16 August, 2022


Rejuvenating The State Sector: A Reality Or A Dream?

By Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

Hon. Minister of Finance, Mr. Ravi Karunanayake recently presented the “Yahapalanaya” government’s second budget which included the government intention on introducing plans to remodel the underperforming profit and non-profit organisations in the state sector. Hon. Minister clearly stated that the government intention is to establish a more efficient and effective process with a degree of de-bureaucratization which will ensure an improved friendly public service. The government should be applauded for taking the brave initiative to implement this long over-due policy which will play a major part in providing an efficient and effective public service to the nation, if properly thought, planned, and implemented without political interference. It is worthwhile discussing some of the proposals tabled by Mr. Karunanayake to find out whether they are practical in implementation to achieve the desired goals.

Top-down or Bottom-up Approach?

Clarifying the Sri Lanka’s position the Hon. Minister of Finance stated, “Ours will be a top-down process, we are all public servants. It is a novel approach to ensure public servants across the board perform as they should, and that ministers themselves are not exempt from review.”

The Hon. Minister’s top-down approach to resolve the inefficient performance issues in the state sector appears to be on the wrong path for two reasons. Firstly the top-down approach is not a novel approach. In the developed world more and more public and private enterprises are abandoning the top-down approach which fails to create excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment amongst the workforce. Since independence we are advocating the top-down approach in our government institutions with very little sign of improvement in the service. The reason is the “top” has failed to motivate the workforce to provide their services more efficiently and economically. It appears that most of our current leaders in the state sector are autocratic and they have primarily based their leadership style on “more telling” than listening to their employees. It is widely accepted in the developed world that the lack of participation of the workforce in determination and implementation of delivery processes and procedures in the workplace is a major contributory factor for under performance. The bottom-up approach will allow the workforce to actively participate in the whole process from inception to completion.

The other reason the top-down approach forces the workforce that they have to work to achieve the objectives set up by the leadership. Even if this approach works, it is a short-term solution. The bottom-up approach changes the mind-set of the workforce that they want to work to achieve the desired goals. The workforce should feel that they own the processes and procedures of delivery rather than imposed on them by the ‘top’. This is a long-term sustainable approach which increases the efficiency of delivery.

The following diagram illustrates the difference between the Have-to-do performances against the Want-to-do performances.adapted-from-tube-lines-leadership-programme

In order to create the change of mind-set the “top” need to motivate the workforce. There are several ways of motivating the workforce such as performance based reward schemes as proposed by the Minister of Finance, and encouraging the workforce to come up with proposals to change the way they are currently carrying out works to improve the efficiency of delivery. This can be done by creating a Change Council headed by the CEO or the Chairman of the institution to give the high profile status to encourage the workforce to participate in changing the existing culture. Monthly financial rewards for the three outstanding efficient and eeffective changes proposed by the employees will motivate the workforce to come up with innovative ways of delivering the service in a more efficient and economic manner.

It must be said that the bottom-up approach alone is not the complete solution. But it is far better than the top-down approach which is being phased out by the forward looking successful public and private enterprises. It is advisable, in Sri Lanka to adopt a mixture of the two approaches to have a perfect solution to achieve the desired goal of effective and efficient delivery of our public services.

High Level Committee

The Hon. Minister of Finance further stated that he would appoint a High Level Committee to make recommendations with respect to the comprehensive reform package. I wonder whether the Hon. Minister is suggesting that he wants to come up with a “One Size Fit All” solution to the ineffective and inefficient services provided by the state institutions. I do think that it would be appropriate for each institution to come up with their own proposals to improve the management of performance of these institutions based on general guidelines such as setting out clear set of objectives relating to Planning, Delivery, Cost, Performance, and Risk. Accountability and the Responsibility for these tasks should be clearly identified in their proposals. I believe that the “Reform Package” should be designed and owned by the each of these institutions and not by the members of a “High Level Committee” who have little or no knowledge of how these institutions are run at the coal face. Hope the Hon. Minister of Finance will not spend millions of rupees creating a “White Elephant” with political stooges and “old school ties” to tell these institutions how to deliver their services more efficiently and effectively.

Structural Changes

Public Enterprise Development Deputy Minister, Mr. Eran Wickramaratne has recently stated that the government would set up a “Public Enterprise Board’ which would ensure that fit people are placed at key positions in each of the enterprises. He also stated that his ministry’s primary goal would be to de-politicise and commercialise the state-owned enterprises.

I whole heartedly agree with the Hon. Deputy Minister but the problem lies with the other senior Ministers who would ignore these important measures to appoint their political stooges without sufficient experience and qualifications to manage the state owned institutions. The general public who overwhelmingly voted to oust the previous regime for appointing their family members, friends, and political supporters to the state institutions, expected the new government to act differently. But unfortunately so far the public have witnessed the same old mal practices by the members of this government too by appointing family members, ‘old school ties’, and political supporters to the state institutions without sufficient experience and qualifications. The public wants to know how the Hon. Deputy Minister who I consider as one of the honest and highly respected leaders in the political arena, would solve this problem with the so called “senior” ministers. I genuinely wish the Hon. Deputy Minister will acquire the sufficient courage, political support and exercise his leadership quality to implement the process as advocated by him.

Application of DCOM

While whole heartedly supporting the policy of rejuvenating our state owned institutions as proposed by the government, I appeal to the ministers to look at the maintaining consistent performance of these organisations in the long-run. Performance is a combination of results and behaviours. In order to maintain a sustainable performance, I would like to draw the attention of the responsible ministers to consider the DCOM approach (adapted from Bechtel Corporation Leadership programme) to successfully implement this very important policy decision. DCOM is classified as follows:

D – Direction
C – Competence
O – Opportunities
M – Motivation

Direction – The Direction must come from the leadership to clearly define the focus and priorities and to align the efforts of all employees to ensure what is expected from each member of the staff. Lack of direction from the leadership will create “chaos” in the work place. Isn’t it a familiar story in most of our state owned institutions? Can we rejuvenate the public organisations having political stooges and “old school ties” with no qualifications and experience as leaders to run these organisations?

Competence – A competent workforce should be in place to deliver the desired objectives set up by the leadership. In order to perform the tasks successfully sufficient resources with technical skills, work process skills, and management skills are needed in the workplace. Having competent people with the correct authority to influence and make decisions will help to deliver the goods and services economically and efficiently. Dumping political supporters with no adequate skills and qualifications to public organisations is a “tradition” which is practiced by the ruling party members. Can the “rejuvenation” overcome this mal practice?

Opportunities – The workforce should be provided with the necessary tools, materials, time, space, technology, people, and training which are required to complete the tasks in hand. It is a fact that some office environments are not suitable to uplift the morale of the workforce to carry out their daily tasks in a more efficient and effective manner. Spending millions of rupees purchasing luxury cars and comfortable office spaces only for the selected few do not give opportunities for the workforce to perform well. Can the “rejuvenation” deliver a fair and reasonable deal for all employees?

Motivation – Motivation has been defined as the effective use of consequences, creating an environment where people want to, rather than have to, perform at high levels. Working very closely with the workforce, early and effective communication, introduction of various reward and recognition schemes, team building exercises, training and open communication to educate all employees to align with the common behavioural culture of the organisation are some of the important factors which will help to motivate the workforce. The traditional “blame culture” should be avoided and mistakes must be regarded as part and parcel of the learning curve. Clear expectations of performance, measures to assess performance, provision of feedback on performance and delivery consequences should be in place to support motivation.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope that the government will appoint leaders who will find ways to engage the workforce, generate their excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment because its people who hit targets, beat budgets, improve quality, and deliver efficient and effective service. It appears that if anyone of the above mentioned attributes is missing from the process of rejuvenating the state owned institutions, the government’s desired goal of achieving an effective and efficient performance management in our state owned institutions will not become a reality and it will remain as a dream for a very long time.

*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    How about quality of education, work ethic, commitment, disciple and societal pressure to bring about the best our public servants and politicians?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0

    Every appointment is handed over by a minister. Do they exepct any performance from employees.

    there is a Youtube clip available, just made a few weeks ago, and in that CBK says, she gave about 7000 jobs to Attanagalla people and once they got the job, they don’t look at her now.

    She is getting to get her son elected.

    Treat the root cause. Otherwise, all these graphs and talks are wasting time.

    I don’t think politicians expct performance.

  • 0

    “Rejuvenating The State Sector: A Reality Or A Dream?”

    It is a dream.

    Sri Lankan politicians are simply fraudulent buffaloes. They will achieve nothing. With their grubby hands in every state sector projects how can they turn anything around.

    Just see the recent BBC interview with Ravi Karunanayaka. An A grade buffalo.

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