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Eureka: A few more thoughts on public service
by Jay Gutman
2017-10-17 11:28:54
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It's not about bureaucracy, it's about how you treat the bureaucrats. Bureaucrats work with two systems of thought that frequently overlap: career progression and serving the people. In some countries, the career progression tracks are so complex and ambiguous that it becomes all that's on the public servant's mind, to the expense of serving the people. In other countries, despite good career tracks for public servants, the rules for serving the people are so complex and ambiguous that only the “crazy ones” stay in the system.

public1_400Career progression ambitions vary from country to country and from government to government. Some want power and titles at all costs, others want high pay and a good financial package. But having done research on this, I can somewhat confidently state that in most, if not all countries, the best career progression for public servants is as follows: they want emotional stability, they want stability in their personal life, they want their organization to be stable and they want to know how to carry out their day to day tasks.

In some countries some insist that titles or money are more important than emotional stability or say stability in one's personal life. But let's face it, I've personally worked for an organization where there was zero emotional stability and ended up eating half a meal a day. Thank heavens I quit after 6 months, otherwise I think I would be on a hospital bed or perhaps I wouldn't be alive. OK that's a personal example, so let me take that of organizations I have connections with that have zero emotional stability. I met and interviewed such people, and it was stories of people dying of overwork, collapsing in the office, trying to jump off the building or binging on antidepressants. You get the picture.

Let me break down for you what I mean by emotional stability, personal stability, organizational stability and the ability to get the work done. Emotional stability means an organization that does not indulge in negative emotions. No anger, no frustration, no jealousy etc: What I mean by personal stability is an organization that does not directly or indirectly lead to broken families and households. Breaking families or households can be done with constant negative emotions at the organization, and can also be done by overwork, underpay, late wages, lack of respect, ostracizing, frequent business trips, morally dubious business dinners or parties or anything that can lead to a family breaking down. Organizational stability is an organization where employees have clear wages, benefits and perks, as well as relations between colleagues based on mutual trust, ethics and respect. Finally, ability to get the tasks done means that employees are trained and know exactly how to get their work done while minimizing mistakes.

An unhealthy organization is of course one where the higher ups are constantly unsatisfied with their employees' work yet do not provide clear guidelines on how to get their work and tasks done. This is where the “serving the people” part of the brain starts kicking in. Employees need training and need to do their tasks with confidence. In some countries, workers have to change tasks or departments every year, say go from finance to human resources to marketing to public relations. That's when you don't get Jacks of all trades, but you get masters of no trade. This is when the people being served complain that public servants are not up to the task. So the idea is to allow public servants to get do the kind of work they are good at, give them clear and consistent guidelines on how to get their work done, and if possible let them take the initiative if the tasks they do become tedious and repetitive to them by giving allowing them to choose what new tasks they want to accomplish.

I know, as always, I'm being a little naive, optimistic and I know I lack rigor in my explanations. I know in most countries it's either the pay that is rarely on time, or you have strong inclinations towards nepotism where the boss's cousins are all paid but never show up, while that very same boss drives all of us crazy with unhealthy demands and unrealistic expectations. So this piece might only serve you if you and your organization have the best intentions for yourself and for the country.

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