Business

Don't buy a dog and bark

BY DENNIS CHUNG

Friday, July 12, 2019

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ONE of the sayings I always tell people, is that it makes no sense to buy a dog and then go out and bark at nights yourself. Or as Steve Jobs put it, “ It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

In other words, if we think someone is qualified for the job then we shouldn't hire them and then tell them what to do, which happens in both the public and private sector.

In my own interactions with some of the more successful private sector leaders, one of the most common traits I find is that they hire very carefully, and hire good people, and then they allow them to do what they do best.

What they do is give the policy guidance on the strategic direction of their companies and then they allow the “smart people” they hire to operationalise it.

Would we, for example, hire a doctor to perform surgery and then tell him how to perform it? Or when we want financial advice do we go to a Warren Buffett, for example, and then tell him that his advice is wrong?

Obviously, the reason these people are successful is because they have qualified themselves academically and by experience, and have developed a track record in being successful enough for you to hire them.

So, why proceed to hire them and then tell them what to do?

I am therefore always amazed by how we not only criticise some of our public persons for the outcome, but then we proceed to tell them how they should act.

One of the most glaring examples is the way we always tell police commissioners over the years what they are doing wrong in trying to solve crime, and always insisting on seeing a crime plan.

Firstly, why would we put police commissioners in place, and then want to tell them how to solve crime?

And secondly, if we are presented with a crime plan, are we qualified or experienced enough to properly assess a crime plan? What do I, as an accountant, know about solving crime? Why would I want to see a crime plan, and why would we expect the commissioner, or the Government, to provide any details on their strategies? Wouldn't that compromise the strategies?

It has always amazed me (as I have commented in the past) that everyone thinks it is prudent to reveal publicly the details of any crime plan, but also that so many crime experts are out there who can analyse properly a well-detailed crime plan, and offer appropriate advice, and yet still with all the experts we still have a crime problem.

As far as I am concerned, my main demand of the commissioner and Government is that they should ensure that we live in an orderly and safe society. I don't need to see any crime plan, which I will more than likely have no idea if it makes sense or not because of my lack of crime-fighting expertise or more importantly my lack of the crime intelligence that informs the plan.

I just want to hold them accountable for a safe and orderly society, for which I can develop a metric and measure them against.

What we must do is ensure that we select the right person for the job, set the objectives (outcomes we want), and hold them to those standards.

In fact, if we tell them what to do then what we would have done is transfer the accountability from the person we have put in place to ourselves. At the end of the year, for example, when we sit down to review the outcome, the conversation may go like this:

Me: So Commissioner, crime is worse than it was one year ago. Why did you put the SOE in area A and not area B, and why did you not outfit the forensics lab but instead put so many police stations in place?

Commissioner: Because those were the things that you told me to do, and I implemented them, even though my memo to you was that it wasn't the best approach.

Me: Oh

In contrast, if I had at the start of the year set the agreed objectives to include (1) improved discipline on the roads (not how many tickets issued); (2) a 50 per cent reduction in complaints about night noise; (3) removal of illegal vendors from the sidewalks; and (4) reduction of murders in St James by 50 per cent, then the conversation may go like this:

Me: So Commissioner, indiscipline has increased on the roads, and here are some examples of policemen watching the breaches on camera; the complaints we received about night noise have increased by 10 per cent, instead of the 50 per cent reduction we agreed; illegal vending has increased by 20 per cent, as evidenced by the attached; and we have seen an increase in murders in St James by five per cent. Clearly you have failed to meet your objectives. Do you have anything to say?

Commissioner: Well, the commanders in those divisions didn't follow through on what we agreed to do.

Me: But Commissioner, you are the one with the authority to outfit and reassign commanders if you want. So the accountability for these objectives rests with you, as you have been given full authority to accomplish the objectives on which we agreed.

In the first case I would have transferred the accountability to myself and have no recourse for the objectives not being met.

As I indicated though, if we don't hire the right person then don't expect the anticipated outcomes from someone who can't produce those outcomes. As I always tell my friends, “no matter how much dog food you give to a cat, it will never bark”.

I recall that when the NSWMA Board was looking for an executive director, we went through the process of determining the type of skill set we required in that position, and we had long and lively conversations on the topic at board meetings. We finally agreed that even though the public commentary at the time was that we should hire someone suitably qualified in waste management and engineering, our own review of the skill set was needed, and after much debate, that the most appropriate person at the time for us would be Audley Gordon.

So we hired him, in the face of much public criticism, but we felt confident that he had the skill set we needed. Our next task was to create a set of policy objectives and work with him to get a team of competent persons around him, and allow him to operationalise the objectives we set out with the clear understanding that it was his accountability to achieve the objectives.

If we, on the other hand, started directing him what to do operationally then we wouldn't be able to require accountability. For the most part it has worked for us.

What we must not do though, is get a dog to watch our home and then go outside and bark at nights, as when the dog starts realising that you are willing to do the barking then he may just start sleeping at nights.


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