Part 4: SA business – not for the faint-hearted

by | Sep 6, 2018 | Blog, News, NEWS2USE

The scars of apartheid and the on-going revelations of state and corporate corruption demand extraordinary measures to restore trust.

The World Economic Forum (2016) showed South Africa ranked 49th in global competitiveness. This goes hand in hand with productivity and must be directly correlated to employee engagement. How can business leadership rebuild the trust in its workforce in the face of apparent pervasive cynicism?

Business leadership in South Africa has never been for the faint-hearted. In previous postings we identified the VUCA conditions, namely; volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity as being ‘par for the course’ in the business environment. Yet even more is now demanded of business leadership to ensure they are able to flourish in South Africa.








Informed observers have identified Brazil and South Africa as the two countries who represent the most complex and challenged societies in the world. At the heart of this complexity we find five essential features:

  • Both countries share colonial histories in which the so-called ‘Western worldview’ was imposed on indigenous populations.
  • Both countries were populated by European settlers who established a permanent foothold and assumed and maintained a dominant political and economic position.
  • Both countries consist of a diverse demographic mix of cultures, ethnicities, religions, and languages.
  • Both countries currently experience huge income inequalities, as measured in the Gini coefficient, between the highest and lowest earners.
  • Both countries experience high levels of corruption and the accompanying low- quality levels of service delivery.


Notwithstanding these challenges both countries are considered to represent enormous untapped economic potential. This is both in respect of natural and human resources which, if unlocked, ought to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for all their citizens.

The problem with such complex histories, and the accompanying challenging factor of inequality, is one of the pervasive public perception of inherent injustice. It makes little difference whether that perception is indeed justified; it remains open to exploitation and is typically further fueled by political opportunism. This is especially true in South Africa today, as demonstrated in the hot current issue of land expropriation without compensation. This is certainly not the place to go into the merits, or otherwise, of that controversial issue. It is rather an opportunity to acquire some deeper insights into how such perceptions play out in the workplace through the mindset of the workforce.

We have singled out the factor of active disengagement and examined the emotional experience of frustration that can further fuel this worrying phenomenon. Sadly, whilst a distorted perception is easily exploited for short-term political gain, it might equally easily precipitate severe economic and social disruption.

Let’s face it, the legacy of apartheid, with its inherent economic injustice, cannot simply be eradicated overnight in a context where, economically, the majority of the population still appears to be severely disadvantaged. Nor can that legacy be eradicated when state and private sector corruption has become part of the daily narrative. At issue here therefore is a deep sense of distrust, even one of cynicism. Click here to listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing this complex topic.

The question we will address going forward is the crucial one of how business leadership can actively rebuild the trust of its workforce. And here we will examine three potential kick-off strategies:

  • Making a tangible investment in employee wellbeing – not only from an altruistic perspective, but in the long-term interest of the corporation.
  • The inculcation of ‘meaning’ into the workplace – empowering employees with a sense of purpose that enables them to appreciate the role they play in the company success and also to get an idea of the value they bring to society.
  • Consistency in management, walking the talk, with communication based on transparency, accountability, and a policy of clearly demonstrating its social commitment.

Next month’s theme will be about the economic evaluation of such an investment in employee wellbeing (ROI), and the longer-term value-generation (VOI).


Email: Skype: claudiuspvwyk

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