JUNE 10 — You’re the hiring manager of a certain department. There’s this person you’ve worked with over many years from a previous organisation. You trust him. Both of you have rapport. He’s well-qualified and, overall, perfectly suited for your team and you want him in as fast as possible.
But the HR manual says that every top position requires interviewing at least four people. Or it says another manager must approve. Or his qualifications and pay don’t match the existing job categories. Or he’s a year older than the official maximum age. Or he can’t find his SPM cert. Or he refuses to allow the company to contact his old boss and that’s SOP. Or he didn’t fill up the right forms. Or whatever.
In the end, the guy you wanted isn’t hired and, after a few weeks, the whole thing blows up because you can’t work with the eventual hire, and when you remind your boss he should have just let you hire your old friend, he declares: Sorry, gotta follow SOP.
The complaints about how Latheefa Koya’s appointment as head of the MACC lacks “due process”, accountability, transparency, etc cannot but remind me of stories like the above.
Thankfully in the corporate sector where hiring good talent is largely a hit-and-miss affair, more and more people are ensuring that, whatever happens, SOP will not be allowed to hinder the acquisition of good people.
And yet it seems that many Malaysians have developed a fetish over the process of selecting the MACC head, over and above the qualifications of whoever eventually gets the job.
As everyone knows, Latheefa Koya’s credentials are about as good as anyone else’s when it comes to leading the MACC.
Nevertheless, the critics have swarmed over the issue as if Tun Dr Mahathir had asked Zahid Hamidi to be in charge, citing the manner of appointment, a flawed process and so on.
In other words, Latheefa’s is a bold and amazing appointment but we’re pissed because the right forms weren’t filled up! It’s like we treat as Godlike the “HOW”, and as long as the “HOW” is done well, we shall have perfect faith in the “WHO” selected.
PKR Youth, in a cute brain-fart, has even demanded that Latheefar resign to “prove her integrity” given the flawed process. That’s like rejecting the time shown on a clock because, for whatever reason, we believe clocks should only work one way.
The lesson from ‘Sicario’
Following the process in no way guarantees “good” politics, any more than following the ISO checklist automatically brings about organisational quality, or following everything a “How To” parenting guide says guarantees well-behaved children.
With the ISO guidelines, of course, some sections are more applicable to you than others, but ─ let’s face it ─ some sections do nothing more than increase problems and bottle-necks.
Likewise, if you truly believe that MQA visits to universities make a demonstrable difference to teaching/learning quality, then hey there’s a magic lamp I want to sell you, ya?
And you know the makcik whose nasi lemak beats the world? Imagine if someone told her that her food is problematic because a) she can’t write down the recipe and b) she seems to be making arbitrary decisions about her spices every now and then.
Back to HR. I’m sure that many people complaining about Latheefa Koya’s would also complain about the proliferation of bureaucracy in their own companies. Aiyo, must fill up three forms just to apply for special leave? Must do so many surveys and meetings with my supervisor to complete the annual appraisal?
Plus, how many corporate blunders have emerged at the end of a solid paper trail, in which all the Is were dotted and all required signatures obtained?
All those forms and files and folders building up inside offices ─ all these icons of the Weberian “iron cage” of modern rationality which glorify proper processes above all else ─ all of it to what end? To satisfy someone’s obsession about the “right” way of doing things.
Recall the 2015 thriller Sicario starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin (of Thanos’ fame). In that movie, Blunt’s character perfectly approximates that of the crowd criticising Koya’s appointment.
It’s because throughout the show, it seems undeniable that her #1 concern is with following due process in the efforts to bring down the Mexican drug cartels.
It didn’t matter that due process slowed things down or even jeopardised a mission, it didn’t matter that not following the SOP 100 per cent of the time helped, it didn’t matter that the due process sometimes endangered lives.
All of this didn’t matter to Blunt’s character; the only thing which mattered was the fact that due process is followed, or that things were done “by the book.”
It’s almost a fetish, isn’t it? An irrational obsession with following arbitrary rules because, well, one simply cannot imagine a workable universe without them.
The point, of course, is not that integrity and honesty are irrelevant. It’s that there are alternative routes to quality and good decisions apart from, or to complement, a stringent checklist.
It’s that sometimes asking how a clock works is important, but at other times it only matters that we can tell what time it is.
The false alternative and slippery slope fallacies
On a final note, some have insinuated that if we let Latheefa’s “dubious” appointment slide, then PH is no better than BN. Or that Tun is just as bad as Najib.
This kind of argument harks back to the same old nonsense some parents give their kids: If you don’t get 10As in your SPM, you can’t get into a good college, which means you can’t get a good job, which means you’ll probably be living on the streets soon (slippery slope).
Or, just as cruel (especially in Chinese culture) how a woman EITHER gets married before she’s 30 OR she’ll be alone and unwanted the rest of her life (false alternative).
As with all fallacies, the easiest reply is: Your argument is, uh, flawed.
Not being a straight-A student brings you nowhere near being homeless and a minimum marriage age is just stupid and prejudicial. Likewise, Latheefa’s appointment may not satisfy everyone’s template of 100 per cent democratic procedure, yet this in NO WAY suggests that PH is anything near BN or that it will, in the future, slide towards corruption or non-accountability. The burden of proof is on those who make the accusation.
Transparency and open competition for key positions are clearly helpful. Does this mean that some appointments cannot override these? Does this mean any appointment which doesn’t check every box required is, de facto, a bad one?
For sure, in some areas following the SOP is absolutely non-negotiable all the time. I’m thinking here of flight maintenance, nuclear reactor procedures, etc. The question is: Is Latheefa’s appointment like these cases? Can one mistake potentially cause a disaster? Duh.
Finally, did BN degenerate into hopeless money politics and institutional racism simply because it skipped one or two steps along the due diligence path? Does anyone really believe that a corrupt regime or an undesired outcome can be stopped primarily by emphasising the “process”?
(Why, then, would people complain about Brexit and Trump’s election win? Didn’t those follow proper SOP?)
Congratulations, Latheefa. Go get ‘em!
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.