Being without electricity for three days this week wasnt just not fun, it was horrifying. No morning cups of coffee, no music to numb your soul, no comforting hum from the fridge, and no hot showers. I found the only way to survive a cold shower was to yell throatily for the first minute.
While Eskom and the municipality no doubt rushed to fix the power supply to Johannesburgs western suburbs, adapting to life without power was hard.
Only when you get it into perspective, after the lights come back on, of course, you start to think that this unacceptable state of affairs is still how many South Africans live. That instant power is something for the privileged, even if Eskom does wipe out Sowetos debts every now and then.
Its the question of power and how to give it. South Africa talks non-stop about empowerment. Weve been talking about it for ages. There are thousands of people climbing on to the empowerment bandwagon. There are many people making enormous amounts of money by nailing down deals after merely mentioning the word. Its become a drug, an addiction, a mindless habit.
But we still dont know if it will work, we still cant see its effects, were still not sure what it really means or how to do it.
An economics professor, Joel Stern, this week told it like it is and said empowerment, especially when it came to equity, was working terribly.
We are dividing up a small pie instead of concentrating on growing the whole economy for the betterment of all citizens. He added that you didnt want to be poor and white in South Africa because thered be nobody even pretending to look out for you.
On this point, he felt poverty alleviation should be more colour blind because a country striving to prosper could not afford to actively ignore anyone who was disenfranchised.
That aside, Stern thought the solution to poverty alleviation in South Africa lay in giving people more variable pay in their jobs. Instead of just the chief executive feeling like there was a point to getting out of bed and going to work, why not offer all employees performance-related incentives? If everyone worked harder and made the economy grow, thered be more to go around. And, he said, stop thinking of staff as employees, think of them as value-change agents.
While the term smacks of American buzz word, corporate speak, Stern is yet another forward thinker who is advocating a complete mind shift in the way that staff are viewed and treated. Instead of being a cost item, surely the minds and bodies that make up a business should be seen as an asset and integral to a businesss survival?
I may be biased here. I am an employee with no variable pay. Id like to be able to expect recognition, financial and otherwise, when I put out work thats above average.
Id like to be more than a drone in a factory. But many companies in South Africa cant seem to bear the thought of a motivated workforce.
While Stern may not be correct in thinking that variable pay will solve South Africas larger socio-economic problems, variable pay would make companies examine efficiencies more closely, it would empower more people to do the best they can, and it would suggest to staff that there is a point to getting up in the morning and going to work.
Recognition and acknowledgement are two of the simplest tricks when it comes to good people management and yet are some of the hardest to master.
But in this countrys quest to learn about empowerment, shifting staff from the cost line to the balance sheet could be an enormously important step in the process.
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