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Square pegging a round hole


SEAN ST CLAIR FIELDS

Square pegging  a round hole

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A FEW YEARS AGO, I had a fascinating discussion with a scholar of Barbadian politics, which bears some relevance to a question I posed in a recent contribution.

Should the qualifications, expertise and experience of a Member of Parliament (Lower or Upper House) be matched to the post to which they are appointed?

In his response, he indicated that the practice of appointing a civil engineer as the minister of public works, for example, was not without challenge as there were instances where those ministers ended up mismanaging their ministries.

He further suggested that the ensuing conflicts in the unit appeared to be more related to the minister’s ego as opposed to his technical expertise and experience.

I found this theory particularly interesting and perhaps it explains the concept of the “square peg in a round hole” method of appointments in our public sector.

Expertise

Juxtaposing to the present day, some protagonists may table as evidence the optics where Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, a civil engineer by profession, is perceived to be making significant strides and achievements in the tourism sector, while his counterpart in the Ministry of Education, Ronald Jones, a trained teacher, is perceived to be less effective.

From this example and others, I am sure, it would appear that a manager’s ability to be effective is not exclusively rooted in his training, expertise and experience in a particular sector.

So if this is true, why is it that in our private sector, managers are generally trained and experienced in the specific field of business in which their units operate which, coincidentally, is the same as it relates to the post of attorney general.

As far as I am aware, and I stand corrected, within our recent history this post is normally reserved for and filled by an attorney at law. Some may say that the rudiments of law and legal matters require formal training in law; but can’t the same be said about the Ministry of Health and a person trained in the medical field?

If I lean on the established practices in the field of management, it is accepted that a manager of a unit is likely to be more effective when he is trained and skilled in the sector.

Performance

It is also accepted that training, expertise and experience in the sector of operations allows that manager to be creative, innovative and capable of imbuing tactical insight when faced with complex problems or constraints.

Given the perceived uncertainties surrounding our social and economic prospects, perhaps it is time for us as a nation to step out of our systemically challenged public sector box and change the way we do business.

While some may reasonably argue that a square peg in a round hole can be more effective in circumstances where a round peg in a round hole has failed, I am submitting it is easier to critique the performance of a person trained to do the job at hand, than one who is not.

Failures

The caveat is quite simple. If a manager is trained, skilled and experienced in the particular field, then his excuses or failures should not be tolerated by those who stand to benefit from or rely on the outputs of that unit. But if he’s not trained and experienced in that area, then it may be unreasonable to hold him accountable for deliverables that we expect his unit to provide.

Let us also recognise that emotional intelligence plays a critical role in managerial success. Researchers argue that in many cases, it’s the relationships, communications, the softer stuff that can make the difference between the unit’s failure and its success. And so, can we imagine a minister of Government who possesses the prerequisite qualifications, experience and skills matched to the requirements of his ministry, bosomed in a cocoon of emotional intelligence?

I will just leave that there to soak in, but it is worth noting that this concept is akin to the military indoctrination that there is no such thing as a bad team, only a bad leader. To this end and in my view, the theory of square pegging a round hole is not likely in the 21st century to provide us with the returns and results that we expect because it makes it particularly complicated for us to reasonably demand accountability.

My fellow Barbadians, now is the time for us to come together to shift our paradigms if we want to survive and flourish as a people.

– SEAN ST CLAIR FIELDS

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