Gambia Revenue Authority modernizes its human resource management approachBy Si Mohamed El Hail, West African Customs Administrations Modernization Project Lead HRM expert
In cooperation with the WCO, the Gambia Revenue Authority has embarked on a journey to modernize its human resource management capacity, which will enable it to become one of the country’s best employers, as well as a better service delivery institution.
Created in 2004 through a merger of the Central Revenue and Customs & Excise Departments, the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) employs approximately 590 staff members, led by a Commissioner General. Recognizing the importance of developing the skills and competencies of its staff, in an effort to further their effectiveness, the GRA top management team decided to collaborate with the WCO back in 2013 in order to develop the Authority’s human resource management (HRM) capacity.
The WCO provides this support as part of its West African Customs Administrations Modernization (WACAM) Project, funded by the Swedish Government and designed to support modernization in West African Customs administrations in the fields of strategic management, HRM, and stakeholder engagement. Support for the WACAM Project is provided by way of a three-pronged approach:
- Delivery of regional workshops to raise awareness on best practices and tools in the three above-mentioned areas;
- Provision of tailored national support;
- Fostering regional cooperation through the development of a pool of regional experts who, having benefited from tailored national support can assist other administrations in building capacities.
It is during a regional workshop which took place in February 2013 in Banjul (Gambia) that GRA officials and the WACAM project team first met and discussed best practices, processes, tools and methodologies in areas such as staff planning, recruitment, and training and staff motivation. Later on, the GRA officially made a request to the WCO Secretariat for support. The national support officially begun in the last quarter of 2013.
Needs assessment and first results
In order to respond appropriately to the GRA’s request, WCO experts conducted an HR diagnostic using the WCO People Diagnostic Tool – the first time that this WCO tool had been used in the field.
Based on the diagnostic results, WCO experts and GRA officials discussed in great detail the Authority’s needs in the field of HRM, and agreed that the GRA’s HRM Unit needed to build capacity, in order to:
- act as a strategic partner of the GRA;
- improve the quality of the GRA recruitment process, and implement competency-based techniques;
- enhance the training and competency development provided to GRA staff.
Based on the needs assessment, priorities were set and a results framework developed. The framework represents the underlying logic that explains how the development objectives of the project are to be achieved.
From 2013 to 2015, the following HR tools were developed and implemented:
- a HRM strategy which includes a strategic HR dashboard that provides visual representation of the metrics that HR project managers need to keep track of, or judge, the performance of the strategy;
- a HRM database allowing access to all staff information;
- a competency framework defining the knowledge, skills, and attributes needed for people in the organization;
- a revised recruitment policy, and associated manual of procedures;
- a training package on competency-based recruitment, which is a process of recruitment based on the ability of candidates to provide anecdotes, or short accounts, demonstrating their technical skills, work experience, past performance, qualifications, training and reactions (behavioural competencies) to incidents and events in their professional life, which can be used as evidence that a candidate has a given competency;
- updated job descriptions which were drafted by a working group that included representatives from all technical, operational and support services;
- a job catalogue, and a dictionary of competencies.
Since 2016, the project has focused on supporting the GRA with the “institutionalization” of the new HR processes to ensure that modernization efforts undertaken in this field have a sustainable and positive impact. The institutionalization project was allocated to the HRM Unit and to relevant staff members.
Establishing the HRM Unit as a strategic partner
It is widely agreed that people are an organization’s most important asset, and a source of competitive advantage – by no means a radically new concept.
By developing a new set of HR tools and procedures based on this approach, and by following the WCO’s Framework of Principles and Practices on Customs Professionalism, the HRM Unit was able to become a ‘recommendation force’ for top management, to enhance its credibility and to ensure that it evolves into a strategic partner of the administration, notably in the design of its 2015-2018 strategic plan.
Moreover, the HRM Unit also started a dialogue with top managers to convince them of the benefits of developing business strategies that make the best use of the core competencies of the organization’s staff.
Improving the recruitment process
A competency-based recruitment relies on the use of assessment tools that measure the competencies of the proficiency level of a candidate comparatively with the job requirement as mentioned in the job description.
To improve its processes, the HRM Unit undertook a competency assessment of all the GRA staff. Based on the results and on the identified needs, they developed a staffing plan.
Training and competency development
To ensure that training and competency development activities are cost-effective, goal-orientated and productive, as well as enabling staff to achieve a high level of competence in an efficient manner, the GRA’s HRM and Training Units had to abandon the traditional approach to training, which consisted of training staff without worrying about the return on investment.
With the WACAM experts’ support, the responsibilities of all the actors involved in the training process were clarified. In addition, based on the results of the competency assessment exercise, the HRM Unit was able to not only scientifically identify competency gaps, but also the most efficient way to fill in these gaps.
Institutionalizing the changes
In order to institutionalize the changes made to HRM, it was deemed necessary to create a sense of urgency at the top and senior management levels, as well as raise awareness amongst the GRA staff on the added value of the new approach which gives prominence to the concept of competency.
Therefore, in order to test the quality of HRM competency tools and start preparing staff for the changes to the HR policy, a GRA HRM Working Group was established, representative of all technical, operational and support services. The individual members of this group act as “change agents” in their respective departments.
In order to gain the support of all staff, the GRA, with the support of WCO experts, conducted information and communication sessions around the new approach at the national level. During these sessions, the benefits and challenges of this new approach for both the Authority and the staff were discussed.
Feedback from all participants was positive. An officer working in the port said, “With the adoption of this new approach and the new tools that have been developed, I have a clearer vision of what I need to do at my workstation, how to do it, and what I need to have to do it.’’ Another employee working in the tax department explained that, “Now that I have a job description based on competence, I have a clear vision of my career plan.’’
Besides garnering support from the staff, the HRM Unit also reached out to the finance and civil service ministries. During meetings with their representatives, the impact of the new approach on an organization’s performance was highlighted. The Ministry of the Civil Service even decided to promote this approach as a national best practice to be adopted by all State departments.
The GRA also showcased its HRM progress to the Ministry of Finance and the National Personnel Management Office of the Gambia. Both institutions have requested that the GRA impart its new HRM competencies and lessons learned with them in the near future.
The HRM competency-based approach applied to the Customs context is a new paradigm that places staff at the centre of an administration’s concerns, and makes an HRM Unit a strategic partner, indispensable to the achievement of organizational goals.
Both management and staff benefit from this approach. This implies the establishment of a transparent blueprint for staff planning, recruitment processes, job expectations, training and development, performance management and rotation, as well as career management.
Personal judgment and subjectivity in the management of staff are minimized, creating a healthy and positive work environment, as well as facilitating a stronger relationship between employees and managers.