Trying To Do Better?

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christy made the news again.  This is not unusual, although on this issue it is surprising.  Christy wants to change the Civil Service promotion rules.  Hmmm.

Christy’s spokesperson said the proposal which would allow managers to promote younger, more qualified employees without all the bother of tests and procedures was in line with Christy’s efforts to improve State Government services.  As you might expect, the State Public Service Employees Union howled with disapproval.

I can easily imagine that this proposal arises from the mismatch of younger people with computer and social media skills locked into positions which do not reward those skills financially.  Instead, the younger workers are destined to work a routine assignments “until” their time comes.  And the irony is most likely that when their time comes to occupy higher level jobs, technology will have evolved again and those junior to these new supervisors will have the necessary talents.  Hmmm.

Less obvious but just as undesirable an outcome occurs when public employees must be laid off.  Seniority rules the way and skill or ability are overlooked.  So why aren’t the best and the brightest promoted and paid accordingly?

Let’s be clear this is not a new phenomena or one unique to Governor Christy.  It goes hand in hand with political appointments and political spoils.

Selecting the best and the brightest by management evaluations works as well as the “independence and integrity” of the evaluator.  Favoritism, prejudices, and payoffs all can abound in a system of management selection.  In short, this is why the Civil Service rules evolved.

In the business world, management selection is the bedrock process for advancement.  So, why does it work in business and is so fraught with problems in public service?

Competition is the answer.

In the business world, should management selections turn out to be unwise, a competitor will offer better mouse traps and one business will fail while the other flourishes.  We should recognize that management selection models always involve favoritism, prejudices, and payoffs of some type or amount whether employed in the public or private sector.  With the prospect of business failure, the private sector has natural reasons to limit the misuse of management selection.  Public service does not.

One more warning to Governor Christy.  I could accept that his personal motivation might be just as stated, improve the effectiveness of government services.  I could also accept that Governor Christy’s civil service managers would wisely choose those for promotion.  What I have difficulty accepting is that Governor Christy’s successors will have the same goals when it would be so helpful to reward his/her political supporters.

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