Bureaucratic reform is about change. Change can only happen because there are efforts to deliver excellent outputs with unparalleled service quality that satisfy the public as final users of the goods and/or services. Leading thinkers and practitioners have claimed the importance of leadership in bureaucratic reform – and yes, we do not deny about it. However, there are cases where some government agencies have implanted good leadership, but still no change happen. Or, if the change happened, it happened only temporarily. Why? One of the reasons is because people in the organization do not act upon the changes they must take. People might not believe about the change and do nothing about it. They only make some peripheral changes to satisfy the Boss. Or, they might do the other way around that in the end does not produce better outputs. This can happen because people do not know how to change.
The leadership element must be expanded further into the necessity to implant culture change that make people take action consistently. The premise is actually simple and very basic: it requires action to materialize a vision or goals. The key here is taking action. Why people do not take action? It’s because they are afraid that their action would not bring the organization better, they’d rather stay with the existing mode of operations.
There are three reasons for culture change: an urgent need in taking action; build attitudes before change; and the need to create disciplined people, disciplined action and disciplined thought. On the first part, it has been in a public knowledge that government employees procrastinate. There is no sense of urgency on accomplishing promptly let alone faster than expected. This has become a serious disease that must be killed if we want true reform happens. We are sometimes surprised if we experience a prompt service from a government agency. This demonstrates how bad the service is. This is not a stand alone matter as some of us experienced the case where the prompt service was promised in exchange of financial return which we call as bribery. We all know the facts from the public that if we want things processed promptly then we are expected to give something in return. This must be eliminated first as top priority prior to discussing some other matters. Why? It’s useless to say that the service is fast but the public must pay certain amount of monies. We must make it clear that the government employees are paid by Government, through monthly salary, to serve the public. That’s why embedding a culture of clean practices must be built first.
Any change requires two things, ie. what must change and the will to change. Before things change we have to build the will to change. In other words, we have to build the right attitudes to change and then make the change happens. There is no eternal change happens if it’s not preceded by attitude change first. This is not an easy task and it can not be taken lightly. Leaders must pay very close attention on this non-technical aspect. For example, if a certain government agency plans to implement e-procurement, it must start first on the non-technical aspects by addressing first on people’s feelings, interests and concerns to create right attitudes. Many e-procurement initiatives failed due to narrow focus on technical aspects and do not take people’s feelings, interests and concerns. This is ‘not’ to say that we have to follow what people want but we must address their feelings, interests and concerns and move forwards with tangible actions.
To move from existing condition to great, we need disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action (Collins, 2001). What this all mean is that to sustain and grow professionally, government agencies must focus on building their employees to be disciplined in their day-to-day behaviors. This will not bring the agency excellent as having disciplined people is just the first requirement that must be met. The agency must push the envelop harder into having disciplined thought. It requires attitudes to take action. Government agencies who practice the habit of taking well-thought-of action to achieve the goals will eventually bring them great. Under these circumstances we can say that the reforms have succeeded.
The intriguing question is how to perform a culture change? Before we discuss the matter, it must be noted very importantly that change will happen and sustain if it involves as many employees as possible in the process. Change is not about Boss’ decision but it’s a harmonized combination between direction setting and employees involvement. What it means here is that the Boss must decide first on the need to perform culture change – the direction setting. How the change should happen, it must involve employees. The premise is simple: do not change, facilitate. It’s because the employees must be treated as intelligent adults, not kids. Authoritarian style does not work for an eternal change. The Boss as an effective leader must facilitate the process of performing culture change. It must start with the process of visioning and the establishment of core values and key behaviors, involving as many people as possible. Once the core values and key behaviors are established it must then be followed with creation of change agents who are expected to accelerate the culture change.
Culture change is not an academic exercise. It is grounded down into the shop floor where the actions take place. To deliver results, it requires enablers. Culture change is key enabler for reform. An excellent culture change must impact to employees at the lowest level of hierarchy, even up to the janitors. They are the ones who deliver – the doers – and they are the ones who have direct contact with the public. Therefore, a culture change program must be carefully designed considering change management principles. 70% of change initiatives failed. The 30% who succeeded, they implemented change management principles.
The writer is a member of Functional Team
Vice Minister of Administrative Reform (KemenPAN & RB)
The opinions expressed are his own.