Sunday, January 24, 2010

So having an Ivy-League degree is like having a D-Cup breastsize ?

This week, the OverEasy nightclub has caused quite a stir by offering ladies drinks based on their bust size.

Basically if you are a lady and you have an A-cup bust size, you get one free drink. If you are B-cup, you get two free drinks. If you are C-Cup, three free drinks and D-cup ladies get one free bottle of vodka. AWARE has condemned the action one which objectifies women but that did not prevent 200 women from attending the event, making this a huge marketing success.

While most Male netizens are find it quite difficult to take AWARE seriously, we tend to get indignant when the civil service performs a similar exercise.

The civil service rates civil servants based on their academic performance, if your grades are good, you get to have a higher starting pay. Depending on the prestige of your scholarship, the civil service provides a gradient of salary expectations (currently estimated potential or CEP) based on your performance as an undergraduate.

This makes our civil service almost exactly like a nightclub. If you are a top scholar, it's as if you have a D-cup bust-size at Overeasy. You start with a steep CEP which will be revised downwards only if you screw up badly. A farmer ( local graduate non scholar ) who was hired into the ministries will have a more gentle CEP and will need to produce fantastic results to have that revised upwards.

Both organizations have a good reason to adopt similar approaches to assessing someone. Overeasy knows that by attracting enough women with a D-cup breast size, their business will improve because men want to be in the presence of busty women. Similarly, our country gains credibility if our top bureaucrats are well-endowed with Ivy-league and Oxbridge qualifications, investors want to invest in a country run by well-qualified people.

To study how the CEP approach can be improved, would be to investigate areas where this analogy no longer holds.

The fear of paying a young scholar well and promising them a path to greater fortune before seeing any performance results is that it shifts their risk taking behavior to one which may be over-conservative and something which Singaporeans did not vote for. If I am paid $5,000 to make policy decisions and can try to get a $1,000 increment by doing something significant for the Singapore people, I may actually make a career bet to make things happen. If I am paid $20,000 and can get a similar increment if I succeed, the odds are that I will prefer to refrain from taking big risks in my career. There is too much incentive to support the status quo and even keep a low profile and let the CEP take care of itself.

My opinion is that there are some things which Singaporeans can be enjoying if we can engender more risk taking among our bureaucrats:

a) Singaporeans may be able to opt into a pension plan using uninvested CPF dollars. Our OA returns a pathetic 2.5% but if civil servants have the courage to build an infrastructure for Singaporeans to invest in a low expense, state-supported global equity fund and a global bond fund, an 6-8% ROI over a 20-year horizon is highly probable for everyone.

b) Singaporeans will not be stuck with a 30% limit on investing their own CPF money from the OA account. A civil servant with personal courage is required to conclude that we can independently manage our own money will be willing to raise this to 100% for CPF dollars which exceed the CPF minimum sum.

c) A courageous civil servant will figure out that a Masters education has an ROI which often exceeds equity returns and will allow Singaporeans to use their CPF money to get a Masters degree from a local university to equip themselves with skills to survive in the Global economy.

The civil service CEP system can make with the following overhaul:

a) Start all civil servants at the same grade and do not adjust starting incomes for better academic performance. Adjust salary for nature of work and hardship.

b) Supervisors who grade the civil servants should not have access to their previous academic performance.

c) Promotions and increments are based on the immediate performance of the previous years and will incorporate 360 degree feedback.

d) Civil servants will have to sell themselves using their EQ to work in sexy projects. The projects cannot be given by default to people from more prestigious institution.

e) Allow civil servants to fight for transfers after 2 years in a department. Make retention a KPI for all senior civil servant supervisors.

f) Establish flexible work hours and results oriented approach to assessment. Civil servants should be attracted to the work not for money but for greater work-life balance and enlightened office practices that are more progressive than the private sector.

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