Guptas to consider cadre deployment?

2013-05-22 03:30

Judging from recent events, it seems we can expect some cadre deployment in the upper echelons of Sahara Computers soon. It would make perfect sense though, seeing that the Guptas are such devoted and committed ANC loyalists. The reality is that cadre deployment as a means to give “black people operational exposure” remains firmly on the ANC’s agenda, to quote ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. And this despite criticism of its effectiveness even from within the ANC: the Free State Premier Ace Magashule recently blamed the party’s cadre deployment policy as the “cause of poor service delivery in many municipalities and government departments”. Eish.

So can we expect an MK veteran as CEO of Sahara Computers anytime soon? Highly unlikely, unless they have access to a pool of MK veterans with the necessary business skills and experience to pick from. Let’s face it, the business community is obsessed with results and profitability to survive and prosper. They have little appetite for an inexperienced manager who needs “operational exposure” and who may put the company’s profitability at risk. But there could be a light in the cadre deployment tunnel. While conceding that cadre deployment has gone wrong in many instances, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba recently emphasised at a Cape Town Press Club breakfast that it could be avoided in future by ensuring that the “cadre has the relevant and requisite experience and expertise to deliver on the mandate”.

Making experience and expertise the main criteria in cadre selection certainly is a step in the right direction. But will it be enough? The old adage that people get hired for their experience and skills and fired for their personality deficits rings loudly. While there is no substitute for experience when evaluating potential managers, it may make sense to also consider whether the candidate’s unique permutation of talents and personal strengths will fit the intended role. For instance, a managerial role that involves frequent negotiations with unions will require someone who is a strong rapport-builder with a talent for persuasion and conflict resolution. Similarly, a position that requires a turnaround specialist who can change the fortunes of a distressed company requires a hard-driving change agent with a talent for innovation. Expecting such a driven change agent to patiently entertain circular arguments with union representatives could be asking a bit much – imagine a gung-ho MK veteran trying to broker a truce with a bunch of wildcat strikers!

Yet companies keep on doing this – employing people in roles which do not fit their strengths. The sobering reality is that employees who are in jobs where they do not get to use their natural strengths will be frustrated and unhappy and unlikely to achieve their full potential. To compound the problem, management often spends a great deal of effort trying to fix the weaknesses of their employees through all kinds of performance appraisals and developmental plans. Weaknesses cannot be converted into strengths – they can at best be moderated. Someone with no musical talent can become a passable musician through purposeful practice and resolute effort, but is unlikely to evolve into a world-class virtuoso.

Instead of focusing predominantly on weaknesses, employers should rather give attention to developing their employees’ strengths and matching these to appropriate work roles. Employees who get to use their strengths on a regular basis are happier, more energetic and more productive, and will have a better chance of achieving organisational goals. And it also makes business sense: the Corporate Executive Board’s study of more than 19,000 workers found that a focus on strengths during performance appraisals resulted in a 36% improvement in performance, whereas a focus on weaknesses resulted in a 27% decline.

Strengths, however, should be used in moderation and in context, as with any good thing. Relying too much on a particular strength could be detrimental under certain circumstances (e.g. too much assertiveness can become domineering), or could be inappropriate given the requirements of a particular job profile. This doesn’t mean that weaknesses should simply be ignored. Weaknesses should be identified and contained or neutralised where appropriate. To quote my good friend Peter Drucker: “Make your strengths productive in order to make your weaknesses irrelevant”.

The numbers are stacking up against us, though. A survey by US-based Gallup among more than 1.7 million employees from 63 countries indicated that only 20% of all the workers employed in large organisations felt that they were in roles where they can use their strengths on a daily basis. If this figure can be taken at face value, it means that most companies operate at 20% capacity. Imagine what it can do to a company’s bottom line if this could be increased to 30% or 40%! And all this by merely focusing a bit more on strengths in the workplace – helping employees to discover and develop their personal strengths and matching them as far as possible to roles where they can use their strengths.

So it would make sense for the Guptas to consider cadre deployment, provided they match cadres to roles that fit not only their experience and expertise, but also their personal strengths profiles!

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