Officials must learn image management
Updated: 2012-10-24 08:16
By Tang Jun (China Daily)
China is undergoing a social transition with the social mood, to some extent, becoming tenuous and sensitive, especially in matters of government services related to people's livelihood and interests. The reason: the involvement of some government officials and Party cadres in corruption scandals, as well as the improper handling of some issues by some other officials, brings challenges to public trust on them.
It seems, some officials are not prepared for this social transition, because they don't know how to deal with an image crisis; they neither know how to overcome the negative effects nor do they have the ability to clarify the truth. Such officials are not fit to deal with the media and public.
Malfeasance, corruption and bribery are minefields that image-conscious officials should avoid, because they account for 28.3 percent, 24.5 percent and 9.4 percent of image crisis cases in the country. Also, activities like embezzlement of public funds, and officials' corrupt lifestyle, misbehavior and arrogance are raising more public concern, according to my Research Report on Image Crisis Response (2012), which was issued in September.
There are two main reasons for this development: some officials' practices belie public expectations and the misunderstanding of what a good official should be.
The majority of government officials and CPC members, however, are not corrupt. The reason why a small group of malfeasant and/or corrupt officials harm the image of the Party and the government is because officials are a special group different from other social groups.
Since officials exercise public power and interact with different social groups, their work and services affect the entire spectrum of society and, therefore, draw great public attention.
Some people's contention that all government work has to be made transparent, however, is not justified. It is not prudent to make public the work of all government departments, especially some sensitive ones, even though a relatively low transparency level can create public distrust and easily cause public dissatisfaction.
But there is much else that officials can do to convince people that they are not corrupt or malfeasant. At present, the overwhelming emphasis is on principle, with officials and cadres getting little behavioral training. Of course, officials and cadres are punished if they break rules, but more precautionary measures are needed to effectively prevent corruption or wrongdoing.
The government's performance-evaluation system, which still focuses on economic development and environmental protection, and pays little attention to media and public relations, is also partly responsible for the image crisis.
Such image-management deficiencies could be responsible for some officials' image crisis cases. In today's pluralistic society, the image of officials and cadres is no longer just a judgment of their "bosses". Officials have to face diversified judgments from the public as well. Apart from their superiors, officials also need to properly handle their relations with other departments, social groups and the public.
Moreover, officials should be pragmatic in their daily work; they have to cooperate with others, and be patient and honest while dealing with emergencies in order to eliminate any ground for rumors that could cause an image crisis.
But the government has to crack down on all officials involved in illegal and criminal activities and punish them according to law. Also, it should pay special attention to three factors. It must set up a foolproof system of selecting and appointing officials and cadres; regulate and improve officials' ability to administer and provide civil service through online channels; and introduce an accountability system for officials.
More importantly, the government should narrow the conception gap between public expectations and officials' image. It should promote honest communication with the public and strengthen internal supervision. For this, some officials need to change their working style so that people will have the right expectations from them.
Some people still have the mindset that has affected China's history for centuries. Many refuse to change their belief that only the poor and stubborn officials - like some characters in folk tales - can be considered "clean". Others think that only officials who "serve" and don't "manage" can be called real people's servants.
But such views do not conform to the social and political reality of modern China. Officials and cadres have different roles and obligations, so there is no unified evaluation index to judge them.
It is the government's job to fix different indices to lower people's high expectations from the officials and cadres. It has to set different indices for the evaluation of different departments' officials and cadres.
Officials, on their part, should make real efforts to protect people's interests and get closer to them. To better protect people's vital interests, the government should accord priority to investments in projects closely related to people's livelihood, rather than spending on self-promotional projects.
The government has to build more communication platforms to gain people's support and understanding. It also has to take measures to impart behavioral training to officials and cadres, develop their communication skills, and prepare them to perform under increasing pressure.
The author is director of the Institute of Emergency Management, Renmin University of China. He compiles Research Report on Image Crisis Response (2012).
(China Daily 10/24/2012 page9)