In times of lightning change as we are currently experiencing, countries and organisations have to fall back on their culture to keep their dreams alive. Those shared values, symbols and behaviours are supposed to get us safely to the other side. We have something to hold onto, when everything around us is falling apart.
Never has organisational culture, the way we work around here (HQ, IT department, regional office), had so many nervous heads and depressed numbers on the line. Or should that be, the way we don’t want to work around here? I am talking about companies that are defined by punching the clock at 8/16h30, pointless meetings and passing blame around. Organisations are looking at their culture in the mirror and sometimes, your worst enemy is staring back at you.
The book shelves are chock full of management wisdom about analysing and changing the culture for a competitive advantage. And consultants are busy with culture shock treatments.
Break away from the literature and consultants this month. We can learn a lot from recent experiences in our backyard.
South Africa is a steaming potjie of culture – passionate Springbok supporters, striking but patriotic doctors, the weekend braai, rock art by the San Bushmen and the Madiba magic come to mind.
On the international stage, our culture has been warmly received by business and tourists alike. We hit a cultural block in June 2009 when the first FIFA Confederations Cup was hosted on African soil. Hundred of thousands of fans love the opportunity to repeatedly blow the sound of a bursting pipe into your ear drum and television screen.
I am referring of course, to that cultural weapon of mass excitement: the vuvuzela.
During the Confederations Cup, foreign coaches, soccer players and journalists called for the vuvuzela to be banned from the world cup next year. Some local supporters agree. For now, the voices of detractors, have been drowned out and the vuvuzela will be a permanent accessory at matches in 2010.
From a culture perspective, the vuvuzela is a blast. The same sound; is enough to send one fan screaming in delight and another, screaming in frustration. There are unnecessary racial tones given that one race uses the instrument more than others. Some local websites proudly claim the vuvuzela has been part of our culture for thousands of years. In reality, the vuvuzela is 1990’s A.D, coming from a commercial opportunity, not the rural villages. Finally, while the vuvuzela may temporarily lift your spirits, the physical exertion could lead to decibel damage and undue eye pressure.
I suggest that the vuvuzela is transferred from the soccer pitch to the boardroom, for maximum impact. Many organisations don’t listen and the vuvuzela will empower employees and customers alike. I see awards for the best vuvuzela team, highest decibel by an individual vuvuzela and the vuvuzela that got management to finally listen. It is cheap, noisy and effective.
UPDATE: Vuvuzelas stayed with SWC 2010, did you love or hate them?
Pioneering into trouble
I’ve previously written about the competition commission bringing naughty companies to task (HRF March 2009).
Members of the bread cartel learnt an expensive lesson about “competitively” earning one’s daily bread. Unlike its co-conspirators, the last cartel member, Pioneer Foods pleaded innocence and did not co-operate with the Competition Commission. They claimed their simultaneous price increases were driven by higher input costs. Imagine if business truly operated on this basis – companies would have zero competitive advantage regarding their costs and consumers would have to accept their fate of being ripped off. Fortunately common sense prevailed and the Competition Tribunal tore down their dough like defence. The case continues this month and depending on the outcome, Pioneer Foods may face a hefty fine.
In the past, directors escaped scot-free and companies passed their fines onto the consumers through higher prices. A note for HR is to watch a controversial provision in the Competition Amendment Act, allowing the authorities to take legal action against directors and managers of companies.
UPDATE: Pioneer fine runs into hundred of millions (at last count, it was over R350 million). Competition Commission wants the fine to be increased to 10% of turnover, case will be heard in September 2010. Pioneer has sent their staff on training to comply with the law.
Until next month, invest in your culture, bring those vuvuzela to the office and check your prices
(HR Future, September 2009)