Friday, December 10, 2004

Powers

This is an article I read from Ming Pao in July 2004, written by 龍應台,前台北市文化局長。It is about power in the society and it reminds me of the subject I learnt from the lecture on political science in my MSc study. It is especially revealing in the present day scenario when we witness intensively everyday the power struggle between principal officials, government officials, legislators, academics and the media.

當權力在手

每一種權力都有它本來的目的。政務官負責政策的擘劃,事務官負責政策的執行,民意代表負責審查,媒體記者負責監督,知識分子用知識和筆作時代的眼光。這五種人手都掌握了一個東西,叫做權力,但是每一種權力作用不一。

政務官的權力在於理念的實踐,他意念中想做的事情,因為手中擁有權杖,全部都可以變成現實。在這個意義上,總統和縣市長都是政務官。他說,河邊應該有一個音樂廳,河邊就有一個音樂廳;他說,古蹟應該全面保存,古蹟就被全面保存。反之亦然,他說,鎖國開始,國家的大門就啞然關閉;他說,打倒「偶像」,「偶像」就在煙塵中轟然倒下。這種「點石成金」的權力是任何建樹的必要條件,但同時蘊藏破壞和毀滅的能量。侯賽因把國家帶到滅亡的深淵,布殊把國家拓展成武裝的世界警長,都是這種權力的行使,它可載可覆,可生可死。

事務官的權力在於執法,政策和法規透過事務官的實際操作才發生效力。手中握法規,他決定發不發給建築執照,通不通過環境評估;他起草的公文、蓋下的印章,決定他所服務的社會做不做得到「老有所終,壯有所用,幼有所長,矜寡孤獨廢疾者皆有所養」。他是否聰慧,能活潑解釋死板的條文?他是否具執行力,能貫徹政策的初衷?要窺探一個國家文明的程度,先去測量這個國家事務官聰慧和執行力的程度。事務官手中的權力行使適當,國家機器運轉順暢,就是國泰民安。事務官濫用權力,就成為荼毒生靈的惡吏。司馬遷以不世之大才,被「吏」的「威約之勢」踐踏折磨,以至於讀書人「見獄吏則頭槍地,視徒隸則心惕息」。「吏」治清明與否,其實是國家禍福的指標。

民意代表的權力,透過預算以及法案的審查,體現在對於官吏施政的監督。預算編列符合不符合國家發展的需要,預算執行符合不符合預算的編列,法案的精神符合不符合現實,含不含配套措施,有沒有遠見,都是民意代表可以而且必須定奪的地方。他的權力不在於空談國事,漫天批判,而鎖在一個非常明確的焦點領域:檢驗政務官提出的施政藍圖,秋毫明察,錙銖必較。民意代表是政策品質的把關者。民意代表如果失職,推出的法規制度可以禍國殃民,通過的施政預算可以勞民傷財;民意代表如果濫權,官商可以需索無度,國事可以空轉虛耗。民意代表的權力若是使用在刀口上,那麼政務官不敢無識,事務官不敢無能,法規不容偏頗,施政不許懈怠。這樣的權力是為智者設計的。

如果民意代表的監督權力限制在一個小而關鍵的焦點──預算和法案,那麼媒體的權力領域就大多了,它可以「空談國事,漫天批判」,只要有事實的根據。一個取得了人民信任的媒體權力可以大到左右國家前途,形塑社會價值,決定元首的去留,它更可以輕而易舉地成就一個英雄或者毀掉一個偶像。這種權力被扭曲、被操縱的時候,就是一個社會的核心價值基礎開始腐蝕的時候。真和假,是與非,崇高或可恥的標準一旦顛倒混淆,幾代人的努力都可能變成虛無,又要從零開始,可是誰不知道:不斷地從零開始是絕不可能累積成文明的。

知識分子依靠知識和見識取得指點江山的權力。知識使他懂得多,見識使他想得深看得遠,下筆如千軍萬馬,人們屏息傾聽。國家有難、局勢有變的時候,他的言論可以是混沌中的明燈,他的行為可以做為人們仰望的典範。在亂世中,他的言行更可以與當權者抗衡較勁,比春秋長短。知識分子手中有筆,筆就是權力。當他的筆無法行使權力的時候,知識分子就得反躬自省:是亂世危邦的客觀環境不許,還是自己的無知無能與墮落?

相較於廣大的平民百姓,政務官、事務官、民意代表、媒體記者、知識分子都是掌有權力的人。細究之下,每一種權力都很可怕,它可以興邦,可以覆邦,影響這一代人的此刻,下一代人的未來。掌權的人對自己手中所握有的權力──權力的性質、權力的界限、權力的責任──是否深思過呢?

政務官該不該做事務官的工作?不應該,可是內政部長硬是會帶大批媒體記者親自挨家挨戶去臨檢居家隔離的人,一件基層事務官該做的事。而當政策執行不力的時候,政務官又要指摘是事務官失職。疫病席捲全國,總統、行政院長、部長等等不停地在媒體前,義正辭嚴的,指摘各層事務官的處理疏失──口罩遺失、疫情謊報、設備不全、後援不足……。為甚麼不指出,問題的根源在於五十年都沒建立起完善的基礎醫療體系以及科學的管理制度以至於疾病一來潰不成軍,而基礎醫療體系和科學管理制度的建立難道是事務官的權力?政務官幹甚麼去了?

誰有權力,誰就要負責任;誰的權力愈大,誰就要負愈大的責任。權大責小,造就虛偽怠惰的政務官;責大權小,培養推諉避過的事務官。

民意代表該不該行使媒體的權力──經營媒體,或者在媒體主持政治節目?不可以。問題有兩種,一是球員兼裁判的不公。民意代表也是媒體的監督對象,自己怎麼監督自己呢?一是公器私用的不正。民意代表的俸祿得自人民,所佔的位子是謂公器,自己的工作時間、所蒐集的資料、所得來的訊息、所聘用的人員,所過手的一張紙一枝筆一枚針,都應該百分之百用在預算和法案的審查上。任何一點點一絲絲因為公器而得來的用在與此公器無關的事情上,都是一種公器的私用與濫用。博物館館長不能開古董店,公私分明,利益迴避,是權力行使的前提。

Monday, December 6, 2004

Boosting government productivity

Further to the article from Mckinsey Quarterly on Organizing for Effectiveness in the Public Sector, Mckinsey carries another article on a similar topic. Although it is not a sequel to the last one, it is similar in that it is about Boosting Government Productivity.

The article starts by proposing a way to meet the expected huge government expenditure owing to the aging population: by boosting government productivity. It mentions a study on the comparison of productivity growth in the private and public sector. You can guess the result, that the productivity growth in the public sector since 1987 lags much behind the private sector: only about 0.4% p.a. compared with 1.5%-3% in the private sector. The authors propose that: although many people think that improving productivity is synonymous with cost cutting and layoffs, the latter often lead to poorer service and thus to lower productivity. Boosting productivity can bring both cost savings and better service.

This is a very basic principle that we all know. The problem is how to put it into practice. So I am interested to know what magic touch the authors have. They propose three classical management tools.

1. Organizational redesign
A redesign that focuses on the end "customer," eliminates duplication, and streamlines processes can improve both the cost and the quality of services

2. Procurement
Improving supplier-management and purchasing operations can help organizations cut their expenditures while raising the quality of the goods and services they buy. Governments mounting such efforts usually standardize and consolidate orders, designate preferred suppliers, reward them for meeting delivery and quality targets, and collaborate with them on ways to improve production processes and reduce costs.

3. Operational redesign
Redesigning operational processes to reduce waste, eliminate unneeded effort, and correct mistakes quickly can also raise productivity to an astonishing extent. "E-government" initiatives too can radically improve service and customer satisfaction while reducing costs.

We will probably say that aren't we know about all these already. If it is so simple, why aren't everyone doing them. The authors do recognize some barriers and try to overcome them.

1. Competition is the most important missing element. Without competition, managers have little incentive to take risks on new techniques. The solution is creating competition to provide services and giving citizens the ability to choose among these alternatives. Outsourcing creates competition, e.g. allowing private-sector companies to bid on social-service contracts lets them compete with government providers.

2. Managers can be prodded to meet targets if governments budget-in expected performance improvements.

3. Making the performance of governments more transparent by publishing the results of customer satisfaction surveys, benchmarking surveys, and service-quality metrics also helps citizens to take an active role in demanding change.

4. Committed leadership, a critical mass of talent, processes that budget for productivity targets, and citizens who know that they have a stake in a better outcome and hold officials accountable for achieving it.

5. One way of building public confidence and media support and of stoking the appetite for change is to design the reform effort so that it delivers high-profile early victories.

Come to think of it, we heard about these from the Public Sector Reform several years ago. I wonder where we failed. For competitions, private sector involvements are encouraged. But we see some political forces acting against contracting-out, both on its impact on civil servant job security and exploitation of labour. Also, recently, the basic principle of privatizing public assets is challenged. For 2 and 3, the government is giving out smaller budget envelopes. For 4, do you think we have committed leadership and a critical mass of talent? If not, how can we improve on these aspects. I think we failed badly on 5, mainly because the government does not have good PR strategy and support.

Back to the EO grade, I think we haven't passed 1. Not that we do not have competition, but it seems to me that we do not even recognize that we do have competition.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Organizing for Effectiveness in the Public Sector

I read an article in the November 2004 issue of the Mckinsey Quarterly on Organizing for Effectiveness in the Public Sector. It is an interesting article relevant to the issues we are facing. If you are concerned with the problem on the effectiveness of the government and wish to know a possible way out, you are recommended to go to www.mckinseyquarterly.com to have a look.

The article is written by Keith Leslie and Catherine Tilley of Mckinsey mainly based on the UK scenario, but the problem is seen everywhere, in particular in Hong Kong. It explains that market forces and private sector practices are not suitable for some types of public services for which social objectives are more important than financial objectives. As a result, these public organizations cannot discontinue expensive services, dismiss underperforming staff, seize offshore opportunities, or offer high salaries to attract top talent. It is also hard to inject a sense of momentum into large and complex organizations which are insulated from competition and have mixed, non-financial missions.

The authors point out the challenges facing such public organizations.

First, they are often monopolies that administer and deliver essential services to the entire population. Being large and complex, they tend to ossify and to become still larger as the years pass, partly because they are reluctant to prune deadwood. The result is not only waste but also fuzzy boundaries between units and a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities. We see many examples in Hong Kong where large departments keep on delivering services and applying regulations which are out-dated. The responsibilities across departments, or the irresponsibilities that arise have created much confusion.

Second, they usually have broad social objectives that make it harder to rank goals than in the private sector, where the economic bottom line provides a natural focus. In an environment involving difficult trade-offs, public-sector executives sometimes find it difficult to focus on the right things and to track results. There are many quantifiable measures of success in the public sector, but rarely a single, uncomplicated bottom line. We often hear about such excuses being used when departments are accused of being unable to economize.

Third, the workforce of the public sector presents specific challenges. Many managers and frontline staff enter public-service careers for serving the community and the relative job security. Novel management practices such as contracting-out pose political problems because they can lead to job losses. The public sector tends to have a highly static workforce: many civil servants spend their entire working lives in the same organizations. An unchanging workforce in a rapidly changing world means that many public-sector bodies lack the skills they need. Notwithstanding the effort of our government in voluntary retirements and freezing recruitment, the effect on a large workforce delivering out-dated services is still minimal.

The article proposes five ways to re-organize and re-design public organizations. It claims that the organizational-design ideas can help reduce managerial complications and focus staff on doing the right things in the most efficient way.

1. Strengthen the top team

The problem starts at the top level. The first reorganization is the strengthening of the top team by making them work together and take responsibility for developing strategies, mission and objectives. A top team competing internally for resources is not effective. It is important to establish collective responsibility for issues, and in particular decisions about the allocation of resources. The top team needs to play its leadership role in setting and communicating priorities. This is something seriously lacking in our government. Our resource allocation mechanism induces short-sighted competition at the expense of long term goals. Members of the top team vying for their own interest has proven to create barriers, making cross-team cooperation difficult.

2. Separate the design and provision of services

The article advocates that the public sector's role should increasingly focus on the design of the system in the delivery of services, i.e. to be its architect, instead of being the end-to-end owner. On the actual provision of services, market forces can help stimulate accountability and performance. Some European governments have concluded that while they should continue to finance and specify the costs and levels of certain services, it may be appropriate for others to deliver them. Private companies, foundations, and public-private partnerships now compete with public-sector organizations for state funds to build and run hospitals, kindergartens, nursing homes, prisons, and schools. Our government also tries to move in this direction, though in a slow pace and with some difficulties.

3. Define the role of organizational centre

The role of the organizational centre, or headquarters, should be clearly defined. It should play a vital role in setting policy for the operational units and in directing their interaction. The authors note that headquarters of public organizations tend to be very large, often with huge budgets and staffs. Clarifying its distinctive roles is liberating for management and staff alike because everyone can focus on the most appropriate activities. The most effective way to redesign a head office is to retain only "shaping" and "safeguarding" activities.

This proposal leads me to think about the setting of our government, where bureaux are often criticized of having blurred responsibilities of politics and policies, and at the same time, trespassing on the operations of departments. A more effective and efficient structure for the bureaux is to turn them into purely political centres staffed only by politically appointed heads and deputy heads. All civil servants, including permanent secretaries, should work in departments. Departments should play the role of policy setting and safeguarding at the headquarters level, while the responsibility for provision of services should be delegated to operational divisions. The nucleus of the government comprising bureaux should only support the top political layer in the political arena. This would allow them to direct their full attention to political accountability, while departments would focus on doing the right things and doing them effectively in the provision of public services.

4. Integrate performance management

This is two-fold, both the performance management of the organizations and their staff. The Efficiency Unit has tried a system to monitor the performance of organizations in terms of key results areas and activities, i.e. not just financial performance. Such attempt died a natural death. I think the intention is very good but it does not have the whole-hearted support of bureaux and departments. Furthermore, a quantitative performance management system is not suitable for the public sector. The article's proposal that performance metrics should be simplified and each top public officer should be accountable to a few of the metrics is a good approach.

The major difference between managing performance in the public and private sectors is that bonuses are more common in the latter. Some suggests that performance-related bonuses aren't particularly effective in the public sector, partly because it can't afford to make them high enough to provide a real incentive. However, the authors suggest that performance-management systems can motivate employees even without a financial "carrot", for example, by identifying top performers, who can then get more interesting career opportunities. Furthermore, merely discussing performance can motivate employees by showing them that what they do matters.

5. Learn new skills

All successful organizations require managers and frontline staff to have the necessary skills. In the public sector, which has very low labour mobility, building such a staff means helping current employees to learn new skills. But instead of adopting the widely practiced approach of "everybody gets to go on a training course," organizations should concentrate on helping people develop the skills they need to increase their accountability and focus. This is a very valid observation, and is especially relevant to the EO Grade. In this fast changing world, new knowledge is required for new tasks. But in the stable civil service with good job security, we cannot easily refresh our knowledge and skills by introducing them externally at a fast pace. We need to continuously professionalize the Grade by professionalizing members of the grade. The criticism of "everybody gets to go on a training course" is really a hit on the nail head. We need structured training development plan for individual officers with the target of meeting the need of the Grade and more importantly the career of the officers. We need to have the vision of the way ahead instead of getting everyone trained on all fronts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

EGRIN

Just browsed through the notes of July 2004 meeting of the EGRIN Consultative Committee. The ladies and gentlemen of the Committee have prompted much improvements in EGRIN. The site has been made use of intensively in the dissemination of information. The materials there are richer and colleagues are able to find much information they need at work just by accessing EGRIN. The best improvement is the depository of training notes. Training officers also started discussion threads in the forum. This is a very good move in elevating interaction and collaboration in EGRIN.

We have put so much information in EGRIN to make it useful, fresh and content-rich. But what is the result, the utilization and the acceptance by staff? EGRIN is created because we want to be at the leading edge of knowledge management and sharing. GGO has taken good steps in persuading all colleagues to get information about the Grade from EGRIN: announcements, posting notices, KIT, etc. But if colleagues just read when prompted without responding, EGRIN will remain a cold medium with a one-way information flow.

Just a casual check on read-count of mail. When a new mail is posted, it is read about 50 times in several days. Many of them are repeats and I guess there are only about 30 colleagues reading. Compared with eo_net, about 130 members receive mail delivered to them. From the two figures, I wonder why even many eo_net members who use their computers frequently for communication do not read EGRIN mail.

Obviously, something must be done to improve the participation of colleagues in expressing themselves. Once this culture is established, views and comments on various aspects of the grade will follow. From the notes of meeting, there was discussion on whether authors of mail could be anonymous. The advantage of revealed identity was recognized as that authors would express their views in a more conscious manner. Since when EOs are irresponsible and engage in vandalism?? In eo_net, members are not required to reveal their identity. Although the moderators make sure that members are serving or ex-EOs when they join, such personal information are immediately discarded. Still, many members use their real name when writing and all mail are respectable. I would suggest that colleagues could choose their own user name in EGRIN and keep their real name from others if they wish. The registration record could be kept confidential by the administrator, for witch hunting only when absolutely necessary. The bottom line is: trust us.

The other item discussed was the recognition to colleagues who contribute to EGRIN. The concern was resources and their attractiveness, as if EOs wish to get sufficient benefit in order to contribute to EGRIN. This greatly missed the point. I recall reading a management book on motivation that a CEO wished to reward his subordinate so badly that he just gave him a banana from his lunch box. There is no need to spend time administering a reward scheme; just give everyone who contributed to EGRIN a banana.

To improve the participation and interactiveness in EGRIN, we first need to make the discussion forum busy. The suggestion to encourage access to EGRIN in KIT and departmental meetings are very useful. I would also like to share with anyone who have such desire in mind the experience I have in managing bulletin board and forum.

There are mainly four major tactics.

We need some important people to write in the forum: people that colleagues would be attracted to read from. Perhaps DGG and senior members of the grade could address all colleagues in this manner. In the meantime, we still stick to the old fashion way of letters and memo. It seems to me a bit odd reading in EGRIN a letter in PDF format which should instead be delivered by a postman. Discussion forum has the advantage of instant response. Colleagues will have the opportunity to respond to such high level mail quickly. This could be the way of seeking views on official issues. I think all consultation exercises should be accompanied by such mode of communication.

Second, the forum should be used to discuss topics of interest. This is the way EGRIN forum is being pursued but the result is not encouraging. We need some knowledgeable colleagues to show their faces in order to establish the reputation that EGRIN forum could really help. I put up some interesting topics from time to time, and our colleagues in T&D also did the same. However, there are few readers, not to mention writers. The first thing to do is make the place looks busy. I have suggested all GGO colleagues to take turn to write just one message a day. As follow-up on training sessions, some trainees may be invited personally to express their views. Focus group members could openly discuss their topics in the forum. We can first artificially create a continued dialogue among these groups. This can act as a nucleus to snowball the number of readers and then writers.

Even without any serious discussion on work topics, the discussion forum could be made busy by greetings, congratulations and simple remarks. The very conservative view is that an official forum must not contain non-work-related issues. I wonder if congratulation on promotion is considered non-work-related. EGRIN should be made a meeting place for colleagues, just like colleagues in the office where they do not just discuss work all the time; they also discuss parenting and news.

When there is absolutely no response in a business setting, people make cold calls, just like the phone calls we received from advertising companies, insurance agents, financial consultants, etc. The last move is to address colleagues personally in EGRIN forum and hopefully prompt some responses to improve the traffic. Any small moves above could add up to make EGRIN forum a busy place.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The edge of chaos 混沌邊緣

Surfing the Edge of Chaos 混沌邊緣



I read this book two years ago after being fascinated by the Chaos Theory and the butterfly effect on nature and mathematics. It gave me good insight on how the Chaos Theory is related to management studies. The topic came back to me when I saw recently a summary at Book Summaries Online of the CSTDI Cyber Learning Centre. The 10-page summary is quite comprehensive and gives a very good description of the main points of the book.

The scene is organizations being regarded as living organisms instead of machines. Thus four laws of nature from Chaos Theory are applied:

1. Equilibrium is death -When a living system is in a state of equilibrium, it is less responsive to changes occurring around it. This places it at maximum risk. There is also a well proven law of cybernetics - Requisite Variety - which states that when a system fails to cultivate (not just tolerate) variety in its internal operations, it will fail to deal with variety that challenges it externally.

2. Innovation takes place at the edge of chaos -In the face of threat, or when galvanized by a compelling opportunity, living things move toward the edge of chaos. This condition evokes higher levels of mutation and experimentation. The result is that fresh new solutions are more likely to be found.

3. Self organization and emergence occur naturally -When the right kind of excitation takes place, independent agents move toward what has been popularized as the "tipping point." New forms and repertoires emerge from the turmoil.

4. Organization can only be disturbed, not directed -Living systems cannot be directed along a linear path. Unforeseen consequences are inevitable. The challenge is to disturb them in a manner that moves directionally toward the desired state, then course-correct as the outcome unfolds.

The authors draw reference to Darwin. They go further to propose that the natural selection process come from selection pressure, that species do not evolve of their own accord. Rather, they change because of the forces, indeed threats, imposed on them from the environment. Such selection pressures intensify during periods of radical upheaval. The bottom line is that nature is more dedicated to proliferating life in general than to the perpetuation of any particular species. In a fair competitive environment, no organization has the ability to stay in a equilibrium. Change is the only way to stay alive.

The edge of chaos is a condition, not a location. It is a permeable, intermediate state through which order and disorder flow, not a finite line of demarcation. Moving to the edge of chaos creates upheaval but not dissolution. That's why the edge of chaos is so important. The edge is not the abyss. It's the sweet spot for productive change. But moving over the edge is to avoided.

The book extends the concept of fitness landscape from ecologists to the management area. The great plain is chaotic with customer defections, low margins, undifferentiated products, etc., while fit and successful organizations with their niches are represented as hills in the landscape. An organization grows and climbs a small hill to reach its summit. But in order to achieve greater height at another hill, it must first descend to the plain of chaos, get rid of its culture and build afresh. The journey is a sequence of disturbances and adjustments, not a lock-step march along a predetermined path.

One main point that defies traditional management theory is the trouble with optimization. Management likes to take the classic "blank sheet of paper" approach and optimize the inefficient system. This approach cannot anticipate every twist and turn in the execution phase. The law of unintended consequences reminds us that optimization seldom yields radical innovation. At best, it only maximizes the pre-existing model. It founders because efforts to direct living systems, beyond very general goals, are counterproductive. This seldom conforms to the linear path that we have in mind. This is why the misapplication of linear logic, i.e. re-engineering business processes, will inevitably fail.

The book proposes some guidelines in surfing the edge of chaos by disturbing but not directing the system.

1. Design, don't engineer.

2. Discover, don't presuppose.

3. Amplify, don't dictate.

There are more interesting points in the book. I recommend you to read the summary first, and if interested, read the book.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Death by Meeting

Death by Meeting 死亡會議

This is Patrick Lencioni's new book published in 2004, again a fiction and management book. I think this one, for the story, is better written than his previous books. The description of the characters and the scenes in the story are more interesting and with more depth.

The story is about a company, having been acquired, facing its new boss. It sensed a death threat by the man from headquarters. The white knight who came to the rescue was a temporary administrative assistant to the CEO. Seems to be a proper EO job and I therefore call him the EO.

The lethal aspect of meeting has two meanings in the book.

First, meetings are the most important activities of an organization. All major decisions are made, strategies are formed, actions are planned during meetings. If the meetings are not effective, they will lead to the death of the organization. This was exactly what happened in the story, that staff meetings were boring and ineffective and did not came up with clear direction for everybody.

Second, the impending meeting to be attended by the man from headquarters would mean life and death for the CEO. He would be assessed on whether the meeting was really so bad as to affect the company, and if so, that would mean death for his career.

The story proceeded to saving the meeting, from the insight of the EO. He drew inspiration from his academic studies on film and television and compared meetings with headline news, television series and movies.

Drama - for meetings to be interesting, there needs to be drama and conflict. The EO suggested the use of the skills of script writers and directors, and compared the conducting of a meeting to making a good movie. The first 10 minutes should be used to set up the drama and suspense, and to focus the attention and interest of members. Then the chairman would mine for conflict and expose all different views. Meetings are better than movies as there is real-time interaction instead of passive reception of information. The chairman would encourage constructive ideological conflicts and arguments before coming up with a decision.

Contextual structure - The other fatal mistake of meetings is the lack of contextual structure, i.e. a meeting stew of everything that smothers the important issues. Drawing analogy to television and movies, the EO suggested that there should be different types of meetings dedicated to specific purposes:

1. Daily check-in for 5 minutes similar to daily headline news which people watch briefly for snapshots of information.

2. Weekly tactical meeting for 1 hour same as sitcom and crime drama that people watch weekly for short stories.

3. Monthly strategic meeting which lasts for 2 hours as a movie for detailed discussion of a particular strategy or a complete story from beginning to end.

4. Quarterly off-site review for two days like mini-series which draws people's attention for a longer period of time.

A remark in the book I like is the myth of too many meetings. Interesting and effective meetings will not waste time but instead save time. Lencioni points out that very often sneaker time is not accounted for as consumption of resources. They are the time spent by managers outside the meetings just to find out what others are doing, clarifying actions, clearing doubts. The matrix of a large number of managers consumes a huge amount of sneaker time. If the meetings make effective and clear decisions with all stakeholders present, a lot of sneaker time will be saved.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Obsessions

Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

非凡CEO的迷痴

Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive 非凡CEO的迷痴 is Patrick Lencioni's second book written in 2000, again it is a fiction as well as a management book. The readers would be eager to know the obsessions of that very successful person. CEO is supposed to be rational and sensible. It is curious to note that such a person could be obsessed with anything. In fact, on very important issues, we had better be obsessed rather than let them off the hook lightly.

The story looks like a novel involving commercial spies. It is a tale of two companies, similar in the industry they were in, their niche, their strength, their customers, their size, their strategy. It is a matter of management style which made differences in their culture and organization health. The story evolves around a virus which attacked a company. It set off suspicion and created a crisis. The story told the strength of a cohesive team of good organization health and how it fought off the virus. The virus revealed the secret of the obsessions to the CEO of the rival company who thought otherwise. You will guess the ending about the future of these two companies.

The interesting part is the virus, who is the VP of HR, kind of like a very capable EO specializing in our professional area. The problem with him was that he did not participate actively in discussions, was not willing to share his views, and not wholeheartedly merged with the management team. He liked to hide himself and revealed his opinion last, and in a non-committal way. He appears to me as having the attributes of some civil servants. The virus was exposed as not being able to align with the culture of the company. I wonder if this is a sin for civil servant for not being able to align with the culture of the government, or the department, or the grade.

The thrust of the story is the obsessions. They are actually very simple and concern the organization culture, its core values, its identity, direction, strategy and objectives. The obsessions are how the CEO took these in mind and action. He was obsessed with being cohesive, being clear, over-communicating and reinforcing. These are the four disciplines to be upheld.

1st discipline: Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team - We all know that it is desirable to have team members working happily together. But the obsession went a step further of letting team members know one another's unique strength and weakness, openly engaging in constructive ideological conflict, holding one another accountable for behaviours and actions, and committing to group decisions. As a result, the cohesive and healthy team was able to fight off the virus which tried to contaminate the team spirit.

2nd discipline: Create organizational clarity - Writing up vision and mission statements is a common practice in setting up the identity of the company and its long term goal. It was trendy a few years ago and everyone did it. The CEO of the rival company said it was mentioned in Build to Last which all management people knew well and could readily recite. But these statements are just empty slogans only fit for display as decoration on the wall. The obsession is to make these organizational identity, culture, strategy and responsibilities very clear, that action plans could be formed without confusion based on them.

3rd discipline: Over-communicate organizational clarity - Over-doing anything is an obsession. But for issues as important as the organizational clarity, there is no thrift in over-communicating them. The obsessed CEO conveyed messages on organization clarity repeatedly on every occasion, using simple language to eliminate confusion and inconsistency, using multiple media to meet different level of reception, and cascading the messages down the ranks until the message was heard by all.

4th discipline: Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems - At the end of the day, it is human that preserve or undermine culture. The CEO was obsessed with sustaining the health of the organization by making sure that the human systems were used to reinforce organizational clarity. All staff were tested and reinforced of their alignment with the organizational culture through the recruitment process, performance management, rewards and recognition, and dismissal.

We all claim that culture is hard to change. But the reality is that culture is also hard to maintain. When the CEO found a culture that was good for the company, he was obsessed to preserving it, or seen the other way round, obsessed to changing the behaviour of the staff to align with the culture. Or you may say that he was changing other cultures or sub-cultures to align with his culture. This is very hard to do, and it really takes an obsessed CEO to keep the company on the track.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The 5 Temptations

The 5 Temptations of a CEO 五度誘惑

Just gone through Patrick Lencioni's first book The 5 Temptations of a CEO. It is a remarkable book on management issues written as a fiction. Thus it is quite enjoyable reading through the story. It is also easy reading. The setting was a bit scary, where the character met strange persons in a midnight train; sort of a twilight zone story. The day after, the CEO found out that these people were all past CEOs of his companies. I wonder why he didn't recognize them in the first instance. May be these CEOs are from ancient era. The fiction did not state whether they were ghosts, or returned from another time, or just old men still enjoying their retirement. From the lesson learnt on the midnight train, the CEO changed and performed differently at the board meeting the next day. But it was too late. The story took a turn and the leading character CEO turned into the phantom advisor himself.

The theme of the story is of course the temptations. They are all on behaviour and culture which are hard to change. There is nothing about strategic decision, competitive advantage and all sort of management theories. The main thrust is that if the CEO can get over the temptations, then the rest are just routine problems.

1st temptation: Choosing status over results - We've seen much of this in the government. CEOs put their concern on their own status at the expense of actual results. The temptation to preserve one's status is strong. An CEO will not like any damage to be done to his status. They choose the easy way out, deliver less, maintain status quo because less results won't hurt in government but mistakes will. 不做不錯,烏紗可保. To beat the temptation, one needs moral, ethic and real pride in his work achievement. Status will come this way.

2nd temptation: Choosing popularity over accountability - Everyone like to be popular with others. It is also the Chinese culture to 隱惡揚善, in particular when the subordinate is older, respectable and is an unchallenged expert in his field. Temptation to be popular kept the CEO from telling his staff the real problem and work expectation although dissatisfaction grew, in order not to hurt his feeling and be in confrontation. The staff did not realize the need to improve and was not given the accountability of his work. The irony is that the CEO would not hesitate to fire the subordinate when it got out of hand and inflicted permanent damage to other's career because the subordinate was gone for good and there was not more confrontation, while the timely honest advice did. Just look at our performance appraisals and you will know how hard to avoid this temptation.

3rd temptation: Choosing certainty over clarity - We learn about rational decision making. Right decisions are based on sufficient information, evaluation of alternatives, and the choice of the most advantageous, or least damaging action. In reality, certainty is unreachable. The maximizer will use up all his time choosing. 刨木直至無木. The temptation to be certain in making the right decision is hard to beat, but it will be lead to no decision, wait-and-see decision, muddy decision or unclear decision. The CEO learned that any decision is better than no decision. Wrong decision is not that bad if it can get the organization working, and clarity in the decision enables early correction of any undesirable results. All roads are not straight.

4th temptation: Choosing harmony over positive conflict - Harmony is the ultimate goal in human spirit. It is also the essence of Zen and many religions. Any kind human being will try to maintain harmony around him. The CEO did not regard creating harmony a temptation. He maintained harmony in his organization, during meetings and at work. The phantom advisor reminded the good effect of productive ideological conflict, that hidden issues could only be revealed in conflict, and truth would come out of debate,越辯越明, and keep the organization lively. On the other hand, pure harmony could stifle creativity and hide grievances.

5th temptation: Choosing invulnerability over trust - It is natural survival instinct that one does not want to be weak, wrong or hurt. It is a great temptation that one should feel invulnerable, and in the process creating suspicion and defense. The CEO learned that in order to fight this temptation, he should know how to admit that he was wrong and trust his subordinates in challenging his ideas. Only then the mistake committed by the organization has a chance to be put right.

Lencioni showed that the sequential impact of the principles of the 5 temptations are in reverse order, starting from the 5th. Instilling trust gives executives the confidence to have productive conflict. Fostering conflict gives executive confidence to create clarity. Clarity gives executives the confidence to hold people accountable. Accountability gives executives confidence in expected results. And results are a CEO's ultimate measure of long-term success.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

RFID and personal data privacy

I wonder if it is sheer coincidental or the situation has matured to a real management issue on personal data privacy. Another RFID article appeared in CNet on 30 September and this time it raised more concern on personal data privacy than the convenience of the technology on inventory control. Please see an extract below on how some people have taken back their words on removing RFID tags after the device has served the purpose.

---begin quote---
RFID systems work by placing special microchips--RFID tags--on merchandise. The tags signal their location across a network of readers placed on shipping docks, in warehouses and stores, allowing retailers and manufacturers to monitor products as they travel from factory to store shelves. Through an EPC code, a one-of-a-kind serial number, RFID tags can also store a wealth of information about the item with which it's associated, including where it's been, who bought it and when.

Privacy activists worry that consumers could leave stores broadcasting all kinds of information about their belongings. They fear that, with the right tools, anyone--including thieves--could detect what's in your purse or pockets. Another concern is that people's things would leave an electronic trail of their whereabouts and shopping habits for law enforcement officials, investigators, lawyers or marketers to collect.

RFID defenders say such concerns are overblown. One argument is that the only information companies are interested in storing on RFID tags are serial numbers, which are meaningless without access to the database where all the information about the item lives. Only the privileged eyes of certain employees would have access to that database, executives say. Another argument is that RFID tags only submit signals only when prompted by a reader within close range, generally a few feet at most.

EPCglobal, which guides RFID standards development, is also urging companies with RFID initiatives to follow its privacy policy, which focuses on informing consumers. Wal-Mart did with its Dallas test involving HP products, Board said. Wal-Mart posted notices on shelves carrying the tagged items with an 800 number and a Web site address offering more information about the tags. However, Wal-Mart did not remove or disable the tags after consumer bought the items--a practice that privacy advocates have demanded. Board noted that the tags were attached to the packaging, which consumers were likely to throw away.

Retailers and consumer-goods companies are hesitant to agree to removing tags from items at the time of purchase for several reasons. One reason is that RFID tags could help with returns by exposing people trying to get a refund for a product they never really bought, or one they purchased from another store. In the future, technology proponents envision medicine cabinets and home appliances equipped with RFID readers, alerting people to expired drugs and automatically selecting the gentle cycle on the washing machine for delicate clothing.

One of the valid concerns about RFID is what companies plan to do with all the detailed data they'll be able to collect about consumers, said Daniel Engles, director of research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Auto-ID Lab, an RFID research group. But, Engles added, that's a concern for all kinds of technologies that record people's activities and whereabouts, including cell phones and credit cards.

"Most people don't realize they're giving up a certain amount of privacy every time they use their cell phone," Engles said. "The question is how that information is being used. That's where the real concerns are.”

And on that issue, as with many in the developing realm of RFID--the jury is still out.
--end quote--

Monday, October 4, 2004

Case on employee monitoring

A real case on employee monitoring reported in Ming Pao today quoted below. It involves CITA, but it could easily be a government department and involves EOs. Colleagues working on HRM, general management and IT management please take note.

【明報專訊】公營機構建造業訓練局位於屯門的訓練場,有員工投訴管理層涉未通知員工,暗自把保安錄影帶拿走檢視「捉蛇王」,員工質疑有侵犯私隱之嫌,正考慮向私隱專員公署投訴。工會批評事件反映本港辦公地點的錄影監察,長期欠監管及實務指引,員工私隱未有足夠保障。

局方﹕檢視影帶屬管理職務

局方回應堅持檢視錄影帶「是管理職務一部分」,但沒正面回應是否曾藉保安錄影帶來「捉蛇王」。

私隱專員公署指僱主倘把保安錄影帶改作捉蛇王之用,一般而言並無違反《私隱條例》,但署方認同「良好的行事方式」,僱主應事先通知員工有關政策。

建造業訓練局屯門屯義路訓練場,專作教授駕駛挖泥機等工程車,局方透露上址裝了4部閉路電視作保安用,因上址地方大難安排員工巡視,局方回覆本報時強調閉路電視只作「保安及管理用途」,局方亦從來沒有在辦公室內設置錄影設備。

員工批評事前未獲通知

但有員工向本報投訴指局方涉侵犯員工私隱,事緣近日管理層懷疑有員工上班遲到,曾親身到上址企圖「捉蛇王」不果,其後一名高級經理暗地致電(或電郵)一名負責訓練場行政的經理,要求交出過去兩月的保安錄影帶(7月中至9月中)以供檢視。由於錄影帶可拍下員工出入時間,員工相信取走錄影帶是為捉蛇王。

投訴人批評局方從沒告訴員工保安錄影帶用作捉蛇王,他和同事認為此舉不尊重並涉侵犯私隱,即使真的要這樣做也應先通知員工﹕「我們應有權反對﹗」

建造業訓練局回應時指一向尊重及保障員工私隱,並指「本局從沒有以閉路電視作……保安及管理以外的用途」。

私隱署﹕「僱傭事宜」可接受

私隱專員公署拒評個別個案,但指僱主倘把保安錄影帶用途改變,用作翻看僱員活動紀錄,應屬受《私隱條例》監管的「收集個人」資料行為,署方認為僱主良好的方式,是應把此行為列作公司監察政策中及知會員工。但署方補充指,倘僱主為捉蛇王而翻看錄影帶,應算是與「僱傭事宜」有關的合法目的,故屬可以接受。

【明報專訊】私隱專員公署承認,僱主在工作期間監察員工活動(如閉路電視錄影)情?日漸普遍,2001年初署方已提出需制定《實務守則》以助監管,惟至今仍未成事,最新的說法是年底前會發出指引,但據悉該指引很可能是沒有法律約束力的「最佳行事方式指引」。職工盟秘書長

李卓人對私隱署遲遲未發出指引保障僱員感失望,並擔心這是當局礙於僱主團體的壓力。李卓人指,僱主以閉路電視監察員工是否蛇王並非不可,但必須事先知通知員工,以示尊重,否則便屬侵犯私隱。

「街工」梁耀忠則指倘僱主擅以保安影帶以確認員工有否蛇王,對沒蛇王的員工是一種侮辱,亦易使僱傭雙方失去互信基礎。李梁兩人均促請私隱署盡快推出《實務守則》。

閉路電視非鎖定某人不違例

私隱署數字則顯示,過去收到有關「工作地點監察活動」的投訴每年不夠10宗,但大部分都缺表面證據、或投訴人撤回投訴。

據署方現時立場,倘僱主在洗手間等敏感地點偷裝閉路電視,屬違反《私隱條例》,但倘僱主只在工作間裝保安閉路電視作錄影、而鏡頭焦點又非鎖定某名或某批僱員(又或影像沒有錄影),即不算個人資料蒐集,不會違反《私隱條例》。

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Symposium on RFID

I attended the Wireless and Mobile Symposium in July 2004 and picked the sessions on RFID and personal data privacy.

There are two sessions on RFID, one by Dr. CY Lee of HKUST and the other by Brian Eccles of IBM. Both are heavily dosed on the value of RFID on the supply chain, logistics management and inventory control. Personal data privacy was only briefly mentioned. In fact, Brian Eccles remarked that he was surprised at the little concern on the personal data privacy aspect on RFID in Asia, which was a hot debate topic in USA. Dr. Lee just mentioned that privacy concern, together with security and data integrity, would be an obstacle for RFID. Brian Eccles went a little deeper on the need of a privacy policy. His view on privacy was not on human right, but as an issue on the smooth implementation of RFID. Proposed considerations included transparancy on the use of RFID, use of killer switch for goods sold, data not kept without user knowledge, and not to use RFID in conjunction with spying.

Another session was delivered by Tony Lam, DC of PCO. Personal data privacy is his profession. He highlighted the use of RFID and LBS (location-based system) and their privacy concern: threat of building an individual movement profile, threat of being monitored and the potential loss of anonymity. Some guidelines to be proposed are: inform customers about the collection and use of such information, provide an opportunity to opt-out, ensure the security of information collected, provide uniform rules and privacy expectations.

The threats are real. Such information are actually those wanted by employers. They may want to have a movement profile of staff, monitor staff activities and know who is doing what, all for justified and good management of the organization. HR managers and IT managers will be asked to do just that. The proposed PCO guidelines will be a good basis on what we should bear in mind in developing the privacy policy and good privacy practices for the organization.

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Personal Data Privacy

I am not a defender of personal data privacy. My bottom line is that personal privacy must be balanced with personal needs. I welcome the up-to-date information sent to me by vendors and advertisers. I don't mind letting them know some of my personal data. I just want to be able to refuse those I do not want. It is a fact that we live in a city rather than alone in the wilderness and we enjoy much convenience and protection offered by the society. The price, or the duty and obligation, is to contribute to the collective activities of the society. Being a screw in the big machine means that the machine will need to know the property and function of the screw. Some of the personal data are actually part and parcel of the big picture.

The worry is the abuse of personal data, that someone is using the personal data in their possession for unlawful activities, which in turn infringe on personal rights. Personal rights come in many forms and are tied closely to vested interest. What you think that could be done legally with other's personal data may be considered the opposite if it incurs a loss to the data subject. I think the remedy should be decided by the court on whether the improper use of personal data has caused damages. The cat and mouse race of data protection will not produce a satisfactory solution given the ever advancing technology.

What I want to point out is the role of HR managers (EOs) in this subject. We are the collectors, keepers and users of much personal data, in particular employees' personal data. We can be the guardians of personal data privacy and restrict their use to the single purpose of their collection. We can also use personal data as a powerful tool to perform much HRM functions to meet the objectives of the organization. It works both ways. The challenge for HR managers is how to walk this high wire in order to meet both purposes satisfactorily. This is an opportunity for EO to go professional if we could have a core group of colleagues specializing in PDPO, their application and restriction, and the up-to-date trend and technology in data collection and monitoring. It touches upon areas in HR management, IT management, office management, record management and security management, all EOs' core duties.

Friday, October 1, 2004

RFID

Scientific American ran an article on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Tag) in its January issue. RFID is a small and inexpensive device which can give out its identity when in the proximity of a reading device. Benetton is planning to put RFID in its garments and Wal-Mart wishes to ask its major suppliers to put RFID in their products. The intention is to have automated inventory and cashier system with readers keeping track of product stock and in cashier lines.

RFID is not new. We have many applications in Hong Kong, such as the Autotoll, octopus, many smartcards and employee ID cards and access cards. In some countries, rich people implant RFID under the skin of their children to prevent kidnapping. The utopia predicted by scientists is that with RFID, computers will integrate better with people. There is no need to give commands to computer. For example, as soon as you walk into your office, a device read your RFID and know who you are. Your computer can be switched on for you, with the correct user profile loaded, it then checks your email and loads your favourite webpage for you.

In a security-conscious organization I worked for, all staff have an ID card which is also an access card. Most entrances are equipped with locks which can be opened with the card. Everywhere you go in the building, the computer will log all events of who is opening which door and when.

The catch is that people are not happy with this convenience which intrudes their privacy. In many countries, there are civic groups protesting against the use of RFID. They are afraid that high energy readers can be built to scan the RFID on clothing, equipment and ID card as people walk by. The thought of the big brothers linking information of your credit card and all things you bought is appalling. There were protesters with signs and banners in UK.

In any case, RFID will be more common in Hong Kong, being used by employers and the government, to monitor their employees and assets. Their use will have to comply with the data privacy guidelines to be issued by PCO. This will be a challenge for the HR managers to ensure that the principle enshrined in the guidelines is upheld.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Code of Practice on Employee Monitoring

I wish to share my concern on the recent PCO consultation document on Draft Code of Practice on Monitoring and Personal Data Privacy at Work, to be launched under the PDPO. I see it as a potential opportunity for general office managers, HR managers and IT managers, all EO core duties. We had better give it some thoughts and be prepared for work ahead.

Employers have a legitimate claim in monitoring the performance of those they paid to work for them. Employees also have a right of keeping their privacy, as the basic human right. With the advent of technology, monitoring is now very easy. The consultation document highlights several types of monitoring:

- Telephone monitoring: all forms of monitoring of voice calls on telecommunication equipment including mobile phone provided by employers. This is getting easier as more offices engage digital voice processing, both for communication and record.
- Email monitoring in relation to e-mail sent or received on equipment made available by employers.
- Internet access monitoring: websites accessed by browsers and associated equipment made available by employers.
- Video monitoring: any video or CCTV monitoring, but does not include observation by a human being in floor walking. Video processing is also getting easier with webcam and DV.

The Draft Code will not touch on employee drug testing, psychological profiling and productivity monitoring by automated equipment, which could only made legitimate by specific provisions in employment contracts.

The Draft Code proposes that two principles should be considered in order to balance legitimate monitoring and protection of personal data privacy:
- Principle of Proportionality: any intrusion on the employees' privacy should be in proportion to the benefit derived from monitoring by the employers, and related to the desired risk of reduction of the monitoring. Employers must evaluate what sort of risk he is facing and which he want to ameliorate, and only undertake monitoring likely to reveal the feared type of transgressions.
- Principle of Transparency: employers should provide employees with sufficient information to enable the employees to make an informed choice regarding their behaviour at work.
- Also, communications monitoring should be limited to scrutiny of the log record of the communication rather than the content of the communication, unless it is clear that the information in the log record fails to achieve the business purpose of monitoring.

The intention of the Code is to regulate, or reduce, unnecessary monitoring by employers. However, my prediction is the opposite. I think when the Code is formally launched, instead of reducing monitoring, employers will realize that they can legitimately monitor the behaviour of employees under certain conditions. Managers (EOs) will be asked to devise such monitoring system within the legal boundary. For IT, we have SAM, mail traffic log, internet traffic log and it virtually does not cost extra but a little effort on analysis. Many departments have installed tracking system for staff and cars. The possibility of monitoring is unlimited. They has already been considered as effective tools to re-engineer, re-organize and change work procedures to achieve better VFM.

This is a niche that we can explore, either for better management of resources, or better protection of human right. If we get a head start first, we can be the professionals in this area.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Employee monitoring

I have been keeping track of the trend in technology development which could be deployed in employee monitoring. While there are justified reasons for such technology, it infringes on the personal privacy of employees. There has been concern worldwide on such privacy infringement. In Hong Kong, the Privacy Commissioner's Office is drawing up guidelines on employee monitoring. This is an issue for HR managers on conditions of service, general managers on office security, and also IT managers on the proper use of the technology.

The first thing that caught my attention is RFID, which includes the government employee ID smartcard many of us is carrying. The RFID technology is maturing and will soon become an everyday device. Its original purpose is inventory control. But it can also track and record movement of individuals who carry it, and then correlate the information to behaviour.

On a similar device, I just read an article on the use of identification bracelet in a newly opened theme park. All customers are issued the bracelet and the park rangers can track the where-about of everybody in the park using RFID technology, perfect for lost children and crowd control.

On a larger scale, a latest report on GPS phone reveals the possibility of territory-wide or even global employee monitoring. GPS-enabled cell phones can track users, and employers are eager to keep their mobile workers on an electronic leash. Bosses want the service, many consumers want the service, and the technology is becoming cheaper and more widely available. I append below an extract of the article published in CNET.

--begin quote--
Cell phones are giving employers new ways to check up on employees in the field and raising fresh workplace privacy concerns as a result. On the leading edge of the trend is Nextel Communications. The wireless provider began selling its Mobile Locator service last November, giving bosses an easy way to find employees who carry GPS-equipped cell phones.

Earlier this month, mobile tracking firm Xora showed off the latest version of its Nextel GPS (global positioning system) phone software. The company says 1,600 corporate customers have signed up for its services, including "geofences" technology that sets off an alarm at the office when field workers go to preprogrammed off-limits sites, such as a bar or a park.

Employee-tracking devices are gaining steam thanks to ever-more-accurate GPS technology and a U.S. mandate requiring wireless companies to develop ways for emergency workers to find the physical location of people who dial 911 on a cell phone.

Now new E911 emergency regulations governing wireless carriers promise to unleash profitable new GPS services, analysts say. To comply with the rules, carriers have begun running more accurate GPS technology capable of supporting a range of commercial services that go beyond emergency location. This high-accuracy infrastructure is setting the stage for high-accuracy location-based services.
Xora said hundreds of companies, including transportation giant U.S. Foodservice, have signed up for its GPS TimeTrack technology to monitor employee timesheets, jobs and locations using GPS-enabled Nextel phones.

GPS TimeTrack is a Java program that sits on a cell phone, and periodically requests latitude and longitude information from the phone's GPS system. At this point, Nextel is the only company that makes a GPS-enabled phone that works with the software, although the company expects the application to be supported by other phone makers.

Xora's product is taking off quickly. It was only July when the company said it signed its 1,000th GPS TimeTrack customer. "It's just incredible momentum," said Ananth Rani, the company's vice president of products and services. "We're adding about 200 a month."

As GPS technology proliferates, there's growing awareness among cell phone owners that the devices can track them. Nearly half of all wireless phone users and 55 percent of all wireless Internet users knew of some location-based services, according to a survey by In-Stat/MDR. More importantly to U.S. cell phone carriers, more than a third of those surveyed said they'd be willing to pay a monthly fee for location services.

Nevertheless, the surveillance capabilities of these phones are raising privacy concerns.

Every move you make, the boss is watching you -
One of the earliest examples of how an employer can walk this fine line is in Chicago, where about 500 city employees now carry geo-tracking phones, mainly as a tool to increase their productivity. The phones were distributed to employees only after their unions won several concessions, including allowing workers to shut down geo-tracking features during lunch time and after hours.

Another showdown over the technology erupted last year in Massachusetts, when the state highway department proposed issuing GPS-phones to snowplow drivers to achieve greater accountability from 2,200 independent contractors used to clear the roads. Hundreds of drivers threatened to sit out the first major snowfall of the year in protest, but eventually agreed to use the phones on a trial basis.

A San Diego-based consumer advocacy group, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, advises employers to only consider using the phones to achieve a legitimate business purpose, and not check up on potential loafers.

"There are good business reasons for using it," a representative for the group said. "But it must be coupled with a very robust privacy policy."
--end quote—

Sunday, September 19, 2004

e-Government strategy - EGRIN

I wish to liken the e-government at a grand scale to the e-services of EGRIN at a smaller scale. Both are facing the same issues. CITB has made the move to enhance e-government. The strategy announced is quite applicable to EGRIN.

The e-government strategy is a very good pointer of the direction that we should be heading. Should we envision what the future would look like, we should be proactive and take positive steps forward in order to stay ahead. The sign is very clear and people all want to climb on the bandwagon. But like any change, there are always the innovators and the bystanders. A LegCo member once said: there are a lot of e-government services offered in parallel with traditional mode of service of delivery, making a lot of redundancy. He asked that for the e-services to be cost effective, there must be corresponding cut-back in traditional services. The e-government strategy has realized this point and put customer orientation and migration as the foremost initiatives. Only when customers are channeled to e-services could the transformation be successful.

We have EGRIN established a few years ago and have an early start of the e-services. We are at the stage that there is a parallel run of the traditional way and modern way of communication. The e-government strategy is a very good reminder that we should forge ahead quickly and make more effective use of EGRIN as our day-to-day form of communication between GGO and members of the grade, and between colleagues.

EGRIN is quite mature as a centre for the depository of information. What is now needed is exactly what the e-government strategy is crying out, i.e. customer orientation, customer migration and leadership.

For customer orientation, we could introduce personalized features and aligned customer interface so that colleagues could navigate EGRIN with ease and fun. For customer migration, we need to speed up and facilitate the migration of customers towards e-services, and provide high value services for targetted utilization improvement. These are measures stated in the e-government strategy.

The most important point of the strategy is government leadership in e-services. Similarly, the most important point for the success of EGRIN is GGO leadership. There are much that could be done instead of waiting for members of the grade to convert. There should be more proactive steps in the promotion of e-services. We could start with the exchange forum and e-learning. The goal is to make EGRIN a place where colleagues would wish to visit everyday for news, up-to-date information, references for work, JIT learning, expert advice, and interesting and joyful conversation with colleagues.

Friday, September 17, 2004

e-Government strategy - IT management

Notwithstanding the effect of the e-government strategy on all aspects of the work of EOs, the fundamental impact is on IT management. While managers engaged in all types of duties will eventually be involved in the application of IT, there are specific changes on the use of the technology in tandem with the e-government strategy that we should take note of. They affect the mode of delivery of services and the configuration of hardware and software of all networks and systems.

The booklet mentions infrastructure and networking government. To this end, OCGIO is setting up common platforms and standards to facilitate exchange of information. Colleagues involved in IT projects will have to make use of these platforms and follow these standards. You may wish to refer to the recent circulars issued by ITSD/OCGIO on the mandatory requirements. We should quickly acquaint ourselves with the basic knowledge on such IT protocol in use in government in order to stay ahead.

Interoperability framework - There is a cross-department co-ordination group led by OCGIO for the establishment of standards so that various systems on similar subjects are interoperable. There are many sub-groups and task forces on various subjects. I represented HPLB previously on two of them and met many EO colleagues there.

SCOPES (Shared Common Platform for Electronic Services) and SPICA (Shared Platform for Internet Content and Applications) - OCGIO is establishing these common services and platforms centrally so that departments could simplify their effort in the implementation of e-services as well as maintaining a standard and smooth mode of operation for the exchange of data between different systems. The setting up cost of the platforms is high and OCGIO is having high hope on the utilization of these platforms to make them cost effective. Departments will soon be asked, persuaded and probably forced to migrate their systems to the platforms.

Accessibility programme and departmental portal - These are government-wide effort to establish an IT-able environment for G2E and G2G applications. With them in place, all government officers will be able to communicate, exchange information, transact business in a fast, convenient and secure manner. With such enabling environment, we will fast track to e-government.

I have mentioned earlier the role of EOs in IT management, i.e. office network amd LAN administration, IT projects of EO work and other IT projects. We cannot escape the first two. If we can demonstrate our sharp edge of management skill, we can also contribute to the third. In fact, many colleagues are already involved in many departmental operations IT projects. In my last job, I co-ordinated an IT project on the alignment of geospatial data involving 13 departments. All that needed is our expertise in resource and system management, plus an understanding of the IT aspect of the project in hand, which could be acquired or strengthened on-the-job.

e-Government strategy - general management

General management and IT management have mingled to a large extent. In small departments, EO colleagues in general management are all involved in the management of the office network and also the department website. The initiatives raised in the booklet, viz. accessibility to modern office equipment and network equipment, the authentication and security issues, public access of information, the effect of Electronic Transaction Ordinance, as well as standardization of website design have all prompted additional demand on the knowledge and skill for office managers.

Furthermore, the e-government strategy announced in the booklet gives due emphasis to customer orientation and customer migration. Much public services have to gear towards orienting customers better and migrating customers towards e-services. I look around and observe that our multi-skill EOs are involved in the operations of many departments. The extra effort required to promote e-services in general will consequently create additional demand on IT management. Colleagues who are involved in such activities may wish to share their experience with us here.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

e-Government strategy - Financial Management

A less observed but equally important area in the strategy is financial management. In fact, government accounting is among the first projects to make use of IT. The LAFIS has been extended to all departments many years ago. The hardware and services of LAFIS are provided by the Treasury and EOs in finance just need to be acquainted with the operation of the workstations and to understand the navigation of the system. LAFIS is now undergoing a major overhaul and a new GFMIS will replace LAFIS by 2005/2006. This time, departments have to manage their own network and workstations to connect with the new system using web interface. The demand on IT management skill for financial managers will increase.

Furthermore, the booklet also announces the change in funding priority, business process re-engineering and measurement of full benefits for IT projects. These affect both departmental managers and bureau resource managers. These colleagues should have already felt the change in managing funding applications online, and the extra skills in evaluating the total costs and work process required in dealing with all projects. The trend in this respect is steep upward as more and more projects are related to IT one way or another.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

e-Government strategy - Networking

Although the e-Government strategy basically rides on the use of IT. Its effect is on many facets of management work. In particular, when G2E applications are concerned, there is heavy impact on the work of HR managers. The way that HR managers interact with staff has already changed and will change further with more intensive use of IT in this area of work.

The booklet highlights networking government as a major theme. It is essentially about the internal communication within the government. The old days when not all staff are connected to the network, and correspondence and announcements have to be circulated through the flow of papers are almost gone. Government is launching the accessibility programme where much resources and urgency are attached to the target of letting all staff have access to the network. A departmental portal programme has been launched last year for easy authentication so that staff could have access to various web applications. The first such applications are ePay and eLeave. More applications concerning staff benefits are coming on stream. Also, CSB and OCGIO have started a project on a common HRM system to be used by all departments. I think colleagues are quite familiar with the changes I mentioned above which occurred within the last year. Pretty soon, HR managers will be doing all their work online and all their services will be e-services. HR managers, aka EOs, have to get ready for the change quickly.

Again, we must be grateful that we already have the e-platform of EGRIN where EO grade management is gradually being conducted online. Its popularity will grow as more essential information are only disseminated there. The present situation where only 30 colleagues out of more than 2000 regularly read EGRIN mail will gradually change as the number slowly grows to a critical mass.

Monday, September 13, 2004

e-Government strategy - eLearning

The first thing in the booklet that caught my eye is that eLearning has been included as the first initiative under the strategy. With improved accessibility to the network for most staff, eLearning is regarded as an essential G2E application. Many departments have already engaged in eLearning, in particular the CSTDI's Cyber Learning Centre (CLC) which offers online courses for all civil servants. In fact, I also found a lot of online training programmes offered by various institutions on the Internet. The world trend is moving towards online learning which could make very effective use of the trainees' time. The programmes are interactive and include tests to gauge the progress and achievement of trainees. Some of them are supplemented by infrequent lectures just to retain the human element.

Luckily, we also have EGRIN which is already an eLearning platform. A lot of training materials have been deposited in EGRIN. All we need is to kick start a real eLearning programme. I suggest that all elementary EO training should be done online mandatory for junior colleagues. The precious time of our T&D colleagues could then be focused on high level seminars involving important speakers. Of course such seminars could then be transformed into online programmes.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

e-Government strategy

Colleagues may have already received the booklet on e-Government strategy issued by CITB. The title is Government - Creating value for all. If you have not read it, a copy can be viewed at the following link.
http://www.info.gov.hk/digital21/e-gov/eng/press/doc/e-Govbooklet2004-e.pdf

It is a follow-up document to 2004 Digital 21 Strategy, and outlines what the government has done and will do on a sustainable e-government strategy. When I read the booklet, I have a feeling that the government is quite determined in this direction and some concrete steps have been taken to implement the strategy.

John Tsang said in the booklet that the Government had placed great importance on e-government work for three reasons-
- First, developing e-government allows us to improve operational efficiency and introduce service improvements to benefit our customers, through technology exploitation and service transformation.
- Second, it is an effective way to drive the wider adoption of IT in the business sector and community.
- And third, it demonstrates the Government's leadership role in promoting Hong Kong's international status as an innovative digital city.

The document is dressed up to present to the public that the government is leading the way in making better use of IT in service delivery. With a slight sense of crisis, one can realize that the scene has been set for the impact of IT both externally in the delivery of public services and internally in the re-engineering of procedures. With the EO grade's mission of resource and system management, we are at the crunching edge of the tide. In order to ride the wave, it has become very urgent for us to sharpen our saw to be developed into professional IT managers, both for doing our bread and butter function of resource and system management, and to get to the turf of IT management of public service delivery systems. It is essential that we should be able to say to our customers that we would provide professional managers to handle any IT management jobs.

The booklet points out that the next wave of e-government would be developed along a "CARING" theme as follows:
- Customer Orientation: developing e-services around customers' needs,
- Customer Migration: driving utilization through creation of customer value and rationalization of channels,
- Accessibility; enhancing the reach and user-friendliness of government information and services,
- Authentication: striking a better balance between ease of use, risk level and security provisions of e-services,
- Re-engineering and Service Transformation: joining up across government departments to provide one-stop and more efficient services,
- Infrastructure: updating our infrastructure to serve the future needs of customers and departments,
- Networking Government: reinforcing the e-culture among government employees, and
- Government Leadership: providing strong leadership to steer the overall development.

Many of these initiatives have affected and will further affect our work. I will examine the detailed description on them in the booklet and compare them with my experience in dealing with some of them.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Open source systems in government

With all the talks on open source systems, IT managers may wonder what should be done with the large number of software in their office. Most of us are bound by MS Windows both at workstation and server level. How about the free Linus. Don't be intimidated by another type of server administration. IT managers manage the system administrators who are the technical people. We just need to know what is there, its advantages and disadvantages, and to make sure that the technical people are doing their job.

Some salient points:

"Factors to consider in such a cost analysis range from interoperability with existing applications to the relative scarcity of trained Linux support personnel."

"Such concerns may loom larger if a company is governed by a central IT strategy, which would discourage a piecemeal approach to technology adoption."

Are we governed by a central IT strategy? The government is promoting interoperability at a grand scale, i.e. an integrated e-service to the public with interoperability and compatiability at all levels. At the same time, we are not having a standard of basic tools. While IT managers may have interest in open source systems because of their low cost, good support(??), and the chance to get away from Microsoft, the concerns raised also need some consideration. But there is no harm to start a small experiment in the office.

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Migration to Open Source Systems

My friend KM Chan has some experience on the migration to open source systems as follows.

The considerations mentioned in the article, though valid, are nothing new. As you have pointed out earlier, the choice should not be between Open Source and non-Open Source software but rather the most suitable programs for us. Similarly the migration needs not be an all (Windows) or nothing (but Linux) situation.

I think we can start with some small steps and the guiding principle is to use free software if possible in order to save costs, including licence fees as well as staff costs involved in procurement and inventory-keeping.

(A) The easiest step is to replace those commercial products where the compatibility problem is minimal, e.g. zip, pdf, media player, CD burning. As long as the job is done, it doesn't really matter what software we have used to do it. See my blog entries http://tinyurl.com/46fo3 and http://tinyurl.com/3w6xb for more on zip and pdf.

(B) Next we may consider those software whose compatibility issues will not have a great impact. What I have in mind are e.g. html editor, graphicpackages, flow-charter, publisher. Files produced by these programs are rarely interchanged (edited) outside the organization - in most cases, a read-only finished product will be all that is required and a html or pdf version will be adequate. So there should not be much problem in this category if we can standardize them within the organization.

(C) It is true that OpenOffice.org is incompatible with Microsoft Office and it will cause us trouble if both programs are used. Yet I believe the impact of such incompatibility is often exaggerated. In our daily office work, what we write are mainly memos and minutes and fancy formatting is in fact not really necessary. And OpenOffice.org can handle simple MSOffice files quite well. Furthermore, is it really important, say, if we have a few distortions in the format, when we use OpenOffice.org to complete a form produced by MS Office ? The biggest obstacle is still the users' reluctance to changes. But in the computer world, changes are inevitable - just think of how we have migrated from WordStar to Multimate to WordPerfect and to Word. The migrations were not even triggered by cost-saving concerns.

(D) We can still use Windows for all of the above and the support/training effort will be manageable. The next big step to Linux will be much more difficult but I understand that HK Post have some Linux workstationsinstalled in the post offices where the staff can use them for Internet, e-mail and reading departmental circulars (i.e., where document exchanges are rarely necessary). This reminds me that not all offices are working like what we usually see, where a large number of documents are produced, edited, transmitted and filed. There are in fact many staff who only needto read the documents and submit simple returns, and it is in these sections that Windows can be made redundant.

Monday, September 6, 2004

Open Source System

About a third of businesses plan to migrate at least some Windows machines to Linux, according to a recent survey, but adoption will continue to be both slow and cautious, as companies evaluate a maze of economic factors.

In a report on total cost of ownership for the Linux, Unix and Microsoft Windows operating systems, research company The Yankee Group found that only 4 percent of businesses planned to migrate Unix servers to Linux within the next two years. A total of 11 percent intended to move Windows servers to Linux, while 21 percent proposed to add Linux servers to a predominantly Windows environment.

On the desktop, 36 percent of businesses expected to have a few Linux PCs in their business, but only 5 percent planned a total migration to Linux. A majority--57 percent--planned no changes for Windows on the desktop.

The report cites a number of factors for corporate caution in moving to Linux, most notably the increasingly complex calculations required to determine whether such moves are cost-effective.

"All of the firms would like to reduce the amount of up-front capital expenditure dollars they spend on expensive Windows and Unix software licenses," the report found. "However, they also recognize that in certain instances, a wholesale or significant switch to Linux might reduce up-front costs but result in higher overall costs."

Factors to consider in such a cost analysis range from interoperability with existing applications to the relative scarcity of trained Linux support personnel. "The establishments that have or are seriously considering Linux bemoaned the present dearth and high cost of skilled Linux administrators, even as they praised the open-source operating system's ease of use," the report stated.

Such concerns may loom larger if a company is governed by a central IT strategy, which would discourage a piecemeal approach to technology adoption, Yankee analyst Dana Gardner said.

"The position companies need to look at is whether there's a tactical or strategic role for Linux and open source," Gardner said. "They're looking at what would be a strategic platform that's fully integrated and supported."

The report found that even businesses that were relatively satisfied with Windows are making some use of Linux, however--as a bargaining chip in negotiating with Microsoft on further purchases. "We have no intention of switching to Linux," an unnamed MIS manager is quoted as saying in the report, "but we do find it useful as a stone to throw at Microsoft."

By David Becker
CNET News.com, August 30, 2004

Monday, August 30, 2004

General duties - career

A colleague had a good idea on the career prospect of general duties clerks and secretaries.

"There is the recent 'management-initiated' development proposed by GGO, i.e., the centrifugal absorption of clerks/secretaries to the EO grade. If I were a clerk/PS, I would have been contented.

If we look for an approach to determine appointments by merits, I think the natural course will be for all directorate posts to be recruited through open appointments; similarly, EO II posts be open to clerks or whatever general grade colleagues."

I fully agree with the idea. We should surely let clerks and secretaries advance to EOs. But only for those capable. The CRE is a fair test to identify the deserving ones.

We are venturing to the area where all promotion posts should also be filled by appointment and fair selection. It would incur more work for the HR managers, but it would be fair. I understand in the Hospital Authority, upward or lateral movements are determined by selection, i.e. people have to apply for senior posts or same posts in another hospital and to compete through selection interviews.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

General duties executive assistants

I understand that SFAA employs a lot of NCSC staff. I recruited some assistants three years ago who were previously working in SFAA as temporary staff vetting applications from students. Also, I met an EA seconded from SFAA to EMB in 2002. If departmental secretaries (i.e. all-purpose general multi-skill clerks and secretaries cum junior office managers) require a degree, that means junior managers (EOIIs) could be performing new-style clerical, secretarial and managerial duties. Nowadays, with the help of IT, many managers do their daily chores like drafting, typing, scheduling, electronic filing at their desktops. Email have replaced much paper correspondence.

We need to look at this new layer and consider our position in longitudinal integration. We can downward integrate with clerks and secretaries, or we can professionalize and upward integrate with policy making, leaving general support duties to be performed by a new generation of multi-skill executive assistants. One option is to hive off EOII and combine it with clerks and secretaries to form a new degree grade for general office management. They can have advancement opportunities to the EO grade, starting at EOI level, and with raised entry requirements, e.g. 4 years working experience.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

General duties - multi-skilling

This is the view of the private sector on the future of the secretaries and clerks. The terms are a bit different. Departmental secretaries are general clerks and manager secretaries are PSs. We are aware of the trend and have introduced multi-skilling for the clerical grades, but not as drastic as the private sector. There are still many manager secretaries.

The article mentioned the role of managers, that some of them are still computer-illiterate and must rely on PS, but these managers soon be displaced. However, I note that there is also a phonemenon in government that PS is a status symbol, irrespective there is work for them.

The proposed way-out for secretaries and clerks is self-improvement and thus advancement. The trend is that all office chore will be performed by executive assistants who are multi-skill clerks and secretaries and also junior managers. The entry requirements are degree plus language and communication ability and also computer knowledge. The pay is $8-9K. Sound familiar? They are actually EOs doing all kinds of general grade duties. Does this point to the merging of the EO/CO/PS grades? Or can we present it just as the abolishing of the CO and PS grades? I think this makes the issue of really professionalizing the EO grade more pressing.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Complaint Case on data privacy

Privacy Commissioner's Office - Complaint Case Notes

Complaint regarding data access request

The complainant was a former civil servant. He had served in a government department for more than 10 years and was then transferred to another department on a different post on probation terms for two years. However his performance during the probation period was considered unsatisfactory and his service was subsequently terminated. He made a data access request to the department seeking access to his personnel file held by the department. In complying with the request, the department provided over 400 pages of documents to the complainant with certain information edited out from the copies of the documents on grounds that the edited data were matters of departmental policy that should not amount to personal data of the complainant.

Section 20(2)(b) of the PD(P)O provides that a data user may, in complying with a data access request, edit out data of third party individuals from the requested data either by the omission of names or other identifying particulars. However, on closer examination of the documents provided to the complainant, it was ascertained that they were 'file minutes' relating to discussions regarding the complainant's eligibility for pension benefits. These discussions were specific matters of policy applicable to the complainant's case, i.e. termination of service. In these circumstances, the contents of the "file minutes" contained personal data of the complainant and should have been disclosed to the complainant in complying with his data access request.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

General Duties

【明報專訊】在電腦仍未普及的年代,辦公室高層人員都依賴秘書處理文書、預約及安排會議等,但時至今日,資訊科技大大簡化了文書處理和溝通的程序,加上近年商業機構的資源大都較前緊絀,對於工作重要性大不如前的秘書員工,公司會採取什麼態度和處理方法,以便更有效分配人力資源﹖

中原人力資源顧問有限公司董事總經理周綺萍認為,秘書職位在職場縮減是無可避免的趨勢。她分析稱,在高度電腦化的辦公室環境下,文書工作本已大幅減少,加上大部分經理都懂得使用電腦處理日常工作,對秘書的需求自然較以往低。除了辦公室環境改變外,經濟環境亦減低職場對秘書的需求。

周綺萍說﹕「若商業機構財政狀?緊張以致要縮減人手,必先縮減support staff(支援人員),才會考慮縮減frontline staff(前線人員)。而在support staff當中,秘書必會首當其衝成為縮減目標,因秘書予人的印象是上司的附屬,沒有明顯功能,很容易被取代。」

公司裁員秘書首當其衝

在一家資訊科技公司兼任董事及總經理的李潤權(Derek)指出,過往辦公室秘書大多分為兩大類,一類是部門秘書(departmental secretaries),負責協助某部門所有同事處理日常運作﹔另一類是經理秘書(manager secretaries),以「單對單」形式專責協助特定經理處理事務。「但如今經理秘書已寥寥無幾,剩下來的多數是部門秘書,一人協助多人工作。」

他工作的機構早於3、4年前,已縮減了約一半經理秘書的人手。「公司負擔不起那麼多秘書的薪金,不容許太多額外人手助職員處理事務,故要求各人盡用每天8個工作小時去做好自己的事。」

他相信秘書人手的縮減,不會增加其他職員的工作量﹕「過往秘書的工作大多是安排時間表、聯絡等,但現在差不多人人都有palm(電子手帳),又可透過電郵聯絡其他人,幾乎事事都paperless(無紙傳輸信息),秘書不用做filing(文件歸檔),自然對其他同事影響不會很大。」

但他認為,「秘書的沒落」對經理影響有多大,則視乎經理本身的工作習慣而定。「對於不懂操作電腦的傳統經理來說,失去秘書的協助,可能會感到恐慌,需要一段時間學習和適應,否則很容易被淘汰﹔對於新一代的經理則影響不大。像我這樣,我做powerpoint(簡報表)比秘書做得更好,打字又比她打得快,與其等她幫我,不如我自己做來得還要快。」

主責費時的「妹仔工作」

因此,雖然Derek接任現職時,公司為他安排了一名秘書,專責助他處理個人事務,但他「一上任就告訴她,自己沒什麼事可給她做,要她改為負責協助整個部門的同事工作。因此她名義上是我的秘書,實際上卻是部門秘書」。他坦言如今他公司的秘書,主要負責一些既費時又不能用電腦做的「妹仔工作」,如大量影印、核對帳單等。

【明報專訊】秘書職位遭淘汰彷彿是大勢所趨,但並非所有公司都採取縮減人手等消極做法,反而積極協助任職秘書的員工轉型,令他們有能力繼續為公司服務。

香港永安旅遊有限公司副總經理陳淑芳說,該公司過去幾年致力提升秘書的能力,令他們可接受不同的工作性質,改任行政助理職位。

「近幾年公司持秘書職銜的人確是下降了,但持行政助理職銜的人卻增加了,因此公司實際上並沒怎樣縮減秘書人手。」陳淑芳表示,永安旅遊有見在現今電腦普及化的環境下,傳統秘書工作量下降,故公司選擇讓他們兼任更多工作,在本來的文書工作外,讓他們執行更多直接幫助公司運作的任務。

擴闊工作提高生產力

「例如公司其中一名行政助理,除了文書工作外,每天亦負責收集所有旅遊部經理的產品內容及價目,將資料整理妥當並傳真至旅遊業議會,領取該會認可。這類工作以往就不會由秘書負責。」

陳淑芳相信,這種做法不僅可擴闊他們的工作性質,更提高他們的生產力,「他們不但增值了,在職場的生存空間亦大了」。要成功協助秘書轉型,公司的培訓不可或缺。永安旅遊就透過培訓,提高這些秘書的能力,幫助他們學習產品知識、旅遊業議會條例、航空公司特色等。她建議秘書在接受公司培訓之餘,自己亦要努力增強能力,如多了解行業動態、提升語文能力及資訊科技的技術等。

永安旅遊不僅提高了對秘書工作能力的要求,同時亦提高了入職要求。陳淑芳說﹕「以往我們聘請秘書,只要求對方中五畢業及持秘書課程證書。但如今聘請行政助理,要求求職者持大學學位、語文及溝通能力良好、懂得操作電腦,新入行者可得約8000至9000元月薪。」

可考慮從事顧客服務

中原人力資源顧問有限公司董事總經理周綺萍亦呼籲現職秘書及早考慮轉型﹕「可考慮於在職的公司及部門找一份職級相近的工作,亦可考慮轉行擔任一些跟秘書無關的工作,如保險及基金等,因此類工種往往需要很多新入職者,尤其一些人際網絡廣的人。如在擔任秘書時累積了相當統籌的經過,而性格又外向,可考慮顧客服務工作。」不過要轉型並非易事,周指出若秘書欲轉型,「一定要從學歷著手,選定有興趣的發展範疇後,最少要考取相關文憑,但最好還是考取相關學位」,否則,在現今這個重視學歷的職場很難競爭。

Thursday, July 8, 2004

PSC report

Is PSC referring to the HR managers, aka EOs, on the sins on human resource management? Seems we need to improve ourselves. This is a threat that can be turned into opportunity if we can demonstrate our professionalism in this respect.

【東方日報專訊】公務員敘用委員會在最新的年報中,列舉十大個案,炮轟政府部門處理公務員事務上的多宗罪,例如聘請人員時採用一成不變的篩選方式、容許差劣員工留任達八年之久、與行為失當人員續約,更縱容表現欠佳、行為失當員工一直署任較高職位以待實際升職,反映部門表現管理制度有嚴重不善之處。報告更狠批某政策局,處理署任員工的程序上嚴重失當,未有徵詢委員會意見,直言做法是完全不可接受。

公務員敘用委員會的主要職責,是就公務員的聘用、晉升及紀律事宜,向行政長官提供意見,以前高官鮑文為主席的委員會最新出版的○三年年報,不點名炮轟公務員十大失當個案。

管理制度嚴重不善

其中多個個案涉及政府署任安排,例如有部門推薦員工署任六個月以待實際升職,但其表現每況愈下,且行為不當,管方卻毫不察覺,直至總部接獲其周年評核報告及署任考績報告後,才恍然大悟,知悉員工表現欠佳、行為失當,才建議終止署任及採取紀律行動。

委員會批評,個案反映部門的表現管理制度嚴重不善,監管不力,評核人員與總部欠缺溝通,直言若遇員工表現欠佳,應立即採取行動,而非待評核周期完結才處理。

另一個案是某政策局於九七年建議一名人員署任六個月以待實際升職,事隔六年,該局才告知委員會,該員工表現未達標而未獲擢升,期間未事先獲委員會同意已停止署任安排。委員會直指,該局程序失當問題十分嚴重,已促請該局的秘書長及公務員事務局注意個案,經他們催促下,該局才就個案徵詢委員會意見。委員會狠批,該局過去六年沒採取任何行動,妥善解決個案,是完全不能接受。

報告亦進一步披露,政府部門包庇行為表現差劣的員工,包括某部門建議與一名行為失當,曾受嚴厲譴責且被罰款的員工延長合約一年,而留任建議更獲公務員事務局批准,不過委員會指該員工職系已被納入自願退休計畫內,質疑留任是否與整體削減編制配合。

表現差仍留任八年

另一個案則是一名殘障人員在試用期間工作表現持續差劣,但仍獲准留任達八年之久。報告稱,部門容忍延遲採取行動,是為免有人以《殘疾歧視條例》為由提出質疑,該個案在五年內共召開十次醫事委員會,最終確定該員工表現差劣非健康狀況所致。

公務員敘用委員會直指,儘管個案複雜,但部門八年來不管員工表現不符合要求而繼續留用,是不能接受,更建議當局精簡及改善這類個案的處理程序。

Performance management

  以下為今日(七月七日)在立法會會議上,陳國強議員就公務員工作表現管理的提問及公務員事務局局長王永平的口頭答覆:

問題:

  關於公務員的工作表現管理,政府可否告知本會:

(一)過去三年,每年公務員的工作表現評級的分布情況,以及工作表現被評為C級或以下的個案佔總數的百分比與其上一年的數字如何比較;若有關百分比有上升趨勢,有否評估是否由於評核人員區分表現良好和表現一般或差劣的人員;

(二)過去三年,有否首長級人員在覆檢並非由他作出或加簽的評核報告時加上負面評語,引致阻延有關公務員的晉升;若有,為甚麼容許這種情況出現;及

(三)公務員事務局如何處理個別公務員不滿評核人員給他的工作表現評級或認為評核人員對他存有偏見所作出的有關申訴,以及有甚麼措施確保這些申訴獲得公平處理及有關公務員日後不會被排斥?

答覆:

主席女士:

  工作表現管理是所有公私營機構在人才管理策略上不可或缺的一環。在香港特區政府內,所有公務員及合約僱員,都須定期接受評核。公務員工作表現評核制度的目的,是通過員工工作表現達致部門的工作目標;此外,一個評估工作表現的機制可使員工認清工作目標和部門對他們的期望,也可使部門就員工的優點和缺點,確定他們的培訓需要,激勵他們精益求精。透過評核制度,管理層會採取適當的措施,例如提拔和晉升優秀人才,或懲處表現差劣的員工。

  就陳議員提出的問題,我現回覆如下:

(一)有關公務員評核報告的資料主要由各部門直接處理及存檔。現時,公務員事務局會定期抽樣收集及分析個別部門和職系的工作表現評核數據。由於資源所限,我們沒有就所有公務員的評核結果作逐年和全面的統計。

  本局去年曾就七十多個部門(超過三百多個職系九百多個職級)的評核數據作出一次較全面的調查,結果顯示部門採用的評核等級制,絕大部分是六級制(即A到F或「優」至「劣」。平均來說,約百分之十九的公務員取得第三級(即「C」或「常」級)的評級,少於百分之一取得「C」級以下的評級。

  我們所掌握個別部門╱職系的數據顯示,這兩年取得「C」或「常」評級或以下的人員所佔百分比大致穩定,並沒有明顯增加的趨勢。

(二)部門╱職系首長本人或獲授權的首長級管理人員會覆檢非直屬員工的評核報告,並會以職系內有關職級的才能要求及水準為基礎,對個別員工的整體工作表現加上評註以作補充、肯定、嘉許或批評。覆檢是評核過程的正常步驟之一。

  相對於評核人員及加簽人員,覆核人員所看到的及需要考慮的層面比較廣闊。再者,由於部門的員工通常分布於不同崗位,甚至派駐其他部門,工種及工作模式都有不同程度的差異,因此部門及職系均會因應需要,安排覆核人員監察評核標準。

  近年本局亦鼓勵部門設立評核委員會,以確保評核準則一致和評級公平。

  覆核人員和評核委員會的職責,是覆核員工的評核報告,評估員工是否適合晉升、評估其潛質,以及監察評核標準,並就評核人員或加簽人員是否需要提高撰寫報告的質素提出意見。由於覆核人員通常對同職系人員的工作表現有較全面認識,亦有權取得有關員工若干年來的工作表現資料,加上他們對各職級所需的各項才能和條件及評核標準有一定了解,故能作出較客觀及宏觀的評註。

  當局有既定的程序提升公務員,並非單靠覆核人員的評估。晉升委員會會慎重考慮所有合資格的人選及他們的評核報告。此外,晉升結果亦須提交獨立的公務員?聽峏e員會審核。

(三)公務員的評核制度,有既定及完整的程序,目的是確保公平公正。

  評核制度的一個重要環節,是評核會見。員工與上司進行評核會見時,可就評核結果表達意見。上司有責任將下屬提出的意見及理據如實記錄在評核報告內。

  若員工對評核結果不滿,可向加簽人員、覆核人員、部門或職系的高級人員、評核委員會、部門╱職系首長投訴。

  員工如不滿加簽人員、覆核人員或評核委員會所作的加簽或覆核,可向部門或職系的高級人員、部門╱職系首長投訴。

  在現有機制下,若公務員認為在升遷方面有不公平或受歧視的情況,亦可向公務員事務局、公務員事務委員會或行政長官申訴。

  此類申訴一般涉及投訴者與評核人員對工作表現的不同評價。部門╱職系首長有責任確保員工清楚知道他們應達到的工作表現水平,以及監察督導人員的工作,使他們有效而公平地執行管理員工表現的職責。因此本局在接獲這類申訴時,一般會將個案交由所屬部門╱職系的首長調查和跟進;本局則會從旁監察,以確保當局調查投訴時,投訴人與被投訴的人員同獲公平對待。



二○○四年七月七日(星期三)

Friday, July 2, 2004

Game theory

There are games with perfect information, such as tic-tac-toe or chess, and played on pure strategy. There are also games without perfect information. Based on the mathematical theory of games, there are optimal mixes of strategies and the frequency one can expect to win, such as stone-paper-scissors which is a 2-person zero-sum game. With optimal strategies, there is no win over a long run of plays.

In person competitive situations, there are more players. Also, players can form coalition, and there are infinite number of strategies for such non-zero-sum games.

The equilibrium solution is a set of mixed strategies, with one solution for each player and no one has a reason to deviate from the game plan.

John Nash proved that any many-person, non-cooperative, finite-strategy game has at least one equilibrium solution. Examples are in missile defense, labour negotiations, consumer price wars.

Game theory does not solve problem, but help illuminate the task by offering a different way of interpreting the competitive interactions and possible results.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Planning under the influence of change

Planning under the influence of change
By Peter de Jager

Most strategic plans are premised upon a simple question: "Where do we want our organization to be in five years; what must we do, and when, to get there?" A good question, that, and the answer will definitely have the attributes of a sound objective.

Asking, "where?" invites us to paint a picture of what we want to achieve. That represents our "vision" or "vision statement", and creates a target worthy of attention. "What must we do, and when?," paves the steps towards a rudimentary project plan. Having defined the "what" and the "when", we now have a "To Do" list for the next few years. The objectives we choose may sometimes be overly simplistic - even ambiguous, as in, "We want to be the world leader in 'X'". But they provide us something to work towards. And that's the core issue. Unless the next problem is defined in terms of some hidden assumption, such planning cannot succeed other than by luck. We run into a snag here, a problematique. We cannot answer the "smaller" organizational question "where?" unless we answer a bigger and more complex question: "Where will the world be in five years?"

Crafting a strategic plan is like aiming to get to Mars, or catch a baseball: you don't go to where it is now but to where it will be. Obvious? Of course it is. Yet most strategic plans make no attempt to determine where the world will be. They assume that the world stands still in time when it is indeed heading off in some unknown direction under the influence of Moore's Law, politics, demographics, diminishing resources, new opportunities, aging populations, shifting alliances and a thousand other trivial and humungous forces.

We target the future on our understanding of the past. For example, when transactions have been growing at 10 percent per year, we plan for the future on the assumption of similar growth. But new-and often sudden-developments can erase all credibility from such reasoning. For example the sudden rise of digital music and the ease of sharing it on the Internet. The real challenge is in answering the question, "Where will the World be in five years?" As Yogi Berra, the great philosopher king and sometime baseball player, said: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Tough? Yes, definitely. Impossible? No. Even if we choose to ignore them, there are developments we know will affect us in the future. Here are a few worthy of consideration: The Collapse of Constraints as a result of Moore's Law: IT and telecom are going to get more powerful, faster, cheaper, more reliable, more accessible, smaller, cooler, convenient.

Implications: Are there technologies that you want to implement today but can't because of limitations? Chances are in five years, technology will remove those constraints. Then what?

Reminders and implications:

· Digital Music => Copyright => Music Industry Sales?

· Telecommunications => Offshore Outsourcing => Local White Collar Work?

· Voice over IP => Personal Communications => Phone Companies?

· RFID => Inventory Costs => Privacy & Security?

· Flat Screen TVs => Redesign of living space => Furniture Sales?

New Markets & New Competitors: (The Third World is no longer Third) One word: China. The Implications? USA has 5 per cent of the world's population and consumes 30 per cent of its resources. Imagine the buying power, consumption, and resources of 10 USAs. Can you imagine a Future where this juggernaut of a country does NOT affect your business? These are just three developments you might choose to incorporate into your strategic plan. Which ones? depends on the throw of your projection, factors of potential threat, and/or opportunity.

We cannot predict tomorrow with great accuracy. But we can get a sense of it and strategize a plan that does well against other possible scenarios.