Improving public sector |
Arab News - 15 June, 2012
The news this week that thousands of Saudis are quitting safe jobs in the state sector for less secure work in private business, highlights the fact that people, especially young people, want the job satisfaction and better pay the civil service cannot provide. Public servants are often characterized as uncaring and at times incompetent. For some, perhaps too many, if they do not feel like going in to work one morning, they stay away. They can do this, and be almost certain that their absence will not be noticed — except by citizens who were relying on them to be at their desks that day, discharging whatever responsibilities they have. It is a very different matter in most private companies which have to earn a living in the market place so that their shareholders can make a decent return and more importantly, so that all their employees can be paid. The crucial element, of course, is management. In the private sector managers are required to learn their job, often starting out in junior positions and working their way up through merit to key roles, where they have the power to hire and fire. They need to inspire and get the best from their people. They need to spot problems when they occur and fix them. Successful companies do not waste funds. They cut unnecessary expenditures and manage costs, working in tandem with executives in the accounts department. When a company starts to lose money on a deal, managers move quickly to find out what is wrong and put it right. At the heart of every successful company is a wage structure that rewards good performance with good pay, recognizes outstanding achievements with bonuses and deals with incompetents by “letting him or her go”.
This way, good managers motivate employees in the private sectors to do their best. With some honorable exceptions, the concept of management through motivation in the public sector, simply does not exist. An official who fails to discharge his duties in a timely manner, if indeed at all, may seem the obvious person for a member of the public to blame. However, the reality is that that official is hardly responsible. Rather it is the system in which he is working, that lets down the public. It lets him down too. In many economies nowadays, civil servants refer to members of the public as “customers” or “clients”. Odd though this may sound, it gets over the idea that those working in the public service have to “serve” the public, every bit as well as a waiter might bring a meal or a baker sell bread. The idea of a duty of service to the state and its citizens is hardly uppermost in government organizations, especially at the point where they interface with the public or indeed private sector companies that rely on them for permissions and licenses. The lack of this ethic throughout much of the civil service, arises from management. If managers do not use their position to implement proper systems for the efficient running of their part of the government service, however small, then it cannot be expected that more junior staff will perform properly.
In the private sector, the principles of management are ever more ingrained. Project analyses are thorough-going, embracing the SMART principle, which Specifies an undertaking, works out how it can be Measured, ensures that it is both Achievable and Realistic and last, but not least, that it can be delivered within an agreed Time-frame.
Not all businesses of course, yet work so well. But companies that have to earn their way in the world increasingly acknowledge the absolute necessity of the Three Ms — Management, Motivation and Money.
There are centers of excellence within the public sector. The question is whether examples of their best practice can be rolled out throughout the government service. The time will undoubtedly come when the Kingdom will start emulating North America and Europe and start recruiting successful businessmen to take on key roles within the civil service. For now, though, the private sector is busy accumulating management talent, which it would not want to lose. However, equally, the public sector should be concerned that those who are quitting for jobs in business, the figure was 12,000 last year, are perhaps among the brightest and the best of the civil service, whom they cannot afford to lose.