📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event
My name is Antonio Napole and I’m a partner in an international consultancy called Kaiser Associates. I would like to share with you about the motivation, the purpose of the public servant and do some comparisons for us to understand where the public servant gets their motivation to do their job and what is this job that the society hopes they will accomplish.
In the private sector, the main motivations are material outcomes. Of course, you have to like what you do, but when you are working in the private sector the measure of your success, in general, is to increase the company’s revenue or decrease the cost or both at the same time. After all, in the private sector we measure results by profit, right? By the balance of what is left between what comes in and what goes out. The employee, in general, who is successful, contributed to this outcome, so if the company ends up making a profit, and you know you contributed to it, you end up earning and benefiting from the growth of the company. But, what about the public sector?
How do you measure a public servant’s success?
What is the best way for you to measure their results and from where do they get the energy and motivation?
They aren’t in the public sector to get rich or, at least they aren’t worried about material success. Then, we start to question ourselves: where does the motivation come from? The public servant, essentially, takes care of people, the result of their work is the group of citizens who they take care of, in general, no matter the topic, area, time length, or space in time they act upon. They take care of people and that’s very different from bringing economic and financial results in a specific activity. Obviously, to take care of people they need material resources and the better use they make of it, the more people they will be able to take care of.
If they work, for example, in the health or education field, which are the great fields, the ones that employ the largest number of public servants, they’re, in fact, taking care of the students or a citizen who at some point will be the object of the public health system. To use resources well, to be able to take better care of citizens is a prerogative, but the motivation, if it doesn’t come from enrichment or if it doesn’t come from the realisation of a material goal, where does this motivation come from?
The public servant, differently from the private sector employee, also has other traits, they tend to be more anonymous than the private sector employee. In the private sector, when you’re measuring your success or you want to show you’re successful, you post it on your professional social networks, and you show up. You’ll show you’re super qualified, or well trained, but the success of the public servant doesn’t necessarily go through this.
They will usually act behind the scenes in the public service that generates wellbeing, taking care of people, using these resources in the best way, without necessarily being recognised by the population, as the one doing a good thing, the one doing that job. So, they don’t receive the benefits, they don’t receive public recognition for their contribution.
It’s the good and old saying “they didn’t do more than their obligation”, the elderly people – in Brazil – used to say, but, in fact, when you decide to work in the public service and you decide to take care of people, your goal is to see someone benefit from the outcome of your work. That is, someone benefiting from typical activities of the State, the health system, education, safety, activities that normally, when everything is going well, aren’t noticed. We only realise that these activities may not be going well when they start to disturb the population, and then we start looking for the cause of it, the people responsible for it trying to understand why it’s not working.
I repeat the same question, “where does the public servants’ motivation come from?”
The motivation, in general, of the public servant, goes through personal decisions, and in some cases, through their own life story. Some have the whole family that spent their lives working and serving society, and so they continue the family tradition.
In general, the public servant, the people who made their decision to actually start a career in the public sector, that person is very happy when they see others reaching well-being. And, usually, this well-being that the others pursue, makes this public servant feel so well, to the point, they feel satisfied with it. Of course, this public servant has to get paid, to have proper working conditions, to have an adequate work environment to be able to carry out their tasks, but the deepest motivation, the one that makes this public servant wake up every morning and move forward, comes from elsewhere, from a thing much more permanent or much more remarkable in their life journey. Maybe a relevant part of public servants, in general, went through a situation very meaningful in their own life and don’t want anyone else to go through the same situation.
So, for example, a person that couldn’t reach a good professional performance because they didn’t have a good chance to study. This public servant knows that made a difference in their own life and that maybe it was too late to start, that won’t be able to recover that part of their life, but just by seeing a citizen having the opportunity to take that right path, already makes this public servant feels that this person lives in a better world.
What makes a father or a mother feel they were successful in raising their children is when their children have a better life than the parents had, right? So, the father who lived on rent all his life and now their sons are buying their own house, he feels happy for his sons. A mother who couldn’t study and sees her children having the opportunity to study, she feels victorious as a mother, because she built a set of conditions that made it possible for her children to have a better life.
As human beings, we admire and feel good when we see that life evolves, that the living conditions of the people that we love are also better than the life that we had. In times of scarcity, usually, our altruism is also large, we’re happy to see anyone being able to have a better life. In essence, a hypothesis for the public servants’ motivation is that a person gets fulfilled by others’ happiness, and they feel fulfilled with others’ well-being. It’s a subjective and silent reward, but this public servant knows how much it costs, for example, to build the appropriate set of laws that will give the population the ability to express our ideas, or protect people, or promote the development of a particular region or area.
So, where does this purpose come from?
It comes from a collective feeling of building a better world for people and this reward is hard to measure, because it depends on the observation, on the ability of this public servant to be able to see where that city, that country started, and how far it’s come. That’s why it’s so important that the public servant makes a regular and frequent assessment of not only their own path, but also an assessment of the path of their city, their country, their legislature, their department, of the institution they work with.
That’s why it’s important to also know our history. When we don’t know our starting point, we hardly know where our endpoint is. So, when we start a career in the public sector, we always have to know our starting point or the starting point of the society we’ll start to take care of, in order to measure the development and to know we’re contributing to building a better world.
Different from what we have in the private sector, where you can measure with some variables the customer satisfaction, the economic-financial result, the number of customers, geography, in the public sector, you can have some objective measurements. It is very important to have, for example, the number of citizens served, the satisfaction of citizens in a certain service, but, in fact, the measurement is human-based, it’s less tangible from an economic-financial point of view. It is important to make use of the resources to achieve the well-being of the large number of people and you can achieve this motivation when you see a citizen satisfied with the public service. If this citizen is satisfied with the public service, that means that this person is barely talking about it, this person doesn’t make regular recognition of something that’s working.
The fact that it works, already makes it go unnoticed, and this person can go on with their life, and where the State not only creates the conditions for this citizen to develop, as it creates the conditions for it to be able to dream a better future.
To try to summarise and to make it more clear, the public servant’s goal is to take care of people and to take care of people they need to know people, the human nature, how people make decisions, how people make choices, how they perceive the role of the State, the role of governments, the role of the Legislative, in the maintenance of a more just society.
Creating a perfect path is almost impossible, but what takes away a citizen’s hope is the impossibility of dreaming of a better future. Many times, we start from very difficult situations and even moments, like the one we’re living now, of a global health crisis, staying hopeful is sometimes not so easy. When the public servant is able to, not only take care of people but also to point out the possible futures better than the one we live in today, their goal is reached, that also gives a sign, a piece of hope that we’re building a better world, through, not only the citizens but mainly through the State, politics and the role that the politicians have as representatives in the construction of a better world.
[header image source: unsplash]
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