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Politicians and cricketers: Expected role, selection and performance evaluation (Part 1)


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 I attentively observed recent political turmoil in Sri Lanka from a remote location via mass media. I watched the performance of Sri Lankan National Cricket Team against South Africa, England and New Zealand recently, again, via television feed. I was disappointed with both performances and outcomes

I am an apolitical person. I am neither a political analyst nor a sports analyst. However, I closely observe both activities. 

I attentively observed recent political turmoil in Sri Lanka from a remote location via mass media. I watched the performance of Sri Lankan National Cricket Team against South Africa, England and New Zealand recently, again, via television feed. I know that there is a gap of information what I observed and what really happened. However, this gap does not alter my judgement because, at the end of the day, what really matters most is the perception of performance and the ultimate outcomes.

I was disappointed with both performances and outcomes. Also, I felt tired of reading and watching and even felt tired of writing anymore as I myself questioned the purpose of writing. To me, the main reason behind the outcomes is obvious. It is the assignment of wrong personnel for the jobs and roles. 

My question is “how could we get this right?”

We are not living in a perfect world. Human behaviours and intelligence levels vary from a person to person and in average, from a nation to nation. In the spectrum of the maturity and intelligence quotient, Sri Lanka is placed within the bottom half of the nations. 

If anyone argues against my opinion, I would like to ask them “why do we see this many ignorant, undisciplined, underperforming leaders and players everywhere and who appointed them?” 

How come I find a Member of Parliament who does not know the difference between a cheque account and a savings account and insists a bank manager to issue a cheque book to a savings account? How come I see an MP who does not know total population of the country? Why do we see a MP demanding a ministerial position instead of waiting for an offer? 

How come a senior cricketer remains dormant on the field refusing to lead the team when the appointed captain is injured, just because of overlooking him originally for the captaincy? How come we see incompetent support staff glued to seats in the dug-out, without closely watching and taking proactive actions, when a cricketer delivers so many “no balls” and also when a captain fails to keep up with the “overs rate”? 

How come a senior cricketer who scored 140 runs against all odds was not advised by the coaching staff not to try luck again and to stay away from risky attempts for the remaining last four overs as the asking scoring rate which was around 5 could be achieved through more cautious approach, having only one wicket in hand? 

If this is the best we got, even God cannot save us, if there is one.

To me, everyone is riding on luck and probability instead of responding to ground realities. Everywhere, wrong people are elected or selected for the jobs. As a nation, in general, we never learned from our past experience and never made decisions rationally based on facts and situations. The actions were and are reactive rather than responsive. 

Simply, we don’t have the best practice processes to assess and select the best people for the jobs and roles. We don’t have processes to evaluate the performance of the selected either. 

 

Wild expectations

Let’s look at the calibre of politicians we got. The general public, appoint politicians to the public office after listening to their promises of high-performance. People often realise that their decisions were wrong. So, they suffer and curse for years. Then, just six months before the next general election, the same crop of politicians roam the neighbourhoods repeating more and more sugar-coated promises. Politicians know that Sri Lankan people have maximum a six-month memory span. So, people fall into the same trap again. This vicious cycle repeats.

Comparing with the number of politicians in a country like Australia which is 122 times larger and where 70% people live in cities, this small island, Sri Lanka needs only 120 MPs with 10 ministers and 10 deputy ministers at national level. We need local government but not the provincial councils. How much money is wasted now to maintain the current crop? 

I personally expect a few personal attributes from the politicians. I like to see ethical political leaders who dearly love the country, the people and the Sri Lankan culture. I expect them well disciplined and well educated. Why do not we have a Code of Ethics for politicians to adhere? I would like to see that they have the nobility to seek advice from independent professional experts before making important decisions and developing national policies. 

Unfortunately, my expectations are beyond the above narrow scope because we, the public, offer them jobs on a platter. We have a right to expect reciprocal service. 

I would like to see that there is a robust criterion for selecting a politician as a nominee to contest in a general election. The selection of a Member of Parliament for a ministerial position is also a serious business. I would like to see a high level selection criterion specifying essential formal qualifications of relevant disciplines for ministerial candidates. These ministers are to take important professional decisions on behalf of the nation. They are the country representatives at international forums to look after national interests. The performance of the current crop of politicians makes the nation ashamed. 

Further, there should be a performance management criterion to assess the performance of a politician during the period of public office. A minister’s performance must be evaluated annually against a well-defined set of Key Performance Indicators. I want to see all performance outcomes of the Members of Parliament including the ministers are published in the Prime Minister’s and Opposition Leader’s official website for public scrutiny. 

I love to see people reject all poor performers who could not reach at least 85% of the set benchmark if the political party leaders overrule low performance standards to re-nominate them for future elections. Anyway, we ask kids to pass Year 5 examination setting the bar at 85% pass mark and assume 0% for politicians. 

In developed countries, shadow ministers are appointed in the opposition camp, in line with the government ministers. They usually counter-argue with respective ministers on relevant government policies and initiatives. So, the public know how good or bad the performance of opposition members. Hence, their performance must also be evaluated and recorded. 

I want to see the Prime Minister and the President refrain from re-appointing the ministers who failed to reach 85% of the KPI benchmarks when the Cabinet is reshuffled. I want to see the Opposition Leader does not select poor performers in the own camp to re-contest in an election. 

You may ask the same for the Prime Minister and the President. Of course. The President should evaluate the performance of the Prime Minister and the people will assess the performance of the President because the poor or good performance of all MPs including the Prime Minister reflects the quality of the President’s performance. It says “the buck should stop at the top”.

Finally, I want to see all outgoing Members of Parliaments including the President have compulsory accountability to handover information and official files of all ongoing projects, policy developments and initiatives to the ministry officials legally for smooth transition of affairs, irrespective of who will govern the country during the next term.

Didn’t we notice President Obama had an overlapping administrative phase to hand over ongoing work to the new president? Sri Lanka has suffered enough. If people have an iota of intelligence, now it is time to use their votes wisely for the benefit of the next generation.

 

How about cricket? 

My expectations are no different. Cricket is a team sport and the team environment is an ideal place for poor performers to hide. To me, Sri Lankan cricketers and tea are the only national products that have attained the international recognition. 

Even after having only these two, we proved the rest of the world, how idiotic we were. We mixed the best tea with the bad to get short-term gains and ruined our reputation as the “finest tea in the world”. We appointed corrupt and greedy administrators and average cricket advisors to manage cricket and ruined our “technically-correct, never-say-die, lion-heart” reputation.

Now, as a nation, we left with nothing to be proud of. Our international achievements in disciplines like education and technology are so sporadic and the commendable outcomes are due to individual brilliance rather than due to well-oiled systems. 

I enjoyed watching the performance of intelligent and skilful cricketers like Warnapura, Sidath, Madugalle, Marvan, Aravinda, Mahela and Sangakkara at their mature stage. I am not talking about just winnings but how they approach the challenge.

First of all, the national cricketers should be proud to be Sri Lankans and determined not to let down nation’s expectations without an intelligent fight, not like bulls in China Town. Their body language and the actions should display this attitude. 

I would like to see the cricketers strive to be a part of a winning team culture rather than concentrating on achieving individual milestones. This is how West Indies became a dream team during the ’70s and ’80s. They were never interested about individual records. This is how Australia performed in the ’90s and beyond. This is how Sri Lanka performed in the late ’90s. 

I would like to see Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) managed as a competitive, transparent, responsible business entity with a vision, a mission and a strategy and with financial, social, cricketing excellence targets in place. I want to see the Cricket Administration Board consist of formally qualified professionals. I want to see the Chief Executive Officer of SLC is a professional, having proven business management qualifications. 

The SLC president must be an administrator who has the formal education and practical experience on people management. The treasurer must be a qualified accountant with credentials on financial management. The secretary must be an individual having formal education on contract law and administrative systems. The cricket committees must have members who played cricket at the Test Level, not at any level below. There shouldn’t be any compromises on these basic requirements.

How about the team members? It is akin to the same progression of a person who attends the primary, secondary and tertiary education (graduate). A cricketer has to learn the basic technical skills of cricket at the primary school until Grade 8. 

Back in the late ’70s, Sri Lanka had the world best under 13 junior school cricket setup. Then, the acquired skills must be applied at the secondary school level while improving the technical knowledge by competing with rival school teams. This is the beginning of a journey of a technically skilled cricketer to become a team player. 

After leaving school, at the club and provincial cricket level, the cricketers would be thrown into the competitive cricketing deep-end. Here, the competitiveness, tactical planning, execution of technical skills, team work would be at a high level. This is where one would develop the mental skills to survive in pressure situations. At this level, the cricketer should no longer play for individual milestones but for team goals. 

After the club and the provincial levels, a cricketer would be ‘graduated’ to move into the professional international level. The “Test Level” is the ultimate testing ground to test the technical skills, mental maturity and dynamic team play of a cricketer. So, taking up an international level challenge is like an honours graduate attempting to secure a postgraduate degree through a competitive scholarship. 

This opportunity should only come for the best club and provincial level cricketers on merit. International level is not a forum for a novice to learn technical skills of cricket. It is an arena to harness mental skills, communication skills and to respond to the team needs of a given moment by assessing the pitch conditions, environmental conditions and by reading the minds of the opponents. 

If a coach struggles with a technical skills of a player at the Test level, it shows the poor selection process. The best proof is that Dav Whatmore only had to deal with the mental preparation and tactical planning of the 1996 Sri Lankan Cricket team as the team members (except one pace bowler, in my opinion) were technically at the best understanding individual roles in the dynamic team environment. The same could be cited for the West Indian team led by Clive Lloyds and the Australian teams led by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.

After a cricketer achieves all ingredients to be a test cricketer, the cricketing authorities should stick with the selected player for a long journey supporting the player to learn mental aspects of the game by exposing the player to a fierce international level competition. At that level, the player is a public figure and a role model. How to respond to a game situation, media or spectator criticisms would be a part of the mental maturity. The cricketing management system should facilitate the development of this family-like environment. Public money has been invested on to a player to come to the Test level and the return of benefits should be ensured by nurturing the selected without chopping and changing. If the investment (the selected player) is wrong, it is the selection and development system fault rather than the player’s fault. 

It is the responsibility of the cricketing authorities to develop necessary infrastructure facilities, to implement training and fitness programs and to introduce cricketing administrative systems, from school, club/provincial and international levels to ensure seamless progression of prospective cricketers. 

 

The need

One may say I am day-dreaming. Of course, I am a dreamer. As John Lennon said, “I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I know that all of the above is easier said than done. To make this happen, the nation need a fearless intelligent leaders. Then, there should be a proper selection and performance evaluation process to select the best politicians and the best cricketers. 

Am I qualified to comment on this process as I am not a politician or a cricketer? This is not about cricket or politics. This is about understanding a role, specifying attributes to the role and the performer, then develop a mechanism to select the right person for the role. 

I confidently declare that as a person who has been trained on developing position specification, conducting targeted selection and performing performance evaluation of employees in the Australian Local Government, I am qualified enough to express my professional opinion on “selecting right person for the right role”. It does not matter the selection process is for a politician or a cricketer. The same process is applicable.

Let’s dwell on this.

(To be continued.)

(Eng. Janaka Seneviratne is a Chartered Professional Engineer, a Fellow and an International Professional Engineer of both the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka and Australia. He holds postgraduate qualifications on people management, targeted interviewing and performance evaluation. He is contactable via senevir15@gmail.com.)


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