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Workers are collateral damage to management failures in retrenchments

SHARE   |   Monday, 11 December 2017   |   By Adam Phetlhe
Workers are collateral damage to management failures in retrenchments

Memory Nguwi, the Managing Consultant of Industrial Psychology Consultants wrote in The Financial Gazette dated 23 July 2015 in an article titled “Top reasons why some organisations are always retrenching, others never retrench” that “Ask your Human Resources Manager today if they have a signed workforce plan aligned to the needs of the business today and five years from now”. Nguwi further argues that “workforce planning is having the right number of people with the right skill (not qualification but right level of competency) at the right cost at any time in the future”. This is a critical question that should be put to management of organisations because it will give us an idea as to whether their workforce is commensurate with business needs and if not, what management is doing to correct the situation. If this is not done, businesses or organisations will always be susceptible to retrenchments even when such could have been avoided. A friend of mine runs a pit sand harvesting and delivery business which requires delivery trucks. He tells me that he owned four such delivery trucks which he failed to subject to maintenance schedules as per the manufacturer’s manual. Two of these eventually broke down resulting in depleted revenue to profitably keep the business afloat. He was forced to retrench some of his workers because he could no longer afford to pay them let alone running a profitable business. He admitted that the business eventually closed down because the remaining trucks also broke down. The issue here is that had he serviced his trucks as per the manufacturer’s manual, the business could have prospered to profitability with staff retaining their jobs. Upfront, it is acknowledged that retrenchment is a process at the workplace through which employers lawfully dismiss workers for faults not of their own making provided the law on retrenchment is fully complied with. But because these faults are not attributable to the workers, it stands that they are to the leaderships of organisations – at political, board and executive management. Apart from the political leadership level where no formal qualification is a prerequisite (because absolute and blind loyalty to the President is enough to earn a Ministerial position) the same is not the case at board and management levels. Board and executive management members will be individuals colourfully decorated with enviable academic achievements. These achievements regrettably, end up counting for nought because organisations end up collapsing under their noses. Stacy Zeiger lists the following as signs of a dysfunctional board of director: Lack of confidentiality where board decisions are shared with close friends the result of which is a sign of a dysfunctional board; Conflicting Agendas whereupon board members fail to be on the same page with regard to shared virtues of the direction of the organisation; Lack of Order in which board members become disorderly, jump from topic to topic, argue with one another with important matters failing to be discussed and implemented; Lack of Respect where board members fail to respect one another with the common interest of the organisation being unrealised; Hostile Environment – when board members are hostile to each other, this type of environment stifles productivity and prevents board members from sharing constructive opinions; Personal and Political Agendas – board members should not allow personal and political agendas to cloud their decision-making; Lack of Trust – employees in an organisation must trust the board for it to be functional; Non Participants – some board members sit on boards only for the prestige of the position without adding value. It is also a firmly held view that most of board members do not understand the strategic plan of the organisation they oversee. The end result of a board that behaves in this manner will naturally take its eyes off the ball where its core mandate on the organisation becomes the casualty.

Executive management behaviour and conduct in organisations that have become perennially susceptible to retrenchments would inevitably fit the description of board as alluded to above. Once the board is evidently dysfunctional, the cancer spills over to the organisation leadership itself. One is vividly reminded of an instance where the board of Mineral Development Company Botswana wanted to discipline its CEO Paul Smith for allegedly misrepresenting it in that he had informed the Minister responsible for the mines, Hon Kebonang that such board had decided to close down BCL. The said Minister stopped the disciplinary inquiry and the rest is history. We are also aware of how Minister Khama has, and continues to allegedly micro-manage the Botswana Tourism Organisation as evidenced by information from the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies presently and before. It goes without saying that once the board and the executive management are on a dysfunctional mode, a situation best described by the erstwhile South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela as “When Ethics and Governance Fail” sets in. The current state of state-owned enterprises is such that with the collapse of ethics and governance, the only way for boards and executive management to redeem themselves and their organisations is to resort to retrenchments. The immediate question arising is whether these retrenchments have put organisations on sound ethical and good governance pedestal to take their organisations out of the woods. Nothing suggests so because firstly, the leadership that has led to poor organisational performance resulting in retrenchments remains largely and firmly in place with no consequent management. Secondly, the shareholder keeps pumping more money into these organisations with no tangible checks and balances in place to significantly avoid further and immediate retrenchments. What is the point of retaining the same board and executive management when all else collapsed under their watch? I am seriously battling to find the rationale! Organisations are expected to be led by men and women who should be able to anticipate an eventuality like retrenchment and as far as is humanly possible, avoid or significantly reduce them. Smart organisations achieve this feat by constantly and religiously anchoring their operations via their strategic plans which should be understood and owned by all workers. If you made a random survey among workers of organisations and ask about their knowledge of strategic plans of their organisations, I will bet with my last Pula that out of ten workers, one or even none would know about such let alone what their objectives are.

Organisations are led by degreed individuals who in most cases do not have proven business acumen to turn organisations around. Even assuming such business acumen existed, the appalling state of their organisations tell a different story. Like I have said above, organisations substantially lack pro-active leaders who can anticipate and deal with negative situations likely to befall their organisations like retrenchments. These negative situations are in most cases precipitated by sheer dereliction of duty; lack of strong internal processes to act as early warning signs; failure by those with high authority to act in cases where early warnings signs have luckily been flashed and so on. The foregoing always manifests in even larger scale where the board of directors dismally fail to perform meaningful oversight function over management. It is common cause that boards are so heavily politicised that politicians in the form of Ministers effectively run organisations from the grave. In most cases, boards rarely stand up to unwarranted political pressure or influence. As a result of the above, organisations which have consistently retrenched are not in any profitable or better positions than they were before because nothing changes or ever does so. Organisations are increasingly led by reactive leadership as opposed to proactive leadership whose results are as we know, very costly to both the employees and the economy. The BCL story conclusively confirms beyond any reasonable doubt how a reactive leadership becomes costly however hard fake reasons for its closure are hopelessly fed on us. If we were to audit organisations, negligible to no positive results from retrenchments would be present and telling. It would largely be more of the same. Like my friend’s failure to service his pit sand delivery trucks, the same analogy applies to organisations that are pitifully hanging in there. When all is said and done, workers have become collateral damage to management failures in almost all respects. If workers were ‘movable or immovable’ assets, they could be sold to the highest bidder to generate more revenue for organisations to sustain themselves. This view is premised purely on the seemingly evident attitudes of organisations’ leadership that they will retain their positions and all that come with it wherein their refuge becomes their no-fault employees should incomprehensible management failures emerge.  Judge for Yourself! Send your comment to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.