Pockets of excellence

2008-10-27 00:00

One of the ways South Africa can stay in the Premier League of Nations is to celebrate its “pockets of excellence”, find out what makes them work and then benchmark other similar institutions against those pockets.

Let me give you my prime example. Many people moan about the level of service delivery from government departments, but there is one government department that is world-class — the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

The government should find out what it is about the leadership and organisation of Sars that makes it comparable to the best tax collection agencies in North America and Europe.

It should then benchmark all other departments against Sars by determining a set of key performance indications (KPIs) that will measure progress towards the excellence of Sars and then hold the leadership of those other departments accountable for meeting the KPIs.

Simple stuff. It’s about replicating the good that already exists rather than investing in yet another expensive firm of consultants with yet another groundbreaking model to confuse everyone even more.

Take schools. In every province, some schools have made consistent progress in improving the academic results or have consistently had excellent results. What is it about them that makes them perform better than other schools in the neighbourhood?

I would hazard a guess that it has something to do with the leadership style of the principal, the commitment and qualifications of the teachers and the role played by parents and alumni.

But let’s find out.

Hospitals are another area. Most large state hospitals have one or two brilliantly performing units whether it’s oncology, ophthalmology or ICU. What makes them brilliant and how can one transport that brilliance across the whole hospital?

Then we come to the private sector. Which companies have done best in the South African market and why? Shoprite Checkers would be on my list to interview.

Which companies have most effectively pioneered their way into Africa — a continent that is opening up for business?

MTN is up there because it is now the largest cellular network in Nigeria and Sudan (as well as being a major player in Syria and Iran). What is it about its low-key CEO and his vision that have made the company a leader in enabling Africa to skip a generation in communications technology?

Which company has the best corporate social responsibility programme in South Africa and is helping to create a better life for all?

Who are the best entrepreneurs in small business and what principles have they applied in making it this far?

Obviously, one cannot force companies to copy one another, but leadership by example can be pretty compulsive.

NGOs are another sector worth studying. Whether it’s in the field of HIV/Aids, community, upliftment, enterprise development or assistance with dysfunctional families, what are our best examples in South Africa and how can we emulate them?

Finally we come to individual pockets of excellence — people who have personally excelled. What makes them tick?

My favourite example is a young black student who matriculated last year and chose the formulation of a new energy-intensive fuel as his area of focus. His work is so stunning that the National

Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has named a minor planet after him and Harvard

University have lured him on to its undergraduate programme.

We don’t celebrate our pockets of excellence in South Africa like they do in the United States. We indulge in obsessively complaining about our faults which is the pathway to mediocrity and ultimately universal failure.

In contrast to China, which has built up enormous economic momentum by replicating the best of the West, we must replicate the best of what we have right here in this country.

People are fed up with the endless analysis of our problems and talk, talk, talk.

They want action. Identifying, celebrating and replicating our pockets of excellence will do more than anything else to make this wonderful country of ours work properly.

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