I didn't see it coming. I didn't even hear it fresh off the press. In fact, I heard it late. By chance. A chance Facebook post led me to Twitter where supposedly a war had broken out over a racist post made on Facebook. So, I went to Twitter. Then back to Facebook. And there it was! A fight between a sparrow and a troop of monkeys! What a way to begin the new year! Don't get me wrong; I'm not celebrating anything here. There's nothing to celebrate. But there's a lot to talk about. Racism. Yup! It hasn't gone anywhere, mate. It's 2016 and racism is very much still alive and well, thank you very much. It's a smart animal, you see.
Sometimes it goes all Machiavellian and successfully fakes its own death! Sometimes it just swoons or goes into a comatose state; but one thing it never does is die. Even when it has at times looked dead and buried, like the mythical Phoenix, it has risen from the ashes and left us all bewildered and bemused. And so here we are again, fresh into the new year, and a White South African woman has stirred the hornet's nest. It's on! Where did this furore come from? I'll tell you where, in case you missed it. Around Christmas time and leading up to the New Year, close to 500,000 people, mostly, if not all, Black, converged upon the beaches of Durban. When they left a few days later, the litter left in their wake was the stuff of fiction. Well, to be honest, there's nothing new there. It pretty much happens every year around that time.
Enter Penny Sparrow, a White woman who was so disgusted by both the swarming masses and the litter that she went postal! She went nuts! She went bananas! She likened the holiday makers to monkeys! South Africa went into uproar. When she tried to do damage control not long later, she only managed to add insult to injury. She said she was misquoted and misunderstood. She said she actually likes monkeys because they are cute! Cute! Cute? Well, South Africa and every Black person who got wind of the news didn't think there was anything cute about the whole thing. Monkeys are cute. I'm from Kgatleng. We've got them. In fact, they're our tribal symbol – our totem. They are a cute species. Naughty, but cute. So, I'll give her that. However, her comments about Black people were uncouth and unacceptable, no matter how she meant them.
For any younger readers unaware of the history of racism, likening Black people to the simian species is an old and effective way of conveying the idea that White people are higher up on the evolutionary chain than Black people, who must be at the lowest rung because they are closer to apes. That most of us understand this to be a complete misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution doesn’t matter. The preposterous suggestion works on the idea that there’s no smoke without fire. It’s also effective because enough people (both Black and White) really do think Black people are closer to apes than White people, having been conditioned to think that way. It's all a matter of repeated psychological reinforcement. Sadly, it has worked. It also gives permission to supposedly smart people like Nobel Prize winner James Watson to keep trying to demonstrate that the Black race is inherently less intelligent than the White race; an endeavour that also has a long history premised on a pseudo-science called "Scientific Racism." Scientific racism is the use of scientific and pseudo-scientific techniques and hypotheses to try to support, reinforce, and justify racism, racial inferiority, or racial superiority; or alternatively the practice of classifying individuals of different phenotypes into discrete races. As a body of theory, scientific racism employs anthropology (notably physical anthropology), anthropometry, craniometry, and other physiognomy-based disciplines, in proposing anthropologic typologies supporting the classification of human populations into physically discrete human races that might be asserted to be either superior or inferior. This unfortunate and withered branch of science gained a lot of traction during the New Imperialism period (c. 1880s – 1914) where it was used in justifying White European imperialism, and it culminated in the period from 1920 to the end of World War II.
Since the latter part of the 20th century, scientific racism has been criticized as obsolete and has historically been used to support or validate racist world-views, based upon belief in the existence and significance of racial categories and a hierarchy of superior and inferior races. Such a science certainly has no place in the modern world nor should it ever have had a place in any world for that matter. Racism is something we've all either witnessed or experienced, whether blatantly or subliminally. Here in Botswana, perhaps most of us are fortunate enough never to have been victims of racism. But our forebears who worked the South African mines know it all too well.
Many people fail to believe that race isn’t a biological category, but an artificial classification of people with no scientifically variable facts. In other words, the distinction we make between races has nothing to do with genetic characteristics. Race was created socially, primarily by how people perceive ideas and faces we are not quite used to. The definition of race all depends on where and when the word is being used. In American history, the meaning of the label “White” has changed over time, eventually adding groups like the Italians, Irish, and Jews. Other groups, mainly Africans, Latinos, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and Asian descendants, have found the path for worldwide social acceptance much more difficult.
The irregular border of ethnicities touch educational and economic opportunity, political representation, as well as income, health and social mobility of people of color. So where did this type of behavior begin? There are many ideas thrown around as to how racism began, though the truth lies in the history of mankind. Before people were able to travel and experience different groups of other people distinct from themselves, we predominantly stayed in the same kind of area with the same kind of people. We feared things that were different, and we lacked the power to face those kinds of things. All this changed once we did, in fact, obtain this level of human advancement, but the fear never drifted. The truth is, racism began as soon as people faced those of different races.
We’ve always had the fear of change, not to mention the unknown. It seems that racism has been around so long that by now we would have been able to overcome it as our species developed. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Frequent contact with those of whom we are afraid continues to lead to disputes, which, in time, is what caused racism to transform from people simply disliking each other, to the permanent and indestructible foundation of common racism and prejudice. Contemporary racism is said to have been derived from many places, one of the most common ideas being upbringing.
As a child, you are reliant on your parents to help you become who you are. Part of that involves their own, distinct opinions, that of which children don’t have the maturity to form on their own. They need the help of their parents, and this is often where the problem starts. If you were told that all Asians were sneaky or all Whites are evil or all Blacks are criminals, you can bet that you are going to feel this way about them. Upbringing is the biggest cause of racism. Even if you allow yourself to get to know some of them, this will always be in the back of your mind. We've been taught that Nigerians are crooks, for example. We've been told not to trust a Nigerian. And so, even when dealing with the most upright Nigerian, at the back of your mind, the fact that they're Nigerian makes you treat them with suspicion. It's psychological conditioning. The same applies to racism. Another suggestion as to how racism makes its way into our heads is through the almighty media. As we grow up, media becomes a factor of our lives whether or not we want it to be, and is also a major source of how racism keeps itself active. Since the 70’s, the media has been giving us racial labels, one of the largest supplies coming from crime shows like “Law and Order”, and “CSI”. When dealing with crime, people of color are reflected in the demarcation of “them” and “us”. Whites are often represented as the “good guy”, or the strong, law obeying citizens. They often the targets of the people of color, sometimes without any sort of evidence.
Directors and writers use racial stereotypes to make a more complex story with more suspects. We even have bumper stickers cheekily written things like, "A Black Man Is Always A Suspect." In the novel, “The Power of One,” by Bryce Courtney, which was also made into a movie starring Morgan Freeman, a young, White, African boy named Peekay lives in a world where the government, the country, and the world revolves around racism. World War II is coming to an end, and in South Africa, the Whites seem to hate the Blacks just as much as the Blacks hate the Whites. Peekay was raised by a compassionate and loving Black woman he refers to as “Nanny," due to the unsafe conditions at home with his bad, mentally ill mother. He grew up with Nanny and his best friend, who was also Black.
To Peekay, racism didn’t exist. The author, Bryce Courtney, didn’t intend on writing a book fully based on racism in South Africa. He grasps a trace of apartheid by Peekay’s experiences as a White boy by unhurriedly soaking it into South Africa as a toxin. “Adapt, blend…develop a camouflage.” This thought went through Peekay’s mind once he had been exposed to racism, having been forced to attend a boarding school full of bigger, darker students. In Chapters One and Two, as a mere five-year-old, the bright protagonist Peekay is already addressing the necessity of affecting camouflages in order to survive the system. He is often forced to act differently around people of different skin colors in order to fit in better to prevent himself from getting beaten or teased. He faces his first taste of racism the very first night at the boarding school. One boy, known as “The Judge," who was much older, stronger, and darker than Peekay, comes up with the nickname “PissKop” for Peekay, because of Peekay’s habit to wet the bed that was caused by The Judge’s, along with the help of many other older Black students, tendency to beat Peekay and spit in his face.
The Judge also convinces Peekay that Hitler is determined to march all Englishmen in South Africa into the ocean, and even forces Peekay to eat human feces. Upbringing is a very strong factor of what influences people to become racist, or to have even slight racial views. In Peekay’s case, he had gone from one extreme to another. At home, Nanny and his best friend were the only people he could call family, besides his mother who spent time at what Peekay called “The Mental Breakdown Place." When sent to the boarding school, he wasn’t expecting the Black students to dislike him because of his skin color. He saw the Black kids as merely bullies, and before they started bullying him hadn’t anticipated them to gang up on him because they were Black. This is what caused Peekay’s neutrality with the racist society in which he lived. He gave each person a chance to be a good person, because he had seen the good in different ethnicities to which many people were stubborn to open up their minds. The power of one, or the idea of how one person can make a significant difference, is an important idea in relation to challenge in the novel. Giel Piet (played by Morgan Freeman in the movie), one of Peekay’s boxing coaches who had been sneaking tobacco to all of the prisoners, was forced to eat feces by Sergeant Ballman, a White racist who works at the prison. If Giel Piet had refused to eat the feces, the guards would have found the tobacco, resulting in the prisoners getting beaten along with Giel Piet .
As Peekay witnessed this happen to his coach, he thought, "It made me angry. Angry it was done. Angry I couldn't do anything to stop it." But how does racism really affect society? Visibly identifiable members of racial and ethnic oppressed groups continue to struggle for equal access and opportunities, particularly during times of stringent economics. Often, the targeted race has a harder time doing things such as finding a well-paying job or house. While there have been some sizeable gains in the labor force status of racial minorities, significant gaps remain. Racism is rampant in all areas of employment. For many members of exploited racial and ethnic units, there is always an economic depression. Studies show that people of color are the last hired and the first fired. As a result, budget cuts, downsizing, and privatization may disproportionately hurt people of color. In February 1995, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 10.1 percent as compared to 4.7 percent for White Americans (Berry, 1995). The unemployment rate for adolescents of color is approximately four times that of White adolescents. What's more, in America, the majority of unemployed men are Black, and compared to other races, Blacks and Latinos on average have disproportionately low incomes. Perhaps the American correctional system also betrays an ugly message of subtle racism.
Blacks constitute only about 12% of the American population but more than 50% of the prison population. So bad is the situation that prison is known as "The Black Man's College." There are more Black young men in prison than there are in college. But what can be done? There are several methods proposed to reduce racism and promote tolerance. These include education, changing the attitudes of both the "oppressed" and "oppressor"; legal and political change, enforcing equality until it becomes normative behavior; and change to social structures believed to be the root causes of racism. All of these methods include a belief that as more "others" are included in social institutions and power structures, familiarity itself will erode fear and stereotypes.
Some believe that racist behavior stems from racist attitudes and beliefs that can only be changed on the individual level, in individual minds and hearts. Tactics here include public education and changing portrayals of racist minorities in the media, as well as individuals speaking up against demeaning language, jokes, and use of stereotypes, as well as racist violence and racial discrimination. A corollary to changing the attitudes and beliefs of racists is changing the attitudes and beliefs of people who have been targeted by racism, a refusal to accept being demeaned or discriminated against.
Legal and Political Change
Others believe that racist individuals are the product of a racist society; that the legal and political system must be changed first before social and individual change can follow. The great civil rights campaign in the U.S. in the 1950's and 60's was an expression of this. Root Causes Still others search for connecting causes at the root of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, agism, religious intolerance and all other forms of discriminatory behavior, in hopes that addressing the root causes will create the most social change.
One argument proposed by the radical left is that all social discrimination and oppression is the result of an exploitative economic system. Any economic system that creates "Haves" and "Have-Nots" will sooner or later create racist justifications for maintaining the status of the "Haves" over the "Have-Nots." According to some on the radical left, the few who exploit the labor and resources of the many now promote social divisions as a "divide and conquer" strategy. By turning men against women, Blacks against Whites, Christians against Muslims, Arabs against Jews, young against old, etcetera, they disguise the fact that the true battle is Corporations Against Everybody.
By this argument, a truly socialist economic system will result in eliminating racism and all other -isms. Socialists are not the only ones, however, who claim that a different economic/social system will eliminate the evils of racism and other discriminatory practices. Libertarians and the followers of Ayn Rand have claimed that a "Real Capitalism" would eliminate such social evils; Democrats and Republicans both claim that a "Real Democracy" will eliminate racism; the Christian Right claims that a real (i.e. Christian) social morality will eliminate racism; Communists claim that Real Communism will save us and anarchists claim that Real Anarchism will; etcetera. Sin and Salvation A similar argument, one that I identify with as a Pastor, says that all these -isms, like all other social evils, are the result of humankind's sinful nature. The only cure is the salvation of humanity and the establishment of a society based on religious virtue and/or under religious rule. Christians argue for Christianity as the world's salvation, Muslims argue for Islam, and so on. Psychological Healing Those who believe that all discriminatory -isms are rooted in human psychological insecurities believe the way to eliminate all of them is to focus on raising emotionally healthy and secure individuals with high self-esteem who don't need to feel superior to anyone else. For those who are already adults, we should try to understand them and teach them a more healthy way to deal with their fears and emotional needs. Attacking "racists" as "the enemy" only compounds the problem.
Another argument says that since human beings try to make their beliefs justify their behavior with at least as much (or more) energy than they make their behavior conform to their beliefs, energetically enforcing non-discriminatory behavior on all fronts and making sure that all individuals are exposed to the widest possible variety of human beings and cultures will eventually erode all racist and discriminatory practices and attitudes. This could be called "behavioral therapy for society." Penny Sparrow has stoked ancient fires pitting the Black man against the White man.
I doubt she foresaw the backlash that would ensue following what she thought would be an innocuous and isolated comment by a random stranger in the vast world of social media. How woefully wrong she was! She has unwittingly demonstrated that the hope of a "Rainbow Nation" is just a fantastic myth. South Africa is as racially divided as it was before the ANC assumed power. Granted, gains and strides have been made here and there and a Black man finds himself leading a predominantly White party, but that doesn't change the stubborn facts of entrenched racial attitudes. I hope that not too far away, we can fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'” In the meantime, "His eye is on the sparrow…"
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.