Reforming Without Hiring or Firing: Identity Document Production in South Africa, 2007-2009


As of January 2008, South African citizens had to wait more than four months, on average, to get a government identity document. The delays in producing IDs, which disrupted lives by preventing citizens from working or accessing government benefits, reflected longstanding organizational problems at the Department of Home Affairs, the agency responsible for issuing the IDs. The processes at each stage of ID production were in disarray, and the department's staff lacked effective supervision. Backlogs developed; workers became demoralized. In 2007, the department began to tackle the problems. This was one component of an ambitious turnaround strategy that targeted the department's core business processes. In the ID production process, a team of consultants and department officials made individual and group performance measurable daily and weekly. The turnaround team avoided backlash by engaging the staff union, removing the threat of job losses as a result of restructuring, and consulting the workers in each section before making changes. The performance-management changes were informal: Managers evaluated employees' and sections' performance in meetings and on wall charts rather than through the formal performance-appraisal system. By the end of 2008, South African citizens received their ID booklets in an average of less than six weeks.

David Hausman drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa in February 2010. Case published April 2011. Case slightly revised and republished March 2013. 

Associated Interview(s):  Mavuso Msimang, Yogie Travern


civil service
South Africa
identity documents
performance management
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Building a Reform Team and Staff
Critical Tasks
Diversity management
Evaluating performance
Performance management system
Single agency turnaround
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
South Africa
Case Studies
David Hausman