Delivering “Tabdeeli”: Converting a Change Vision to Reality
A Hybrid Politico-Technocratic Management Approach for Policy Reform, Implementation…
By: Malik Ahmad Jalal
BSc. Economics (LSE), Chartered Accountant (ICAEW), Masters in Economic Development (Harvard)
Change is hard yet necessary in a dynamic and volatile environment. Real, sustainable change — or its more popular variant being today’s catchphrase- “Tabdeeli” — is crucial for organizations and governments to remain relevant and achieve real ascertainable progress. However, old management models and Business-As-Usual actions won’t deliver Tabdeeli, especially in the public sector which has far greater expanse and culture of maintaining status quo, than private organizations.
Our new government is striving to execute its change agenda, and being criticized for policy-decision reversals — by some counts fourteen in its first month in office — and slow progress on implementation. This is because a transformation strategy requires the following for effective execution
a) Cohesive management/organizational design,
b) Specific role definition, and finally
c) Selection of human resources with right mix of technocratic/specialist and political capabilities.
Case for Designing a Management and HR Model for Change
Rapid technological changes, budgetary constraints and a fast ever-evolving environment change the trajectory of organizations. Whether it is small or system-wide change, leaders can feel intimidated by the scope and complexity of actions they need to execute to achieve the desired “real’ change. Change requires STRUCTURED EXECUTION, RIGHT RESOURCING and most importantly, PERSISTENCE!
No wonder, research from McKinsey & Co. illustrates that 70% of all transformational initiatives fail. Furthermore, Rick Mauer, a renowned subject matter expert, states that 50% of quality improvement programs and 30% of process re-engineering efforts fail. The key factors contributing to failure of change initiatives are stakeholder resistance and management mis-calculations.
The public sector is even less susceptible to change, as it can defy pressures of market forces for longer periods than private organizations. After all, one positive characteristic of governments is their general ability to create stability and predictability — hence, reluctance to change is understandable.
Therefore, bringing innovation, transformation, or Tabdeeli in government through common management models and customary practices simply won’t work. Evolved management structures leveraging both political and technocratic capabilities within a country are required to overcome resistance and execute real change.
This is further reinforced by Jay Galbraith’s STAR Model of organizational design that demonstrates that change process requires both a structured approach to communicating and executing the change agenda and getting the right human resource capabilities on-board:
1. Creating and Communicating Vision and Strategy: Outline clearly the objectives of the mission, and then to repeatedly and consistently communicate it
2. Establishing Structure and Process for Consistent Execution: To consistently communicate and undertake work flow, follow-ups for change actions
3. Getting the Right People on Board: Change is human centric, and bring on-board champions of new priorities and the change agenda
4. Right Rewards to Motivate: Incentivize to align new actions and behavior with the change agenda
Controlling and Directing the Change Narrative
Jay Galbraith’s principles for business transformation need to be applied, albeit much more rigorously and over longer periods in political change scenarios.
Even when vision and strategic planning for transformations are done carefully, it is still susceptible to failure on account of how the message of change is positioned and perceived. Therefore, it is crucial for the PM/CEO to directly oversee and control the communication and narrative for change to eradicate doubts, confusion or resistance.
The essence of any comms strategy is to inspire stakeholders to change behavior and lay out clearly the payoffs of change versus maintaining the status quo. This is best carried out by the PM/CEO giving it an aura of due importance and irreversibility, but also for this to be done repeatedly in order for it to have long-lasting impact. A significant body of psychology research highlights that it takes more than 12 repetitions of a change message for it to be grasped widely and deeply within a system and to bring about corresponding behavioral change. This consistency and frequency of the right type of communication requires a comms set-up close to the Prime Minister, in the form of the Special Assistant to PM for Press and Media. In devising his speeches and also monitoring, aligning and controlling the rhetoric of other government’s leaders, it can ensure Tabdeeli agenda remains on-message and the dissemination is in line with the government’s vision and policy.
Creating a Cohesive Core Unit to Execute the Change Agenda
My own personal experience of running one of the largest social enterprises in Pakistan aiming at transformational change within society as well as researching business transformations has highlighted that successfully implementing the change agenda needs cohesive and consistent actions driven across multiple work streams and deep down the system to all employees and stakeholders — for impact, it needs span and depth. In leading a large organization, let alone government of 220 million strong population, it is simply impractical for the PM/CEO alone to drive all the work streams. Yet the change agenda needs to be tightly controlled and driven from the top — at least until the time that it is fully embedded within the system.
As a single leader cannot oversee all the functions, let alone in a fluid environment requiring complex coordination, therefore, a strong comprehensive management structure is required to ensure that the change agenda remains focused and consistent in its efforts, and is not side-tracked or stalled by the forces of the status quo, particularly by outdated governance models. A PM/CEO needs to work through select key people with the required capabilities, who are 1000% aligned with the vision of change and understand the priorities and strategy.
In private organizations, these tend to be the Business Unit Heads; but larger organizations need a smaller core group of senior officials within the PM/CEO’s Secretariat. Those with the alignment of vision and execution capability are rare in any system. Therefore, the PM/CEO needs to empower them to magnify his message, ensure correct translation of vision into strategy at a departmental level and bring about executional consistency and delivery that is in line with the overall change agenda. If not tightly controlled by the core group, then interpretation as well as execution can deviate significantly from the change agenda, particularly further down the system.
Having this management structure of a PM/CEO Secretariat with the requisite experience, diversity of skill set and a strict project management discipline ensures that the stakeholders at all levels of the organization are working in sync towards the common goal of managing and implementing change. This structure of communicating and implementing change close to the PM can overcome against powerful pockets of resistance from entrenched lobbies.
The Tabdeeli Central Nervous System
The executive branch of a state has a similar structure and function to that of an organization, with Departmental/BU Heads as Ministers, executing upon their roles and responsibilities within their respective domains. This hierarchical structure ensures that the authority is distributed to run the affairs of the state effectively in a business-as-usual scenario. However, this span is too spread out to be conducive for the deep transformation and Tabdeeli that the Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised the nation.
For driving the change agenda, an alternative structure for the Prime Minister’s Office is required to ensure a cohesive strategy and communication of the change agenda, and a stringent follow-through mechanism to ensure execution. The revised organizational design and management structure incorporates Special Assistants, drawn from private or public sector with requisite experience and capabilities, in four key areas to support the PM in driving the change agenda. These Special Assistants do not have Departmental Execution powers, though are close confidants of the Prime Minister and responsible for conversion of the Vision into Strategy and then Strategy into Implementation or Reality, in partnership with the relevant Ministries. The four areas are a) National Security, b) Planning, Finance and Domestic Policy, c) Parliamentary & Constitutional Affairs, d) Press and supported by the Cabinet Secretary. “Integrating” 19+ ministries into these four areas to manage change projects from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, instead of each matter escalating to the Prime Minister, is the recommended way forward.
- The three Specialist Councils/Committees comprise of respective and relevant special assistants, departmental ministers, government officials and can call upon from a pool of technocratic private and public sector officials for their expert input
- These are smaller units, with more focused, specialist and relevant technocratic expertise than the full Cabinet for sharper policy analysis, strategy development and filtering the recommendations
- Only after the Council’s analysis and recommendations, the options are put forth to the Federal Cabinet for final deliberation, iteration and approval
- The Special Assistants are not involved in execution, which remains the domain of Ministers, but rather act as the thinkers, refiners, coordinators and enforcers of the Prime Minister’s vision and the Federal Cabinets decisions in their respective areas.
- Their proximity with the Prime Minister and engagement in the Council gives them the holistic overview, context for driving implementation across their respective ministries
- Critical functions such as talent acquisition, management/retention and project management is undertaken through the Special Assistants, and so they must have the requisite political or technocratic abilities.
- The Cabinet Secretary, as the administrative head of the Civil Service, is part of the core team to ensure that the change agenda is executed through the civil service, in accordance with the vision
This management structure with right technical input, cascading information, and follow up is the manner through which the Prime Minister can implement his Tabdeeli agenda.
The Gate Keeper and First Among Equals: Chief of Staff
First among equals of the Special Assistants is the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff is a most important role as he/she is the Government’s Chief Operations Officer and the Gatekeeper, Arbiter and Enforcer of the decisions of the Prime Minister. The Chief of Staff is also responsible for risk assessment, filtering and solving issues before they are brought to the direct attention of the Prime Minister — and then too only critical matters or deviations from the agenda are escalated to the PM.
This is perhaps the toughest role and that is why the average longevity of any Chief of Staff of the US President is only two years. As the book “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency” (https://www.amazon.com/Gatekeepers-White-Chiefs-Define-Presidency/dp/0804138249) highlights the success of presidents is often dependent upon the efficiency of the incumbent Chief of Staff. The most effective Chief of Staff was Jim Baker and he played a significant role in the success of Ronald Reagan’s first term. When Baker moved on from the Staff role, Reagan got mired in many controversies like Iran Contra in his second term. Similarly, in the Nixon era, the Watergate scandal was partially due to lapses and the inability of Chief of Staff, Bob Halderman, who remained a bystander and did not effectively perform his filtering and gate-keeping role in the events that led up to the Watergate scandal.
The Chief of Staff is the “grown up” in the room, who when emotions are high, has the ability to step back, advise and ensure that ir-rational or hasty decisions are not taken. In boiler room situations, there is a tendency to make decisions without considering long-term implications and that is why an independent and strong Chief of Staff is critical for avoiding policy statement reversals and ensuring consistency of decision-making and implementation.
Project Execution and Talent Management are at heart of Tabdeeli
The Chief of Staff should head a Project Management Office (PMO) that maintains and tracks the change projects across numerous ministries and reports to the Prime Minister on progress so any gaps or lapses can be addressed. This independent project management review will ensure that correct and accurate information on change progress is available to and within the PM Secretariat.
In addition, the PM must have the right team with well-defined KPIs, against which teams can be evaluated and motivated to deliver on these KPIs. This requires a Chief Talent Official within the PM Secretariat, who is responsible for vetting professionals suitable for performing roles in the governing bodies, as well as for performance evaluation of ministers and key government advisers/ officials. Right talent acquisition and retention is a critical success factor and ensures that the selected ministers, special assistants/ advisers have deep technocratic expertise in their respective domains, but are also politically aligned in their ideology, and with a clean and non-controversial track record.
As in a corporate environment, the most important control on the human resource quality is at the entrance stage of an organization and so the search, evaluation and due diligence process for the selection of ministers and technocratic special assistants/ advisers is rigorous, and done under the supervision of the Chief of Staff and the Chief Talent Official. Since successful change initiatives is about Do-ing rather than Talking over longer duration, so a merit-based promotion and expansion of responsibilities on the basis of tracking execution performance of technocratic and politico government officials is key to attracting and retaining quality talent.
In Conclusion: Hybrid Politico-Technocratic Executive Structure is most Optimum for Executing a Change Agenda
In early 1980s, USA was on a path of decline, loss of confidence and stature on the global stage. It faced defeat in a military campaign in Iran, it’s former President complained of a “malaise plaguing the society” and its main adversary was in ascendance. Amidst these challenges, Ronald Reagan, an actor turned politician took over the White House. Until Trump, Ronald Reagan was considered the most in-experienced President. Though famous for lofty rhetoric, it is well-recognized that Reagan had limited attention to detail required for serious policy-making and needed to confront significant challenges at hand. Yet, Reagan is considered one of the best US Presidents of the last century. Not only did he successfully revive the US economy — coining a term of Reaganomics which would serve as the sound basis for economic growth and innovation for the next decade– but he also aggressively pursued the end of the Cold War that led to the unraveling of the USSR within the same decade.
In spite of many personal disadvantages and health issues, Reagan was able to achieve this success because he understood his own vulnerabilities and created a robust organizational-cum-management structure to support him and to ensure that good, strong decisions and polices were made and implemented. Top talented special assistants/advisers were hired to fill these roles and empowered to make decisions in line with agreed vision and policy — Jim Baker (as Chief of Staff), Edwin Meese (Counselor to the President) and David Gergen (Director of Communications) stand out as examples of effective special assistants who helped Reagan steer the country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and the PTI Government face many challenges and yet they also ride on a wave of optimism and support for Tabdeeli which must be capitalized. At the present, we the people, are willing to sacrifice for Tabdeeli since it is fired up by national pride and has the potential to bring about the state’s rejuvenation. However, the change agenda can be most effectively executed under a Presidential form of executive given the complexity and multitude of challenges that Pakistan faces, and the evolutionary stage of our institutions. Though, constitutional constraints make this option unavailable. Short of that, the optimum organizational/ management structure to achieve change outcomes is as proposed herewith — a hybrid comprising of domain specific assistants to Prime Minister along with specialist councils having a balance of political and technocratic capabilities, vision alignment and implementation capabilities to drive change across the many segments of the government and ultimately, the entire span of the state.
Malik Ahmad Jalal