In public administration, the goals that a public agency and its employees will achieve depend heavily on the level of employee motivation. If public employees aren't motivated, they will only perform at a moderate level to maintain their jobs. As a result, an agency will not perform efficiently or be responsive to the needs of its program clients.
Motivation plays an important part in a public agency's strategic planning. An agency sets goals to direct the activities of workers. These goals will be substantive and define the agency's program objectives. Managers and employees will make decisions to support these goals. Some goals are only symbolic, in that they meet the needs of the agency for serving political purposes. Employees are not usually motivated by symbolic goals.
Public employees do the work of government. They need managers who can set individual goals for them that are tied to their agency's operating goals. A good manager will help motivate an employee by combining organizational and departmental goals, as well as job-specific goals, with an employee's personal goals in a plan for the year. In this way, organizational and individual needs are served.
Employees might be motivated intrinsically to perform their jobs because at some time they were socialized into the idea of public service. This calling is important to them early in their careers. As employees advance in years of public service, they may experience decreased motivation by this calling, but they can be motivated by a performance management system.
Leaders in public agencies also serve as motivators. They lead by force of personality and by their example. Employees work harder for leaders they love because they believe in their cause. Although this type of group motivation is important -- especially when employees belong to an organizational culture that they assign a high value -- it is not enough to sustain an agency's performance over the long-term, as leaders will change over many years that employees serve in a public post.