“Mek yuh ears dem ring-like Government phone!” – “Babylon Boops,” Lovindeer, 1986.
Minister of Labour Colin Jordan recently announced some changes to the administration of the largest employer of Barbadians – the Public Service.
Among the changes is the establishment of three “service commissions” to govern recruitment and selection practices across different branches of the service.
An Administrative, General and Professional Services Commission is to oversee “every day” clerical and administrative workers. The Protective Services Commission is to look after police, fire, prison, security, customs and immigration officers, and there will be a Teaching Service Commission for teachers.
Jordan said: “These measures will not only streamline the management of workers in the public sector but will also add greater efficiency to the process.”
He also announced that the post of Chief Personnel Officer would become Director-General of Human Resources.
The Minister explained that this new post would involve “providing human resources management advice to the service commissions, Permanent Secretaries and departmental heads, and to advise ministers in devising human resources strategies for the public service.
“The Director-General will also deal with selection, appointment, promotion and discipline and carry out human resource management audits throughout the service.”
Yes, these changes at the top may eventually improve some of the administrative issues at the top, but what about on the ground?
While there are some efficient and well-run departments out there with dedicated and pleasant employees, most Barbadians can attest to less than savoury experiences at state-run agencies.
How many of us have made a phone call to ask a question to hear the phone ringing endlessly, or if someone actually answers it, bounces us from pillar to post to equally clueless colleagues?
We still have to wait in long lines at departments, for example, the Barbados Licensing Authority, sometimes only to find out that “the machine is not working and we do not know how soon it will be back up”.
Or if a person who carries out a particular function is on holiday or sick leave, we have to wait until they come back to get our transactions done.
In 1995, the Owen Arthur Administration embarked on a Public Sector Reform programme which was aimed at removing some of the inefficiencies of the sector.
At that time, senior officers were supposed to communicate the changes to their workers; departments held workshops and seminars for their staff on different human resources and service-related matters; while some offices upgraded their telephone, computer, and queuing systems.
The Government Printing Department produced a booklet on telephone etiquette and a magazine entitled A Challenge to Change, which is still in production, dealing with HR matters and in some cases highlighting outstanding workers, as part of the package.
A quarter of a century later, can we truly say that it worked?
One of the issues faced then was that the majority of the senior public officers charged with implementing the changes were on the verge of retirement.
When we saw there was an issue with customer service across the board in Barbados, we set up the National Initiative on Service Excellence, which did make a few strides in the corporate world but did not seem to have any impact on the public service.
Can we truly “improve the way we do business”, as the old Public Sector Reform jingle once said? In a recent article on LinkedIn, Ron Johnson provided some insight as to how the Cayman Islands went about their reform process, which addressed some of the shortfalls of our earlier attempts at the end of the 20th century.
The man behind it is the islands’ Deputy Governor and Head of the Civil Service Franz Manderson.
Manderson began his work life as an hourly paid officer in the Immigration Department in 1981 and moved through the ranks to become Chief Immigration Officer in 2004.
He assumed his current position in 2012, and when he did so, he found public servants were not proud to be public servants and the private sector often complained that they were lazy and inefficient. Sound familiar?
So, Manderson and a team of officials developed a programme designed to ‘reimagine’ what the sector should look like.
But instead of the common practice of painting a vision of what he wanted things to look like, then trying to get buy-in from the staff, he spent an entire year listening to the employees in the public sector and using their insights to inform a larger strategic plan for the sector. In all, he and his team spoke to 600 government workers in meetings, workshops, conversations and huddles over the year.
After that, he charged the Strategic Reforms Implementation Unit to develop a strategic plan for the whole service, a process which also took a year. They then asked civil servants a basic question; if you could reimagine the civil service, what would it be like?
Following that, they identified a number of ‘innovation champions’ from across the service, who were responsible for looking at the recommendations made by the employees and determining their feasibility from an innovation standpoint.
They also identified and articulated a purpose and set of values that employees of the sector could relate to, then embarked on a ‘civil service roadshow’ pointing out all the findings of the listening tour.
Manderson then asked the public servants to hold him accountable for implementing the vision laid out by the public officers and challenged them to do their part in seeing it through to fruition.
The Caymanian government also engaged consultants to provide training, improved the efficiency of their operations from a technical standpoint, and provided more opportunities for their officers to gain further education.
So far the strategy seems to have worked, as an employee engagement survey carried out by the Cayman Island Portfolio of Civil Service showed that seven out of ten Government workers feel emotionally committed to their work, while 87 per cent of them said they were proud to be civil servants.
Another survey indicated that 93 per cent of Cayman residents were happy with the service delivery of public servants.
Any future attempt at Public Sector Reform, a phrase and logo which still appeared on letterheads from Government departments until recently, has to take into account the future growth and development of the sector.
Millennials now entering the civil service already think differently from their more mature counterparts; let us embrace some of their ideas instead of “shooting them down,” which only leads to frustration and eventually their departure from the service.
Rather, senior staff should embrace the changes and be willing to share their knowledge of the department’s operations built up over the decades they have spent there to help those who will ultimately replace them.
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