Profit maximising entrepreneurs have long recognised the kinetic importance of three core elements of the performance ecology responsible for sustained business survival and growth. These elements are guidance and performance motivation, performance measurement and capacitation for maximum performance. These elements are so critical that they define the future course of a profit maximising firm.
By implication, therefore, the continued survival and growth of a business is umbilically tied to the robustness of its performance management ecosystem. With a clearly defined focus on profit-making, forward-looking business organisations provide ample guidance and motivation that will enable its workforce to achieve that objective maximally. This principle is universally proven to deliver results regardless of whether it is in private business operation or the public sector. The contrary is true. That is to say that in the absence of effective performance management, less than desirable results are usually the eventual consequence. Therefore, it is essential to ask whether as a country, we have a performance management system in place that ensures that those who manage our economy are sufficiently accountable.
One of the foundations of the challenges that we face as a country is the absence of a clearly articulated and very well implemented public sector performance management system. Its lack has made it consistently challenging to hold most public officials accountable beyond ephemeral criminal mismanagement of funds. For example, there appears to be no clear consequence when leaders fail to implement the budget fully and within designated timeframe even when the resources to deliver are there, and the underlying assumptions of the budget remain unaffected. It is difficult to remember either the federal government or any State government in Nigeria that has made it a routine to set clear targets for itself and go-ahead to deliver on those targets ultimately. Yes, many have come up with medium-term plans but have never retreated to assess how well or otherwise they performed on those goals. Even when they do such efforts fail to produce desired results as there are usually no well-defined consequences for perceived failures and successes.
For instance, we are witnesses to the less than desirable performances of the legislature over the years. Approximately 40% of the legislators in previous assemblies neither came up with any prospective bill nor made visible impacts in the chamber. Many of them have never contributed meaningfully to the discussion of any subject of national importance throughout their four-year or more stay. Regardless of these inadequacies, they still get re-elected primarily because their performances were never objectively assessed. It is on this core of objectivity that the beauty of performance management lies. And because it appears not to exist in our system, it becomes convenient for an administration, a ministry, a department and so on that are performing poorly to self-assess and claim that they are performing well. A good case is the president’s positive score on the performance of the Inspector General of police based on his perception that the latter lost some weight. That is also why the governor of a state will go wild on the erection of statues and sculptural works of foreign celebrities and presidents while the State is buckling under the weight of unpaid workers’ salaries as well as decadent physical and social infrastructure that is crying for urgent attention. Without remorse and any sense of shame, the same governor and his allies declared that they have performed.
Just as it is with the private entrepreneur, every intention to perform is built on the blocks of responsibility and accountability. The former speaks to the fact that anyone occupying an office is responsible for delivering on the expectations of the stakeholders. Taking responsibility also means that the officeholder must make those critical decisions that enable the actualisation of those expectations. It, therefore, means that he or she will bear the consequences of either failing or succeeding in delivering on those expectations. Being accountable, thus shows that the office holder will account for the efforts and the decisions taken to achieve the expectations of the stakeholders. A very objective way of making these is to design very well thought through measurable indicators of performance for all targets sets around any goal. That is to say that starting from the president down to every public sector office; there will be clearly defined goals set out for achievement within established timeframes. A set of targets will drive these goals in turn. Success on those targets by implication means the realisation of the goals. For each of these set of aims, there should be measurable indicators of performance. The National Assembly or any designated public sector performance management office can have responsibility for managing this process. That is the only way we can correctly know whether our public office holders have indeed performed very well or not. That is also how they can easily be held accountable.
One way of realising these would be to force every ministry, department and agency to submit their budgets alongside measurable performance indicators propping specific targets and goals on which to assess their performance. The presidency should be manifestly part of this process. The president and vice president, as well as the heads of various state governments, should have measurable indicators of their specific performances. Such exemplary leadership will also give them the moral authority to oversee and objectively judge their subordinates based on their deliverables. The document containing all the measurable performance indicators shall be in the public domain to enable the public/stakeholders to evaluate the authentic performance of each of these offices. It will also help in equipping the discerning public with the tools necessary for demanding accountability from the officeholders.
Whichever office eventually holds the responsibility for public sector performance management; what would be most important is that it consistently communicates the stretch targets that reflect the overarching vision. The process and the eventual results again must be made public. Aside from the unambiguous communication of the targets, they must also lead to the actualisation of the promised deliverables. Imagine the kind of positive impact that this would create across the public sector spectrum. Let us take for instance the local government administrations across the country. Most chairpersons of these local governments see themselves more as appendages of the State Governor’s work team. As a result, the allegiance rather than being for the people is now to the governor of the state. And if the governor of the State appears to be happy with him, he is convinced that he is performing. 99% of them never articulated any set of deliverables that will enable them to create positive impacts in their local government areas. Therefore, many of them remain grateful to the governor who appropriates and selfishly misallocates most of the funds that ordinarily would have gone to the development of the local government area. This sheer wastage and brazen derailing of the development prospects of the local governments, and by extension, Nigeria’s rural areas can be stopped or at least minimised through robust and guided performance management infrastructure.
Our public sector also needs to find out how the typical entrepreneur incentivises the workforce to get the best out of them. It is ridiculous for the governor of a State to expect that the State’s workforce will perform real magic or abstain from corruption when they are owed their salaries for several months. It is equally demoralising to the workforce when the private entrepreneur offering the same service which the government provides earns about three times that of the former. The regularity and promptness, as well as the size of the pay packet, are powerful incentives for extracting the best levels of performance from the workforce. Unfortunately, our State and local government managers are notorious for either delaying or outrightly defaulting on the salaries of their employees. While I am not a fan of the payment of the so-called minimum wage, it is essential that salaries reasonably compare with what obtains in a similar or related employment.
In addition to the above and consistent with the fact that no one gives what he does not have, commendable performance depends a great deal on the quality of skill sets available for the workforce. What professional expertise mostly does is to shorten the time it takes to deliver on an assignment at the highest professional quality possible. In reverse poorly trained workforce struggle over long time-periods to achieve the same on a task which often they conclude with loads of errors. A more significant proportion of the public sector in Nigeria are visibly poorly trained as well as poorly motivated. The combination of these two in addition to the character deficiency that is pervasive in Nigeria to a great extent explains why we get the results that we have. A useful and well-implemented performance management framework will not deliver the desired results if there are no complementary efforts to address the question of public sector capacity building in Nigeria.
Finally, the mainstreaming of appropriate performance management system for the Nigerian public sector will in no small way enhance the growth of the economy, as well as create a more organised society based on the values of transparency and accountability. This is one of the critical lessons that we can take away from private sector entrepreneur who is consistently reviewing their levels of performance relative to the profit maximisation objective. Citizens of Nigeria can receive maximum well-being on accounts of the accomplishments of those that they have elected to lead them if we enshrine this culture in our Constitution. It only does not make sense that the performance of those chosen to serve us and those who work in public offices are not evaluated appropriately and as frequently as is necessary.