Bureaucratic Reform Made Simple:
Start With Three Things
From The Top
The ultimate aim of bureaucratic reform is to create clean government that serves the public competently. It spells out clearly on the need to have civil servants with good integrity and high proficiency to deliver excellent services to the public. The critical problems of Indonesia’s bureaucracy have long been identified and they can be categorized into two major categories, i.e. the people – i.e the civil servants – and the system. Problems on civil servants have long been identified and action plans based on robust grand strategy have been articulated. But, as we all have observed nothing happened significantly that improves the public service. What’s wrong?
Sense of Urgency
In most cases, there is basically no sense of urgency to make things that were articulated nicely in the grand strategy happen in the real world. Staff return back to normal, as usual, day-to-day activities after they come back from a retreat to devise the grand strategy. Plans that were put nicely on monthly, quarterly and yearly basis are procrastinated with many stories like ‘we have so many things with the routine work and no time to follow-up the plans we discussed during the retreat’ and many more excuses. People at the top are very busy with external affairs that really consume their time and energy. The plans are then delayed to the following week and it then recur another week until monthly review is due. The original plans are then revised to be more realistic. This cycle happens repeatedly and at the end only trivial activities get some progress while the big plans are becoming insights not actions.
Much have been said on the importance of leadership to drive bureaucratic reform – addressing both people to make things happen and improving the system, i.e. the policies and business processes. Simply said, it takes one man to change the government agency: the leader at the top. In 1836 Lt Col William B Travis (1809-1836) was in command of the garrison at the Alamo, San Antonio, in the breakaway Republic of Texas. He unsheathed his sword, drew a line in the dirt with it and gave the men the choice: ‘Whoever will stay with me and fight to death with me, step over the line!’. All but one crossed the line.
Travis sent signal to his men that there was no room to step back but to move forward with the war. He brought only those who crossed the line and did not care with the one who didn’t. Bureaucratic reform is a war that any leader in the government agency must fight. It’s not about bricks, mortals and ammunition – it’s a war against the mind of the people who think their job as entitlement instead of duty. This is not an easy thing to crush as people might say politely that they want the reform and they think that they have reformed – others have not. It’s the job of the leader to navigate change in the agency he or she leads. Otherwise, he is not a leader.
Start with Simple Things
The single critical job of a leader in any government agency is to change people’s mindset: from entitlement to duty, from being served to serving, from corrupt to clean, from incompetent to competent. This can only be done by creating experiences that people in the organization can easily see and observe. An experience is basically an action demonstrated by the leader, deliberately, eg. : serving the public, greeting whoever he meets, making his own coffee – not being served, being punctual in any meeting and other reformed behaviors.
To make changes easily identified by the people in the organization he needs to focus on top three actions to create experience. Connors & Smith (2011) suggested that to change culture effectively the leader must select simple actions that he deliberately design to create experience. The aim is to make people believe that the agency is changing and expect the people to take actions that relate to the experience(s) created by their leader. If all of these happen in cause and effect relationship, the actions performed by the people in the organization will deliver better results; better service delivered by competent and clean civil servants. Why only top three actions? It serves two reasons: first, the Leader can easily manage the activities by himself and pay attention to detailed implementation; second, for the people in the organization, they do not need to see many things as they only observe three actions. It’s quite easy to monitor and evaluate when it’s not numerous. Once the three actions have been successfully implemented it would be much more easier to roll-out other initiatives with bigger scheme and higher impact.
The first example of actions can be something about punctuality in attending meeting. It has become an understandable circumstance in any meeting with government agency that starts late by fifteen or in some cases thirty minutes. It’s not a good thing because it sacrifices people who come to the meeting on time and waste their time waiting for the meeting to start late. But this is a normal circumstance in any government agency so that many people understand it. If the Leader starts to demonstrate his punctuality, being the first one to be present at the meeting room, it will create strong and positive signal that the agency has changed to the better in time management. The impact of this will be enormous as the people in the organization would emulate the experience created by the leader. This seems simple but the impact is so powerful.
In most government agencies office area we find many strategically located car park are dedicated to high rank officials – Echelon 1 – in the agency. The area is usually right in front of the main lobby that makes the high rank officials have close access to his car. This is really useless as many high rank officials have their own driver to find car park in the other area of the office. This car park allocation must be given to visitors whom the agency must pay due respect. This second action is simple and tangible; it creates good signal to the staff that the Echelon 1 has changed by giving away their car park allocation. As this is an example from the people at the top, it is expected to have impact to staff whom they might switch their mind into service mindset.
The third action could be to exercise the individual reporting of civil servant’s assets. Implemented carefully, this initiative will create significant lever for change. By definition, people are basically reluctant to declare their assets irrespective they are corrupt or not. As the demand for clean government is emerging, this action will send very good signal to public that the government agency is on its way into integrity zone to achieve corruption-free agency. If this action is harnessed through the top leader setting his example to his people it will be naturally followed by all civil servants in his agency.
Bureaucratic reform is a massive culture change effort and is not an academic exercise. Yes, it requires deep thinking and a robust plan but it must be grounded down into tangible actions at the shop floor where the real change happen. An excellent culture change must impact everyone in the organization. Therefore, bureaucratic reform should be carefully designed considering change management principles. Leader at the top can start implementing three things to set good examples for the civil servants to follow.
The writer is a Change Management Adviser
Ministry of Administrative Reform (KemenPAN & RB)
The opinions expressed are his own.