Using Tough Love for Successful Collaboration

March 1, 2012
By Doug Gavel

The same combination of strategies deployed by parents to raise their children can also be used effectively by organizations working together in the public sector to achieve a common goal. That’s the finding of a new Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Faculty Working Paper.

’Hard,’ ‘Soft,’ or ‘Tough Love’: What Kinds of Organizational Culture Promote Successful Performance” is co-authored by HKS Professor Steven Kelman and HKS PhD student Sounman Hong. The study specifically analyzes the design and results of a cross-organizational collaboration in England and Wales involving police, social work and other agencies in an anti-crime effort known as Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRP’s).

“CDRP’s provide a rare opportunity to examine whether a collaboration’s organizational features improve performance,” the authors write. “First, by statute they exist everywhere in England and Wales, so there are enough for quantitative analysis. Second, they aim to reduce crime, and crime data are available. This combination is rarely present for research on collaborations (or indeed even for single government agencies).”

The authors found that, in terms of approaches the collaboration managers used to gain fruitful anti-crime cooperation among the disparate organizations involved in the joint effort, neither the “hard” nor “soft” strategy deployed alone was ideal, but rather a combination of the two management techniques – “tough love” – worked best in creating good cross-agency collaboration that in turn produced lower crime rates.

“In finding that a ‘tough love’ culture can improve performance of a collaboration among government agencies in reducing crime, this study provides evidence for the broader proposition, of interest to those studying government organizations, that collaborations, properly managed, can improve public performance,” the authors conclude. The authors also urge that the possible virtues of “tough love” as a management technique – a mix of high demands and caring -- be explored more broadly as a way to improve the performance of organizations in general.

Steven Kelman is the Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard Kennedy School. A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard College, with a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University, he is the author of many books and articles on the policymaking process and on improving the management of government organizations.

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picture of Steve Kelman

Steven J. Kelman, Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management

“In finding that a ‘tough love’ culture can improve performance of a collaboration among government agencies in reducing crime, this study provides evidence for the broader proposition, of interest to those studying government organizations, that collaborations, properly managed, can improve public performance,” the authors conclude.