I do not want to seem to be a Clever Dick but I have spent some 25 years fixing broken organisations and improving under-performing ones. Not always successfully I must admit, and the year I and five expert colleagues spent working free of charge in the Department of Justice must count as one of my failures, predominantly because most of the good we did was allowed to languish as a result of the laziness, stupidity and fear of the incumbent Cabinet minister and what was left was then undone by his successor.
I have also taught the lessons I have learnt over these years at both Wits and Stellenbosch Business schools to MBA students and others. So, what are these lessons?
Let me start by saying that, in my humble opinion, all organisations, whether they are churches, clubs, countries, companies or businesses, need four things to be successful:
- Leadership – preferably strong, decent and visionary leadership;
- A strategic plan – in writing and produced by completing a clearly defined process involving, on an inclusive basis, those directly responsible for its implementation;
- A competent, cohesive, well-rounded and well-motivated management team containing all the skills necessary to implement the strategic plan;
- A written action plan which reduces the strategy into small, measurable, bite-sized bits, the implementation of which is tracked at short, regular intervals, preferably no more than a week apart because, unless you measure performance regularly against the action plan, you will not end up with the desired result.
This is not to say that if you have all four of these things you will definitely be successful, but merely that, if you do not, you will never be successful.
If you look at our country and compare it to a company, then you can see that the CEO of RSA Inc. is Jacob Zuma, the financial director is Malusi Gigaba, the board of directors is the Cabinet, the strategic plan is Radical Economic Transformation – or theft, as Johann Rupert has called it – the management team are the directors-general of the various ministries and there is no discernible action plan and, to the extent there may be one somewhere, it is definitely not regularly measured against a written action plan.
A company’s share price reflects the value the market places on the company’s assets and the ability of management to use those assets wisely. In this sense, a country’s rate of exchange against other currencies serves a similar purpose and, by this measure alone, our country’s performance has been steadily marked down for more than 20 years. In 1994 when the ANC took over running the country, the rand/dollar exchange rate was less than three to the dollar. Today it is closer to 14 to the dollar. A truly woeful performance and further reflected by the downgrading of South Africa’s debt profile by a number of international rating agencies.
Clearly our country has a series of major problems. We do not have a leader worthy of the name. We have no credible written strategic plan. The management team has been chosen not because of their complementary abilities to manage but to protect thieves and help them further their egregiously greedy shortest of short-term goals. There is no action plan other than to steal as much as possible in the shortest time.
The problems have been compounded by the fact that many of the good people in government have left. They have been forced out or read the writing on the wall and, being skilled, have easily found jobs elsewhere both here and abroad. The sick, lame and lazy, those with no moral backbone and those only too willing to do what they are told to do regardless of how dishonest this may be, are the ones that usually remain, both because they cannot find a job elsewhere and because, along with the decent staff, things like morality, honesty, discipline, accountability and work ethic have also disappeared and that suits them.
In situations like this and, yes, we have come across not dissimilar situations in the private sector, albeit on a much, much smaller scale, what have we done?
The very first thing has been a thorough review of the company’s business to try to understand what has been the cause of the problems. To move forward without such a thorough review is like driving down the M1 at 180km/h with a blindfold on. It is not whether you are going to crash and burn but only when.
The next step – and probably the most important – is to put together a team of hard-working, honest, competent people with all the skills necessary to operate the company’s business and take them through a detailed strategic planning session. There are any number of processes that can be used in this regard and the important thing to remember here is that it is the homework that precedes the planning that is important because “garbage in equals garbage out”. And the plan must be reduced to writing. If it is not it may be a hope, a wish or a prayer but it is not a plan.
Producing such a plan without the involvement of those who are going to be required to implement it and then trying to foist it on them is doomed to failure. It is not their plan. It is yours. So, why should they be motivated to implement it?
Finally, the action plan. Everyone wants to be successful. That is why we have marks at school, goals at soccer, runs at cricket and points at rugby. Unless we measure things we have no way of knowing whether we are being successful or not and, as my experience and Arnold Moll (Author of Help I’m a Manager) has shown me, you can measure anything. Many of the disasters in government – think social welfare payments for one – are almost entirely because things were not measured regularly against the plan, always assuming there was a plan in the first place.
I believe therefore that whoever takes over from Zuma and his cronies in 2019 will need to follow this procedure or something very similar if they are to undo all the harm done to our country over the last seven years, let alone get South Africa back on track. In my humble opinion, failure to do so will mean we are merely in for more of the same.
By Peter Flack