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Improving Performance

Improving Performance


The Case of the Zimbabwean Civil Service

Copyright © 2007 Maxwell Musingafi
Used with permission of the author:
Author: Maxwell Musingafi   
Zimbabwe Open University
, 10 December 2007 


Most African governments have attempted improving performance of their civil service through reforms. All ended up failing meeting the desired results because of a combination of internal and external factors. The Zimbabwean experience is a typical African reforms effort that failed because of both internal weaknesses and external pressures.


1. Introduction

2. Management and Performance: Historical Overview

3. Improving Performance: The African Experience

4. Improving Performance: The Zimbabwean Experience

4.1 Blackenisation

4.2 Performance Management

4.2.1 The Concept of Performance Management

4.2.2 Weaknesses of The Concept of Performance Management

4.3 The Zimbabwean Experience with Performance Management

4.3.1 Phase One

4.3.2 Phase Two

5. Lessons Learnt from the Zimbabwean Experience


1. Introduction

Since Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has tried a number of change programmes to improve performance among civil servants. Some of the major reform and revitalization of the public service programmes attempted by the government are:

  • Blackenisation 
  • Performance Management
  • Professionalisation

Yet, as shown by Bologun (2003) on African attempts at reforms, there is no evidence that the efforts had any positive significant impact on performance. The Public Service in Zimbabwe has been associated with poor management, corruption, nepotism, poor communication, and rude, frustrated and unsympathetic Civil Servants (Public Service Performance Management Training Manual, 1998). A Civil Servant has been known to be slow in responding to demands and in decision-making.

This paper looks at the theoretical frameworks and the implementation of these reform programmes in the Zimbabwean civil service.  The first part is a survey of the evolution of the management thought and productivity. The second part looks at performance reforms in the African civil service since independence. The third part is about attempts at improving performance in the Zimbabwean civil service. Finally the paper looks at some of the lessons learnt from the Zimbabwean experiences with attempts on improving performance since 1980.

2. Management and Performance: Historical Overview

Management is matching organizational resources to meet organizational goals (IPMZ, 1996). Without a proper match organizational goals remain a dream. Therefore, proper match is a prerequisite to performance.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (1995) sees performance as working. To perform is to work. Performance is therefore action oriented and behavioural in character.

Classical management theorists defined management as a process that involves planning, organizing, leading and controlling (Smit and Cronje, 1996). Thus, from a general point of view Performance Management can simply be seen as putting the management theory into practice.

Practitioners, managers and theorists agree that implementation, or actioning management plans is of great importance to organizational success. Even the earliest theorists and practitioners devoted much of their time on how to make people in organizations perform and become more productive. Classical management theorists, especially scientific management theorists, may seem more concerned with the task performance issue than the human side of the process, but still, they are talking of how to mobilize people in organizations to put other resources in motion for the achievement of organizational goals.

Performance Management is a function of both General Management and Human Resources Management. It is therefore important to trace its evolution within these broad settings.

Problems with the performance of people at work began just before the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, when cottage industries became so large that owners were obliged to employ ‘strange’ people in addition to family members (Gerber, et al: 1995:31). The burning issue, then, which is still a burning issue today, was how to take care of this ‘stranger’ so that he or she performs his or her best for the optimal achievement of organizational goals.

In the early days the strangers were seen as cogs to be thrown away after use. Human emotions and needs were not seen as important in the employment relationship. The dominant approach to People and Performance Management was the commodity approach that is described by Litwack (1962) as quoted by Gerber, etal (Ibid) as follows:

Employees represented a factor of production to be performed as cheaply as possible and discarded when no longer useful. The human factor was at best irrelevant in employment decisions. Some employers, for example, viewed employees’ desire for education as harmful, spoiling these people for the realities of hard work.

People were just like any other resource, and therefore there was no need for treating them differently.

But, as has always been the case with human life, there was no consensus about the best philosophy on People and Performance Management. This led to the emergence of the Paternalistic Social Welfare Approach based on strong moral grounds in the late 1800’s. It was Robert Owen who emphasized the need for better labour relations, improvement in service conditions and cooperative labour movement on humanitarian grounds (Ahuja: 1998: 3).

Smit and Cronje (1996) identify Taylor as the father of Scientific Management Theory. From his studies, Taylor concluded that workers could only be highly productive if they were paid according to their performance or contribution to the organization. For him performance could be scientifically determined and measured if work was put into its simplest form through division of work. He believed that workers did not like work. They only worked because they wanted money. Otherwise they would not work. As such force should be used to make them work to their optimum level. His solution was to pay them according to their level of performance. Taylor was therefore the first person to talk about performance-based pay. The main weakness of his theory was that he sidelined human feelings, as he believed that workers were not different from any other organizational resources. He implied that there was only one best way of managing people at work. Research has shown that what makes people work is situational. It is not only money that makes people work (IPMZ, 1996).

Weber, as explained in Smit and Cronje (1996), came up with the Bureaucratic Organization Philosophy. He believed that for workers to perform up to optimum level there should be unity of command, well defined span of control, clear chain of command, among other things. He thus came up with tall organizations, which lead to slow decision making. Workers were made powerless as they had to obey authority. The school of thought suffered the very same weaknesses as the Scientific Management approach; coming up with one best way of managing people at work, disregarding workers’ feelings, putting too much power in the hands of management. It, however, ensured that there was someone accountable and responsible.

The Hawthorne Studies, as outlined in Smit and Cronje (1996), showed that human beings are socializing animals. They perform better in group settings. They want to be heard and contribute to their fate. People value teamwork and as such have an inherent need of belonging. Given the opportunity they like and enjoy work. The studies thus came up with the Human Relations Theories, which also suffered from the one best way syndrome.

Systems and Contingency approaches to Management acknowledged the importance of all these other schools of thought, but argued that everything has to be put into its proper setting. Things don’t just happen in isolation. They are contextual. It is, therefore, not encouraged to prescribe one best way for every situation. Total Quality Management, Reengineering and many of the current management schools of thought are based on contingency and systems approaches. Everything has to be viewed in its total setting.

Thus, people have been worried about performance management since the beginning of organizations. However, the Concept of Performance Management is of recent origin, as far back as the late 1980s (Armstrong, 1996). It originated from other related concepts like Merit Rating, Performance Appraisal, Management by Objectives and so forth (Public service Training Manual, 1998). Thus, it is not surprising that some scholars do not distinguish it from these related disciplines. Though wider and more flexible, most of its characteristics are the same as those of its predecessors.

3. Improving Performance: The African Experience

Somavia, the director of ILO (2004), as quoted by Tsiko in The Herald of 18 February 2004, reports that every year some 23 000 qualified academic professionals emigrate from Africa in search of better working conditions and living standards. He further says this trend can be stopped “if policymakers stop treating employment as an afterthought and place decent work at the heart of macro-economic and social policies”. His argument is that people should be allowed and given the opportunity to perform. Otherwise they get frustrated and leave. The implication is that, in Africa, before even talking of the Concept of Performance Management, people are not allowed to perform. As a result it is difficult to visualize the implementation of Performance Management.

Many studies were, and are still being done on attempts at reforming the Public Service and making it performance oriented in Africa.  Some of these notable studies are:

  • The Ndengwa Commission Study (1971)
  • The Udoji Commission Study (1972)

Before looking at the details of these commissions and their subsequent reports it is important to comment on the general developments in Africa since independence. The thorny issue was and is still, improving performance. But, as put forward by Bologun (2003), all the efforts at performance improvement failed mainly because they “under-rated the significance of politics [at both the national and international level] in the process.”

General terms of reference of the above Commissions were job evaluation and grading, salaries and conditions of service, staff training, accounting and budgeting systems, plan formulation and implementation machinery, etc. Both Commissions found the Civil Service in the two countries (Kenya and Nigeria) wanting in terms of performance and productivity.

The Ndengwa Commission noted that the structure of the Kenya Civil Service constituted a serious barrier to efficient and effective performance. By failing to focus on objectives and results, the structure encouraged the following negative tendencies, among others:

  • Defective utilization of hours
  • Little or no delegation of operational responsibilities
  • Misunderstanding by some junior officers of their job purpose
  • Poor communication and lack of coordination
  • Over centralization of authority at the Ministry headquarters in Nairobi

This was in 1971, and the situation has not registered any significant changes by 2003. (Bologun, 2003).

The Nigerian Udoji Review Commission Report (1972) proposed the introduction of a “unified” grading and salary system, the abolition of permanent secretaries and their replacement with director generals or general managers, programme and performance budgeting, Management by Objectives, Organization Development, planned and preventive management, and so forth. Nothing of significance was practically done.

According to Bologun (2003), failure to implement the changes in the above cases and many others in Africa were and are still mainly due to:

  • Dependence of reform initiatives on external push and inspiration
  • The disconnection between the reform programmes’ performance, productivity, and efficiency thrusts, on the one hand, and the leaders’ preoccupation with the capture and retention of power and authority, on the other
  • Failure to construct a performance and productivity management infrastructure to support and sustain reform efforts

For Adedeji (1972) reform measures in the 1970s were not locally inspired, but a reflection of the international demonstration effect of the Fulton Report, a wish to be seen copying “best practices”. Britain had embarked on a comprehensive reform of its civil service signaling that the administrative systems it left in its former colonies were not perfect.

Commenting on the failure of improvement efforts in the African Civil Service, Bologun (2003) states “Africa’s diversity poses a tremendous challenge to the unity of purpose required in embarking on and sustaining, a comprehensive and impact-oriented programme of reform”. It is also important to note that the problem is not with diversity per se but with what the various actors make with it in the public realm. Individuals with their own private agendas have capitalized on ethnic, religious, linguistic, cadre, gender differences, and so forth, to promote intra-organization tension. Consequently in place of the cooperative action for things to be done there is interpersonal and intergroup resistance and resentment.

4. Improving Performance: The Zimbabwean Experience

4.1 Blackenisation

The euphoria of independence in Zimbabwe in 1980 brought with it many expectations among the blacks. It also instilled a lot of fear among the whites in the country. A combination of these two extremes resulted in radical changes in terms of personnel in the civil service.  Though the new nationalist government preached reconciliation, there was also high emotional talk on such things as black empowerment, affirmative action, equal rights, indeginization, socialism, Marxism-Leninism, and so forth. Most of the highly experienced white civil servants started deserting their posts for South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, and many other western countries. They were not sure of their future in the civil service. Some did not want to work under the black nationalists. This “great trek” made it easier for the new government to blackenise the civil service! But, the “great trek”, also meant inexperienced and inefficient personnel in the public service!

The above change process was haphazard. Most blacks found themselves in professional and management posts with neither appropriate qualifications nor experience. Some boasted of their war credentials and as such a high office in the civil service was nothing but a well-deserved right. Some got into these offices just because they were related to a powerful political figure. Some, especially women, became officers because they were very generous with their thighs. Plus many more dubious reasons!  Such a combination of personnel was a sure recipe for failure. As a result performance and productivity suffered.

Moyo (1997) observes that the early eighties saw a phenomenal growth in the provision of public services throughout the country. For example, the number of children served by the education system increased from approximately 885 801 in 1980 to approximately 3 245 140 in 1996. This meant the civil service had to grow as well. It increased from 10 570 established posts in 1980 (of which only 31% were held by blacks - almost exclusively in lower cadres) to a high of 193 000 in 1994.

Blackenisation of the civil service in Zimbabwe was meant to improve performance. Though most of the white civil servants voluntarily left their jobs for reasons given above, it was good riddance for the new nationalist government. The new government did not trust them anywhere, as they could have sabotaged government rebuilding and developmental efforts; it was thought.  But, because of the manner in which Blackenisation was administered, the change effort failed to improve performance in the civil service. Rather it destroyed the existing formal systems such that when Performance Management came in the 1990s people had already started talking of the need for making the civil service more formal and professional.

In fact the problems started to be seen in the mid 1980s; hence the establishment of the 1987 Public Service Review Commission. In 1989 (Moyo, 1997) the Commission reported the following findings on the civil service:

  • Oversized and cumbersome;
  • Managed largely by inexperienced staff;
  • Characterized by overlap and duplication of functions;
  • Secretive, lacking transparency and with poor communication of decisions and problems;
  • Inaccessible to the general public;
  • Suffering from over-complicated rules and elaborate procedures.

Blackenisation per se was not enough. As a result, with the coming of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme in the 1990s, the government decided to reform the civil service with the following objectives:

  • To improve the mechanisms for policy formulation and coordination;
  • To introduce performance management;
  • To improve conditions of service;
  • To improve resource management;
  • To upgrade basic management systems through training;
  • To reduce the size of the civil service;
  • To set up and strengthen monitoring and support systems (Moyo, 1997)

4.2 Performance Management

The first phase of the Zimbabwean Civil Service Performance Management Programme was introduced in 1992. Before getting into the details of the programme, the Concept of Performance Management and its weaknesses must be discussed first.

4.2.1 The Concept of Performance Management

The Concept of Performance Management is of recent origin. It is yet to be precisely defined. Stringer (2005) notes, “The current understanding of performance management practices and the consequences of different management and control designs is limited.”  As such there is no consensus on an appropriate strategy for initiating and sustaining it.

According to the Public Service Performance Management Training Manual (1998), some authorities and organizations equate it to Management by Objectives, others to just another name for Performance Appraisal, some to an annual event associated with training and development, and yet others to a process relating to performance related pay, and so forth. These are, however, narrow definitions of Performance Management as the Manual correctly observes. The Manual acknowledges that Performance Management is a  “holistic process, which can embrace all these elements - and more”. It may be difficult to come up with a universally agreed definition of the Concept, but as put forward by Mandishona, etal (2003), such a definition should meet the following criteria:

  • Objective setting
  • Performance monitoring
  • Support/Coaching
  • Appraisal/Review
  • Development plans
  • Rewards and sanctions
  • Dealing with underperformance
  • Linkage between individual and organizational goals

Though difficult, it is important that a definition has to be attempted so that there is some communication and shared meaning of the Concept. Bologun (2003) does not directly define the Concept but says it is based on the premise that “the clarification of corporate objectives, the institution of measures in pursuit of the objectives, and the empowerment of managers are all it takes to energize organizations and orient them towards incremental productivity, cost reduction and customer satisfaction”. The Concept is defined by the Public Service (1998) as an on-going management control process in which the supervisor and the subordinate sit face-to-face at regular intervals in a given year to review progress towards agreed goals for the benefit of both the employee and the Public Service. Such goals are derived from the overall organizational goals and set by the subordinate in consultation with the supervisor. It is based on the principle of management by agreement rather than management by command (Armstrong, 1996). Its emphasis is on development and the initiation of self managed learning plans and the integration of the individual and corporate objectives. Performance Management “is not a mere routine activity, but a dynamic, momentum geared, trouble shooting, and impact oriented process”  (Bologun, 2003).

Armstrong (1996) believes that Performance Management is a means of getting better results from the organization, teams and individuals by understanding and managing performance within an agreed framework of planned goals, standards and competence requirements. It is concerned with the interrelated processes of work, management, development and reward. He agrees with Fletcher and Williams (1992) who feel that it is not a package solution, but something that has to be developed specifically and individually for the particular organization. Performance Management programmes should therefore be adapted to the demands of the target organizations within which they have to be implemented. Otherwise they fail to bring in the desired results. Unlike appraisal schemes that are retrospective any Performance Management programme focuses on future performance planning and improvement (Armstrong, Ibid).

As already noted above, Performance Management is a process, not an event. Neither is it a series of unrelated events. As put forward by Mandishona, etal (2003), it is cyclical and done in steps as follows:

  1. Plan
  2. Act
  3. Measure
  4. Review

The process is repeated again and again.

The importance of Performance Management is echoed in Mandishona’s (2003) argument that everything being equal, an organization’s success depends on how people are viewed and treated, and how they in turn view the organization and behave towards it. Performance Management is thus of great importance to organizational success. It is generally believed that Performance Management optimizes the contribution of people to the organization while at the same time meeting the individual needs of employees. The Concept thus argues that individuals can contribute more if they have more expertise, more powerful tools, access to knowledge, and if a common area is found between their individual goals and those of the organization. If people are going to be motivated to perform, there must be some clear benefit for them in the first place, before they respond positively to calls for more and better productivity (Mandishona, etal, 2003).

According to the Public Service Manual (1998) benefits of Performance Management to the Public Service are as follows:

  • Clear work goals and responsibilities
  • Greater commitment and motivation of staff at all levels
  • A reliable method of measuring performance
  • Focus on results
  • Elimination of unnecessary activity
  • Improved retention and attraction of staff
  • Improved communications
  • Greater managerial motivation through goal setting
  • More effective development of people
  • Can be linked with a variety of Human Resource Systems like Performance Appraisal, Performance Related Pay, training and development, transfer, promotion, demotion, etc.

However, it is important to note that the Concept has its own problems as well. As such, it has to be handled with care for organizations to meet the desired results.

4.2.2 Weaknesses of The Concept of Performance Management

Performance Management is currently believed to be “the tool which managers use to achieve organizational goals through other people” (Mandishona, etal, 2003). Reading between the lines of this statement one is justified to feel that there is an element of manipulation and exploitation. Though the Concept claims equality between subordinates and their seniors, it becomes practically difficult when managers achieve goals through other people. The relationship is that of unequals, if not paternalistic.

The writers quoted above, all agree that there is no universally agreed definition of the Concept. This means that the Concept is subject to individual interpretation and subjectivity. In an African context where, “instead of applying a holistic and organic approach to Public Service reform, governments have settled for partial and mechanistic solutions” (Bologun, 2003), the Concept can be maimed for personal gains.

Critics of Performance Management are further worried about the emphasis on results, the individual worker, SMART objectives, the seeming contradictory emphasis on individual performance and teamwork, and the authenticity of involving subordinates in goal setting among other things. Daniels and Daniels (1989) summarize the worries of the critics. Some of the arguments are summarized below.

The Traditional Performance Management model puts a lot of emphasis on results at the expense of inputs and processes. It  “makes sense…set goals, reach goals, and you get what is desired”, but solely focusing on results neglects organizational and system issues that need to be in place for the results to happen. The current management thinking dominated by the Marketing Concept and Total Quality Management is that inputs and processes are as good and important as the results or the end product itself. They can even be more important than the end product.

Employees may feel great that they have “input into and ownership of their objectives and standards of performance”. But still their involvement does not get them far as they are not involved in the setting of strategic organizational goals that determine their personal objectives. Daniels and Daniels (1989) write “If the overall goals make no sense to the employee, management is only offering a choice of doing one stupid thing or another stupid thing”. Employees thus have control over smaller tasks but not the overall direction or decision. If the decision seems arbitrary, no amount of choice about tasks will convince an employee that they are in control, or contributing to a worthwhile task.

It is difficult to set meaningful standards of performance that are measurable and observable. The precise and the more the standard, the likely it is to seem silly, especially when dealing with the public. Daniels and Daniels (1989) gave an example of processing license renewals. The discussion between supervisor and subordinate may result in the following: “Process license renewal at an average rate of 20 per hour, with no errors.” But the supervisor soon realizes that this standard does not account for customer satisfaction. Further discussion may result in adding a “no complaints” clause. This complicates the issue. Irate customers will complain despite the best efforts of the employee and therefore the subordinate is bound to refuse to have his evaluation based on things that are uncontrollable. The result is likely to be a compromise and the standard may now be as follows:

Process license renewal applications at an average rate of 20 per hour, with no errors and generate no legitimate customer complaints regarding rudeness, uncooperativeness or poor service.

Already there is subjectivity. The supervisor is now required to judge whether a complaint is “legitimate” or not. The point is the more quantifiable or measurable a standard is, the less relevant it becomes, especially when dealing with the public. It is easy to measure the trivial, but it is very difficult to measure what is important in an objective way.

Thus, obviously, there are problems in accepting and implementing Performance Management. But what model or philosophy does not have its own peculiar problems or weaknesses? Discussing these problems or making practitioners aware of them is not meant to discredit the Concept. Being aware of the weaknesses is a step towards successfully implementing the Concept. The Concept should not be taken as a Bible. Neither should it be taken as a rigid “best way” of dealing with the management of people at work issue. Acknowledging some of the approach’s problems is the first step in improvising and improving its application, though, of course, with some sacrificing of some of its traditional tenets. Daniels and Daniels (1989) write:

Make standards measurable, and waste time on the trivial. Make standards more subjective and you can’t use them for disciplinary purposes. The more you stress individual responsibility the more you reduce collective responsibility.

In conclusion therefore, Performance Management should be seen as a flexible and dynamic management tool, which, if implemented by competent managers, distinguishes successful organizations from failures. It can give organizations their competitive edge, supporting Mandishona, etal’s (2003) claim that everything being equal, an organization’s success depends on how people are viewed and treated, and how they in turn view the organization and behave towards it.

Lastly, the philosophical and theoretical arguments may be sound, but what is happening on the ground? Butterick (1997), as quoted in Mandishona, etal (2003) observes, “all organizations say that their most important asset is their people”, but the question remains, “Do they walk this talk?” Easier said than done!

4.3 The Zimbabwean Experience with Performance Management

4.3.1 Phase One

The first phase of the Performance Management Programme was introduced in 1992/3 in selected ministries and among all managerial civil servants. By the beginning of the second phase in 1997 Moyo claims it had made the following achievements:

  • By 1995 the government had downsized the civil service establishment by 23 500. No reductions were done in the education and health ministries. The number of ministries had been reduced from 26 to 15. The total civil service workforce was now 169 500 workers.
  • Results oriented performance management was introduced throughout the civil service, starting in 1994/5 with top managers and cascading to all civil servants in the second phase in 1997/8. New performance appraisal forms were introduced in 1995/6 and modified in 1997. The forms demanded that all supervisors should provide both positive and negative feedback to their subordinates.
  • Surveys on civil servants attitudes, knowledge and behaviour to determine their training needs were done.
  • A job evaluation that reduced the more than 3 000 existing grades to only 18 grades in 17 categories was carried out.
  • All personnel regulations and guidelines were reviewed and amended and a Human Resources Manual was prepared.
  • A Directorate of training was established, and a National Training Policy was articulated.
  • Clients’ charters were drafted by each ministry.
  • Human resources information and management information systems were in the process of being computerized.

According to Moyo (1997) the following problems, challenges, and constraints had been well identified and articulated by the end of the first phase:

  • Lack of effective communication between politicians and administrators about the reforms. This was evident when in 1996 Cabinet suspended the use of the new performance appraisal form because they felt that the system was not up to standard.
  • Some senior civil servants were resisting change. They wanted appropriate training for everyone before implementation of the system. They also wanted increased powers over recruitment, firing and financial management controls so that they could truly be measured for work under their independent control.
  • Human resources managers at ministerial level required training to understand their new functions and how to carry them out.
  • There were complaints that some of the reforms had been driven more by donor concerns than by the government’s perceived needs.
  • Lack of financial resources, skilled personnel in performance management, brain drain or high staff turnover, inflexible financial regulations, and so forth.
  • Lack of commitment by recipient ministries, delays by the PSC in the appointment of the required staff.

As a result the following recommendations were made for the second phase:

  • Civil servants pay should match industry market rate.
  • A public awareness campaign through the media, NGO’s and private sector be mounted to educate the public on its civic rights vis-à-vis the civil service.
  • Inculcate a more business like and market oriented behaviour within the civil service.
  • The Ministry of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare, together with the office of the President and Cabinet to resuscitate the workshop for ministers on the Civil Service Reform Programme.
  • Performance Management should be institutionalized and cascaded throughout the civil service through building internal capacity in ministries and the provision of further guidance as required by ministries.
  • Provision of an awareness module to encourage acceptance, ownership and commitment by the recipient ministries.
  • The capacity of National Training Institutions and the Zimbabwe Institute for Public Administration and Management should be strengthened so that there is continued support in training for the Civil Service Reform Programme and hence ensure its sustainability.
  • Qualified indigenous Zimbabwean experts should be sought out through competitive tender and used whenever possible.
  • Human resources and institution capacity building in the ministries and national training institutions to enhance the institutionalization of performance management into the civil service work culture.
  • Creating an enabling environment in terms of enhancing the political will and commitment to the Civil Service Reform Programme, and assisting in the incorporation of performance management into the budgetary process of the Ministry of Finance to make it possible for ministries to budget the cost of introducing performance management.
  • Professionalisation of the civil service.

4.3.2 Phase Two

Phase Two began in 1997/8 with every civil servant involved. All civil servants attended workshops in Performance Management, though in most cases hurriedly and poorly done. It was therefore difficult for the average worker to understand the concepts.

An attempt to meet most of the recommendations made at the end of Phase One was made. However, the implementation of these recommendations could not survive the economic turmoil that followed the land invasions after the National Constitutional Referendum No Vote of 1999.

An important aspect of the second phase was Professionalisation of the civil service. Professionalisation meant that all administrative and professional offices were to be manned by professionally qualified personnel. For one to be a substantive accounting clerk, human resource clerk, or any other related post one should have at least a diploma in the area. Management posts were supposed to be manned by those with at least a first degree or a higher diploma in the area concerned. Those in these offices without the minimum qualifications were given a grace period of three years to study for the appropriate qualification.

Major problems were encountered when young men and women from colleges joined the civil service and got substantive posts ahead of the experienced under-qualified personnel. The older experienced workers were supposed to orient and introduce the younger professionally qualified but inexperienced officers. Obviously there was automatic resistance and sabotage. The writer had experience with some of these under-qualified experienced workers whom he took for part time private tuition for the Institute of Personnel Management of Zimbabwe Diploma in Personnel, Training or Labour Relations. They confessed that they were not happy with the change processes and as such they were sabotaging its efforts. This response by the under-qualified experienced workers helped nothing but destabilizing the whole change process. It weakened performance and brought in further inefficiencies.

The Professionalisation process, which should have been completed by the beginning of Phase Three in 2002/3, is still in progress because of the economic downturn that began in 2000 and resulted in rampant brain drain.

The second phase, though still in progress, was a complete flop because of the political and economic crisis that began after the National Constitutional Referendum No Vote of 1999.  Government attention became more focused on political survival than performance improvement. Western NGOs that supported the initial stages of the programme withdrew from the country. The government failed to raise resources, commitment and will to ensure that the programme survives even after the withdrawal of the donor community. Though people still talked of Performance Management, nothing serious was or is in progress.

A study by Musingafi (2005) on the programme at Gweru Polytechnic, a government institution of higher learning, established that:

  • There was serious shortage of financial resources and skilled personnel in performance management in the civil service
  • There was serious brain drain or high staff turnover at Gweru Polytechnic and the civil service in general
  • Relatively low qualified and inexperienced young men and women manned Gweru Polytechnic
  • Gweru polytechnic staff understanding of the Concept of PerformanceManagement was limited.
  • Staff claimed that Performance Management was just a formality; no one believed in it; hence, there was a lack of commitment from everyone concerned, including ministers and managers of the programme
  • Generally, staff believed that the programme was not serving its purpose
  • Staff believed that the programme was not properly implemented
  • Civil servants pay was far below industry market rate
  • They were not happy of what they called insensitive cumbersome over-complicated rules and procedures, especially with regards to grievance handling and study leave
  • They complained of poor communication of decisions and problems, and lack of transparency, especially when it comes to career progression, promotion, staff development and study leave

The gains of the late 1990s were thus eroded. Attempts at improving performance through Performance Management in the Zimbabwean Civil Service failed in their second phase because of a combination of both external and internal factors. Dependence of reform initiatives on external push and inspiration made sure that the process failed when the external supporters withdrew. The leaders’ preoccupation with the capture and retention of power and authority, also meant that the programme could not survive the 2000 and beyond economic turmoil and political mayhem. Today there is still talk on Performance Management, now in its fourth phase christened Result Based Management, but there is nothing serious except confusing people and diverting their attention from the problems they are experiencing because of the economic turmoil.

5. Lessons Learnt from the Zimbabwean Experience

Working in management and working with people are not easy tasks. The experience with Blackenisation shows that proper planning and formalizing systems are very important in any reform or change process. Had the new nationalist government sat down and come up with a clearly spelt out policy document on Blackenisation, it could have controlled some of the independence emotions, and avoided some of the problems it faced in performance management in the 1980s.

It should be noted, however, that plans and policy documents on their own are not solutions. They are just means to an end as demonstrated in the experiences with the Zimbabwean Civil Service Performance Management Programme since the 1990s. Well spelt out plans and policies were developed but the programme did not reach the desired destination. One of the reasons, as already shown by Bologun (2003) discussed above, is that the local leaders of such reforms under-rated the significance of politics, at both the national and international level, in the process.  When local political leaders sensed serious threat to their survival in the late 1990s and beyond they forgot about the importance of improving performance and concentrated on the struggle for political power. Government energy and resources were mobilized to beat up people, silence divergent voices, and buy extra-ordinary war weapons among other controversial things. The international supporters of the programme also withdrew when government policies and actions were at loggerheads with what they believed or wanted in Zimbabwe.

For any change process to survive resistance top leadership commitment is a prerequisite. For top leadership to be committed to the change process, they must understand what it is all about and agree with its objectives. The above discussion shows that the political leadership was not very clear of what was happening, and sometimes suspended some of the activities because they felt the formalities or processes were not up to standard. Thus understanding and political will were lacking even without the disturbances of the 2000s. To them, Performance Management degenerated into a mere routine activity and became something to be done just to keep people occupied. But, as put forward by Bologun, such attitudes are the surest way to failure.

Another important issue raised by professionals and scholars when the programme started was consideration of the general environment within which the programme was going to be implemented. The system and contingency theories summarized above say management approaches should be matched to their environmental forces. Simple imposition is the surest way to failure. Thus the programme should have been adapted to the situational dictates of the environment, especially after 1999.

To round up this discussion, the following recommendations are adapted from Musingafi’s (2005) study at Gweru Polytechnic:

  • The Public Service Commission should ensure that it has enough resources (human, financial, equipment, etc) before embarking on any new programme.
  • The Public Service Commission should get people at the top (politicians and senior civil servants) committed to the Programme for it to be well implemented. This means that people at the top have to understand and actively support the Programme before it is taken to the workers.  Some serious senior management training and motivation programmes have to be embarked on before any form of implementation is even thought of.
  • Both the Commission and its implementing agencies like Gweru Polytechnic should ensure that all members are continuously trained in Performance Management. Such training should not be haphazard, but should be a well-planned and implemented formal training programme. Members should be trained in Performance Management at least once every year, especially at the beginning of the year when they come up with their performance targets.
  • The Commission should abide by the dictates of the Programme for it to be taken seriously. In this study respondents said human resources treatment was not based on their performance as per the dictates of the Programme.


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Maxwell Musingafi is the Regional Undergraduate Programme Coordinator for the Midlands for the Faculty of Commerce and Law at the Zimbabwe Open University, Gweru, Zimbabwe. He is coordinating the delivery of distance education programmes of the Faculty, which also includes offering lectureship, supervision and assessment services to under/post graduate students in Human Resources, Management, Industrial and Labour Relations courses. He is the Chief Invigilator for the Midlands Region for the Institute of Personnel Management of Zimbabwe (IPMZ) and the Institute of Administration and Commerce (IAC). He is also a member of the Institute of Marketing Management - South Africa (IMM), Institute of Personnel Management of Zimbabwe, and a Member of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe. He holds a MBA of the Zimbabwe Open University (2005), a Bachelor of Business Administration, Honours Degree in Marketing (GSM, 2005), a Bachelor of Science, Honours, Politics and Administration (UZ, 1991) and a Higher Diploma in Human Resources Management (IPMZ: 2006). He is currently studying towards his Ph.D Development and Management through the North-West University: Vaal Triangle Campus: South Africa. His professional consultancy experience includes designing workshops and assisting with development in entrepreneurship and small business planning/management for example, the Gweru Women Aids Prevention Association (GWAPA). He can be contacted at , or on his mobile numbers 0026311442699, 00263912716785, or 0027769675712.


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