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Each year market research company Ask Afrika announces the winners of its Orange Index Awards for customer service.   The selection is decided through a rigorous process where they look at service delivery, awarding a scaled rating of service excellence in order to come up with the best in South Africa. The service, of course, must be consistent and for the record last year’s winner was Woolworths followed by Burger King.  Also, just for the record, OR Tambo international Airport did not make the list.  

When travelling through that airport recently I was struck by the stark contrast in service which I received from different departments. Immigration is hit and miss –   sometimes it’s reasonable and sometimes it’s a real shocker. Not so, however, for the men’s toilets at the international departure’s area. Consistently I get great, albeit over-the-top,  service which includes being greeted at the door by the toilet attendant’s friendly tongue-in-cheek “welcome to my office”.

On some occasions he  acts like an air traffic controller, telling me which stall is free to use, and on occasion going as far as opening the cubicle door for me. After my business is complete, I am graciously offered a paper towel or shown where the hand-dryer is. The experience is completed by cupped hands and wishing me a pleasant onward journey as I exit.

If you aren’t a regular traveller through ORT, you may pause to wonder how the HR  department gets the customer service right in one area yet fails in another. You may wonder if it’s possible to attribute the different standards of service to better training  in one area (bathrooms) compared to another (immigration). It certainly can’t be anything to do with the nature of the work as you would surely assume that a customer- interfacing and administration role such as an immigration official must certainly beat a cleaner’s role, hands down, when it comes to job satisfaction?

The difference in fact can be found in what drives the different behaviours which quite simply is the reward for the service. Now I don’t know what reward system is in place for the immigration official who gives good service, but it is obviously not an attractive one judging by the service being provided. The informal reward system that has been crafted by bathroom cleaners to supplement their income, on the other hand, is working well.

They have figured out a lucrative additional income stream from the international travellers who are happy to pay a gratuity to the loo keeper for the personal touch (metaphorically speaking!) whilst using the facility. Unfortunately for the bathroom cleaners I am not one of them.  Personally, I find the ‘service’ irritating as I don’t want to make small talk with the janitor or have to divulge if my toilet business is of a primary or secondary nature.  I don’t feel I need help with the paper towels or be escorted to the hand dryer but luckily for the attendants, I am in a minority.

If we look back at history, this idea of a bathroom service experience comes from a position called  ‘washroom attendant’. It started at fee-charging restrooms (toilets that cost money to use) because anyone paying for usage would reasonably  expect it to be clean and well-managed. Thus, there was always someone around to clean the toilets and sinks as well as make sure there was a clean roller towel, or a supply of paper towels. This concept can still be found in the US and certain European countries, mostly in nightclubs, restaurants etc. and in these places, tipping is the custom. The practice is rare elsewhere these days but not at ORT where, like a form of busking, it’s in full swing!

The bathroom cleaners at ORT have tapped into a potential income stream in addition to their salary,  one that is funded by American and European travellers who, when using the bathrooms in transit, are happy offload their insignificant change in Rands to attendants for, well in most cases just being there. They are getting tips, of that there is no doubt, although in my experience they never seem to be doing much cleaning to earn it, though there is significant standing at the door, greeting the clientele as they enter, initiating conversation and offering guided tours.  I see the cupping their hands as they make their way out less as a gesture of supplication and more as a fat hint but it’s an enthusiastic service, that’s for sure.

But who am I to be judging this entrepreneurial spirit and anyway it’s not the point of the article which is to show that human motivation is driven by wants and needs, in this case money.   It also demonstrates how great and even outstanding customer service can be achieved if there is something in it for the person providing that service. The bathroom attendants at the airport feel incentivised to provide this very over the top service as a lucrative salary top-up. I don’t know how much they are making but it must be good because there is a consistent level of high service and people don’t do what they aren’t rewarded for, so obviously it’s working.

If we can tap into that monetary motivation and find the way to gear up and incentivise service levels, you really can provide it. Here are people doing it  off their own bat– using initiative, running their own little business, providing a service unsupervised and with enthusiasm because the reward that they are getting is worthwhile AND immediate, tax free and with no operating overheads!

 So when the Orange Index awards come about next year maybe they can consider this cottage industry taking place in the toilets of OR Tambo’s International Departure Hall where you can witness top class service, delivered with a smile while the rest of the airport staff mope around doing only the very least that might be expected to contribute to a positive customer experience. One word of caution – please don’t take this as a suggestion to start dropping cheery immigration officials a generous gratuity.   In their line of work that would be called a bribe!

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started


  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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