Managing performance

Chapter 12 of the BCSR is dedicated to performance management.

It provides a detailed prescription of how civil servants must plan, review and rate their work in order to improve productivity and accountability in the civil service. The general idea is good: it is to cultivate a performance-based culture that rewards meritocracy and professionalism. It is also intended to boost morale in the civil service.

So the RCSC’s performance appraisal system should be implemented faithfully. But, we are told, it isn’t. Civil servants say that the appraisal system is not taken seriously, and that it does not work. They also admit that appraisal forms are routinely completed ex post, when it’s time for promotions and trainings.

Now there’s a bigger danger: performance compacts. The government, with McKinsey’s guidance, has started signing performance compacts with several agencies. Unfortunately, the RCSC is not involved; they have not even been consulted. So, these compacts will just add to redundancies in the government.

But it’s more than mere redundancy. Our civil servants are confused. They cannot understand why only a few agencies and, within them, only a few officials must sign binding compacts with the government. Most of them don’t understand the new system. And, many of them don’t feel a sense of ownership.

If the performance compact can improve efficiency in the civil service, if it can increase productivity, if it can lift the morale of civil servants, it must be pursued. But for it to succeed, it must first be understood, and then fully accepted by the very people who must ultimately implement the compacts, i.e., the civil servants.

Equally important, the new system must involve the agency that is legally mandated to manage the performance of civil servants, i.e., the RCSC.

Yes, we need to allow our civil servants to improve the way they work. But what we do must be effective. And must be legal.

Performance compacts, as they are currently being implemented, are neither.

Missing incentives

M.I.A

Two months ago, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Information and Communication, and the Tourism Council of Bhutan signed “performance compacts” with the Prime Minister. The contracts outlined important work that the agencies would do during the next three years, and set specific targets that they would have to achieve.

Some countries – India, France, Kenya, and Malaysia are examples – have used performance contracts successfully to improve the overall performance of government agencies. And any practice that improves efficiency, accountability and transparency in our government must be welcome.

But for the contracts to work, the targets must first be realistic. And they must be achievable. The TCB’s target of “attracting 100,000 ecological and culturally conscious tourists” is unrealistic and impossible. In 2009, only 23,480 tourists visited Bhutan. To quadruple it in three years is farfetched, especially since the Government has also mandated that all hotels catering to tourists must have at least a 3-star rating.

Setting achievable targets is important. But it is not sufficient. Adequate incentives must also be provided for achieving the targets. And, as far as I know, the performance compacts that were signed did not offer any incentives.

To be sure, the Prime Minister’s incentive is clear: votes. So he would obviously want the “compact” signatories to deliver.

But what about the officials, the civil servants? What’s in it for them? Why would TCB officials work four times harder if they can’t see any immediate reward?