Commitment as a key to national success - Part III:
Crucial importance of planning
Text of speech of Defence Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa delivered as chief guest, at the seventh annual
conference of MBA alumni association of the University of Colombo titled
'Beyond traditional boundaries'.
Continued from yesterday
Providing a clear mandate and an unambiguous mission is essential to
the success of any enterprise. If there is a lack of clarity in the
directions provided, it is more than likely that the task undertaken
will not be accomplished successfully. It is the duty of leaders and
managers to provide their subordinates with a specific set of objectives
and goals to achieve. Without this, confusion can arise. Not only will
this impede work at the operational level, it can also have serious
implications even at the strategic level. Specific objectives are
particularly important when plans and strategies are prepared to
accomplish the desired end result.
Planning and strategizing is integral to the success of any mission.
The objectives and goals to be achieved must be carefully identified and
analysed, and plans must be put in place to achieve them. During the
planning of the Humanitarian Operation, identifying reasons behind the
historical inability to defeat the LTTE militarily was of utmost
importance. Preventing history from repeating was critical. Therefore, a
careful analysis of past attempts at military campaigns was called for.
One of the major issues identified during this analysis was the
inadequate strength of the military.
Because the military did not have enough personnel, it faced tactical
difficulties on ground. One of these was its inability to consistently
dominate the territory regained from the LTTE during battle. As a
result, the LTTE was historically able to mount fresh offensives to
recapture such territory. Further, the lack of numbers made it difficult
for the military to operate on broader frontages and multiple axes
during its campaigns. This reduced its effectiveness. These were
problems that required immediate remedy, and the only solution was to
expand the military significantly. During the period from late 2006 to
2009, the strength of the Army was virtually doubled through continuous
recruitment campaigns, while the Navy, Air Force and Police were also
expanded significantly. This allowed us to overcome the problem of
Another major issue that emerged from the analysis was the likelihood
of international mediation. In the past, successful military campaigns
had been held back as a result of external pressure. The most obvious
example was when the Vadamarachchi operation was stopped as a result of
Indian intervention. The conflict in Sri Lanka is a very sensitive one
in South India, and it was the responsibility of the political
leadership to find a solution to addressing those sensitivities while
safeguarding the national interest. The solution arrived at was the
establishment of a new mechanism outside regular diplomatic channels. A
six member bilateral committee comprising a troika of officials from
each country was appointed to monitor on-going developments and resolve
critical issues as they arose. This committee fulfilled its role very
effectively, and the military campaign was continued to its conclusion.
While planning and strategizing takes place, another vital success
factor in any undertaking is ensuring that the right people are
appointed to key positions. If any project, institution or enterprise is
to succeed, able leaders with the ability to produce results must be
placed in positions of responsibility. One of the most critical
determinants of success in any enterprise are the people involved. I
believe that it is the man behind a weapon that is important, and not
the weapon itself. Choosing the right people for the task is therefore
essential. We should select people who can bring the desired results.
This means that the leaders and managers in organizations must have a
thorough knowledge of their subordinates.
It is also essential to provide proper leadership to the people
chosen for a task. They must be motivated and encouraged to work with
commitment to fulfil their responsibilities. Giving them a clear mandate
and a specific set of objectives is necessary for success to be
achieved. If the correct people are given a clear mandate, proper
guidance, motivation and leadership, they will achieve results.
Urban development projects
At the same time, it is important to realise that we have to work
with the people who are available. When I was a young major in the Army,
I was the second in command of the Gajaba Regiment. My Commanding
Officer was General Wijeya Wimalaratna. During one of the admin
conferences held at the regiment, some of the officers stated that they
wanted to change their subordinates and get better personnel. General
Wimalaratne granted their request, and instructed that the personnel be
changed to the admin company under my command. Afterwards, he told me
that it is important to work with the people available. Most of the
people who join the Army were from villages, and they usually studied
only up to the eighth standard. They did not have exceptional skills.
Instead, they were normal people with average capabilities. General
Wimalaratne pointed out that it is very easy to get work out of
However, the hallmark of good leaders and managers is that they can
get the ordinary, average people under them to perform quality work. I
am happy to note that after some time, this company won the highest
number of awards for gallantry among the entire battalion.
Beautification programme gives Colombo a new look
Getting the best out of the people available is a vital
responsibility of leaders and managers in any organization. It is their
duty to correctly identify the strengths and weaknesses of their
subordinates, and find ways to assist them to perform to the best of
their ability. Helping them to improve their performance by providing
adequate support and correct training is also important. The recent
urban development projects provide a good example of how significantly
better output was obtained with the available personnel. The staffs of
the UDA, the SLLRDC and the municipality have not changed, although the
work they now achieve is qualitatively very different from what it was
in the past. While we sometimes deploy officers from the military to
motivate the workers and give them the push necessary to get the work
moving, it is the same architects, town planners, engineers and
municipal officers and workers of the UDA, SLLRDC and Municipality who
are doing the work we see all around the urban areas. Though the people
have not changed, with correct leadership, motivation and supervision,
the quality of the work they are producing has increased tremendously.
In this context, the value of proper supervision cannot be overstated. I
spoke earlier about how lack of supervision contributed to the garbage
problem, and how providing proper oversight solved that problem.
A failing that we encounter in society quite often is the
unwillingness or inability of those in supervisory roles to discharge
their responsibilities properly. It is important to realise that
supervision is not only necessary at the very top, but at all levels.
Consultants, managers, professionals, executives and officers in the
public as well as the private sector must realise the importance of
supervising the work of their subordinates. Particularly in fields such
as construction, the professionals must not be deskbound, but should go
to the field and supervise what is being done.
To take an example at the lowest level: the paving of sidewalks is
often taken to be a very simple job. However, if something so simple
cannot be done properly, then the chances are that more complicated work
will also not succeed. Particularly during my early visits, I observed
that lower level labourers worked at these sites without proper guidance
from their supervisors. This resulted in mediocre work. Even in a matter
as simple as paving sidewalks, supervision is essential.
Without proper supervision and attention to detail by those in
supervisory positions, the quality of work achieved in any undertaking
will be mediocre. This is not something we can afford. A job badly done
often needs redoing, and as a developing country, we have neither the
time nor the resources to indulge in redoing work time and again. We
need to have quality work achieved at the outset, and the only way to
ensure that is if people in positions of responsibility supervise their
subordinates properly and pay enough attention to detail.
One of the best ways in which to ensure that supervision and
attention to detail takes place properly is through assigning work to
small teams, and giving them ownership of the work and responsibility
for its success. When teams feel that they own the job, they take
greater responsibility for the final outcome and are motivated to work
as hard as they can to achieve the desired results. This is a strategy
that has been extremely successful in important urban development
projects such as the renovation of the Dutch Hospital, the upgrading of
the Colombo Fort area, the Water's Edge walkway development and the
redevelopment of the Racecourse Grounds. Small teams of engineers,
architects, town planners, and management personnel were entrusted with
these projects, and they delivered quality results. The same approach
has been adopted for forthcoming development projects throughout the
country, including Jaffna, Nuwara Eliya, Diyatalawa, Matara and others.
I am confident that these projects will be successful because the teams
involved have been given ownership of the projects.
During the course of this address, I have touched upon several
factors that I believe will help achieve success in any enterprise.
Commitment, motivation, consistency of focus, positive thinking,
establishing a clear mission and mandate, ensuring proper planning, and
providing proper management through correct staffing, supervision and
delegating ownership of work are all critical success factors. I hope
that the experiences recounted and the lessons learnt will prove useful
to you, and that you will gain many more insights from the rest of this
conference that will enhance the efficiency and quality of your work.
As I stated at the beginning, Sri Lanka is at a critical time in its
history. With the defeat of terrorism and the development activities
taking place, Sri Lanka is a peaceful, stable country with a lot of
growth prospects. The government will do everything it can to create an
environment conducive for economic development. It is up to everybody to
make use of this opportunity and generate the required results. After
three decades of terrorism, followed by three years of peace and
stability, the time is right for Sri Lanka to attain its rightful place
in the world. If all of us take this mission to heart and commit
ourselves to guiding our nation to a prosperous future, I have every
confidence that we will succeed. Thank you.