Thursday, 28 October 2010

Hired for mediocrity

by Ayaz Ahmad

The success of any organisation is strongly correlated with the skills and competencies of its workforce. The appointment of Adnan Khwaja as managing director of the Oil and Gas Development Corporation, despite the fact that his highest educational qualification is intermediate, is an example of the blatant disregard that this government has for merit. This same gentleman – a former convict and a beneficiary of the NRO who previously served as chairman of the National Vocational and Technical Education Commission – is hardly qualified to be appointed to a clerical position, let alone be selected to head a key organisation in a nation of over 170 million.

The names of parliamentarians holding fake degrees and ministers with questionable credentials have been widely publicised. But the extent of mediocrity at all levels of governmental and semi-governmental entities, as well as in parliament, is mind boggling. Appointment of cronies is the norm in today's Pakistan. From PIA, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel, to PSO, WAPDA and PEPCO, the state of mediocrity is paralysing the national assets. They are on the verge of bankruptcy, barely surviving by the lifeline provided by taxpayers.

Our national sports of hockey and cricket are in doldrums. To top it all, the International Cricket Council has asked the Pakistan Cricket Board to clean up its act within a month or face possible eviction from the world of cricket. Asif Zardari is reported to have stated that PCB chairman Ijaz Butt, who is a close relative of Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, will not be touched till Zardari is at the helm of affairs.

Parliament has recently passed a bill that reinstates officeholders from the PPP's previous stints in government who were relieved of their duties in the late 1990s. To say nothing of the merit of their reappointment, will they really be in a position to perform at an acceptable level, given that they've been away from their assignments for over a decade?
The current government is making a mockery of merit, and its selection of employees reeks of favouritism and nepotism. Things have come to the point where it is almost disadvantageous for an applicant to possess the requisite qualifications for a job in today's Pakistan. However, it must be acknowledged that the previous governments have also played havoc with the nation's greatest asset, its talented human resource, which excels everywhere but in Pakistan.

There are three ingredients that are at the heart of effective recruitment in any organisation, be it public or private. Evidence gleamed from organisational studies suggests that emphasis on formal education, relevant work experience and "fit" within an organisation form the cornerstone of an effective recruitment policy.
A broad-based formal education provides a candidate with the understanding and tools for access to the knowledge accumulated in a variety of fields, while a specialisation allows the student to gain greater expertise in a specific area, preparing him/her to enter the workforce. This knowledge is critical, as it enables the student to learn and absorb the theoretical foundations of the given discipline in a controlled environment.

The experiential phase allows the candidate to put to practise the knowledge in a comparatively uncontrolled setting, thereby refining and improving his/her expertise. From the recruiter's perspective, the candidate must have demonstrated effective utilisation of the skills attained through education by performing work at a progressively advance level. In this respect, the candidate's progression through previous work assignments, judged through written or oral evaluations, act as the primary gauge for evaluation.
Perhaps the most important criterion is the "fit" of the individual into the prospective organisation. It is critical that utmost care be taken to ensure that the candidate will work towards the advancement of the organisational objectives.

There is little use of an otherwise qualified individual whose actions result in disrupting the organisational goals or interfering with the performance of others. For example, if the government has decided to enact an economic policy that evolves around heavy reliance on fiscal stimulus, it would likely be counterproductive to hire a staunch monetarist to carry it out, even if it were economist Milton Friedman, arguably the greatest monetarist of the 20th century.

Though the problems plaguing Pakistan are too complex to be resolved just through implementation of appropriate recruitment and talent-management practices, replacement of a selection process based on favouritism and ad hoc appointments with a merit-based one could turn out to be a giant leap forward for our public and private organisations.

The writer is a management consultant and a freelance contributor. Email: ayaza

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