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Management trainers advise Zuma: Avoid blame, treat the cause

Wed, 04 July 2012

June ended with global financial gloom. Moody’s downgraded 15 major world banks after doing the same to five in South Africa. J.P. Morgan’s R14 billion trading loss after a bet went wrong was revealed to actually be R63 billion. And Absa said a weak mortgage book was impacting profits.

The ANC policy conference showed division and economic policy directions that are unnerving markets. And in the United States Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz warned that the economic crisis would last until “at least 2018, but probably longer.”
“Economists are warning that the world’s markets are showing all the hallmarks of the 1930s before the Great Depression that led to the Second World War,” Liza van Wyk, CEO of major business training organization, AstroTech said. “And despite five years of deepening financial crisis we’re seeing no solutions. Banks are still making astonishingly stupid mistakes. Homeowners are struggling to pay mortgages, and manufacturing figures are plunging everywhere – even in China – as consumers are refusing to spend.”

Liesl Gini, a top trainer at AstroTech facilitates its Advanced Problem Solving Course. She says people or institutions often don’t resolve problems because of a few common failures:

  • “We have a tendency to assume that a problem has only one cause and only one solution. But few problems are that simple and leadership problems are often more complex.
  • “Another pitfall is to identify a situation or set of causes from the past and then blame past actions or past leaders for the current problem. When we invest our energy into focusing on the past, we are less able to resolve issues in the present.
  • “Rather than looking at what the causes of problems are, we are often satisfied with limiting our thinking to “who” caused the problem. We see names being shuffled around a government or management team, without the actual problem ever being addressed. Removing the “trouble makers” seldom removes the true cause of the problem.
  • “In some companies and political environments there is a deeply entrenched culture of blame. Blaming never solves a problem. Blaming becomes a smoke screen to distract attention away from the problem. The problem is usually more systemic than individual.
  • “Often managers will implement similar solutions repeatedly even when they have seen that it does not really work. I think it was Einstein who said that one couldn’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it. I advise managers to develop their creativity to be able to think of radically new and different solutions.”

Gini said that her advice to President Jacob Zuma would be to truly analyse the causes of the current problems. “Unless the real causes are addressed, we are simply trying to manage symptoms. It’s like offering aspirin to heal a broken bone.

“The President has a number of problems to deal with, but where to start? Firstly establish whether we are dealing with a symptom or an actual problem. Solving “symptoms” will not resolve anything over the long term.

“Some “symptoms” appear to be crises: these should be resolved swiftly. But, the true challenge of leadership is to identify the potential problems and root causes that may not be the current crisis, and find a strategic way to deal with those. Problems that are important, but not urgent are often not addressed.

We could say that problems with ANCYL, issues around jobs, the financial situation in SA, and even the lack of national unity are merely symptoms of a bigger problem or cause. In my opinion, the root cause of these issues may be the poor education system in South Africa. It seems, however, that while leadership is busy with smaller crises, the root causes are not being addressed.

“Ideally President Zuma (in the same way as an MD or CEO) should be able to trust his team to resolve crisis and smaller problems, so that he has time available to look at the bigger issues. The President should see himself as the leader of a problem solving task team! Then, issues would be addressed by team members and the President will be more able to be pro-active in solving the bigger picture issues.”

Van Wyk said, “Many of the managers attending our workshops have difficulty finding employees with appropriate skills and a positive attitude. Often a not-so-ideal candidate is expected to perform to a standard that they have not been trained, educated and developed for. The obvious solution is to support and develop these employees to increase their competency to do the job. But, with time pressures and deadlines, staff development often falls by the wayside. It is viewed as a problem, but not a crisis.

“ We may have brilliant goals and wonderful systems in place, but ultimately people need to make things happen. And those people need to be managed effectively. Management expert Gary Hamel recently discussed a survey of 18 countries showing that less than a fifth of employees would ''go the extra mile'' for their employer. Often because “a callous corporate culture has drained managers of empathy.” He quoted figures that showed only 38% of employees believe that ''senior management [is] sincerely interested in employee well-being.''

“And so we have another issue bedeviling good problem solving, managers that are tuned out of their organizations. They can’t come up with solutions because the people they care about the most are themselves and not their employees, and by extension their organization. We not only need transformation of global financial and political systems, but of the mindsets of managers. Trickle down theory starts at the top.”

Liza Van Wyk, CEO, AstroTech, Parktown, Johannesburg
Landline: 011 582 3200