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Ministers have 90 days to make a difference

By David Oginde | January 10th 2016

Much has been said about the need for government to take radical steps to transform its operations. In particular, the issue of perceived endemic corruption within various sectors of government dominated public debate and discussions most of the latter part of last year. Consequently, while we were away in the festivities, a reshuffle brought in some new Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries who were duly endorsed by Parliament. The hope was that this restructured team will deliver on key expectations of government.

Unfortunately, as the year has begun, there is little being heard or seen from the team. The most visible activities have been mainly from Dr Fred Matiang’i, the new CS for Education.

This could be because of the focus on exam results that comes during this period, or it could well be that Dr Matiangi has hit the ground running in his ministry. Where are the others?

In leadership circles, it is generally believed that the first 90 days of every new leader are the most critical for making tangible changes towards success.

Generally known as the leadership honeymoon, the 90-day period is purely a psychological window granted by key stakeholders to the leader, to make whatever changes he deems necessary. Within this period, all internal and external members of the organisation expect that the leader will institute some key changes.

In situations where the organisation has not been performing well, internal members are especially on high alert, anticipating radical steps to restore the organisation’s lost glory.

Accordingly, though apprehensive, staff generally expect operational and personnel restructuring during this period, no matter how radical.

Indeed, those that know or believe that they are poor performers, generally prepare themselves for whatever eventualities.

Leadership pundits point out that the 90-day window is the time to connect with stakeholders and cast a vision for key priority areas.

It is also the time to quickly asses the composition and capabilities of critical staff position holders. Necessary changes here must be done within 45 to 60 days. If there are administrative or structural weaknesses or loopholes, these must be addressed, or a plan put in place to address them, by the end of 90 days.

If there are walls to demolish, pillars to move, or rats to kill; this is the time to deal with them. It is generally advised that the new leader tackles the most difficult or controversial issues first and then attend to the easier ones later.

The reality is that as the 90-day window closes, so do expectations and goodwill.

Externally, the leader loses goodwill as the organisation’s stakeholders settle down with a sense of disappointment. Internally, the members settle back to status quo, but with a great sense disappointment from the good workers, and a sigh of relief from the poor performers.

The consequence is that the leader will find it more difficult to transform the organisation as time goes by. Organisational politics kick in and old habits become even more entrenched.

Every move by the leader is thereafter criticised and judged with the old lenses of the organisation’s culture.

Looking back, it is the quick action by the Ministers in the NARC government that brought about major transformative changes in the initial stages of that regime. Road bypasses were cleared of encroaching structures, Judiciary was purged, the matatus were tamed, KICC reclaimed, and free primary education implemented. All within the first few days of the government.

It is the same approach Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has employed in Tanzania – and it is working.

It is in this light that I believe the CSs and PSs could lose a great opportunity to help boost the government’s transformation agenda, if they do not move quickly and visibly within their dockets during this honeymoon window.

Whereas the President may continue to find it difficult to make changes at this point in his leadership, there is a great window of opportunity that has come with the recent reshuffle.

With due consultation, the government can make far-reaching changes through the new cabinet, that could well serve to set the nation on a growth trajectory. But time is fast running out.

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