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Lagos: Public Service and effective management strategies

By Akintola Benson-Oke

THE Lagos State Government continues to demonstrate its total commitment to transforming the Lagos State Public Service into an effective organisation that is repositioned to deliver value to the people of Lagos State by developing the competencies to take on additional and higher responsibilities.

It is against this back drop that one commends the commitment of the state governor Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode in his  resolve through the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions to populate the State’s public service with officers who are well-trained and who undergo continuous training. It is believed this commitment will soon yield bountiful returns in terms of efficiency and quality of the output of the public service.

The participants in this training are to be the ambassadors and seed-propagating agents of this administration’s resolve to re-orientate the Lagos State Public Service.

Indeed, the importance of strategy, strategic planning, and strategic management has been proved and validated over the years and, in fact, over the centuries. At the end of any rigorous enquiry, one finds that to have an effective strategy is half the battle and to effectively manage a good strategy is everything. This is evident from the writings of Aristotle to the compiled wisdom of Oriental philosophers such as Sun Tzu, and from the ancient history of Europe to regnant modern day business philosophies.

I will like to call attention to the five essential attributes of strategic management. These are distilled from the thoughts of a leading management consultant, Mr. Mark Rhodes

  1. An effective strategy should be deeply understood and shared by the organisation. Rhodes argued that the ancient Mongols defeated far larger armies because they were able to make adjustments on the battlefield despite ancient systems of communication that limited the way orders could be delivered to warriors already in action.  He then stated that the secret was instilling battle strategy in the hearts and minds of all soldiers so that they could make correct tactical decisions without direct supervision or intervention.

Like the mission statement published in the annual reports or guiding principles framed in the lobbies of organisations, a strategic plan itself accomplishes nothing.  What matters is whether the people in the organisation understand and internalise the strategic direction articulated and can make tactical choices on their own.  Strategic plans must be articulated in a manner such that operational and tactical decision-making can follow suit.

Further more, the leading strategist must count on the employees or members of the organisation to make sound tactical and operational decisions that are aligned with the desired strategic direction.  To ensure that these decisions are well made, the articulated strategic direction and strategic plans must be applicable and clearly related to the issues that people face.

It is always helpful to remember that an effective strategy provides a picture of the desired long-term future.  In order to make sound day-to-day decisions, all members of the organisation must be able to begin with the end in mind.  All steps must ultimately keep the company on course toward the long-term objective.

  1. An effective strategy allows flexibility so that the direction of the organisation can be adapted to changing circumstances. Rhodes argues, that a rigid strategic direction seldom turns out to have been the best course of action. To assure that your organisation is nimble and able to react to changes, it is essential that your strategy is flexible and adaptable.  As a strategist, you will count on timely and accurate information about prevailing relevant conditions.  It is essential to build and employ effective mechanisms for observing and listening to what is going on in the environment.  Real-time information, in turn, must feed on-going strategic and operational shifts and deployments.
  2. In the third place, effective strategy results from the varied input of a diverse group of thinkers and participants in strategic decision-making must be unafraid to state contrary opinions.  Rhodes referred to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book, Team of Rivals, where the author explained how, instead of bringing in a cadre of leaders whose thinking closely matched his own, Lincoln made a point of surrounding himself with his political rivals, naming William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edwin M. Stanton, and Edward Bates – all of whom had opposed Lincoln in a bitterly fought presidential race – as members of his cabinet.  Despite initial misgivings, this unlikely team learned that Lincoln valued their opinions, would consider and reflect on their disagreements and challenges, and would not stick unnecessarily to preconceived notions.  Though the mix of personalities and opinions inevitably led to debate and verbal conflict, Lincoln was able to facilitate and mediate, tapping into a rich variety of ideas in order to find the optimal solution to political and military issues.  Goodwin attributes this ability to manage disagreement and lead an effective decision-making process as perhaps Lincoln’s greatest strength as he led a troubled nation.

The take home lesson for  managers of men and resources is that in order to ensure that your strategic team is ready to make effective decisions, look carefully in the mirror.  Do you encourage debate, even argument, among your team about key decisions, or do you encourage blind alignment with the organisation’s positions?  Remember that the well-documented occurrences of groupthink (as exemplified in President John Kennedy’s ill-fated bay of Pigs invasion) occur not because of oppressive or stifling leaders, but due to collegial and fond relationships, leaving deliberants unwilling to rock the boat, or to voice contrary opinions.

d.An effective strategy follows a thorough and deep analysis of both the external environment and the internal capabilities of the organization. This is the essence of the famous SWOT model (that is, an evaluation of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  The strategist must understand the effects and dynamics of external entities such as competitors, suppliers, regulators and strategic partners.  A sound assessment of these external factors leads to a rich understanding of threats to ward off and opportunities to pursue.  The strategist must also understand the internal capabilities of his or her organization.  A realistic self assessment enables the organization to leverage the strengths of the organization and to shore up areas of weakness.

Indeed, in order to take advantage of intelligence gained through a SWOT analysis, the strategist must ensure that intelligence does not sit idle, but is immediately mined for insight that can be used in strategic and operational decision-making. All historical stories of the great strategic achievements of history include anecdotes of decision-makers poring over maps and data and striving to find the optimal course of direction and events.

  1. Finally, an effective strategy is one that identifies areas of Competitive Advantage. Rhodes noted that the author of the classic, The Art of Wart of War, Sun Tzu postulated two dialectic forces: Zheng is the “ordinary” element that fixes the enemy in place.  Qi is the unexpected and devastating blow. Qi is indirect, unorthodox and extraordinary. Qi does not work, though, unless Zheng is able to hold the opponent in place until the decisive blow is struck.

To put this in the context of today’s dynamics, understand that many aspects of the organisation must be held at parity across a wide swipe of the competitive landscape. In business, this is called the “business essential” elements of organizational design.  You do not need to be world class at mundane business practices that are not your distinctive competence, but you must maintain standards of work equal to that of your competitors.  That is, the organization must maintain parity with competitors in the ordinary and mundane matters.

But at the same time, every successful organization is able to explicate an audacious Qi or extraordinary force.  You must be world calls at something that differentiates you from the competition. Moreover, all members of the organization must keep the uniqueness of their company in the forefront, always keeping competitive advantages unharnessed in order to compete in a vigorous manner.  In short, every strategic plan must educate the full organizational team how it must use carefully identified competitive advantages in order to compete and win.

  1. Permit me to also briefly share three of the widely acknowledged steps in strategic management and five of the essential attributes of an effective strategic framework. This is only by way of a general introduction to the seminar and does not in any way represent the essential purport of the seminar that will be delivered by Messrs. Nova Consults Limited.
  2. *Dr.  Benson-Oke, is Lagos State commissioner of Establishment, Training and Pensions.


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