Sunday, July 14, 2024

Human Capital Development: Key driver to high performance economy

Current thinking and talk oozing out of Government enclave has unleashed a huge opportunity for concerted high-impact and cross-sectoral focus on human capital development as the nucleus of building the high performance economy needed to take the country through the 21st century.

Towards the end of 2009, President Khama recognised in the State of the Nation Address, the challenges fuelled by lack of adopting coherent strategic approaches to developing the nation’s human capital. He spoke of Government efforts through the National HRD Strategy and the recently formed Advisory Council to deal with the challenges.
Whilst acknowledging the strides made by the economy in past years and the current agenda, it is important to note that the challenges and opportunities posed by human capital development in driving the nation’s progress into the future earned mention in such a manner in the President’s address.

Where we are now as a nation requires serious strategic analysis followed by frank admission of the opportunities for improvement that have existed and were exploited to achieve desired ends as well as the opportunities for improvement that were missed. The country needs to recognise currently existing opportunities and those likely to emerge in the future and to unwaveringly commit to take the right action to make the required difference.
Having been at the forefront of endeavours to professionalise the management of human capital and having called over many years for the public services to integrate people management into the strategic management of public organisations to trigger sustainable productivity improvement, I am encouraged by some of the recent pronouncements.

It is pleasing that the highest levels of national leadership seems to be going ‘back to the people’ by recognising that ‘people make the difference’. Indeed, people can make the difference when they dare to believe in creating advantage for themselves, their communities and their future, research has revealed.

It should be stressed that there is no strategic management without strategic human capital management. Thus, efforts at effective delivery or strategy execution still have to contend with formidable challenges unless frank admission that the public service has failed to sufficiently modernise the management of people, is made. The service continues with ruthless efficiency, to implement Tailoristic ‘personnel management’ of days gone in the belief that value will be created. There is no room for ‘one best way’ bureaucratic and compliance based management in the new knowledge-based economy.

As said by President Khama in the State of the Nation address: ‘To prosper in the global economy will further require us to adopt standards of service in both public and private sectors which will empower us to compete with the best in the world. We therefore need to embrace a culture of achievement with an emphasis on customer satisfaction through quality service delivery’.
Yes, to prosper in the global playing field requires us to become achievement and service-oriented. A complementarity of reform interventions that include strategic planning, performance management, process reengineering, HRD and others are required to move to the desired state.

Accordingly, the audit of the HR policies and practices used to manage public officers that was mentioned by the President is long overdue. The audit should be carried out as a matter of urgency to identify opportunities for improvement in the strategies, structures and systems used to manage the people side of the public service.

One of the key objectives of such an audit should be to determine the value that the Directorate of Public Service Management creates so that the directorate could be recreated as a ‘fit-for-purpose’ institution that is responsible for modernising people management in the public service. The directorate has to transform into a strategic partner delivering high value people management services to Government whilst generally acting as a modernising catalyst to public sector management.

The directorate should be an institution that enables strategic decision making across the whole of Government by empowering the diverse public sector entities with the capacity to embrace strategic human capital management. The entities should also be enabled to develop the capacity to achieve their objectives through good people management.

Serious consideration should be made to re-look the mandate of the directorate, including de-constructing its name from ‘Directorate’ so that a more facilitating or enabling nomenclature such as; ‘Office of the Public Service Human Capital Management’ could be adopted. This would distill its traditional ‘policeman role’ and instill a new emphasis on helping organisations devise and maintain a clearly stated and focussed strategy characterised by flawless operational execution capability. In other words an entity such as DPSM should add value to public sector modernisation by enabling public organisations to cultivate performance-oriented cultures supported by fast, flexible, flat and fit-for-purpose structures.

From the agenda highlighted by the President, work needs to begin to undertake a comprehensive transformation of the management of human capital in the public service. In line with current thinking, the transformation should be viewed not as an exercise in enforcing compliance, but an integrated, aligned, innovative and public value focussed intervention to create a strategic, stakeholder-oriented people management function.

Whilst I agree with the President on the need for an audit to identify non-compliance and identify corrupt practices, I advice that those objectives be secondary to the need to proactively reinvent people management in the public service to grow value-creating and strategy-focussed activity.

This country should take bold decisions to redefine its future and to creatively and innovatively craft good practices for managing people and other resource. However, the country should not ignore existing facts informed by authoritative research studies and move backwards into the 19th century. Going against modern trends informed by more positive approaches to systematic analysis, measurement and evaluation of how people policies and practices create value will not help the agenda to modernise and ‘Deliver’.

The management of people is an integrated activity to guide, develop and engage human capabilities to achieve significantly higher levels of performance, not about herding goats or sheep which have no discretion to choose between commitment to excellence in an environment full of opportunities for psycho-social fulfillment and mere avoidance of sanction motivated by fear of punishment.

The President spoke of the adoption of evidence-based approach to implementing NDP 10. This approach should be extended to the management of people in the public service. Modern human capital management is by nature evidence-based because it requires proof that the policies and practices for managing people are consistent with the organisational value proposition.

When the facts have been analysed from the audit, objective conclusions should be drawn and appropriate solutions recommended, including defining standards and/or competencies for managing people in the public service. Excellence will then be defined in terms of demonstration of professional people management competencies which instill commitment to performance excellence rather than induce automated compliance.

Where standards of excellence are not clearly defined, individual will tend to define excellence in terms of assuming the role of a loyal ‘fedei defensor’. In this role it becomes fashionable to think, talk and walk like their deus ex machina principals in order to earn praise and win self-preservation.

In addition to adopting standards for managing people, the public service should commission a project to define good governance standards to guide public service leadership. Such standards should cover areas such as the need to ensure that employees focus on mission critical results; perform in clearly defined functions and roles; promote the values of the whole organisation; take informed, transparent decisions and manage risk; develop organisational capacity and strategic readiness of human capital; and engage citizens whilst making accountability alive.

President Khama’s acknowledgement of the need to produce industry relevant graduates is commendable as it portrays positive thinking consistent with modern approaches to addressing the needs of knowledge economies. Relevant competencies are for individuals, the passport to work and succeed in the new economy. For organisations and the economy relevant graduates are the capital needed to power innovation and creativity forward and to bolster the nation’s competitive position in the global economy.

According to the findings of a 2001 study undertaken jointly by the World Band and the UK Department of International development, knowledge economies work best when they are developed in conjunction with knowledge societies. If Botswana genuinely desires to be a knowledge economy as stated in the President’s address, it should go beyond increasing access to education and training to include changing the nature and improving the quality of learning, teaching and training to address knowledge economy objectives.

A robust education and training system enables people to think, not just to comply; to embrace a healthy disrespect for the status quo, not to fear change; and to search for new answers to past, present and future challenges, disregarding conventional wisdom and redefining the problems from new angles.

It is encouraging to hear the new language of creating ‘centers of excellence’ in education, health, technology and other spheres. They require a strategic approach to developing human and intellectual capital in order to supply and support thinking performers to become the core of a flexible, agile and mobile workforce with the right competencies required by the economy.

When President Khama introduced the four Ds close to 9 months ago I wrote a few long articles with reference to them and recently when he added the fifth D, I also wrote about it. In my writing I emphasise the need for national leadership, be it traditional, political, economic and religious or progressive, to model decisions and behaviour reflective of the true meaning of the Ds so that the nation can learn and embrace the change needed to move towards prosperity for all by 2016.

I commend the recognition of the need to take stock of past training and its impact on the economy. In fact, a comprehensive study of the impact of all government interventions in different sectors of the economy must be undertaken so that the journey into the future is more strategically planned from the lessons learned – that is, from the successes achieved and the mistakes made.

The evidence-based approach embraced by Government to guide the implementation of future interventions should ensure that efforts to root out corruption and greed do not degenerate into vindictive acts of vengeance against those with different ideas about the direction of the country. To guard against the real danger of unscrupulous people making frivolous allegations against others to cast aspersions of their moral righteousness and tarnish their reputations, the Government needs to act decisively against anyone who blows the whistle out of malice, jealousy and lust.

*Jowitt Mbongwe is a former journalist and currently a leading management consultant in the areas of strategy, organisation development, change management and human capital strategy. You can call him at 3935758 ÔÇô Global Consult.

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