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Zero plus zero will be zero

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A minister with no academic education or a good knowledge of the subject gained through work experience at a senior level will not be able to create and execute strategies for sustainable growth. So he scores zero for likely high performance in the role.

A ministry secretary with no academic education, or a good knowledge of the subject, gained through work experience at a senior level will not be able to create or execute strategies for sustainable growth. So he scores zero for likely high performance.

If you have a minister who scores zero, and a secretary who scores zero, they will jointly also score zero. In short, if one knows next to nothing about it, one will not be able to create successful strategies for growth.



An exercise for readers 

List each minister and his secretary and the subjects allotted. Then examine their background and experience to see if they are in the zero plus zero camp (I hope some reader will publish the results). Being in this category is not in any way a reflection on the individual’s intelligence or ability. It just denotes that the person does not have the required knowledge and experience for that role.


A challenging role 

It is a very challenging task to create a good sustainable growth strategy for any sector. It has to encompass needs, opportunities, risks, funds, people skills, and be a plan that will motivate all stakeholders. The crucial need is to get people who have an in depth knowledge and experience to perform this role.

There are some intelligent people who believe that they can do anything. It is good to remind them that for success the fundamental requirement is knowledge of the subject.


The two parts

There are two parts to the role of a Minister. The first part is to develop the strategies for sustainable growth. Probably many will fall hurdle at this hurdle.

The second part is to implement an agreed plan. This calls for a more general management type experience. Implementing plans in the public sector is a cumbersome process. They have to be piloted through a mass of bureaucratic procedures and approvals. Inevitably there will also be border disputes with other ministers. Experienced secretaries are good at this and experienced ministers are also good at managing the political interface.


Learning from the private sector

The most efficient global organisations are the multinational corporations. I had a ringside view as I worked for two MNCs. They all have a pretty standard approach. Bright graduates with good degrees are recruited. They are given a career path that will give them good exposure to all parts of the business and are progressively given more responsibility. In addition, on a regular basis they are sent on various training courses. Then after about 15 years the diamond is deemed to have sufficient facets and they will get their first general manager role.

It is not possible to appoint ministers following a similar path. But the future of the country depends on the performance of its ministers. What is the solution?


The solution

When the zero plus zero scenario was discussed with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga during her second term, she saw the problem quickly. She was good at grasping all the nuances of complex issues.

She did something very innovative, and created the National Council for Economic Development (NCED). The President wanted to support every ministry with an input from the best relevant knowledge and skills in the country. A cluster of advisors was appointed to support each ministry.

The cluster had a joint chair, one from the cluster and the ministry secretary. The challenge to the cluster was to develop a strategy for sustainable growth and a plan to execute it. The ministry secretary played an important role in keeping the cluster in the picture about the problems and processes in the government sector so that plans that could be implemented would be created.

The intention was for the cluster to first present the plan to the President. The President could then review it in the context of funding, political implications and be comfortable that it fitted in with her vision for the country. After the plans were agreed with the President they were presented to the minister and the ministry team. After perhaps some minor modifications at that stage, this became the plan for that ministry.

It did not always work out as intended. Some clusters worked very well. Some limped along. But, it was a meaningful beginning to address the zero plus zero scenario.


The death of a good scheme

The President who followed for reasons best known to him did not support or show any real interest in the NCED concept. The clusters wobbled along for some time and then they died slowly.

I hope the new President and Prime Minister will see the benefits of the scheme and bring it back, so that we are not left at the mercy of zero plus zero teams to safeguard the future of our country.

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