Saturday, December 18, 2010

South Sudan: Management Deficit is Affecting Service Delivery across most Sectors of Economy

By John A. Akec

Good fighters? Yes. Good managers? No. Excellent work culture? No. These questions and the accompanying answers are what generally characterise the running of every institution in South Sudan these days, irrespective of whether or not the institutions concerned are public or private. There may be exceptions to the rule, though very rare and far between, and apply mostly to foreign owned businesses and international non-governmental organisations. For example, the GOSS ministry of internal affairs under Gier Chuang, has delivered impressive results in form of organisation, training, and equipping the police forces in Juba. This could also be said about the GOSS ministry of transport under Anthony Makana, and Ministry of Public Services under Awut Deng Achuil. That is not to say these are the only performing GOSS ministries because there may be many others whose performances may be hard to quantify because of nature of their mission.

Generally speaking, everywhere I go, I see countless ways in which things could be improved, and more often than not, they have not been. Examples include airports that charge customers service fees and yet have been unable to provide or maintain decent customers' washrooms nor introduced noticeable service improvements over the last five years; state capitals whose citizens and visitors continue to live and walk amongst the rubbish, year after year after year, despite the fact that setting up a sustainable and self-financing waste collection system for a city is straight forward; hotels that charge premium sums for VIP rooms which are poorly maintained and not carefully looked after to ensure usability and cleanliness; many ministries in the government of South Sudan that have been unable to deliver visible results pertaining to their mission and mandate; departmental units within ministries whose heads/directors continue to operate like generals without troops, namely ineffective and failing to produce visible outputs to stakeholders since taking up their roles.

Recently I watched an entrepreneur striving to deliver high demand services single-handedly. This entrepreneur runs a lucrative money transfer business in Sudan. His clients deposit money in one end and have them drawn by beneficiaries at the other end across the country. The service involves registering details of each client (name, phone number, and city or location of residence) for the incoming transfers and outgoing transfer, as well as answering the enquiries from customers wanting to catch their remittances and paying them accordingly. First time I visited the place, I saw two employees toiling away to serve a long queue of clients in their little office in Khartoum downtown.

In my most recent visit, I witnessed only one person was handling all the tasks simultaneously. The outcome was a congested office full of queues of disaffected customers. Many of those intending to transfer money had to give up and leave to attend to other matters. This clearly presents a lost income for the company concerned. I gave the entrepreneur one or two suggestions on how to speed up the process that would involve employing 3 additional persons: one to receive incoming calls, one to handle outgoing transfers, and one to pay out the remiitances to clients, while he himself attend to handling enquiries, and directing clients to the appropriate windows/persons. That said, I very much doubt if my proposal has been given the attention it deserves.

Management deficit and poor work culture, I reckon, are at the heart of under performance of many of our institutions and businesses. Apart from being the leaders of our departmental units, bank branches, companies, hotels, commissions, universities, ministries and states; we need to be good managers as well.

For this author, good management is the ability to set achievable goals and targets, mobilise the necessary material and human resources, and working hard to achieve them within defined time scale and budget. Every manager needs to be organiser, assessor, motivator, controller and communicator, to name but a few of indispensable traits of a successful manager.

To be organiser is to be able to design a workable system for the organisation (putting the right man and woman in the right place, clear mandate and purpose, set goals, availing of resources and support). To be an assessor is to be able to evaluate performance and identify what more needs doing. To be a motivator is to be able to make subordinates willingly carry out their allocated tasks to their best ability; to be a controller is to ensure that everyone in the department unit, organisation, commission, hotel, or ministry is working towards agreed goals within the mandate not so much to optimise their own output but the overall output of the department, organisation, commission, hotel, or ministry. To be a communicator is to let subordinates have the information they need in order to carry out tasks and to give them feedback (what they are doing well, and what needs improving).

Organisations (governmental and non-governmental) come in different sizes. Each serving a different sort of customer base or stakeholders, and hence no single type of management style or component presents a fit for all. What's more, organisations are not markedly different from hard engineering systems such aeroplanes and automobiles in which each component has an allocated role which is vital for the overall functioning of the system. Hence, their performance can be analysed using similar tools as used to design and analyse machine systems.

Training of employees to deliver quality service is a must. That alone is not enough without the use of trained or experienced managers. There must be in place means for the management to monitor the quality of service being provided or the goods being produced (whether tangible or intangible). Sometimes this may require nothing more than the manager in charge going around the facility (such as looking into the toilets in an airport lounge, or visiting a restaurant in a hotel from time to time in order to see and taste what is being served on the menu). In a more systematic case, it may involve randomly asking customers to fill in questionnaires asking them to express opinion on service received and suggest ways of improving it.

However, training of employees does not always need to involve attending courses, but could be as mundane as spending time at different branches to allow employees to pick up best practices and skills which they can bring back to their respective home branches. For example, employees of Hotel X in Bantiu can spend time working in Hotel X branch in Juba. Companies and organisations in South Sudan can also use management consultants and professors of management at our various universities to assess the performance of organisations and re-engineer their business processes in order to raise the quality of service delivery and improve organisational profitability and efficiency. Some organisations may even strive for mark of excellence in service delivery by seeking international recognition through the attainment of ISO 9000 standard certification.

In the final analysis, management is a vital administrative and planning tool that can be learnt in class room and perfected in the field. Hence, South Sudan businesses, organisations and institutions can only continue to ignore its importance at their own peril.

Let us be reminded that there is no such thing as underdeveloped economies, but what we often mistake for underdevelopment are the ramifications of prolonged under management across wide economic sectors of economy of a particular country.

Armed with knowledge of management and with determination to put it to good use, South Sudan can escape the curse of languishing in the backwaters of underdevelopment for longer than is deemed necessary.


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