Go for impact

My favorite tweet this week was by Shakespeare, or an impostor, commenting on a new BBC series about the Trojan War. The bard was not a fan. “Cassandra gave me her review of #TroyFallOfACity a week ago. I should have listened.”

My second favourite social media post was from Brian Levy, a friend on Facebook and also in real life. He was worried by an editorial in Monday’s Business Day subheaded, online at least, “What Ramaphosa can get cracking on with urgency is reconfiguring and co-ordinating the government.” It bought out the Cassandra in him, and remember, Cassandra spoke the truth.

Levy, a veteran World Banker who now divides his time between the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice at the University of Cape Town, is author, most recently, of “Working with the Grain: Integrating Governance and Growth in Development Strategies”. He knows how governments function in settings such as SA, of which he remains a proud and engaged son.

“I am hugely wary of the swamp of “reconfiguring and co-ordinating government”,” he writes. “I led the World Bank’s Africa public sector team for five years. I know first hand that gains on this path come slowly at best — and all too often lead nowhere…It’s a recipe for inaction.”

Instead, Levy argues, the focus should be on a limited number of “high impact” initiatives, say four to six, that can yield tangible near-term results, “build positive momentum” and “deepen optimism”. Sorting out the mining charter would be be a good example and Levy is pleased that President Ramaphosa has it high on his agenda.

Don’t misunderstand, Levy is all for thinning out the bloated herd of ministers and deputies Zuma left in his baleful wake. Cull, he says, but don’t “get overly preoccupied with the micro-details of reorganising.” Playing with the deckchairs is super tempting for politicians who want to be seen doing something. But the temptation must be resisted by those, and Ramaphosa is clearly one of them, who want to get real stuff done. Government is messy at the best of times. Live with it, for now at least.

Says Levy:””Reconfiguring and co-ordinating” is a marvelous agenda for large teams of highly-paid consultants. It offers them an endless work stream — and when the process turns out to be slow and doesn’t show results, they then call for patience (and more contracts), arguing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

I can relate to that after my years with Brand SA, an organisation in a constant state of reinvention after its first CEO, Yvonne Johnson, was given the heave-ho by Essop Pahad for knowing what she was doing. Enter then the armies of consultants and facilitators with felt pens and white boards, the constant decamping to the Midrand conference centre archipelago, the orgies of organograms, matrices and flowcharts, and finally the complete triumph of process over action, process being what organisations use to convince themselves and those to whom they answer that they are making an actual contribution.

Talking of which, what is (italics is) Brand SA doing these days? They have blocked me on Twitter, I think for correcting their spelling, and I haven’t heard or seen mention of them in ages, unless you count the odd sighting of the logo. Is one of the Gupta brothers still on their board? If they are still around and Ramaphosa is in reconfiguring and co-ordinating mode, why not hand them back to the Government Communications and Information Service? Then turn over the reputation management and investment promotion side of things to credible third party endorsers and explainers in the private sector. They’d have more impact. Might be a lot more cost effective too.

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