How hybrid managers act as 'canny customers' to accelerate policy reform: a case study of regulator-regulatee relationships in the UK’s tax agency

Graeme Currie, Penelope Tuck, Kevin Morrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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– The purpose of this paper is to analyse role transition for professionals moving towards hybrid managerial roles. Specifically, the authors examine reforms to the national tax agency in the UK, focusing on attempts to shift hybrid managers away from a focus on tax compliance, to a greater customer focus. This extends understanding of the relationship between New Public Management (NPM) and the public professions, by offering greater insight into the dynamic between regulators and regulatees, as professionals are co-opted into management roles that encompass greater customer orientation.

– The authors draw on documentary data relating to reform from 2003 to 2012 and 43 semi-structured interviews with senior tax inspectors co-opted into hybrid manager roles.

– The findings support established accounts of the effect of NPM reform to public professions, as these professionals are co-opted into hybrid management roles. Some hybrid managers resist, others embrace the demands of the new role. Linked to a hitherto neglected aspect of analysis (the extent to which hybrid managers embrace a greater customer orientation) the findings also show a more novel third response: some hybrid managers leave the national tax agency for opportunities in the private sector. These public-to-private professionals the authors call “canny customers”. Canny customers are ideally placed to exploit aspects of NPM reform, and thereby accelerate changes in the governance of public agencies, but in a way that might undermine the function of the tax agency and tax professions.

Practical implications
– In regulatory settings, policy reform to co-opt professionals into hybrid managerial roles may have mixed effects. In settings where a focal dynamic is the regulator-regulatee relationship, effective governance will require understanding of the labour market to temper excess influence by those hybrid managers who become canny customers, otherwise, in settings where it is easy for individuals to move from regulator to regulatee, the pace and consequences of reform will be harder to govern. This runs the danger of eroding professional values. The specific case of tax professionals reflects themes in the literature examining hybridisation for accountants, and provides novel insight into the dynamics of professionalism that extend to the case of accountants.

– The contribution is to extend the literature on role transition of professionals. The authors focus on hybrid managers in the context of a regulatory agency: the UK national tax agency. Policy reforms associated with hybridisation emphasised customer orientation. The authors highlight labour market characteristics impacting the regulator-regulatee dynamic, and an as yet unexplored, unintended consequence of reform. The public professional who leaves for the private sector becomes a “canny customer” who can exploit and accelerate reform.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1291-1309
Number of pages19
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2015


  • customer
  • tax agency
  • public services
  • hybrid manager
  • New Public Management
  • Professionals


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