By Akintola Benson-Oke
IT has been said that, “since the onset of the Great Recession, ‘doing more with less’ has become a policy mantra. However, this mantra has not translated into actual implementable policies in most segments of the public service in Nigeria.
Echoing this sentiment, Daniel Egbunu, in an online article published on March 12, 2017 noted that, the “impact of today’s rapidly changing economic and technological landscape has made government’s task of delivering public service more complex. More than ever before, governments all over the world have increasingly come under serious public scrutiny and fiscal pressure to deliver better outcomes to citizens, and to do so more efficiently. As is evident, Nigeria has not been spared from this in recent times.
On the one hand, the dynamism presented by the impact of the interaction of economic, technological and other superintending elements in these scenarios have no doubt made governments’ public service delivery duties onerous. On the other hand, however, it has also opened up opportunities for the exploration of out-of-the-box strategies that governments can adopt if found to better the lot of their citizens.”
It is delightful to note, however, that the Lagos State Civil Service has come a long way and has led the way in reducing waste while increasing productivity. This is partly the result of the extensive investments in knowledge and skills by the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. For these investments, the Lagos State Civil Service must remain grateful.
The importance of eliminating waste cannot be over-emphasised. Countless studies have shown that with good and sound processes relating to management of time and resources, one finds that meagre resources can be extended to produce outstanding results. In other words, organisations and individuals can achieve more with less.
Explaining the rationale for such an objective as described above, an article by McKinsey & Company states as follows: “Governments around the world want to deliver better education, better health care, better pensions, and better transportation services. They know that impatient electorate expect to see change, and fast. But the funds required to meet such expectations are enormous-particularly in the many developed economies where populations are aging and the public sector’s productivity hasn’t kept pace with that of the private sector. The need to get value for money from governments at all levels is therefore under the spotlight as never before. But cost-cutting programmes that seek savings of 1 to 3 percent a year will not be enough and in some cases, may even weaken the quality of service.”
The author of the article then stated that, in order to “address the problem, public-sector leaders are looking with growing interest at ‘lean’ techniques long used in private industry. From the repair of military vehicles to the processing of income tax returns, from surgery to urban planning, lean is showing that it cannot only improve public services but also transform them for the better. Crucially for the public sector, a lean approach breaks with the prevailing view that there has to be a trade-off between the quality of public services and the cost of providing them.”
I fully agree with the viewpoints expressed above. Indeed, it would be a great achievement if the Lagos State Civil Service is able to import the principles of lean operations from the private sector and apply them, mutatis mutandis, to the operations of the public sector.
Now, to the second of the strategies for effectively improving performance and embracing higher responsibilities. Team work and synergy hold the key to maximum and ultimate performance. Stephen Covey, the best selling author and management consultant said, team work and synergy “is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It is the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their pre-conceived ideas to meet a great challenge.” Expatiating on the value of Synergy, Stephen Covey said, “synergy is better than my way or your way. It is our way.”
There are some who underestimate the value and importance of synergy and team work. Listen to this transformational testimony of a late convert to the power of synergy and teamwork: “I was never a big fan of teamwork. Being a naturally-inclined leader, I always felt that I could do things best on my own, and dismissed collaboration as a sign of weakness. In his book, Success Intelligence, Robert Holden refers to this compulsive urge for self-sufficiency as the ‘By Myself Syndrome.’ According to Holden, “people who suffer from ‘By Myself Syndrome’ are lousy at asking for help. They are blind to opportunities for support. They are blocked by their inability to get past themselves. Irreverently refusing to embrace the truth behind this concept, I skipped the entire chapter in the book and rendered it irrelevant to me or my success. It wasn’t until a year and countless of burnouts later, that I finally decided to give up my ego and give in to teamwork.
Having thrown myself into the heavily team-based MSc Management course at Imperial, I had the perfect chance to re-visit my rigid viewpoints. Although the transition from Me to Us was challenging at first, I was eventually awakened to the benefits of working in a team, and came to see teamwork as one of the most important aspects to success.”
That was the statement of George Lizos when he was a student at the Imperial Business School. Without a doubt, he was echoing the views of many thought leaders in the business world. Permit me to begin by briefly sharing the thoughts of these leaders with you. Mark Twain described synergy as the “bonus that is achieved when things work together harmoniously.”7 “Synergy is everywhere in nature,” another observer noted. “If you plant two plants close together, the roots commingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated.
If you put two pieces of wood together, they will hold much more than the total weight held by each separately. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One plus one equals three or more.”8 Drawing from his extensive wealth of hands-on knowledge, Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Hellen Keller opined that “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” And Michael Jordan posited that, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
Of all the commentators, Carlos Ghosn made the best attempt to describe the wider benefits of synergy and team work when he stated that, “synergies are not only about cost reduction. Synergies can be access to markets, exchange of products, avoiding overlaps, and exchange of best practices.” And Babara Max Hubbard allayed the fear of those who think synergy would result in the loss of individuality.
He rightly noted that, “Synergy does not mean giving up what we want. It means joining to co-create so each is able to receive ever more of what attracts us through joining rather than opposing.”
Luis E. Romero is another of the foremost thinkers on this subject. He brilliantly identified the factors that make synergy work. He said, “just as the numbers of protons, neutrons, and electrons define the potential for chemical synergy, the combination of common interests, common values, and complementary talents defines the potential for team synergy.”
Along with the earlier-advocated strategy of lean management and the other strategies to be considered in this training, I am confident that the Lagos State Civil Service will be on the path to being re-positioned for higher effectiveness and responsibilities. In the final analysis, we find that there is much to gain from pursuing these strategies and, in so doing, to build a Lagos State Civil Service that is always ready and prepared to fulfill higher responsibilities.