This post is part of my National Service Survey series, titled “The Full-Time National Serviceman: Concerns, Challenges And The Way Forward“. The study was also premised upon three key principles: first, to involve NSFs in the entire feedback process; second, to inform the SAF and MINDEF about these concerns; third, besides the implementation of workable recommendations, this ad-hoc survey can function as a humble starting point for future exercises or studies to evolve from.
Read more about my first attempt at an online survey (here), and feel free to let me know what you think about the discourse.
Existing Audit Or Performance Indicators
Key Qualitative Findings
NSFs highlighted the element of fear when it came to the articulation of ideas, questioned the bureaucratic management of feedback, and contemplated the effectiveness of rehearsed interaction sessions with high-ranking officers from the administration.
Present Avenues For Feedback
Objectively, two survey-takers believed that present avenues – within their units and the organisation as a whole – were useful and adequately beneficial. The first NSF described that “feedback avenues are rather adequate[;] my Officer-Commanding, Company Sergeant-Major and even the Commanding Officer holds regular talks … all this is quite effective” [B5].
The second commented on the macro-policies that the SAF has implemented to constantly review and improve existing mechanisms. “Feedback channels do exist. There are also steps taken to increase the efficiency of the army … WITS, which is a pretty decent step” [D4].
Bureaucratic Management Of Feedback
“Does the feedback from the ground … [reach] the top of the command level” [E2]? There is the general observation that “there is a supreme lack of communication regarding day-to-day gripes … raise an issue more than one level of rank … and it is … ‘skipping the chain of command’ … most NSFs simply do not bother voicing out these gripes … [because they do not] want to risk getting into a sticky situation with [superiors] by voicing out how they have been unbearable” [B4]. Once again, the common perception that feedback is negatively and harshly managed disengages NSFs from the organisation, and contributes to a get-it-over-and-done-with mentality.
Evidently, there is no “culture of willingness to commit to subordinate[s’] views” [D4]. A serviceman made the assertion that “middle managers just go [through] the motion with the NSFs” [D17], and another concurred with this proposition by explaining that the “inflexibility of rules and regulations lead to logical suggestions [-] that seem to have certain conflicts with the dogma of rules [-] being shoved aside and dismissed as words of defiance” [E5]. MINDEF and SAF should mould additional creative and useful platforms for the collection of feedback, and review or promote present channels made available.
Other similar recommendations include: “avenues for voicing out grievances without the fear of repercussion for voicing out” [E3], and “NSFs need to be more aware of their rights without perennially living in fear of having action taken against them by their superiors. They ought to know what exactly they can say or do” [E4]. It would therefore help if, beyond the directives issued by the organisation, the markers for expression are clearly defined and reasonably explained.
Rehearsed Interaction Sessions
NSFs are also frustrated that many interaction sessions with the higher-ups are rehearsed; even though these discourses have been organised for the honest expression and exchange of genuine on-the-ground opinions. One NSF wrote that he hated “this wayang  system that is so ingrained … [because] if the higher[-]ups really want to find out more about what really happens … such visits should not be warned before-hand” [B5].
It was proposed that the SAF “should enlist the service of external, non-governmental organisations in the assessment of its performance, relevance and efficiency” [E1].
1. The issue of raising the quantity and quality of feedback mechanisms within the military framework has been addressed in a previous feature (here). These recommendations include more channels for discussion of broad policy issues, regular dialogue sessions, explanation of communication directives, creation of a public platform, as well as heightened receptiveness to weblogs and online posts.
2. It is positive to note that the SAF and the MINDEF has a good foundation to work on, given that some respondents have acknowledged the positive intentions of certain channels. Besides raising awareness and incentivising initiatives, it could be productive – as aforementioned – to heighten discourse on broader policy issues too.
3. One last note on rehearsed interaction sessions: having prepared responses or engagement efforts are quite counter-intuitive, and is very much like how some teachers ready their lessons and prep their students beforehand for visits by bureaucrats. The problem within the army is that these top ranking officers might then fail to get a sense of what is happening on the ground, since men are afraid to cross the line and consequently offend their immediate superiors.
The mentality that the status quo should always be pedantically adhered to should not be allowed to manifest; even within a system of regimentation and the presence of the chain of command, sincere dialogue can go a very long way. Discourse may not be possible on the training ground, but the possibilities for conversations are endless, and could value-add the lives of NSFs during their long terms of service.
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[A_] For references to the specific comments, please refer to the compiled document (here). [B_] For references to the specific comments, please refer to the compiled document (here). [C_] For references to the specific comments, please refer to the compiled document (here). [D_] For references to the specific comments, please refer to the compiled document (here). [E_] For references to the specific comments, please refer to the compiled document (here).
 A dialect expression; when literally translated, means “acting”. It is commonly used when individuals make elaborate preparations to present everything in a rehearsed and proper manner or order.