He believes that what the country really needs, both in the private and public sector, is skilled people who perform effectively. “In the knowledge economy of today, people are the major expense on many organisations’ income statements and if effective, will be an employer’s most important asset. If ineffective, they can be a deadweight and terminal cost,” he says.
While skill is an important component of performing effectively, on its own it is not enough. “The shortage to which the national discourse refers is actually one of ‘education’ or ‘knowledge’.
Skill is typically developed by the application of knowledge through deliberate practice. Save for the very practical education in the so-called trades where to some extent skill is developed, in most educational institutions what is acquired is knowledge, not skill,” he adds.
Robinson says it is important to realise that Government and private enterprise are in fact parties in a symbiotic relationship. The country needs effective performers in the private sector so that business can compete on an increasingly international stage and make returns to shareholders and investors, and similarly in the public sector so that an excellent service can be provided.
Business is by far the largest provider to the fiscus.
“It is Government’s responsibility to create an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and business success, while at the same time being referee in ensuring fair business practice.
Getting this balance right is vital. It is also largely Government’s job, through the allocation of resources and the application of effective national education strategy, to provide entrants to the workforce who have adequate education or knowledge. It is largely the responsibility of business and also public sector employers to transform people with knowledge into people who perform effectively,” he says.
Robinson believes that the key to success is getting people ready to perform effectively. ‘Performance Readiness’ as he terms it, consists of four aspects. The first is having a base of knowledge relevant to a particular job. “Someone in either private or public sector who deals with people as a part of their job would, for instance, need to have good literacy,” he says. The second aspect is skill. “Skill is developed by applying their knowledge through appropriate deliberate practice. Someone who has been to law school, for instance, will have a good knowledge base of the law but very little skill as a lawyer (and even less as a manager). Skill is developed on the job.” The third aspect is capacity meaning a person must have the capacity for a particular job.
“For instance someone with poor eyesight will not make a very good bus driver or airline pilot!” adds Robinson. Lastly, motivation is key and often a point that is overlooked. People need to be motivated to perform. An organisation can take some accountability for this, but so too should the individual. Trends show that increasingly organisations employ for attitude more than for knowledge or experience, notwithstanding the importance of both of these. The extent to which all of these factors are in play will determine an individual’s readiness to perform,” says Robinson.
Performance Readiness on its own, however, is not enough. Without an environment conducive to effective performance, the individual is unlikely to perform effectively. Culture, processes, information and resources are all factors that make an environment conducive to effective performance. Robinsons says that a performance culture would, for instance, reward good performance and have consequences for poor performance. “Work processes need to be connected and streamlined; people must know why, what and how to do things and must get feedback accordingly; and people need resources that work in order to do their jobs effectively,” he adds.
In essence, Robinson believes the sooner Government and private enterprise can engage in a common discourse to gain a better understanding of the performance shortage in this country, the sooner both parties will be able to agree on who is accountable for what and how each can better work together to get to the ‘how’ of effective public and private sector performance.
“And we’ll create more jobs in the process,” he concludes.