The consequence of current rigid theoretical education system in Sri Lanka prevents people from gaining broader knowledge on various practical applications. This deficiency is clearly evident when observing the decision-making levels of the majority public and of the competencies of the politicians the public elects
Before commenting on the selection process, it is better to understand the ground realities and the nature of the beasts.
Sri Lanka has a good theoretical education system. This system prompts students to ‘Cram-Remember-Express’ or ‘Read-Remember-Express’ or ‘Practice-Remember-Express’. This education system mass-produces cooks, not chefs. A cook can only follow a recipe while a chef can select ingredients, develop a recipe to suit to consumer needs and even ask a cook to follow it. So, the recipe must be changed in accordance with the consumer needs.
In developed countries, the education systems are ‘Outcome Based,’ which promotes performance elements and innovative thinking. Their systems prompt ‘Read-Understand-Analyse-Innovate-Practice-Perform’. This is why general public in developed countries can explain things better even though some of them are not interested in studying beyond high school.
In NSW Australia, HSC (equivalent to GCE-A/L) students have only one compulsory subject, English, and the students can select any other subject as they like and are good at. The subject selection does not prevent students pursing any study stream at the universities. Any job in society is considered equally important for overall economic success of the country and any job would fetch at least a salary to fulfil basic living needs.
The consequence of current rigid theoretical education system in Sri Lanka prevents people from gaining broader knowledge on various practical applications. This deficiency is clearly evident when observing the decision-making levels of the majority public and of the competencies of the politicians the public elects. So, changing the education system and waiting for producing an intelligent society is a long-term process and in Sri Lanka, it will not happen in my lifetime. So, the alternative solution is, at least, to try to develop a system to select the best among the average field of applicants.
However, there is a bare minimum standard to short-list the applicants. If a person does not have common sense, an appreciation of societal needs, basic human rights, and the capability to behave responsibly and ethically, that person should not even be considered as a public representative, no matter how extensive that person’s formal educational qualifications are.
On the contrary, a person who has the aforementioned qualities except formal education, should only be considered after giving the individual a proper training as the poor decision-making of such a person would cost the country dearly. The Government must take this training and grooming responsibility.
Politicians are a special breed anywhere in the world. In Sri Lanka, particularly, anyone who has money can become a politician. Other personal attributes do not play any part in the current selection process. I should emphasise that this is not about passing GCE (O/L) or (A/L) examinations. This is about the politicians knowing the subject areas they should know.
All politicians must have formal educational training on governance and wider subject areas such as law and order of the land, administrative and financial rules and regulations, local and global economic trends, international trade and diplomatic relations, etc. This is where our educational institutions and Government authorities have failed.
Ideally, there should have been a Government-funded, formal full-time training program on ‘Governance’ and other subject areas, available for all aspiring politicians. This training program should consist of a knowledge testing component as well. Anyone who fails to complete this training program and pass the examination should not be considered for nominations for any general election.
Further, there should be Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programs during the period the members of Parliament are in public office and they should complete at least 50 CPD hours, like other professionals, annually to update their knowledge. For a member of Parliament to be eligible to become a minister, he or she should undergo a specialist training program depending on the ministerial portfolio and should pass the testing component. Anyone who cannot fulfil this should remain just as a member of Parliament irrespective of the seniority which is just an indication of time remained at the seat, not an indicator of the level of knowledge and skills.
Cricketers: If a cricketer does not have the technical skills of cricket, that individual should not be under the radar of selection at the club level. This includes fielding skills and the knowledge of cricket rules. However, just continuing with the technical skills would not make a club cricketer, a team player at National level. This transition needs leadership skills, tactical planning skills and cognitive skills. The National Cricket Team needs such players.
The performance level of the National Cricket Team members should be akin to the elite security force personnel. It is like famous SEAL members in the US Army. One former SEAL member mentioned that the expected behaviour of such an elite member is “be loyal, put others before yourself, be reflective, be obsessively organised, assume you don’t know enough, be detail oriented and never get comfortable”. How true is this for a National cricketer? A National level cricketer should be able to read the minds of rival team members and respond. The idea is to be at one step ahead of the rival team.
In Sri Lanka, we have seen average cricketers being selected for the National Team. There could be various reasons for this such as the non-availability of a comprehensive selection process, wrong training and development system, non-availability of suitable players, poor skills and knowledge of the selectors, political interference, nepotism, and favouritism. Whatever the reason is, the result is the poor performance of the cricket team at the National level.
It must be emphasised that poor performance should not be viewed as the failure to win a match. It is about performing in accordance with the strengths and showing continuous improvement to convert weaknesses to strengths by not repeating same mistakes. Wins would come automatically when players work as a cohesive team and perform according to a plan understanding their roles. Inevitably, failures would also come when the rival teams respond with better tactics on a given day by studying our team’s momentary weaknesses. That is fine as long as our team knows what did not work and the mistakes were not systematic.
Getting the right person for the right positions is a tedious process. It is a stepped process as well.
Role or Position Specification (PD) – This is prepared with the view of intended performance outcomes. It contains a specific statement of performance outcomes and the position holder’s relationship among the rest of the performers. Then come the roles, duties, responsibilities, authority and accountabilities. The last section of the PD has the selection criteria listing skills, competencies, personal attributes, knowledge, qualifications, and capabilities needed. The selection criteria could be presented as two sections outlining the essential and the desirable. Desirable requirements are used as a tool for selecting the best among the highly potential applicants who satisfied all essential requirements.
Interviewing and testing – This step contains developing of the interview guide and the testing guide and implementation. The interview guide contains technical questions and planned behavioural questions. The technical questions is aimed at testing technical applications rather than the technical knowledge because all who are selected for the interviews should already have the technical knowledge based on specified formal education, training and experience. Behavioural questions are asked to gauge the applicant’s level of maturity to deal with real work scenarios and how the person is fit into the work and team culture. Interviewing is a professional affair, the explanation of interviewing techniques is not within the scope of this article. The testing guide specifies the alternative testings such as “role play”, psychometric testing, practical demonstrations, etc.
In general, the applicant cannot pre-prepare for psychometric testing as there are no right or wrong answers to many of the questions. The answer given would determine personal traits and the preserved values of the individual. If anyone tries to give a presumed response to a question, it is usually detected by the answer to another question. If a reputable test is used, a portraying of an artificial personality is almost impossible.
Also, some interviewers make interviewee “role-play” to detect style of response and compare it with expected response. By observing practical performance of an interviewee, an interview panel can determine the applicant’s ability to apply all competencies, knowledge and the applicant’s personal values and attributes.
Politicians: Any political party or alliance which forms a government must have a master plan developed for the next five years even before contesting the election. This plan should outline the strategies, plans, and projects with the costs of implementation. It should identify where funds (savings, revenues, taxes, grants, foreign aids) come for delivering the plan. This is the plan, the public and independent professionals who would review and comment on its practicality, comprehensiveness, applicability, etc.
Really, the public should vote on the policies and economic principles promoted in the respective master plans. If a group of independent professionals could score each master plan and publish the outcome for public use, it would help for public to make informed decisions on their own voting.
After the public elects a government, the members of Parliament and the appointed Ministers have the responsibility and accountability to deliver the master plan. Hence, operational plans for each service sector (ministries) based on the master plan must be developed with short-term and long-term targets. So the performance of respective ministers must be assessed by the prime minister as per the achievement of these targets. Ministers can delegate some of their responsibilities to members of Parliament but the accountability of delivering the outcomes must still remain with the ministers.
Let’s hope a few bold, intelligent leaders step up and set the forward plans, the selection criteria and appoint the right people for the right jobs and the roles. Let’s hope those leaders develop and implement performance evaluation processes to assess all performers with the intention of keeping and supporting fine performers and getting rid of poor performers. We, as the nation, can only hope
Further, the members of Parliament should develop additional plans not only to deliver the targets assigned by the ministers, but also to address emerging community needs within the geographic areas they serve. They have a decentralised budget allocations to implement these local plans. The relevant minister as the leader should seek these plans from the members of Parliament and periodically review performance of the members based on a set Key Performance Indicators.
As mentioned before, the same process must be repeated by the president, evaluating the performance of the prime minister and the people will judge the capability of the president, based on the performance of the whole lot.
Cricketers: Cricket is a team sport. When the team delivers the intended outcome, it could be coined as “satisfactory”. Individual success is a secondly output. So, the performance of all National level cricketers must be assessed in the context of team performance.
The coaching staff must develop long-term development plan and specific plans for a particular bilateral series identifying each player’s role. The coach should use the strengths of the squad for delivering the plan and also should work around tactical plans to minimise the weaknesses.
For example, many international teams which visit Sri Lanka, do not reduce their pace bowling armoury although Sri Lanka has slow and low bounced turning cricket pitches. They rely on their strength by delivering short balls, maintaining line and length and enticing the batsman to go for fourth stump line deliveries. However, in general, Sri Lanka visits countries with fast, bouncy, green-top wickets and tries to win matches using our fast bowlers who are of below-average quality, according to international standards, citing that the wickets are not suitable for spinners. Over and over again it proved that Sri Lanka failed to harness its strength which is the spin attack. Shane Warne could take wickets anywhere in the world.
Politicians and cricketers: Expected role, selection and performance evaluation (Part 1) was published in the Daily FT of 16 January and can be seen at http://www.ft.lk/columns/Politicians-and-cricketers--Expected-role--selection-and-performance-evaluation--Part-1-/4-670908
Slotting players to each position should be done by assessing the need and matching it with potentially suitable players. A written document explaining the role of each batting position must be given to the player and the potential applicant player must be demanded to present his strategy to fulfil the role. That way, the selectors/coaches could witness the understanding of the player and the flaws or soundness of his approach.
At the end of each international match, all batsmen must be assessed based on how they delivered specified team role to achieve the team plan by responding to the particular match situation. The player’s skill and mental reaction must be assessed. With regard to the skill reaction, ground fielding must be a compulsory element for all players. Dropping catches, missing run-out chances, misfielding should draw demerit points. Even if a batsman scores a century in a match, the offering of chances to rival fielders must draw demerit points as a weakness of a rival fielder should not be attributed as a strength of a batsman.
When a player reaches a certain number of cumulative demerits points which falls into the zone of average performance within the overall scale, a warning should be issued immediately and an improvement plan should be proposed. If the player is unable to work hard to improve performances as per the improvement plan, he must be dropped from the first eleven and should be sent back to second eleven development squad. All must earn their place in the team by proving their worth.
The coaching staff has a role to be observant during a match by analysing video clips and by listening to the quality commentaries. Specially, Australian and England commentators analyse the game in depth and comment instantly what is going to happen next. Most of the time, these predictions are proven correct.
I wonder why Sri Lankan support staff fail to listen these instant analysis and convey the message to the captain on the ground on the fielding setting flaws or to the batsman how a trap is being set up to get him out. As the listeners or the viewers, we can only mourn or curse after the failures occur.
Hope for the future
Let’s hope a few bold, intelligent leaders step up and set the forward plans, the selection criteria and appoint the right people for the right jobs and the roles. Let’s hope those leaders develop and implement performance evaluation processes to assess all performers with the intention of keeping and supporting fine performers and getting rid of poor performers.
We, as the nation, can only hope.
(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 email@example.com.)