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Organizational goal ambiguity and public service motivation: evidence from Iran

Hassan Danaeefard (Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran)
Abdolali Ahmadzahi Torshab (Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran)
Masoumeh Mostafazadeh (A Private Firm, Tehran, Iran)
Jalil Delkhah (Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran)
Fahimeh Imanikhah (Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 September 2021

Issue publication date: 13 December 2022




The purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of organizational goal ambiguity (OGA) on public service motivation (PSM) considering the mediating role of job satisfaction (JS), performance appraisal (PA) and perceived organizational fairness (POF) in the Iranian public sector. This research also seeks to answer this question: to what extent PSM confirmed in Western countries is generalizable to the Iranian public sector?


A survey of 779 employees working in 16 ministries of Iran was administered. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and hierarchical regression were applied to test the model and the mediators.


The results indicate that OGA negatively affects PSM, and this relationship is mediated by JS, PA and POF. Furthermore, the research findings have varied across ministries, contract type, positions and gender. Most importantly, the generalizability of the PSM construct is limited in the public sector of Iran since two of four dimensions of PSM were confirmed, that is, an attraction to public service and self-sacrifice (compassion).

Practical implications

This paper provides managers and decision makers with a clear understanding of the effects of context (including goal ambiguity, the importance of employee's attitudes and HR systems in shaping unique intrinsic motivation for public organizations) on employee's PSM. Also, these findings show how they can manage and motivate employees to engage in PSM. By clarifying organizational goals or making an association between job tasks and higher-level goals, practitioners can stimulate PSM at work.


This paper advances a new and further understanding of antecedent and mediators of PSM in Iran. Also, it provides an explanation of its generalizability and the role of organizational climate in fostering it.



This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.


Danaeefard, H., Ahmadzahi Torshab, A., Mostafazadeh, M., Delkhah, J. and Imanikhah, F. (2022), "Organizational goal ambiguity and public service motivation: evidence from Iran", Personnel Review, Vol. 51 No. 9, pp. 2103-2128.



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