“The purpose of any organisation is to enable common men to do uncommon things...The organisation is, above all, social. It is people…” wrote Peter Drucker. The success of the civil service, the State’s executing arm, like the success of any organisation, rests on the integration of three pillars; people, process and systems.
To operate effectively the three pillars must be appropriately aligned. Even when these three are aligned, there are two additional components to ensure success; these are leadership and management.
Government objectives are broader than the narrower intent of private sector enterprises. Therefore, performance benchmarks in private sector organisations are easier to identify as they are focused on fewer deliverables than the civil service. However, given that resources are always scarce even for the State, both the private sector and the public sector must be conscious of achieving their objectives efficiently. Viewed from this perspective the principles of management are the same for both the public and private sectors as are the tools and techniques they employ.
In Part 5 of this series last week, we referred to the main findings of a diagnostic conducted in 2018 sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and reported in the publication entitled “Building Capacity in the Caribbean: The State of the Civil Service in T&T”. That report evaluated the efficacy of the human resource management (HRM) systems in the civil service using a methodology employed by the IDB in other Latin American countries.
Notwithstanding the existence of the Public Services Commission (PSC), the Chief Personnel Officer and the Director of Personnel Administration, the report concluded that the human resource management capability was underdeveloped. This resulted in an emphasis on personnel administration rather than the more strategic approach of human resource management with its emphasis on forecasting the civil service needs and continuously monitoring and adjusting its systems. Managing people goes beyond emolument concerns or the ability to hire, fire and discipline. Managing people issues also require leadership, management, planning and training.
For example, job descriptions used by the Service Commission to fill established positions date back to the mid-1960s when the last comprehensive job evaluation exercise was done. Therefore, the job descriptions do not include the competencies required to successfully perform the job or refer to skill sets that are no longer relevant. To manage a department successfully, jobs must be aligned and hierarchically organised in accordance with the requirements of individual departments.
This is not easy as there are over 70,000 civil servants, ministries are structured differently in accordance with workflows, and require different skill sets to achieve the department’s objectives. This has been recognised, and there is currently an ongoing job evaluation exercise, a by-product of which is to redo the job descriptions across the public service to ensure equity.
The report also noted the dependence on contract employees noting that the consolidation of 35 into 21 ministries in 2015, led to a marginal reduction in employment numbers. The reductions were associated with the elimination of certain contract workers and/or vacant positions. The report also notes that while ministries were consolidated, they were not integrated to achieve efficiency gains.
Neither the report nor the PSC has detailed the number of contract officers. How many contract officers who are public officers on secondment or leave of absence is unknown. But it is a regular practice. Relying on contract officers points to two weaknesses. The first is the inability to plan the departmental staffing levels. Second, the higher managerial or technical levels of the service are undermanned, whilst the lower levels are overstaffed as noted in the report. Contract officers are therefore a mechanism used to fill vacancies and provide services which are essential to the execution of the Government’s core functions.
Training deficiencies compound weak human resource planning. Modernisation means changed work processes, requiring the new procedures to be consistent and consistently applied. The new CROS requirements at the Companies Registry in the Ministry of Legal Affairs exemplify how easy it is to complicate business basics making it more unfriendly and bureaucratic. Whilst forms are online, it requires in-person visits to sort out matters and the instructions are often contradictory.
At more senior levels, training is associated with foreign courses the benefits of which are restricted to the person. This is of limited value as the benefits are not widely disseminated. Successful operations ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated or compounded. This can only be achieved if mistakes are acknowledged and used for training to ensure that the lessons are learnt, and systems adjusted. The Companies Registry is an outstanding, but unfortunate example of how things can go wrong.
Similarly, on-the-job rotational training is an uncomplicated way of ensuring that senior officers understand departmental functionality. An internal combustion engine has about 2,000 moving parts which must all work seamlessly if the car is to function smoothly. The same is true of interdepartmental/ministry cooperation which regularly misfires. Individual leadership and managerial competence become irrelevant if staff are not professionally trained or don’t understand their jobs and the system does not cohere.
Mariano Browne is the Chief Executive Officer of the UWI Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business.