Civil servants Quo vadis

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Nov 1 2004, 05:30am hrs
Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs recent meeting with the secretaries to the government of India is noteworthy and a good signal to all civil servants that they must take heart to perform without fear or favour.

To do so, they must also revisit their values, purpose and competencies. Governance is no rocket science as most processes, if standardised and documented, are among the simplest. Inefficiencies and delays that hamper delivery are mainly due to lack of will. And these cannot be resolved by incentive mechanisms. e-governance projects, re-engineering and workflow suites are necessary but not sufficient to fix the poor results at all levels, which indeed are due to poor will rather than lack of wares.

In any case, changes in procedures and technology should be a process of natural graduation in a well functioning system noisy reform shows that it is a rusted system that creaks every inch.

Lack of will arises mostly from loss of public service values, purpose, and pride in service. Not being a profession, the civil services can be effective only if public service values drive behaviours.

Otherwise, bosses rather than values become important for earning approval in behavioural terms, the child state starts dominating the adult.

In some countries, this is described as a ladder syndrome nose in the bosses back while showing ones backside to all others. The target groups, the deprived, and oppressed will have no mindshare of such people powerful people occupy the entire mind.

Some civil servants believe their positions are bestowed by divine grace
Public service values and achievement motivation appear to go together
In a job starved country, some civil servants believe that their positions are property bestowed by divine grace. This property gives power, prestige and social status that need to be enjoyed.

Unfortunately, market developments since 1991 have diminished the perceived value of this property the Ambassador or Premier 118 is an apology to the Mercs, Skodas, Sonatas and SUVs. Private sector salaries, visible perks, quick money by even small-time businessmen spiral, as profit-making has been on a good track since liberalisation. An unthinking civil servant is tempted to join this track, having lost his own, which was that of public service. He is thus tempted to increase the value from his property in other ways some merely unethical and some clearly illegal by omission, if not commission.

The selection and promotion processes of civil servants have been improving along with new knowledge in many countries communication skills and general knowledge are not the main attributes required in the current world.

Competency is now a preferred approach that includes the aptitude or aspiration to apply them and is closely linked to achievement motivation. I had, as Chair Professor at the Administrative Staff College of India, trained groups of senior civil servants of whom only about 10% would have high levels of relevant competencies. These are the ones who maintain a sense of purpose, are guided by the values of public service, do not get easily distracted, overcome constraints innovatively and create benchmarks. Where they work, reform happens noiselessly.

Their satisfaction arises from the quality of their own performance and not the approval of the powerful. They practice leadership as an art of influencing others even the ministers in making the right decisions.

Public service values and achievement motivation appear to go together, giving the fortunate few, pride (not arrogance) and satisfaction with the career they have chosen. They balance well their family goals and career limitations.

They maintain a sense of purpose and do not race on the wrong tracks. They apply the principles of social cost-benefit analysis at every important decision point as they keep the target groups in mind and seek to maximise welfare.

They work swiftly to solve issues of time constraints and competing demands for scarce resources, and constantly apply trade-off matrices in their mind.

Civil servants need to re-visit these areas as well, for self-reform the enemy of good governance is indeed within the mind. Often, the horse-riders are more motivated than the horses and the challenge is to make the latter win races without whipping.

Monty Roberts, the legendary whisperer to wild horses, developed a way of talking to them that made them win great races easily. Hopefully, the Prime Ministers address will have a similar effect on all civil servants as they need more talking than training.