In key notes speech of Bureaucratic Reform conference held on 27-29 Aug 2012, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto of the Presidential Working Unit for the Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) underlined that we need to do small things with significant impact. This is true, as we all know the simple phrase ‘it takes action to make things happen’. Bureaucratic reform is a big task that requires concerted efforts to plan, coordinate, implement and evaluate. It sometimes consumes so much time in planning and never get implemented once the plan has been made. Some reasons include the need to incorporate other inputs so that the plan must be revised, the need to consider new issues that emerge . There is no harm with this, but time is an important element that we need to take into consideration. This typical cycle of reiterate planning will have no value when the momentum is gone. So, just do it.
How do we then define the small things and justify its impact? Simple. Let’s have a look on this basic question: which one is more important to the citizens, the establishment of standard operating procedures (SOP) of the government agency or the hospitality of the agency’s frontline staff? The citizens do not care whether or not the agency has the SOP but they do care more on how they are treated when they interact with the frontline staff. It’s a very simple answer, isn’t it? But why some agencies spend so much time and monies on developing SOP – in some cases, they ask consultants to do it – while the customers (citizens) do not care about? Yes, to create standard hospitality offered to the citizens, it requires SOP but there is no way to wait until the SOP is complete to be friendly to the citizen. It can be done now. It should not be procrastinated.
By the early nineties, Zeithaml et al proposed a service quality model to the useful acronym RATER: reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness. Out of these five dimensions there are aspects that do not require long-term planning to take action. Yes, it takes efforts and monies to build new facilities to better serve the citizens under tangibles dimension. But there must be some small things that can be done without having to wait the new facilities erected, for examples by providing better seating arrangements in a waiting room so that the citizens feel much more comfortable in the queuing to get the service delivered. It takes robust processes and procedures to create reliable service, but reliability can be performed by the frontline staff through keeping promise in terms of time, quality or quantity. So is the case under assurance dimension, the frontline staff can offer good service delivery to the citizens. Put simply, in some cases it does not require any dollar spent to improve services for hard dimensions like reliability, assurance, tangibles as well as responsiveness.
Let’s have a look on the only one dimension that does not necessarily require huge investment to pursue: empathy. On the very basic definition of empathy it can be described as treating others (citizens) as if we are on their shoes. If we do not want to be treated badly, so is the case with the citizens. If we need a smile, so is the case with the citizens. If we do not want to be treated the same with other people, so is the case with the citizens. If we don’t like people give broken promise, so is the case with the citizens. The good news is that it does not necessarily need huge investment, financially, to build a solid culture of empathy in any government agency. In fact, empathy is the best trigger for change. If all civil servants have solid sense of empathy, they will automatically work very hard to continually improve their service delivery. It becomes a natural way to boost the bureaucratic reform because the awareness come from the individuals and not being forced by the superordinate.
There are three things to build empathy culture that builds actions for small things with significant impact: focus on circle of influence, build leadership within individuals, and activate knowledge sharing culture. Every individual thinks in two common ways (Covey, 1997): circle of concerns and circle of influence. Many people have overly focused on circle of concerns which typically about making us negative about what’s happening around us: bad governance, high inflation rate, high level of corruption cases, bad leadership, bad communications, misunderstanding, mismanagement, etc. Focusing on these things without taking action will not change the situation. Instead, people must start focusing things that they have power to do in their circle of influence: make the work station tidy, acknowledge others with a sincere smile, being polite in dealing with others, create open dialogues with staffs, stop any actions that lead into gratification or bribery, treat suppliers fairly, being transparent to others, take action promptly, etc. Taking actions on circle of influence while having in mind the circle of concerns builds empathy culture which eventually will create significant impact to citizens and improve satisfaction. It’s good to have concerns but it’s a sin not to take any action that eventually solve the concerns.
There has been misconception about leadership where some have perceived that it is something to do with the people at the top or worst, the only one person at the top. This is a great fallacy. Leadership has nothing to do with position in organization. The positions in organization describe roles, responsibilities and authorities. Leadership is a position-less definition where its main domain is creating influence which others to follow. The good test of leadership is when people follow because of the principles not because of the position. Those who exercise their position and authority to their staffs to follow are not good leaders. But those who exercise their influence in a position-less context that make their staffs follow are good leaders. Everyone in any organization can excel their leadership proficiency regardless their positions in the organization. That is to say that every one in the agency must build leadership skills within themselves irrespective their position.
Knowledge sharing is a term used here to describe the process of exchanging views, perceptions and experiences among civil servants in an agency. This is not about imposing new skills, knowledge or behaviors – as they may happen naturally as results of knowledge sharing sessions. Throughout this process there is no such thing as teachings from the most experienced or the seniors to others as to avoid civil servants being obliged to follow. The ultimate aim of knowledge sharing is to build a continuous improvement culture where civil servants are equipped with vast arrays of views, experiences and perceptions. There is no such thing as imposing others to behave as the agency wants them to behave. Rather, it provides avenues for them to take voluntary actions based on the richness of views, perceptions and experiences they have voluntarily acquired from knowledge sharing sessions.
Summed up together, the three things basically provide the context, the attitude as well as the media to grow. Practicing the circle of influence thinking in day-to-day work situation builds good habits to put things into right context. Developing leadership skills at individual level grooms civil servants for having good attitudes toward work and life. Participating actively in a knowledge sharing session as a media to share views and experiences will eventually create innovations to the workplace, hence satisfying the citizens.
Let’s just take a very simple example. A civil servant who passed by the corridor of the office complex seeing many guests line-up at a government agency. He took initiative mobilizing chairs around the office for the guests to sit-in. It’s a very simple action. He only worked using his area of influence, i.e. moving chairs from other rooms and asking the guests to have a seat. He also practiced good leadership skills in decision making – sensing the situation and taking action right away, without any further approval from his Boss. He also practiced empathy because he also does not want to be into the long queue situation like experienced by the guests. He could then share this simple experience – who knows that it’s a moment of truth for the queuing guest – in a knowledge sharing session that may – or may not – motivate others to emulate what he has done. This simple action will become habit if it’s done repeatedly in any other situation by a larger number of civil servants in the agency. If this happens, it’s a tipping point.
The writer is a change management adviser to the vice minister’s Functional Team at the Administrative Reforms Ministry. The opinions expressed are his own.