December 2017

Schadenfreude, the Kardashians, and The Real Life

As 2017 prepares to welcome 2018 in 4 days’ time, we have time to reflect on the own goals scored by Jacob Zuma, Steinhoff, Donald Trump, SAP, Helen Zille, McKinsey, Bathabile Dlamini, KPMG, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Bell Pottinger, Theresa May and so many more.

These people, companies and governments provide holiday entertainment and some form of schadenfreude around millions of braais, picnics, restaurants, bars and homes.

I remember being an avid Sunday Times reader when the National Party was showing the ANC how to do it in the future. For those of you old enough, you may remember the Information Scandal when the leader of South Africa was playing the same kind of games that today’s leaders play: propaganda, dis-information, lying, stealing … the usual.

Which got me thinking. Nothing changes. The Nats were corrupt. The ANC’s corrupt. If the DA wins in 2019 and they get drunk on power too, then they’ll become corrupt. Power and access to resources attracts power hungry people. The more things change … you know the saying.

So …

Why do we pay so much attention to politicians, music and sports stars, actors and the Days of the Lives of the rich and/or shallow?

Are our lives so meaningless that we have to live our lives vicariously?

I hope not.

So, what to do.

Well, let’s assume that the choice between vicarious and real is obvious.

What is real?

Real is our family. Real is current nett worth. Real is the neighbour we haven’t spoken to for two months. Real is our verge. I live down the road from a larney estate. But if you drove past and looked at the state of the verge, the huge wall and the gutter, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s a municipal dump behind the 3m wall. So, real is our verge too.

Real is the friend in need. Real is the community 2 km away with a fraction of our resources. Real is a short conversation with the waiter, security guard, receptionist, shopkeeper, store assistant, car guard, cleaner, Mr Delivery Guy, Uber driver or policeman. Real people doing real work, not syphoning off billions to build a massive patronage network to sabotage the Rainbow Nation.

I’m always so impressed by the recycling guys who dodge the traffic each day on a quest to collect recyclable stuff and drag it for miles to get what seems like a tiny pittance (R30-R70) considering the effort. I sometimes stop and give them a little cash as a weak (and patronising?) salute to their daily grind.

What’s the key difference between real and vicarious?

I thought about this and it’s actually easy. It’s about geography. It’s pointless for South Africans to worry about polar bears, volcanoes in Bali, starving kids in China, earthquakes in Mexico, Donald Trump’s latest tweet, North Korea’s latest outrage …

We should worry about our local community. Local is lekker.

We should concern ourselves with things or people we can change, improve, care for, build, love, like, praise, teach, counsel, support …

Reading about a crisis 11,000 kms away is ridiculous when we have crises just a few kilometres away.

With over 100,000 NGOs operating in South Africa, there’s no shortage of opportunity to offer your time, money or in-kind donations.

But here’s the thing: don’t waste it.

I think it’s pointless to put R10 in a jar. You have no idea where the money’s going to. You have no power over its application. For all you know, it’s being used by fraudsters of whom there are many.

We need to focus our efforts and money, time and resources.

If you care about education, find out what you can do within 10 kms of your home. Saves time and petrol and you can keep an eye on your ‘investment’.

It’s too easy to rock up at a school in a company sponsored bus to hand out stuff to excited kids who sing songs, give you tea and thank you for coming. And then?

An NGO which really seems to be going places is Partners for Possibility. It’s a wonderful organisation that partners business leaders with headmasters from under resourced schools. Their vision: Quality Education for all children by 2025. Now that’s real. It makes watching the Kardashians an embarrassing waste of time. It’s certainly better than listening to SADTU or the Minister of Edukashin.

I have a soft spot for education because I think it provides the platform to fix so many other problems. Would people pour oil down the drain if they understood the consequences? Would people vote for corrupt politicians if they understood the issues and could identify populism when they saw it? Would people gamble their wages away if they clearly understood the casino ultimately controls the game?

So, my goal for 2018: less media, more real, more local action.

Happy New Year!

Read more →

Staff Performance Management: The Embarrassing Truth And The Simple Fix

Performance versus Person. Doing versus Being.

Over the last 5 weeks, I’ve written about Capability.

When I started my first consulting project in 1990, the emphasis of the work was on performance. We didn’t question the capability of the staff to perform. We simply asked the question: “How well should you perform?” Then we calculated workforce size based on scientific management principles.

The emphasis was on workforce efficiency with a view to cutting the size of the workforce. While this is sadly necessary when businesses are struggling to survive, what strikes me today is that the work focused on what people were doing, not on who they were themselves.

staff performanceIt’s embarrassing to reflect that we never asked these simple questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you know?
  3. How experienced are you?
  4. What can you do?
  5. And can you show us your track record in this work?

The analysis was simply about how many people had a particular job title.

There was some training but mostly focused on general management principles and exciting things like Maslow’s Hierarchy.

But even today, I get calls or emails from organisations wanting performance management, never capability management.

We can argue about which is more important but let’s go with a tie on that one.

Is it Just About Staff Performance Management?

Isn’t it obvious that each staff member should have:

  1. A personal capability score
  2. A personal performance score
  3. A personal development plan to improve both scores?

While you’re lying on the beach, trekking through the bush, hiking a trail, reflecting on how much you’ve eaten so far, putting on jersey #6 in Europe/US/Canada or simply while you enjoy Johburg’s perfect Christmas weather and empty roads; think that simple concept through.

Then call me in January to implement it!

And at this time of year, following Divali a few weeks ago: Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or simply have a great holiday if none of the above apply!


Read more →

Behavioural Competency: HOW We Do What We Do

We’re into Week 4, the penultimate week of the 5 part capability series in which we challenge ourselves to become more capable. This week:

Behavioural Competency

This is the most underrated and most impactful category of capability!

Behavioural competency is about how we do our work.

Last week, I said it’s crucial that we understand whether or not people can do their work, can do what their CV says they can do.

But if they do their work in such a way that frustrates everyone around them because of the way they behave, then the do talent can be completely overshadowed by the how or behavioural execution.

Case Study

For example, I worked with a successful multi-disciplinary team of people. But there was one person who consistently seemed to be obstructive. Initially, I thought he had an odd sense of humour but over time, I could see that his colleagues would glance at one another during a meeting: anything from eyes to heaven or a quick raised eyebrow.

Technically, no problem, he was well qualified. He had been with the firm for a long time and he occupied an important role. I used the same two behavioural assessment tools that I’ve used for nearly 20 years for the entire team.

The tools suggested that a majority of the management team had a generalist approach to work: i.e. they were confident in themselves, were task efficient, conceptually fit and didn’t really want to know too much about the detail. They were comfortable with some risk, they weren’t sensitive to criticism and preferred the big picture. If they could delegate the detail, they would.

But this same manager had a specialist profile which meant that he was more of a co-operative person who wasn’t comfortable with excessive risk and prided himself on knowing the detail and making fact-based decisions. He was also not as conceptually fit and task-efficient as the rest of the team. He was less people positive and more task focused.

Nothing wrong with any of that.

But when you’re surrounded by generalists, it’s possible that specialists can feel as if they’re surrounded by a bunch of crazy risk takers who ignore important facts and figures key to quality decision making!

And this is the thing about our personalities: we see the world through our own eyes, biased by our own personalities and experience. The assertive and confident person can’t understand why the less confident and more co-operative colleague won’t consider what they see as legitimate opportunities, not ridiculous risks!

Likewise, the extroverted maverick finds it simple to jump on a stage and make an impromptu speech while the shy and reserved specialist (risk averse) hides away from the same microphone.

So back to our manager: over time, the specialist took it upon himself to study the detail, do the research and he took this very seriously. He was also shy and reserved so when it came to presentations, he wasn’t the most entertaining speaker and his slides were hectic with tons of sentences in a relatively small font so that people experienced death by powerpoint.

Also, his research became a personal passion, so much so in fact, that he would deviate from the mission at hand to investigate anything related to the main topic. And when the company started improvement initiatives, he’d dive in with both feet (Ed – can one dive in with both feet?)

Over time, he became known as slightly ‘eccentric’, hence the rolling eyes and raising of eyebrows. But eccentric was an unfair exaggeration. He was just a different person compared to his colleagues.

So, what did he do wrong?

Well. Nothing!

He was:

  1. educated,
  2. experienced and
  3. technically competent (remember the last 3 episodes of this current series).

But his behaviour drove him in a certain direction, a direction which at his level of management, wasn’t 100% appropriate. Not his fault, just his way of working based on his perception of the world.

But that way of working moved him off the main management road onto the eccentric side path and from there, any thoughts he had of becoming a senior leader disappeared.

Funnily enough, that was a good thing.

Choosing The Right Path

Why? Because a shy specialist is going to hit two important non-work obstacles at higher levels of leadership:

  1. Politics: As people rise in an organisation, their ability to negotiate their way around the organisation and its stakeholders becomes much more important, while their technical speciality should be delegated to others. But as he rises, he begins to detest the politicking and social manoeuvring that happens as talented and confident people jostle for position, power and reward, especially in larger companies. Exactly what is happening in my beloved country right now as the good and the bad jostle to gain / keep control of our beautiful country and its wonderful resources.
  2. Risk: At higher levels of leadership, the variables that affect success become less tangible, less obvious and less predictable. For the risk-averse specialist, this isn’t fun. His way of dealing with risk then is to investigate, to check and re-check. If the company, the market and the competitors give him time, fine. But naturally, in the real world outside of NGOs, government, SOEs (state-owned enterprises) and monopolies, your competitor wants your lunch. So, pressure builds and the potential for burn out is high.

So, am I saying, tough Mr Specialist, your career stops here?

No, I’m saying, choose the right path. The management path to the top is not the right one for our specialist. The path to the summit of his career is via the domain specialist route: further academic study, further specialisation and the building of deep experience and knowledge to become a sought-after expert/advisor, paper/book writer, conference speaker, lecturer. Plenty of success to be had from that career path.

Next week, we’ll talk about the last capability category: Track Record.

If you’re going away, please pay extra attention to the safety of your families and yourselves. It’s horrific that 1700 people died in December last year! Drive defensively and have a wonderful holiday!

Thank you too for reading my blogs this year, much appreciated. All best.

Read more →