Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Perfecting human resources

Mai Samih listens to possible solutions to the problems of the state’s bureaucracy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt is ranked 60 out of 140 countries in the burden of government regulation or red tape, according to the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report for 2015-2016. The country is ranked 139 out of 140 countries in terms of the availability of specialised training services. It is also 120 in terms of access to the latest technologies, and is ranked 95 in terms of individuals using the Internet.

Layla Al-Baradei is a professor of management at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University and associate dean at the American University in Cairo’s Faculty of International Affairs and Public Policies. She recently listed the main problems faced by government employees in Egypt in a lecture entitled “International Experiments in Administrative Reform and Lessons Learnt from the Egyptian Bureaucracy”.

“A quarter of the national budget is spent on the salaries of government employees, and this is why employees should be productive. According to the head of the Central Administrative Organisation, we only need 50 per cent of the employees who are appointed now,” said Al-Baradei.

“It is because of the sit-ins and the pressures they were subjected to that successive governments have had to appoint 600,000 part-timers or those working on temporary contracts in the government institutions. Another problem is the centralisation of decisions in some government institutions, which means that employees have to wait for the head of their department or minister to make a decision before they can act.”

In Egypt, there are about 6.4 million government employees, a huge number that threatens to overload the government. If the administrative organisation could be reformed, Egyptian citizens would be better serviced in everything from how they pay their electricity bills to organising the work of the private sector, she added.

The solution to these problems lies in reform, which Al-Baradei defines as a number of purposeful changes in the frameworks and operations of different organisations to improve productivity and meet goals. It could be exemplified in savings, improving the quality of public services, increasing the efficiency of the administrative body, and determining that policies are carried out effectively. Administrative reform is an ongoing process in developed countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Singapore, among others.

There have been cases where the process of administrative reform has not been successful, said Al-Baradei. The plans could be good but there could be problems in implementing them. In other cases, people in an institution may fight change that requires them to learn new skills and adapt to a new system. If a teacher is told to apply advanced methods of teaching, while he depends on traditional methods like making students memorise, he may not be open to using advanced technology or giving students the space to think and discuss.

“Another reason for the failure of administrative reform is the lack of continuity and willingness to do it,” added Al-Baradei. “For example, in Egypt we have witnessed many cabinet reshuffles, and when it comes to reform many officials do not start from where the previous ones stopped but prefer to start all over again from zero.”

She added that it is not possible to take over a successful reform model from another country and then simply apply it in Egypt. There are differences between countries, and there are aspects that have to be changed to fit the context of the country that will apply the reform, she said.

“In my view, effectiveness, doing the right thing, is better than proficiency, or doing things right. The most important thing is results,” she said. So if, for example, a student has a paper to submit it doesn’t matter how many hours it takes him to do the research. What matters is that he does it properly in the end.

Any administrative reform should be built on the expectations of citizens and should provide them with better and more efficient services. The complaints of citizens should also be taken into consideration to help improve services. Services presented to citizens by the government are the criteria that they judge its performance by, said Al-Baradei.

Some positive steps have been taken to end centralisation in decision-making in government organisations in Egypt, among them those implemented in Qena schools by the Ministry of Administrative Reform and the Ministry of Local Development and implemented from 2014 to 2015.

In developing human resources (HR), Al-Baradei lists four successful attempts in four countries. In South Africa, a performance-management model was applied that focuses on results and makes the minister or manager concerned responsible for them, for example. Before the new model was introduced, a manager was considered successful if he was able to spend the money on the projects that he was supposed to spend them on.

Modelling reform: Reinventing Government, a book by US authors David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, lists 10 standards to help governments improve their HR performance.

They include different kinds of government, including catalytic (in which the role of government is “steaming rather than rowing”), community-owned (“empowering rather than serving”), competitive (“injecting competition into service delivery”), mission-driven, results-oriented, customer-driven, enterprising, anticipatory, decentralised, and market-oriented (“leveraging change through the market”).

Al-Baradei refers to the models reviewed in the book, and also mentions the “e-shame initiative” of the Central Vigilance Commission in India, which focuses on fighting corruption. Under the scheme, any government official or member of an NGO who is charged with corruption is exposed on a website that posts information about his case. The media is allowed to publish this information in order to “shame” them and prevent new cases of corruption from occurring. Today, there is an administrative monitoring body to help fight corruption in India. It was previously affiliated to the government but is now independent.

Another model is that of the Singapore public service which focuses on rapidly serving citizens by applying the three values of integrity, service and excellence. Promotions in Singapore are competency-based, meaning that candidates for promotion in government service are put through tests.

Training is typically 100 hours for each government employee, and many government employees are paid higher salaries than employees working in the private sector. There are work-improvement teams that monitor governmental institutions, see where the problems are, and present solutions to them. They also organise competitions such as the “Hackathon”, which encourages young people to use their talents to develop governmental institutions.

In Dubai, a model of e-government has been introduced that provides citizens and companies with the information and services they need via the Internet. This saves time and helps to reduce corruption. More than 1,600 e-services are available to citizens in Dubai, and a similar system is being introduced in Egypt.

Hani Nabil, 30-year-old graduate of the Faculty of Arts who has also studied human resource development, talent management and organisational development, has come up with a software called “Performly”. The software provides employees with training opportunities after tracking their points of professional weakness. “I was dreaming of having a job in the form of software instead of paper to help managers and employees across organisations,” Nabil said.

“I started Performly with a team, and we have been working on it for more than two years. It is a performance-management, cloud-based software that we use to help us manage employees and determine goals for them to reach throughout a given year. It helps develop these employees as it states the points of weakness that they need to work on. This helps employers monitor and give employees annual feedback.”

The information is displayed in the form of performance bars that help employers see the achievements of employees over the year. This enables them to assess the performance of the employees. “The employee himself can ask for a report on his progress at any time of the year. The software is composed of objectives and behavioural competences (like teamwork, communication, etc.). For each employee there is a profile and a job description that differs according to each job of an employee,” added Nabil.

The software offers a library of common objectives, like achieved job targets and achieved job revenues, that employers can use. They are the ones who do the breakdown of these specific objectives to suit their type of jobs. It was launched during the Rise Up Summit, organised by the American University in Cairo in December 2015, that aimed to connect entrepreneurs to sources of funding.

According to Nabil, the software is mainly designed for organisations that need specific goals to be set for their employees and evaluations to be done. The programme also facilitates one-on-one meetings between an employee and his or her manager, which is why there is a template of questions with answers in the programme. Another option is that an employer can set daily tasks for himself or for his employees and link them to main objectives. This makes him a “task manager” for his own daily work.

Improving motivation: The team started internal programmes two or three years ago, helping managers to manage their employees.

“I did some research to see what performance management did in other industries. This helped me make some updates to the software. The tradition was that the programme was used once or twice per year for evaluation. Now the trend is to make its use ongoing, because both employers and employees need frequent feedback on their targets and their performance. I want to see it used on a daily basis,” Nabil said.

“Statistics say that many employees in organisations are disengaged and demotivated. That is either because they are not in the right place or because they have bad managers. Performly helps tackle the problems in the relationships between employers and employees by helping employees to be clear about where they are,” he added.

“I want to facilitate communication and feedback and development through Performly. It helps you to have objectives and become a more effective, more productive employee and more engaged in your work so that you are a part of your evaluation.”

Using the software is the responsibility of the employer and the employee, unlike in older programmes where a manager was responsible for everything, like determining objectives and doing evaluations while employees would just watch.

Fady Antaki, the CEO of A15, the company that funds Performly, provided more details about the initiative. “A15 is a group of companies with more than 15 commercial entities. We generate revenues of $100 million per year. Our companies are divided into core companies that have been there for more than 10 years and starters that are either companies we have started or ideas we have just invested in to make them companies. These include Ehgezli (book for me), Dish Dino (an online home-made food service), Performly, T-pay and Mazzika,” he said.

He added that the latter are dealt with in a different way as they get more support in terms of marketing, finance and HR because they are still small and can’t afford to have all these functions within them. As a result, they receive shared services with the core companies through a department called “Catalyst”.

Performly and Dish Dino will receive around $250,000 next year to increase and grow their businesses, says Antaki. “Through Catalyst we are launching these companies. We invested in Ehgezli two years ago and grew T-pay and Mazzika to become independent companies. We started them as ideas and now they are separate companies. So far we have invested around $1 million in the startups,” said Antaki.

“We have been asked if we will give the government a copy of our software, but this requires an Arabic version to be made. We are working on this and plan to finish it by the end of 2016,” Nabil said, adding that it will be available to government institutions.

According to Al-Baradei, the lessons learnt from the different models of administrative reform under review are that there must be a political willingness to change government HR systems and take from the models what is appropriate for a country like Egypt. Politicians should not succumb to political pressures and appoint more employees than are needed in government institutions, she said.

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