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Performance Foundations of Public Administrators: Service Beyond the Job Description

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
August 13, 2018

Pa Saye and the Little Ones in Manjie-Kunda, Gambia, Photo taken by Lisa Saye©

Changing Habit Patterns of Public Servants

The formal performance review has become an embedded part of measuring public service. It can be administered annually, quarterly or monthly. Initially, it is connected with a probationary period and later with promotions or lateral movements in an agency. The review, or evaluation, is often a rubric checklist designed to measure the degree to which the employee accomplishes the core elements outlined in the job description. These elements represent the performance foundations one must meet on the job, while performing the job.

What rarely gets mentioned (and certainly almost never measured) are those elements of public service not written as part of the job description. The top-table notions of sacrifice, love and commitment are immeasurable, non-mechanical and personal. We all know public servants that embody these notions. We admire their work, and we speak well of them, but we do not build an analysis around their service beyond the job description. To do that, we must assess what they are trying to accomplish and what drives them to serve when there is no personal gain in doing so. Mary Parker Follett may be able to shed some light on these performances. In her 1926 article entitled, The Giving of Orders, she wrote that “unless you change the habit-patterns of people, you have not changed your people.” I believe that the public servants that we have come to know and admire understand this on a molecular level. They know that in changing their own habit patterns, they set in motion a positive social investment that can mean moving entire communities forward.

Which habit patterns are we talking about? We are talking about the patterns that prevent us from serving beyond the job description. We have even said as much when asked to go that extra mile, haven’t we? How many times have we said that something is not in my job description? I am not saying that public servants do not work hard or that they should work for free. I am actually suggesting just the opposite. When we assess our habit patterns, we free ourselves from the drama associated with past beliefs that our work is historically technical. When we free ourselves from the burden of past patterns of performance, we give ourselves the opportunity to form new habits to address pattern changes in the demographics that we serve.

Active Rescue: The Ultimate Performance Foundation

The performance foundation of the public servant is tied to the idea of active rescue. No one can tell you what that is or what that idea means to you. What comes to mind when most people think of active rescue are the steps taken during a disaster or other near-tragedy. For public servants, active rescue means going to work. It means changing our habit patterns in a matter of weeks, days or seconds. Public servants are in active rescue whenever we interact with the public. Disaster aid assistance in Puerto Rico is active rescue. The application for affordable housing and the subsequent placement of a citizen in safe and secure housing is active rescue. Delivering on the promises of social security to the elderly and health insurance to the needy are examples of active rescue.

Active rescue is not fan-fiction and it is not meant to flatter. My father-in-law, Ebrima Samba Saye, was the embodiment of what is notable in a public servant. He was born and educated in The Gambia before receiving a Master’s Degree from Harvard University. He returned to The Gambia and served for almost thirty years as Commissioner of Income Tax. He trained public servants, he lectured public servants and many of his mentees are serving others throughout Africa and throughout the world. He always made himself available for discussion, debate and serious talks about life and about the future.

I visited The Gambia and followed my father-in-law around for weeks. I admired the personal contact he made with everyone and while observing him, I managed to capture a tender moment between him and some lovely children in Manije-Kunda. The photo shows a true and unfiltered moment of active rescue and love. I am still touched by that photo and moved even more so by his sacrifice. Commissioner Saye passed away a few weeks ago and is missed by all who knew him. I do not believe that society no longer produces legends. I know this because I have been blessed to have two fathers—one prepared me for life and the other prepared me for the rest of my life.

In Loving Memory of Ebrima Samba Saye

Image: Ebrima Samba Saye, Former Commission of Income Tax for The Gambia. Photo taken by Lisa Saye in Manjie-Kunda, The Gambia.


Author: Lisa Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. In April, she attended the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Peace-Building and Sustaining Peace as an Observer. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management from Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration from The University of Alabama. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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