PMS Can Improve Public Service

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By Eddie Shimwetheleni Amkongo

– Whether a Performance Management System (PMS) can improve the Public Service? Yes why not?

Background

This opinion is in response to above question raised by Mr Sebastian Kantema, Chief Regional Officer of Kavango Regional Council in the New Era daily of 7th March 2008, who invited sharing of ideas and support to Government’s efforts to implement the Performance Management System (PMS) across the entire Public Service of Namibia.

This is at my citizenry level without any regard to my current position at the Public Service Commission or weight as its Chairperson. The answer is supportive and an emphatic, yes!

Mr Kantema argued succinctly and concluded suggestively: “If the performance management system is to succeed in Namibia and be meaningful both to the employees and employers, then there is a need to make the process friendly and empowering … It is therefore imperative that work done by public servants be appreciated. The positive contribution and strengths need to be acknowledged and celebrated.”

I cannot agree more with Mr Kantema’s arguments that PMS can and will save the Namibian Public Service from the present culture of stagnation and noted general malaise, if it is conducted transparently, implemented fairly and democratically.

There is no denial that our service delivery and productivity are severely wounded by, and as a result of, skills shortage, red tape bureaucracy, over and/or conflicting regulations or interpretations thereof, lack of work ethics and some individual attitudes.

Furthermore, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that corrective measures are constrained and hampered by our democratic system in a country of laws.

Due to the prosaic or misinterpretation of democracy (call it infantile interpretation), public servants once confirmed as ‘permanent’ staff members in the Public Service become untouchables and can only be touched either through voluntary resignation, misconduct or by natural attrition. As lawyers are, by their very profession, there to defend their clients against their learned colleagues who are protecting the system, the latter in most cases are coerced to throw in the towel, not to say defeated. So, the system is lacking!

The purpose and uses of PMS are to improve individual and team performance, achieve organizational objectives, ensuring a shared understanding, provide processes for work planning, budgeting, empowerment of staff and coaching of competencies as well as individual potential.

In its objectives and goals, PMS is a systematic approach by which an institution/organization involves its employees in innovations, modernization and organizational improvement for effectiveness and robust service delivery.

The process communicates organizationally and reinforces individual accountability to fulfill the goals, track and evaluate individual(s) and team(s).

It equips staff members and public service officials with new skills and strategies, provides the necessary tools and introduces easy methods, approaches of problem-solving and resolution of challenges.

Thus, it’s important departure point is training, first. Comprehensive training ensures understanding and, in turn, the latter will promote competitiveness, change of work ethics and enhanced productivity.

Once that is achieved, even the question of shape and size of the Public Service will become responsive to the needs for which they were made.

PMS will change governance and performance methods

It is a simple organic process unless performance appraisal is subjectively implemented, i.e. if relevancies were given to factors of “whom you are” rather than objective factors of results of “what you do”.

The Performance Management System intends changing the way we govern and manage public affairs in Namibia, improves knowledge-sharing horizontally and vertically within, and amongst staff members/public service officials as well as communication with the citizens.

It is thus about building, if not, restoring trust as its center-piece. PMS has an inbuilt partnership mechanism in which leaders/managers share responsibilities for developing their staff members in such a manner that enable them to make contributions to the organization.

Thus, PMS is a co-owned process by the managers and the managed – it is a system of managing and self-management of people that will result in success for both the individual and the organization. It is therefore an all-inclusive friendly process by its very nature.

The public service of Namibia is the driver and translator of Government’s intentions into projects and programmes aimed at servicing its customers, the people. The future of what Government wants Namibians to be is spelled out in Vision 2030. Thus, the more we understand the usefulness of PMS, the better we can use it towards the actualization of that noble national goal, Vision 2030.

Hence, it is my humble submission in unequivocal support of Mr Kantema and, that, also for the PMS to succeed it has to include, Political Office-Bearers and the Business Fraternity or Private Sector.

Why political leaders are stakeholders

Inasmuch as it is a prerequisite that every staff member at every level is required to be part and parcel of and digest fully the elements and usefulness, beauty and unavoidability of the PMS, political commitment alone is not enough.

The system needs to be cascaded down from top. Also in the interest of harmony and avoidance of influence peddling, friction and administrative hiccups, comprehensive insight in PMS is core to guarantee spot-checks and trouble-shooting in the workplace.

This system has to be informed and linked to the Strategic Plans in place in all O/M/As as it cannot stand in a vacuum. Public service officials together with public service staff members in O/M/As translate into conveyors and/or passengers who must all board the same train before it leaves the station.

Any of these passengers once left behind, will not be on board and the train will never stop or come back to the station.

Equally, no train moves without the logarithm, lest, it is being pushed. Thus, the PMS has to be holistic, democratic and all-inclusive to serve its purpose and succeed.

Increased service delivery will arise from well-trained staff members (trainers and trainees), proper structures, synergized and modernized methodically, managerially and technologically.

The management structures and the rules of engagement need to be clear, simplified, followed and adhered to, by all stakeholders and communication should take place in a single file and language at all levels, to eliminate any lackadaisical approach and the tautology of saying different things to different audiences.

Once consensus is built on who and how the PMS system has to be applied, developmental objectives and government programmes will be the beneficiaries.

ROADMAP: The roadmap with clear sign-posts is contained in the PMS General Principles and Framework, as well as the supporting PMS Training Toolkit. In the pursuance of and to render services in line with the above principles, we need in Namibia, a Public Service which values:

PROFESSIONALISM: A public servant is professional, apolitical and ethical in his/her conduct and consistently displays integrity in all his/her actions.

FOCUS ON PEOPLE: A staff member conducts the business of the Public Service in an environment that recognizes, upholds, caters for and fosters the right and needs of the diverseness of people. All service users, customers and staff are treated at all times in a fair, non-discriminatory and equitable manner. No subjectivity of “whom you are” but objectivity of “what you do”.

RESPONSIVENESS: A staff member actively contributes to deliver high quality, cost effective services and engages in consultation on, is sensitive to and actively responds to the needs of his/her service users, the people of Namibia and its environment within available resources, as the primary focus of the service sector.

INNOVATION AND VALUE ADDING: A staff member conducts his/her business in a creative and pro-active manner and continuously strives to improve services through managed risk-taking, practicality and learning at all levels, facilitating an environment for and resulting in added value for the people of Namibia and its service users.

The measure of success of the Public Service’s performance is reflected in increased productivity, excellent services and improved quality of life as envisaged in Vision 2030.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The business of the Public Service and the actions of a staff member are conducted in a manner that can be upheld under objective and open scrutiny. A public servant can and is answerable to his/her service users and the taxpayers of Namibia for all his/her actions.

Why performance appraisal system failed

The design and implementation methodology of Performance Appraisal assessment was generic rather than strategic. The system did not contain clear monitoring and selection criteria to spot the best performing staff members. The application of the system partly required staff members to assess themselves, but without clear guidelines.

Managers and supervisors played it safe by giving ‘excellent’ or ‘very excellent’ randomly, which went together with extravagant monetary bonuses as a reward. The system became unsustainably too costly to treasury.

Performance Management System on the contrary equips leaders, managers and staff members at all levels with a set of tools, skills and techniques, and that, there must be mutually agreed upon objectives between the supervisors and the supervised before implementation.

PMS will and can only fail if we assess “who” rather than the results “what you do”.

Award meritorious public servants

Certificates as awards publicizing successes of best performing individuals are a great booster of morale. Simple incentives such as photographs on notice boards revitalize morale of staff members to feel recognized and that whatever they have done well was appreciated. A discontented Public Service charged with the social and economic development and government programmes is a retarded time-fuse device, hence, incentives and morale boosting of meritorious staff members.

Conclusion
In short summary notwithstanding other elements: A PMS is an approach to achieving a shared vision of the purposes and objectives of the organization (O/M/A), helping each staff member to understand and recognize his/her contribution to the Strategic Intent and thus manages and enhances the performance of that specific O/M/A.

It is an approach to managing people that facilitates the achievement of results by planning staff performance, implementing strategic Staff Development and reviewing performance.

It articulates organizational strategic objectives in terms of individual performance, results and priorities, and by doing this, is a way of motivating staff members to achieve their full potential in line with the O/M/As relevance and Strategic Plans.

Finalement: I still have to be persuaded otherwise, why all our reform programmes in Namibia are not directly placed under the tutelage and supervision of an independent space such as the Public Service Commission.

The current scenario whereby the Government is reforming itself is akin to a knife trying to cut its own handle! Our Public Service of necessity needs to re-shape its image and performance by conforming to a shift of new sets of strategies, approaches and trends encompassed in the PMS.

It must be borne in mind, however, that a precious stone cannot be polished without friction!

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