Too Many Cooks, Not Lack of Skills!

Too Many Cooks, Not Lack of Skills!

A sudden, but futile, argument flared up recently in the local press. It centered around the alleged poor skills of the Civil Service Kuwaiti employees, and seems to have resulted from poorly worded and unclear opinions, which were misunderstood by all parties.

Skills are not the problem. They come and accumulate with experience and training i.e. with practice. They bear no relationship to personal abilities; whether mental, physical or psychological. And, by practice, we mean clear productive work tasks, and not sitting idle without being assigned real tangible work.

The essence of the problem is that the Government has, for too many years, hired more Kuwaiti employees than required to execute the available work. It thus, piled them up without clear and useful tasks, that would enable them to gain experience and skills, which can then be honed and developed over time. Naturally, this resulted in the frustration of the employees who didn’t feel useful, productive or learning anything new. Their performance dropped, they lost interest and, eventually, their commitment to their jobs began to erode.

The Government never intended this outcome, but it seems that it confused its commendable desire to distribute the oil wealth among its citizens by providing them secure well-paid jobs and a high standard of living, with its ability to create real work for them. In other words, the Government succeeded in the first part of its goal, but failed in the second. This lays the problem squarely in the Government’s lap – its management ability – and not in the skills of the employees.

We cannot discuss the subject of skills without referring to the period of the “Evil Iraqi Invasion”, when the talents and skills of the Kuwaitis under occupation blossomed and flowered fantastically. They were able to operate the various utilities and services of the country, including food distribution, Coops, bakeries, garbage collection, barber shops…etc. (Even the writer of this article, discovered that, after making a mess of ten heads, he was able to develop haircutting skills with his electric hair trimmer).

A good manager properly utilizes the resources and assets available to him, especially as they are usually limited. But when resources are abundant, then a “Great and exceptional” manager is required to avoid wasting these expensive resources – and this, in a nutshell, is our problem in Kuwait.

They say, “Too many cooks, spoil the broth”, but if you redistribute the cooks over many kitchens, then each cook will specialize in that kitchen’s dishes and perfect them. Therefore, let us embrace our Civil Service employees and nurture them by giving them real productive tasks. Only then, can we evaluate them.


One thought on “Too Many Cooks, Not Lack of Skills!”

  1. Thank you for an excellent analysis of a very significant issue which has received little attention from Arab researchers and practitioners.
    As you know, over-staffing can be just as bad for a government department or a company as under-staffing. Over-staffing not only increases cost but also results in under-performance due to overcrowding.
    The proliferation of committees in public departments is one negative outcome of over-staffing. I came across many committees whose mandates could be achieved by one employee, in less time and at lower cost. Such committees, are often established to give their members a sense of achievement and worthiness. I can recall many committees in which other members (free loaders), after wasting valuable time in chatting, gossiping and drinking tea, finally delegated the assignment to me, but took full share of the credit, if not more, for any accomplishment.
    Arab countries need 20 million new jobs before 2020. On the other hand, advances in automation and information technology favor leaner organizations. These are major challenges, which Arab governments have not dealt with seriously so far.
    Finally, congratulations on your hair-cutting skills. I have been cutting my receding hair for many years.

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