In what is aimed at being a revolutionary move towards better accountability from the bureaucracy, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) will be coming up with individual scores for 24,104 civil servants from the S 5 level and upwards till P 2 level by June end this year. The ranking will also cover 1,697 staff on contract with the RCSC.
The scores of the P 1 to Ex 3 and above level officials will be judged based on the scores that their respective agencies get overall.
These scores over a three year period will determine whether a civil servant should be on track for meritorious promotion- reserved for outstanding performers, normal promotion for very good and good performers or even delayed promotions for those who need improvement.
The targets and performance of the civil servants will also be linked to the performance of government agencies which are evaluated separately by the Government Performance Management System, instituted by the Prime Minister’s office.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said, “We must stop thinking of the government as this large and opaque bureaucracy that is so complicated that we can’t see the beginning or end of it and that it is so cumbersome that people don’t expect it to deliver.”
Lyonchhen said that the civil service can deliver if the corporate and private sector can also do the same.
“If we can do it then this means that the government is more accountable to the people and to their own system,” he added.
Abuse and ineffectiveness of the old system
The RCSC in the past and until recently had the Performance Management System (PMS). Theoretically under this system a civil servant in consultation with his or her senior was supposed to come up with a work plan at the beginning of the financial year. At the end of the year, the respective senior was supposed to rate the civil servant objectively based on the work plan achievements.
The head of the Government Performance Management Division (GPMD) under the PM’s office, Chencho, said, “In reality what was happening in many cases was that since work plans are a must for promotions every four years, the civil servants were filling up the work plans for four years at one sitting and getting it evaluated at one go along with their seniors.”
In such cases the civil servants would have to go back four years and recall by memory his work output and an immediate supervisor who may not even have been there at the time is forced to rate the civil servant.
The other major problem was in the generally very generous ratings given by the supervisors.
Chencho said, “The main problem was that civil servants were given very generous scores so much so that out of 4 the average rating of civil servants according to the RCSC data was 3.8.”
He said that there were also issues of a particular agency not doing well but its civil servants all getting very good ratings, showing a huge disparity in the agency performance and the civil servants ratings.
RCSC Human Resource Officer Dorji Choidup said that this issue was exacerbated due to certain provisions in the Bhutan Civil Service Rules (BCSR) where certain civil servant who did not have their full qualification needed to get outstanding to get promoted.
Another less spoken about issue with the old system was that since it was not very systematic it had more scope for discretion at the hands of the supervisor.
How the new system works
There are two main changes in the new system. One is that the scrutiny of the individual performance of the civil servant is more professional and thorough through the new Managing for Excellence (MaX) system that replaces the earlier PMS of the RCSC.
Another change is that the individual’s performance is linked to the agency’s performance evaluated under the Government Management Performance System (GPMS), instituted by the Prime Minister’s office.
Starting at the top, a government agency like a ministry would sign an Annual Performance Agreement (APA) with targets for the coming year for the ministry. A National Technical Committee with representation from the PM’s office, RCSC, National Statistical Bureau, GNHC and MoF would make sure these targets are adequate. The budget of the agency should in fact be reflected in the APA.
Lyonchhen said that the APA’s in turn are linked to the 11th five year plan which provides the overall strategic framework.
This target would then translate to targets for the ministry’s departments which in turn would lead to targets for the divisions.
From here on the RCSC’s Max system would takeover to assess the individual civil servants.
At the division level the individual civil servant in collaboration with his or her respective unit head or chief would draw up an Individual Work Plan. This work plan of the civil servant would be related to the particular unit’s targets under the APA.
Under the Max system the IWP has to be filled in mandatorily online along with the supervisor. At the end of the financial year the supervisor or unit head would sit with the civil servant where the civil servant would give his or her own scores and the head would give his or her scores separately. The competency behavior indicators of the RCSC would also be used on top of the evaluation.
This would then be sent to the respective Human Resource Committee of the agency for moderation.
The HR committee would decide how many civil servants should fall in one of the four categories which are Outstanding, Very Good, Good and Needs Improvement based on the overall performance of the agency or unit.
So if the agency has achieved all or most of its APA targets then more numbers of civil servants would be allowed in the outstanding category but if the agency has not done well then the number of civil servants in the top category would be reduced.
The main carrot here is that if a civil servant gets outstanding for three years in a row then he or she is eligible for meritorious promotion before the normal four (for BCSE passed civil servants) or five year period (for SS level civil servants).
The stick is that if a civil servant is rated ‘needs improvement’ for three continuous years then the promotion is delayed by a year. It will then be seen what can be done to help the civil servant, like in areas with capacity building. People who continue to not perform can face actions like redeployment and others.
The scores for the P1 to Ex 1 level will depend on their unit or agency’s score. So better the agency’s performance the better their score.
There are some minor exceptions too. For even P 2 or P 3 people officiating for P 1 officers their scores too will depend on the agency’s score. For the Es category of professional specialists like doctors they will have to fill up the IWP form unless they head a department or unit.
Talking about carrots, Lyonchhen said that it should not just be about promotions but also about being recognized for doing the work that one is paid to do. He said on the other hand people who are not performing would also be recognized.
In response to a question the PM said in that the government wants to see if financial incentives like bonuses can also be given for well performing agencies and civil servants.
Lyonchhen said that generally most governments do not try to bring in such reforms as it can have a political cost, but he said that in the case of Bhutan there is political will to improve the system. The PM gave examples of countries like Singapore and Malaysia where similar system are being implemented.
Criticism and defense
One likely criticism of the combined new system of MaX and GPMS is that it is too corporate in nature and whether it would suit Bhutan.
Here, Lyonchhen said that the results will be based on policies and programs driven by the overarching philosophy of GNH. He said that just because the GPMS tool is used in the corporate sector it does not make it an antithesis of GNH.
“We must use both worlds to achieve change and in fact DHI companies, some state owned corporations and the private sector have been using GPMS,” said Lyonchhen.
Another expected criticism is on the objectivity and subjectivity of the evaluation system when the supervisors are the ones giving the ratings.
Here Chencho, who sat in one some HR committees during the mock exercise for MaX said that he found that the new system also helps removes discretion and subjectivity as everything from the targets to the methodology is well defined. He said the old system in fact suffered from such subjectivity which is now being addressed.
A third issue based on some international experiences is that such ‘forced rankings’ for individuals have backfired in some major corporations which use it to even terminate non-performers. The experience is that it has led to diminishing gains, insecurity, excessive focus on individual performance etc.
In response to this Dorji Choidup acknowledging some of the international failures said it is due to the fact that it was used to terminate people and that it was linked to only monetary incentives.
He said in Bhutan’s case it would not be used to terminate civil servants but instead to help them with capacity development and to also find out why they are not performing. He said the incentive in Bhutan’s case is meritorious promotion and recognition and that it would not be used like how the foreign corporations used them.