No Free Lunch

Blurred visions and misguided missions

/ 12:11 AM November 24, 2015

I heard a story about a certain management committee meeting involving the top officials of a critical government department, including its secretary, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and bureau directors. In that meeting, one of the senior officials reportedly offered a cash prize of P10,000 on the spot, to anyone who could give the department’s vision and mission.

There were no takers. No one in the ManCom knew or could recall what these were.


In a training needs assessment conducted for another critical government agency, the following findings were documented: “At the organizational level, there was uncertainty in the organizational design that includes a clear purpose, vision, mission and objectives. Staff had difficulty in seeing how their respective work directly contributed to the agency’s mission and goals. (There were) specific instances where staff contributions seemed to go into a ‘black hole,’ where results remained uncertain and there was no feedback provided.

“At the functional and process levels, work requirements and procedures were not always documented, communicated, or understood. Without clearly defined procedures, staff also mentioned that there was confusion in their roles. At the individual and job level, staff did not have ready access to the required data and information to effectively perform their jobs. A number of staff expressed the view that new hires and contractual employees were not being given opportunities to develop knowledge and skills as they were on-boarded and later assigned work.”


How do agencies of the Philippine government monitor and assess how well they are doing? At the instance of the Department of Budget and Management exercising its less-appreciated “M” mandate, government agencies now employ the Organizational Performance Indicator Framework (OPIF) to help them work better. The DBM’s OPIF requires each agency to define its major final outputs (MFOs) and performance indicators (PIs) in concrete and measurable terms. It’s all conceptually sound and impressive—but I found that it could easily break down in actual execution, such as in defining what these MFOs and PIs should be.

I was part of a team that facilitated the corporate planning of still another prominent government agency several years ago. One unit of that agency has the responsibility of providing guidance and supervision to their regional offices around the country. In the search for measurable indicators of performance and impact of that regional coordination unit, they came up with counting the number of inquiries from regional offices that they would receive and respond to. They argued that the more inquiries they received and responded to, the better they were performing. Amused, we had to remind them that receiving more inquiries from their primary clients was not exactly a measure of success; if anything, it reflects failure in providing clear enough guidance to the regional offices. In the end, they agreed that their success lies in how few, rather than how many, inquiries came from their clients.

A favorite example of problematic bureaucracies has been the Department of Agriculture. For many years, I have shared the view with many like-minded colleagues that the DA appears to be pursuing misplaced objectives. Years ago, I led a team commissioned to advise the DA as it prepared to update its Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Plan. Our team summed up our recommendations in several paradigm shifts that must transpire if Philippine agriculture is to see meaningful improvement. These included shifting from self-sufficiency to food security as a primary goal, from top-down management to meaningful devolution, and from a production focus to a holistic value chain perspective. I have already expounded in past writings on the first two.

Getting away from focusing on the farm production system, and adopting instead a holistic value chain perspective doesn’t come easy, not

only for DA officials, but even for certain constituents in the sector. It has long been recommended that the DA not confine its scope of concern to the farm production system. But as things have long stood, what happens beyond the farm gate continues to be considered to fall under the aegis of the Department of Trade and Industry. Rather than worry simply about how well farmers are producing their crops (or fishers producing their fish) and how much they are producing, the DA would do well to address the prevalent coordination failures across the whole agricultural value chains, spanning seed to shelf (or sometimes, seed to stomach). This will not happen if responsibility over the value chain is shared between the DA and the DTI, two agencies for which coordination has always been a traditional challenge.

To address such traditional coordination failures across the value chain, my team also recommended that the DA foster industry associations whose membership spans players across the entire value chain. We need to get out of the tradition of having separate organizations of growers, traders, processors and logistics providers exclusively among themselves, providing no forum for all of them to talk regularly to each other. And it will take government to cause this to happen.

If you think there’s too much to be desired in certain key sectors of our economy, we need not look any farther than the government agencies that manage them. One gets an uneasy feeling that the very officials tasked to manage the development of our most critical sectors don’t even know for sure what they’re really supposed to be working for.


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TAGS: bureaucracy, cielito f. habit, column, management, mission, Vision
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