Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A culture of incompetence

I am stepping out of my turf here and what follows is mostly a few observations about the government work culture - of course thats an oxymoron, so there.

The bank officer position was once, a coveted position that one looked upto post graduation. Bright candidates approached the bank examination with as much seriousness as many bright candidates approach the IIT exam today. Indeed, for many, their ambition in life was to become a grade something bank clerk and then become an officer. Those were the heydays of the benevolent government being the largest employer.

But walk into a government bank (since this post is really about them, customer service sucks in most private sector banks too, but thats another story) and you can count on one hand the number of times you have had a good experience. The whole culture is based on incompetence. Thank god for ATMs, otherwise to withdraw your own cash you had to jump hoops, walk through burning embers and then await your turn in front of a growling teller.

Now to progress in this career, it was a funny process. First you had to spend some time in a post as a clerk or something, then you had to write an exam and if you cleared you would be promoted and transferred as officer to some remote location. Nice perverse incentive that, if you see. Now here, it would have helped if the incentive was in clearing the exam and if you performed well, you get to stay at your preferred branch? But anyway.

There were two, three ways to approach this amazing scheme.

You gave the exam, you passed and you accepted life as it came in a remote location. Worst choice that saw you juggle family life, bureaucratic norms, local thugs and bad transport. (I know of a few who have endured this.)

You gave the exam, you passed and you used your charm influence (letters to the powers that be among other things) to stay in the same branch.

You avoided giving the exam and decided to remain a teller (or clerk) all your life. But every once in three years or so, you had to attempt the exam, which you did and somehow failed (now thats difficult right!). So, you remained a clerk and had your regular increments etc.

A nice culture of incompetence was created and nurtured. So, you had a lot of staff who knew they werent going anywhere and who couldnt care less if you had to withdraw your money and go anywhere. And if you were ever a regular at any of those bank, you knew which teller to avoid and which teller to go to. Simple solution no? So, the efficient teller got saddled with tons of work while the grumpy chap got to share recipes with other staff.


Nikhil Narayanan said...

Very very true, I should say!

Rishi said...

So, the efficient teller got saddled with tons of work while the grumpy chap got to share recipes with other staff.

This is exactly the way that all government departments function. There is a disincentive for efficency. Then it is not surprising that the Government Departments are inefficent.

Anonymous said...

These places run only because of, "a few good people" and largesse