By John Brodie, the Managing Director of international Executive Search and Human Capital consultancy group-Mindcor
Executive maturity is often demonstrated in the understanding that it is not about being right, but getting the right result. A key requirement of modern executives is the ability to make the necessary long-, medium- and short-term trade-offs to create a sustainable business. Executives seldom have the luxury of being able to reach a decision or take action without having to balance competing stakeholder needs and priorities.
In addition to this, managing and developing a sustainable ecosystem is one of the growing responsibilities and complexities of being a modern-day executive. Getting the right result therefore shifts beyond short-term bottom- and top-line performance, to creating healthy partnerships with key stakeholders, namely employees, communities, suppliers and customers, to deliver sustainable shareholder value.
As is the case with the recent strike action in Marikana, the management team in this situation was absolutely “right” in the fact that the strike was illegal and that the miners had chosen to abandon the formal structures, i.e. union representation, legislated forums and processes. Unfortunately being right did not necessarily create a result that is sustainable for any of the stakeholders involved, be those the mineworkers, mine management, shareholders and the community reliant on the mine as a key employer.
One of the key named factors in employees moving away from their union representatives, and choosing to represent themselves, was the perception that the representatives were not delivering transformation and ultimately were more aligned with management. A critical question to be asked, going forward, with regards to building a healthy employee ecosystem, is the role of management in supporting the development of strong functioning unions. This means building local union leadership that is capable of representing the employees and supporting real transformation.
Taking an eco-systemic view on the above, requires the ability to engage with the complexity and the causal relationships that exist within a system and attempt to understand how to bring sustainable health to it. One potential key is to understand the impact of the perceived decline in the capability of local union representation, which resulted in management’s agenda dominating negotiations, on the overall balance in the eco-system. One could surmise that in the short-term this may have benefited bottom-line profitability, but in the long-term has put the whole operation at risk, never mind the cost in lives, reputation to the nation, and the unmeasured impact on our overall economy.
As paradoxical as it may seem, and counter to certain negative sentiment towards unions, is it not critical for the health of the overall system for management in all sectors to engage in developing, as they would with potential suppliers, a healthier, more capable set of union representatives who are committed to transforming the sectors and communities in which they operate? All parties believe they are “right” in their convictions, however, who will be the first to make the “right” move to building a healthy, sustainable eco-system?