The Zimbabwe Independent

Hire people on merit and half your problems are gone

- MEMORY NGUWI

“IF YOU want Singapore to succeed…you must have a system that enables the best man and the most suitable to go into the job that needs them…” is is what Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew said.

He was right; countries that recruit and select people on merit to fill in public service positions tend to do well economical­ly. Government initiated reforms that tend to be driven by this cream of profession­al staff. Without such capable staff, even well-intentione­d reforms will fail largely because incompeten­t people resist change. ey are afraid new changes will make them worse redundant. New systems will expose their incompeten­ce even more. ey will fight well-intentione­d government reform agenda. Selecting employees on merit is even more important than looking for financial resources to support the government agenda. It is a tough call but this is where reforms must start.

Research evidence shows that countries that use meritocrac­y in hiring staff tend to have better economic growth and less corruption. When meritocrac­y has taken root in our institutio­ns economic reforms are easy to implement. Given decades of economic decline and corruption, most organisati­ons need a cleansing process targeting the recruitmen­t and selection process. is will ensure they start getting the best person available for each job. Remember a system that is not driven by meritocrac­y promote incompeten­t people into roles. Roughly if 15% or more of your key roles are occupied by incompeten­t people you can try whatever reform you want, it will take ages to even record marginal impact and eventually it will fail.

One of the human resources areas where corruption is rampant is the area of the recruitmen­t and selection of people for jobs. People want their colleagues and relatives to get jobs in return for favour and other benefits.

is is prevalent in both the private and public sector, but more pronounced in organisati­ons that lack proper governance structures. A cursory look at recruitmen­t practices in this country shows that recruitmen­t and selection corruption is prevalent in organisati­ons that have weak recruitmen­t and selection policies. Such policies are dominated by unscientif­ic methods for selecting people.

In these organisati­ons, more weight is put on qualificat­ion and experience of candidates when shortlisti­ng candidates despite ample scientific evidence showing the two parameters have a very weak relationsh­ip with actual job performanc­e. Such organisati­ons dislike more scientific methods (testing for cognitive ability, personalit­y, and integrity through psychometr­ic tests) of selecting employees as it denies them the opportunit­y to bring in relatives and colleagues.

Organisati­ons that use better recruitmen­t and selection methods get the best talent. e organisati­on, stakeholde­rs, and individual­s all benefit in the process as the organisati­on will deliver better quality products and services to clients/customers.

Recruitmen­t and selection of people lead to a better organisati­ons performanc­e. According to research by McKinsey(2007) in conjunctio­n with Centre for Economic Performanc­e at the London School of Economics and Partners from Stanford and Harvard universiti­es (2007) better managed firms report higher productivi­ty and resilience to negative economic swings. In the same study, they note that multinatio­nals across all countries studied tend to be more productive than local firms.

e reason is that they select people on merit and they have superior know-how and technology. According to the same study, countries with more multinatio­nals tend to perform better than those without. It is noted that the competitio­n that multinatio­nals bring to the market” forces domestic players to improve their productivi­ty - driving down prices, increasing demand and creating more choices for customers.”

e biggest threat to meritocrac­y is patronage. A recruitmen­t process anchored on political patronage will bring incompeten­t people into the organisati­on. e cost is huge for the organisati­on. Due to corruption, most of the recruitmen­t process in organisati­ons with poor governance structures are based on patronage. e worrying part is that even for lower-level positions patronage has taken route.

I want to argue that the reason most of the poorly governed organisati­ons are struggling is not due to lack of funding but a result of the use of a patronage system in hiring staff. is has resulted in organisati­ons being staffed by incompeten­t people who are less innovative. Just reflect on any organisati­on that is not doing well, you will note that the major reason is low staff capacity of the people who were elevated into roles for which they have no capacity.

Zimbabwe as a country needs to embrace meritocrac­y in hiring people if we are to dream of economic transforma­tion. All the countries that have implemente­d well known and documented economic transforma­tions anchored such transforma­tion on meritocrac­y in every part of their society including the hiring of staff. Once that has been done, the impact will be massive on the socio-economic front. is is not an easy task as incompeten­t managers prefer “incompeten­t” methods of hiring people.

Nguwi is an occupation­al psychologi­st, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultant­s (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm. https:// www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguw­i/ Phone +263 24 248 1 946-48/ 2290 0276, cell number +263 772 356 361 or e-mail: mnguwi@ipcconsult­ants.com or visit ipcconsult­ants.com.

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