Just do the job properly

by Piet Naudé: Director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

Anyone reasonably informed by strategic planning processes will tell you what the crucial requirements are for success: A CEO that is absolutely committed to the vision and direction. She would repeat the vision and direction with vigour and communicate with everyone in a consistent manner: “This is where we go. This is why we take these decisions.”

The board and executive team must drive the process. Unless they are 100% committed and focussed in their task, the vision fizzles out. People quickly see it was just words.

The vision must be translated into key focus areas. Not more than six to ten must be identified as crucial for future success. And in each of these areas, core objectives need to be formulated to put flesh to the bones of the overall plan.

These objectives must have the following characteristics, otherwise they cannot direct action:

  • They must be measurable
  • There must be clear accountability lines indicating who is responsible for what
  • There must be an overall time-line with stations where progress is monitored along the way
  • There must be budgetary provisions
  • And there must be performance appraisal all the way with clear sanctions if objectives are not met and failure to do so cannot be properly explained.

When I look at these rudimentary requirements, you will understand why I am not overly optimistic about the recent announcement of the National Planning Commission. Yes, as patriotic South Africans we should participate in the consultative process. We must make our contribution to assist the NPC to see our problems clearly.

My prediction is that it will all end there. There will be excitement at the announcement of the final plan. There will be press conferences and strong statements about how we now are going to get South Africa on track to 2030. We will hear (again) about the high road and the low road.

But our immediate history tells us this is where it will end: On the shelf a few millions rand later.

Can you remember the RDP? Can you remember the move to top GEAR? Can you remember how we then shifted like Nissan to ASGISA? And how we then boasted that scarce skills will be developed via JIPSA? When all those did not deliver better education and jobs, we thought of the New Growth Plan (NGP), written in capital letters like the others to show its importance. As a side-show we give millions to the Youth Development Agency to give jobs to the ANCYL and pay them for hosting international parties. (All these acronyms are quite funny, if they were not so expensive in the financial and social sense of the word).

Why did all these plans not work?

The first CEO stayed only five years and had too much on his plate stabilising the country. He did what he could. The second one was constantly under threat or overseas. He had superb theoretical abilities but lost touch with his base and was deposed by another CEO who cannot dare to take a strong stance on anything as he is politically and morally compromised.

The board (60 odd ministers and deputy-ministers) are not appointed for their knowledge and expertise like in a normal organisation. They are predominantly selected on the basis of political connectivity. Because their positions are only safe if they tow the line, they will not dare to state the truth or become really efficient.

Ask our current Public Protector what happens if you do your job really good? Ask the Scorpions what happens if you actually execute your mandate. Mediocrity is the common denominator. “We must all be the same” is the corporate chorus line.

The line-managers (directors-general and plethora of upper and middle-managers in provinces and metros) are predominantly under-qualified or under-experienced. Many are cadre deployed. This means that they cannot be held accountable if they mess up, because they are in principle part of the insider clan that protect one another via a deformed notion of ubuntu. Ask our police commissioner how far you can go and still retain your job.

Many of these core actors are well-intentioned people, but only acting, and are therefore without authority to take difficult decisions. In scarce positions crucial to the success of planning execution, vacancies abound because of a combination of ideologically driven affirmative action and an unattractive institutional culture. Who wants to join a losing team?

The optimist and patriot in me say we must give Mr Manuel and his team another chance. This is our nation. But ordinary South Africans have been bitten just too many times in the past to believe this is going to be any different.

We really do not need new plans. We just need public servants who do an honest day’s work competently and efficiently.

Useful resources:
Nelson Mandela University Business School
The Business School presents formal and non-formal programmes which are aimed at providing managers with a vigorous and thorough grounding in the fundamental elements of business administration, management and leadership.
NMMU Business School Leadership Academy
The NMMU Business School Leadership Academy provides consulting and management development services to numerous regional and national companies through its Corporate Learning division.
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