EDITORIAL – Manderson on a worthy mission

“Civil servants who consistently provide poor customer service will be required to separate from the Civil Service.”
— Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, February 2015

“Inadequate performance continues by some staff. I have, therefore, made dealing with poor performers my top priority for the year.”
— Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, February 2016

Our deputy governor, it appears, has thrown down the other gauntlet.

By announcing that he has made the improvement — or elimination — of “inadequate performers” in the civil service his “top priority” for 2016, Mr. Manderson has sent a message we advise government employees take to heart.

In past decades, Cayman Islands civil servants have typically greeted sternly worded memoranda with a collective yawn, secure in the knowledge that, even though the Public Service Management Law lays out a theoretical process for terminating government employees, the practical reality has been far different. Simply put, getting rid of poor performers in the civil service has bordered on impossible.

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However, it seems this time Mr. Manderson isn’t just “talking the talk,” he has already begun “walking the walk.”

Specifically, each of the 3,600 core government employees now has a “performance agreement” with his or her relevant supervisor, setting out performance targets and annual reviews.

Such agreements (which should be familiar to people employed in the private sector) provide benchmarks by which supervisors can fairly assess an employee’s performance. They enable supervisors to take any number of actions, including raises, rewards, reprimands, and, yes, dismissals. The ability to fire an employee is one of the most important and effective tools of management, both to get rid of poor performers and to motivate remaining employees who may be in need of, er, encouragement.

Speaking of benchmarks, we have one of our own by which to judge the success of Deputy Governor Manderson’s initiative: the number 16 — which is how many civil servants have been dismissed since January 2015 for inadequate performance (2) or misconduct (14). It will be telling if, in a year’s time, that number has dramatically increased, or if not, if there has been a noticeable improvement in service from government.

In conjunction with the performance agreements, we advocate for changes to the legislation which sets out how a civil servant can be dismissed. Government managers should have recourse to a short, clear path to termination, with a very limited appeals procedure, which should take place after the dismissal process, not during. Although the rights of individual employees should be protected, there must be greater protections for the tax dollars that belong to the country as a whole.

Our support for the deputy governor should not be regarded as an assault upon Cayman’s civil service. According to laws of statistics and human nature, the larger an organization is, the more “inadequate performers” it will contain, particularly in the absence of regular pruning. If the deputy governor follows through on his commitment, the civil service will emerge much improved — not just in the quality of the civil servants, but also in the quality of their workplace environment.

We’ll put it this way: Every single person in a given government department knows who the inadequate performers are. They do because those inadequate performers make their lives more difficult. Terminating those inadequate performers will not only make things easier for the good-to-great employees, but the reduction in payroll expenditures will also serve to safeguard their own positions for the future.

Of all the people in the Cayman Islands, it seems obvious to us that Deputy Governor Manderson is the only man for this toughest of jobs. Moreover, he’s the right man for the job. He possesses the qualifications (being an attorney-at-law), the experience (decades in the civil service), the empowerment (as the titular head of the civil service, through the Office of the Governor), and the temperament (calm, reasonable and serious).

Additionally, Deputy Governor Manderson is an appointed official, not an elected one, and, therefore, should be insulated from potential political retribution from the powerful civil servant voting bloc that has effectively paralyzed action from Cayman’s lawmakers. We suggest, for the good of the country and their own electoral ambitions, that our legislators present a united front of support for the deputy governor as he attempts what would truly be a monumental accomplishment: bringing real accountability to the civil service.

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  1. I support Mr Manderson in this move, because many civil servants has no customer service manners. Not even a courteous greeting smile. This is a disease that is in full bloom in all departments ; Un approachable attitude, no telephone manners, no call back or follow up on questions or requests, hangs up the phone on customers, or sits right there hear the phone ringing and will not answer. Not good, and this is viewed upon the faces, and in all departments from Top to bottom, born yaw and naw born yaw. The only how Mr Manderson will approach this head-on is to use “Under cover boss” Call some of these departments sometimes and see the response or get someone to visit and observe.

  2. Twyla, we can’t go on agreeing like this, people will talk!
    What you say is absolutely right, part of it is staff attitude, but more than that, it is a matter of bad management. There are too many levels of management so action and managers are too far separated, too few of the managers are worth their ranking, and few feel the need to roll up their sleeves and get near the action.
    I do like what Mr Manderson is doing, he is trying hard to make change, but introducing a system that brings accountability is a tough call unless those same managers buy in. Hope he isn’t holding his breath until it happens!

  3. This starts at the head and not the feet! Managers of departments need to learn how to coach and train their employees, customer service skills, and just plain good manners will not hurt either. When the head is bad, the rest will be questionable. Please don’t act like this job is an entitlement or will be yours for life. Learn to speak to people properly and we as the end user of most of these services need to voice our complaints as well as praise when it is due. It is not an easy job to deal with the public…but it is the job. If you don’t like where you are employed, please move on. Let someone else have the opportunity to try. Good luck, Mr. Manderson, you have a mighty task ahead of you.