Are we truly NISE and still reforming?

Todays WomanMarch 8 is observed as International Day Of The Woman across many territories. I trust that every woman in Barbados was made to feel valued and was reminded of her worth and importance within her various circles. In Barbados, the day was marked by a number of activities across the island, including the launch of the Celebrating 50 Years Of Gender And Development Programme.

The initiative is being spearheaded by the Bureau of Gender Affairs. The celebration is one of the activities to mark the 50th anniversary of Barbados’ Independence. The objective of the celebration is to honour the women who would have been integral in the establishment of a womanist agenda on the island.

In 1978, the seminal Report On The National Enquiry To Investigate The Status Of Women In Barbados was completed. According to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, over 90 per cent of the recommendations had been implemented by the 1990s.

While I congratulate all the women who have contributed to the report and the institutionalization of the womanist agenda, the average age of the attendees at the launch suggested we needed to urgently work on continuity in the movement. While it is fitting to observe the nation’s 50th by honouring our achievements thus far, we also have to ensure we orchestrate another 50 years of development for the island.

Speaking of building things and celebrating women, I spent some time last week consoling a young sister as she battled with the toxicity within her position in the Civil Service. She was very surprised and hurt over how she was being treated, especially because her immediate supervisor was a woman. However, there really is no surprise at her experience.

Although we have started the conversation about productivity in Barbados, we have not, from my vantage point, broken productivity sufficiently into its components and created change management strategies to achieve the desired result. The National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE) was first launched in 2004, and after 12 years in existence, I think we can agree we are still far off the desired effects in several public sector areas.

What is more disappointing is that NISE has a strategic partnership with Public Sector Reform. Public Sector Reform seems to be even less able to achieve the mandate it had been given. It seems as if we have completely relegated it to a logo on the side of Government stationery.

If we are serious about creating an environment in which public sector workers can serve the public efficiently and with dignity, the behaviour has to be supported by a work environment that is comfortable and supportive. Most people who have had an experience working within the public sector will know of the deep-seated conflicts and issues that make working in the Government service particularly uncomfortable.

The experience is more acute for millennials as they try to interact with supervisors and bosses who simply do not understand how they think and reason.

Public Sector Reform in Britain has been ongoing over the last 30 years. This is because change management is a process that gradually unfolds. The undesirable elements to be supplanted are systematically replaced by the new values and culture.

I admit to not knowing exactly what the components of the current Public Sector Reform programme are, or indeed if the programme is still ongoing, but I wish to outline areas which seem to be critical to improving the environment within the Civil Service.

Barbados has assumed an attitude that once a person has a degree, he or she has all of the skills needed to perform a job. A degree indicates that an individual has attained a certain level of ability to process and produce information. However, there are skills beyond the degree core which are necessary for an individual to be successful in a workplace. These skills have to be taught in training modules in continuous nodes over the life of the job.

Conversely, there also needs to be training that encourages people to move beyond “the way it do for years”. Barbados has a Civil Service that if Queen Victoria returned, she would recognize every procedure! There needs to be an effort made to streamline systems and incorporate technology in an effective way.

That is only the first step in change management. The next step will have to be the training and engagement that gets buy-in from employees for the new initiative.

There are several people in the Civil Service of Barbados who cannot be maximally productive because of the outline of exactly what they are supposed to do. We were to move towards every worker having a job description. How far along are we in the process?

Additionally, do job descriptions have sufficient room to ensure they can change as a person’s role evolves? A good example of why job descriptions should be flexible is the clerk/typist post in the service.

Most civil servants now type for themselves. This means that the clerk/typist has become an underused individual.

However, they may be several opportunities to utilize that individual in other roles in the ministry, or even in a completely new ministry. If these types of shifts have not yet been effected by Public Sector Reform, then we are certainly not on the correct path. If we are serious about trying to right-size the Civil Service, all these mechanisms should be available; and not just retrenchment as the primary strategy.

Another element of our Public Sector Reform which has not been well articulated is how it will be funded. Britain has tapped into grant funding to enable it to make necessary changes in its public service. Barbados has to be able, in the same way, to find sources external to the Government to provide funds for reforms.

With the size of the deficit on the island, it will not be sustainable to make the only source of reform Government funding.

The bottom line in the whole process, though, is that we as a people have to be a lot kinder to each other. We have to pay attention to our own emotional states, so we do not become the hated and seemingly maladjusted co-worker.

Are we still interested in being NISE? Are we still reforming our public sector?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.

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