Right Direction, Slow Speed!

My professor of change management taught me that to plan for change one needs to understand change resistance factors, drivers for change, and then use the opportunity for leadership to effect the needed change.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had considered most of these factors and has executed his change agenda. What is now left is for excellent execution. But allow me to write about the intentions and desires for change implied by his ‘structure of his cabinet’.

In management theory, we say structure must always follow strategy. Therefore, if we read Najib’s cabinet structure, we can also read his strategy. Firstly, and positively, most of the ‘recently soiled corruption cases were dropped from his Cabinet’.

The most drastic being the infamous Khairy Jamaluddin. I was also glad to see the other acronym with the rhyme also dropped, good riddance it would seem. So, congratulations to Najib for resetting the nation, our Titanic, in the right direction.

I had written another piece, Right decision, wrong direction! when Pak Lah first announced his transition date! We are now at least tending towards the right, or improved direction.

Why do I then say that the speed is not fast enough? The cabinet is still too unwieldy with 25 ministries. Differentiation always requires integration in setting directions for both goal clarity and role responsibilities. The ministers can have clear and hopefully measurable performance targets, if Koh Tsu Khoon gets his act together.

But how does all this align and target the five mission statements in the Ninth Malaysia Plan? Who then is fully responsible for goal or mission alignment with role clarity? Integration with integrity is the greatest challenge of all human organisations. The cabinet is no exception.

Thirdly, I like the 30-day deadline for ministers and their deputies to set targets. Unless most organisations have a clear goal and role clarity within the framework of the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the ministers will get into ‘activity management syndrome’ with their secretaries telling them that their calendar for the next month is already full for the entire month!

Lack of political will

My advice to all ministers is to clear the calendar for one month and focus only on goal and target-setting with performance measurement indicators. Koh Tsu Khoon, my friend and colleague from the NITC days, please be advised that I do know of a Malaysian government ex-public servant from the PTD service who has been a consultant to the World Bank and the UNDP for Performance Measurement.

You do not need the McKinsey’s or the any of the Big 5 at the cost of millions. In fact, even the PM may remember that he had a Yang Di Pertua in Kuantan who undertook an outstanding model of measurement and performance management of the local authority when he was chief minister of the state.

In those days, ie, in the early 1980s, the Kuantan local authority was already undertaking performance measurement. In fact, even as late as 2003, we from the NITC Secretariat had launched a programme called the SLGGA for the Housing and Local Government Ministry. Why has the Smart Local Government-Governance Agenda (SLGGA) not been realised?

My answer is simple: lack of political will. The 30-day target shows political will and I want to ask the PM to keep his word; and be prepared to kick out the few ministers after the 30 days and the others will get a clear message.

Fourthly, having been a PTD Officer, and having rejected the privilege of becoming a secretary- general because I saw the demise of the ‘policy advisor role’ in the federal governance of this nation, there is now an opportunity for ministers to have policy advisors again. Why?

For example, the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister needs to tell the Performance Management Committee to be chaired by the PM how the ministry is going to create value for the national economy through science, technology and innovation.

To evaluate, one must set real new directions in science policy, technology policy and innovations policy and then measure them to state the achievements. The ability to measure is a function of the speed of travel and the benchmarks for direction. Unless we have markers for both direction and speed, one cannot say whether we are, in fact, moving in the right direction.

My good friends in the public policy field, the secretaries-general, have – for the first time really – to set up their own targets and directions and with policy alternatives to achieve them. These then become the ministers and the deputy ministers targets.

Plan for real performance

Fifthly, with two brand new ministers, that for the federal territory and for foreign affairs, we will get ministers without ‘legacies’ but who will be measured nonetheless. Therefore, the technology and processes of measurement will have to be put in almost immediately and the ministers do not even have the traditional 100 days of honeymoon that Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard explains are needed for ‘change masters.’

I wish them all the best and they do have secretaries-general who are up for the task, but they may be not be currently oriented to be evaluated in any significant way. The policy advice role will emerge out of this ‘measurement development process’.

Sixthly, I want to encourage all the deputy ministers to plan for real performance. Traditionally, deputy ministers did not have any specific role or responsibility because the law does not recognise them.

Najib was well-advised to ask for them to be assigned with clear and measureable roles, as they need to be mentored and trained for their role as ministers at the next change. Let me also encourage and challenge the lady deputy ministers to make it their mission to read and understand their subject matters and to become information experts so that, slowly but surely, they can grow up the knowledge and experience ladder.

Finally, I must thank the PM for continuing the use of the terms ‘integrity, competence and performance’ as a basis to evaluate your cabinet. I accept these words and will hold you accountable for the cabinet you say have the following values:

  • A sense of integrity and high standards, to preserve the public trust;
  • Talent and ability that we will need in these challenging times;
  • Loyalty to their party, their government and most importantly their country; and
  • A passion to renew our country for a new century.

I will pray for your new cabinet and your own family as they get used to the limelight of being in the public eye. May God continue to bless Malaysia under your promising leadership opportunities.

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