The year 2020 will go down in the annals of world history as the year the coronavirus visited the world and transformed all dimensions of human endeavor, from eating and greeting habits to administrative executives and the way we see it. the human world. With millions already dead and many more infected, especially through many more deadly variants than the original virus, the pandemic has already set a new standard in human relationships and activities. We do not have to think seriously to see that public administration becomes the most important human effort to be challenged not only to face the pandemic, but also to respond to the ordering of the human world in a post-world world. COVID-19. All over the world, public administration has often been called upon to deal with wars, pestilences, development efforts and state projects of all kinds.
In Nigeria, for example, the public administration faced the task of continuing the Nigerian civil war as well as defining an administrative framework for post-war social rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The implication of this assessment of public administration and its confrontation with the existing realities of each period of history is that public managers must always operate effectively in what has been called a VUCA administrative environment – volatile, uncertain. , complex and ambiguous. In such an environment, public managers and the civil service are charged beyond what traditional administrative apparatuses are capable of supporting. This is the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. This created a volatile situation determined by the unpredictable behavior of the virus. This makes the administration of human activities even more complex than it usually is. For example, foreclosure procedures come with harsh economic realities that affect human freedom and well-being.
One of the greatest challenges for the civil service, especially in a postcolonial administrative context like Nigeria, is to determine which bureaucratic model could best enable a sufficiently effective and efficient civil service to cope with the challenges of the environment. VUCA while intelligently providing democratic services. Max Weber, the German philosopher who greatly influenced the emergence of the traditional administrative model, was also faced with this type of VUCA situation at the start of the 20th century. The crisis situation is the result of the hostility between the German Emperor Wilhelm II and his Chancellor Otto von Bismarck over the content of foreign and social policy. The Emperor’s erratic foreign policy was seen as one of the root causes of WWI. Max Weber was a very keen philosophical observer of the defeat of Germany in World War I, as well as the bureaucratic implications of the power struggle between William II and Chancellor Bismarck. For example, he noticed how the administrative dominance of the state was consolidated in the absence of a strong political leader. This led him to think deeply about how to juxtapose political leadership with a bureaucracy that assists the state in terms of modernization and development.
Weber’s understanding of the crisis led to a need to model the relations between politicians and bureaucrats in such a way as to determine the limits of power and authority around policymaking. For Weber, the solution was to generate a bureaucratic tradition that centralized legal-rational authority based on a hierarchical structure and a unique standardization of governance and operations across the department. The command and control structure constructed the official as apolitical, loyal, neutral and anonymous. With the bureaucratic model, Weber carried out a crisis management dynamic in the aftermath of the First World War. The question, however, is whether this Weberian model is sufficient to handle the crisis caused by COVID-19 and the myriad challenges of the new normal?
This question resonates all the more in a postcolonial context such as Nigeria considered one of the worst administrative frameworks in Africa? An even more fundamental question is how can public services become effective in times of crisis like the pandemic and its future variants?
Asking questions like this speaks to the need for organizations like the public service to recognize the need for change as the most constant factor that requires organizations to have a reform model comprised of continuous learning, change management and development. ‘iterative incremental improvements. In organizational development theory, organizations typically fall prey to three development traps that define what has been called the “first cycle” of bureaucratic culture. First, organizational success leads to complacency and a thoughtless defense of the status quo. Second, size leads to the fragmentation of organizational procedures that distance public managers from customer feedback that serves as a mechanism for innovative growth. Third, the age factor implies that the older an organization gets, the more it engenders a tradition which, over time, tends to supplant the innovative and creative management of challenges.
The question of a high-performance public service in times of crisis also requires the emergence of informed public managers who see decision-making as the nerve of organizational efficiency. In other words, smart public managers must transform the public service into a bold, proactive and high performing organization capable of making quick and effective decisions in times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, decision-making should not degenerate into group thinking that hinders individual and organizational creativity, information overload, analysis paralysis that leads to indecision or overconfidence in the competence of crisis management in such a way as to create tensions at the operational and strategic levels. The effectiveness of any CEO or public manager depends on three critical skills. The first is the ability to effectively delegate authority in a way that favors the discretion of the crisis manager to work independently at the organizational frontline within a framework of exceptions to the rules that do not, however, erode normal crisis management regulations. way to break up the organization. The second skill that the public manager needs requires creating a balance between the command and control dynamic on the one hand, and the participatory team decision-making approach on the other. The third skill that a time of crisis demands is the need for intelligent public managers to be open to alternative scenario planning that anticipates both uncertainties and possibilities. This enables officials to bring multiple perspectives to policy challenges and public service delivery by using forecasting techniques to test different scenarios and by building resilience in policy design in the face of potential shocks and unforeseen events. Shaping a new set of professional skills involves several other requirements. First, it requires a human resources management architecture around which a new professionalism is built. Second, it affects the way we think about the workplace, work structure and work dynamics, which will affect the performance and productivity Nigeria needs. And third, professionalism must be supported by a new culture and new value shifts that allow public servants to focus on new enabling values and ethics while helping them move outside the administrative framework.
The idea of scenario planning refers to the familiar four stages of the “train-take-set-up-standardize and execute” organizational training model that enables any institution and organization to become effectively formidable, not just to do facing a current challenge, but also to anticipate future situations. A public service that wants to be effective in the new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic must, as part of the scenario planning imperative, adopt a strategic thinking framework that becomes strategic by challenging the status quo, by challenging assumptions and framing strategic choices that will allow the public service not only to get through difficult times, but also to make the most of the situation for the benefit of citizens. Moreover, such a public service must reorder its institutional and structural dynamics and frameworks through several processes, in an organizational development trajectory, which must continually refresh the organizational dynamic and prevent it from entering institutional stagnation. These include: (a) Learning organization: a total effort is required from managers to keep their employees informed of the latest technologies, systems, know-how and processes; (b) Total Quality Management: TQM involves employee involvement, teamwork, decision making, problem solving, high level involvement, adoption of a work culture aimed at to the growth and quality of products and services. TQM requires full commitment, the elimination of the fear psychosis caused by failure at lower levels, the development of a successful work culture and continuous improvement; (c) Vision: The vision envisions what the organization would look like in the future. It is linked to the shape of HR equipment, to growth and to the needs of the people it is likely to meet. Based on the vision, a database should be built, leading to interpretation of information, appropriate decision making and definition of an action plan leading to growth. Vision refers to looking at the organization as a “whole”; and (d) Virtual organizations: bringing the whole system together in one room, evolving the action plan and implementation.
In the new normal, the public administration is now doubly responsible for ensuring efficient service delivery to citizens. This means that it cannot be the status quo for public managers, not in terms of traditional bureaucratic culture and certainly not in terms of skills and skill sets. The new normal demands a new public service that is intelligent and decisive in the face of decisions that transform the well-being of citizens who struggle to make sense of their environment.
- Olaopa is Professor of Public Administration, NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State
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