Tuesday, 16 October 2012


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Strategic Planning Retreat of 2012

Rohantha N.A. Athukorala

Last week some of us had the opportunity of being part of the Strategic Planning Retreat of 2012 of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, which sure caught my attention on the quality of thinking that exists in the Public Sector.

Whilst going for lunch on day one, a corporate personality that many of us have a very high regard for Amal Cabraal, the Chairman of Unilever, commented ‘just imagine this talent in the private sector of Sri Lanka.’ To me, this comment was a re-inforcement to the fact that I had already got exposed where I had hands on experience at EDB.

The public sector has brilliant talent and what is required was strong leadership to get the best for the country. Let me share the key takes from Central Bank Strategic Planning Re-treat of 2012.


My first pick from the Central Bank Strategic Planning Retreat, 2012 of the Central Bank, was the strategic fit between the person and job of the department heads. One out performed the other which sure very was interesting for us who were invites from the private sector. I remember the Head of communication and the lady who presented the statistics units performance of 2012 and Plans for 2013, came out very strong on the personality that was required for such job functions. They were totally in control of the domain and was very vociferous on the strategies presented.

Share of Voice

Another key point that came out very clearly is that the team did not just blindly follow the government line but argued the case on the merits and de merits. If I may take a point discussed, the 4000 dollar per capita income objective the department that was driving this goal was very clear that unless policy reforms were done Sri Lanka will get caught on the middle income trap. He went on to show the analysis that was done on over seventy countries which very clearly demonstrated that the countries that implemented painful reforms cut through the pack and moved away from the 4000 dollar trap whilst the others just lingered on.

Clarity of thought

What was very interesting was that if we take on face value of the key personalities who presented their work plan, one can make a broad generalization that they were from the government sector and nailing adverse the point will not happen.

But to our surprise, when issues had to be made for the good interest of the country it was done. A case in point was when a director of one unit pointed out that policy decisions must be made with data and it should not be made ad-hockly. The clarity of this point and the importance amplified was very loud and clear. It sure surprised many of us, who were guests but it sure gave credibility to the institution and the role the institution should play in Sri Lanka.

Broader outlook

We also saw the broader outlook by which strategies were recommended. For instance the HR head mentioned the goals that had to be achieved and talent required and then linked to the local and foreign training that had to be done was interesting. The thoughts that was shared was the global trends that had to be identified and imbedded so that the people are equipped for implementation of policy locally.

The testimony to this fact was how the Central Bank ensured that the Sri Lankan banking sector was kept in tact when the world’s banking institutions were falling apart. I feel the private sector must give credit when credit is due and this was one such case in points.


Even though Central bank is essentially a Public Sector institution the banter that was shared in lighter vein was exciting given that most presentations were technical in nature. Given that the T20 was at Semi Final stage, the regular updates on the score gave a very private sector culture to the sessions that came out as a extension to the departmental culture that existed at Central Bank. May be we have not got exposed CB workings which may be why some us were surprised on this front.

Due Respect

Whilst there was strong debate among the key public sector officials and the contrary comments by some of us at discussion time, the tone was always very professional in nature. If I am right in my analysis, I guess it is the cream of talent that gets picked up by a country for their respective Central banks and Treasury Secretariats which I guess was the result of the high quality debate and culture that existed at the 2012 retreats. It is a pity that more private sector people did not get a window to experience this.

Close to heart

Apparently there had been 32 pre planning meeting before the retreat. Hence the strategies presented were very clear, backed up with KPI’s so that it gave professionalism to the institution in my mind.

It was very clear that strong leadership was the tipping as the talent in the Central Bank was top notch.

The use of the most modern communication techniques be it FB, Twitter and the likes vibed that Central bank of Sri Lanka was up there on the most modern trends. Even on the creativity that came out on the presentations made indicated that this public sector institution was on par or even outpaced the private sector. Maybe what is required was for the private sector to be more engaged with the Central Bank and visa versa.

Rural focus

A real evelation to many of us was the strong initiatives done on the SME development and namely the micro enterprise enhancement. The presentations made by the Provincial officers had a very high acceptance given that this demonstrated that whilst Central Bank was working at policy level at the macro end, at the market place there was activation on entrepreneurship development. Maybe some communication on this front will create confidence to this sector that is essentially 70% of the Sri Lankan economy.

Whilst many believe that the Public Sector is fuzzy in its outlook. The information shared on last years performance and goals for 2013 were very clearly target driven. I also realized that each of the KPI’s were linked between departments so that synergy existed may be area of focus should be consistency of policy.

Next Steps:

* The overall policy guidelines architecture by the Central Bank must be shared with the key line ministries so that there is an overall policy direction between the policy frame work and the activities of the line ministry.

* Whilst the reality can be positive based on KPI performance internally and the overall effectiveness of the institution the perception among the general public and key stakeholders must be addressed. After all perception is reality in the market place. * Decisions that are controversial must be carefully tracked and managed so that the overall image of the institution will not dented.

If I am to be specific the fiasco of EPF moneys being invested in the stock market has reached a high point which is now taking a trade union direction.

*Such aspects must be managed prudently so that it does not bring disrepute to the top quality talent which exist internally.

*Some challenges must be brought out to the public and a healthy debate encouraged so that the key stakeholder are involved to support policy. For instance the policy reforms required to make Sri Lanka move away from the 4000 dollar per capita income target and cut away from the middle income trap.

The author is a award winning marketer and business personality and serves the United Nations ( UNOPS) as the Head of National Portfolio Development for Sri Lanka and Maldives and on an honorary basis serves the Central Banks Sovereign Rating Committee. He has a double degree in Marketing, MBA and is an alumni of Harvard University, Boston. The thoughts are strictly his personal views.

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