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A Minister Must Be A Manager


New TipsBy Suruj Rambachan

I have been pondering on what role a Minister should adopt to be successful in his/her Ministry. I have come to the conclusion that a Minister must take on the role of a Manager in addition to being a Leader. There is widespread belief that Ministers of Government are really there to formulate policies and give strategic direction to the affairs of the Ministry. There might be a lot of truth in this. However, I am of the considered view that being a Manger in the Ministry is of great importance. Implementation is critical and if there is one area which the public service suffers from is implementation. The Minister cannot escape responsibility for this.

In essence, a Minister as Manager in collaboration with the PS and staff  should plan the work of the Ministry, in line with the policies and objectives of the government as enunciated in the manifesto of the party in charge of the government. In addition, it is the responsibility of the Minister with the PS to organize the resources both human and material, as well as the structure needed to successfully implement and achieve the goals. Further, the Minister as Manager must motivate and inspire commitment to the goals and their achievement. In addition, a Minister must engage in performance monitoring in order to ensure that effort is strategically directed to the achievement of the goals. Finally, the Minister as Manager must measure and review performance so as to improve on the same both at an individual level and an overall Ministry level.

I can hear the screams of the public servants who in the first reaction would say that this is taking over the role of the PS and other Departmental Heads.  The Minister as Manager in no way is taking over the role of anyone, but is taking responsibility for performance. At the end of the day, it is the Minister and the Government who are called to account for delivery or non-delivery of goods and services to constituents and stakeholders. Driving performance is therefore a necessity on the part of a Minister as Manager.

The real issue is how to make this work in the  traditional bureaucracy and in a society where speed of delivery and flexibility is now demanded. The answer lies in the development of a functioning Performance Management System and not relying on an Appraisal System. An Appraisal System, important as it is, takes place after the fact. A Performance Management System (PMS) allows a Manager to guide performance, to make  strategic interventions and to keep the goals and objectives in mind . A Performance Management System allows for timely monitoring and performance tracking. A PMS is as it  suggests. It manages the performance of the employees

A Minister cannot successfully manage a Ministry without a Performance Management System. A PMS answers the question, “how can I help you to achieve your goals?” It is in asking and answering this question that I believe that a Minister becomes very proactive and performance/delivery driven. Results and high performance are still achieved as a result of the efforts of human beings, despite the best technology. Behaviour and attitudes count for a lot of organization  results.

In a functional Performance Management System, a Minister as Manager gets together with the PS and Departmental Heads and agrees on the Vision, Mission, goals and objectives of the Ministry. This shared vision must be internalized by the staff. It has to be communicated over and over. By sharing a common vision the potential for greater cooperation is enhanced. They also agree on Departmental goals and objectives with a time line in mind. They also agree on the resources and manpower as well as skill sets required to achieve the goals/objectives. The Minister must with the PS identify potential roadblocks and the Minister in particular must take greater responsibility to remove these roadblocks. This demands active  collaboration with colleague Ministers. It is only possible if the spirit of the relationship between the Minister and the Staff is upheld.

These agreements form the basis of a psychological contract between the Minister and the Officials. It is at this point that the role of the Minster as leader assumes greater prominence in the Ministry. It is only through inspired leadership where the Minister is able to help people make a connection between what they do and the purpose behind what they do, that people become motivated and give more than is expected. Purpose drives passion!

To make it work, there must also be a closer working relationship between the PS and the Minister. This relationship depends on regular conversations between both in order to clarify issues, to deal with stumbling blocks.  It takes a great amount of mutual respect and regard for the other person’s role and for the fact that the PS is accountable and has to meet the requirements of public service regulations and financial controls.

However, all of these rules do not necessarily mean that the bureaucracy shall rule! Rules are a means to an end. Sometimes it is the factor of public accountability that allows the bureaucracy to reign thereby slowing down the efforts of the public officers. In a society which has become more scrutiny driven of both government and public officials, public servants appear to have  developed a certain amount of  fear for decision making. It is here that Ministers have to play a greater role in giving critical support and themselves taking responsibility for the decisions. This is also a critical role of a Manager.

The Minister as a Manager is a necessity. It does not mean that he is any less a leader.

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