Business management, on the other hand, focuses on profitability, market competitiveness, and shareholder value, with greater operational flexibility and targeted stakeholder engagement. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for professionals in both fields to effectively navigate their respective environments and achieve their organizational goals.

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