My company runs workshops that seek to find the purpose of organisations. As part of the process, we ask the individual staff member about his or her purpose in life, because neither the business nor the employee can thrive if their values are in conflict.
Needless to say, the workshops reveal a lot about management, staff and the organisation. Often, they confirm the old adage that birds of a feather flock together.
In companies formed through mergers and acquisitions, one can clearly and quickly see the chasm between the acquiring company and the acquired. There is nothing like a merger of equals. Where the leaders of the new company are all equally strong, the company collapses from its own weight.
Where a clearly dominant leader emerges, the weaker ones fall by the wayside through natural attrition, and the values of the dominant side prevail throughout the company.
I have learnt through these workshops that the dominant trait in South African business is that staff are always willing to help. If most working South Africans didn’t have to work for a living, they would spend much of their lives helping the destitute.
This is why the “begging industry” is thriving. Car-guard numbers are growing not only because of crime, but because motorists want to give a helping hand. This has been open to abuse by both crime syndicates and security firms, which push out the lonesome car guard, replacing him or her with their own, unregistered “employees”, and collecting money from them.
Our national compassion is evidenced by the success of such unofficial national days as Mandela Day where the working world goes out to lend a helping hand.
In our country, there is a big disconnect between political leadership, which is in the mode of receiving rather than giving, and the people.
When there is such a glaring lack of alignment between the people and their leaders, a credibility gap arises, which exposes the country to a major revolt.
The same is true in business.
If the staff mistrusts management, it is only a question of time before the company folds.
Staff members become recalcitrant and sometimes even tell customers to go to competitors for better prices and service.
Once a business is caught up in that web of distrust, it is better for the shareholders to fire management en masse.
When a company is struggling and management consistently flaunts its expensive Italian toys, employees will start to resist.
They will demand unreasonable increases and loyalty will go to the dogs.
Pleas and instructions mean very little; the example set by top management is likely to be followed. The same is true in politics.
Government officials and the people will follow the actions of the politicians rather than their pronouncements.
People will ask themselves: What is wrong with getting myself a little hut if politicians get themselves estates?
When staff suspect that management helps itself to the till, they will take that as permission to help themselves too.
It goes without saying that, in South Africa, charity and social responsibility projects should not be the exclusive perk of top management.
True, the leader of the organisation must be present when a cheque is offered for the cameras, but the company must find a way to make the whole staff feel they are a part of this.
When one looks at the quality of South African people, corporate social responsibility is not a nice-to-have – it must be an integral part of the human resources strategy to motivate staff.
It must also be the means to foster relations between the company and the community from which its staff comes.
Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive,
an advertising agency