A Dog won’t bite if it’s busy chewing

There are two containers situated on a piece of land in a place called Besters in the sprawling urban and peri-urban surrounds of Kwa Mashu in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. On reflection, there are countless more in these areas which double as workshops, cell phone outlets, storage facilities and roadside tuck shops, but these two seem to stand out from the others. They are painted blue, and they have a recently planted and healthily growing vegetable garden on the slope going down towards the road.

For many years up to sixty women and one man met here on Saturday afternoons. They still gather here, but there are a few more men, and there is a youth group now. The physical space has not changed too much for some time, but the possibilities which have emerged from these containers are so radically different to what they once were. There is still the sanguine singing which reverberates out of the tin tympani and across the Zululand valleys, but there is a bit more baritone and bass to the song and to the prayer.

They are here to save money.

Little by little their single South African Rands turn to boxes of washing powder and multiple birthday blankets. Educations have been paid for and houses have been renovated or even built, and if the name of their savings scheme ‘Lethu kuhle’ is anything to go by, then good things are indeed coming. Not just the men who are more often seen in the taverns, and the youth, but also the ideas, the support and the hope. Perhaps those three things – ideas, support and hope might be enough to build a community. For that is what greets here, meets here and eats here.

As we cram into the already packed containers to learn from their leadership, a young man with the fire of hope in his eyes calls out in an excited voice:

“Inja ayilumi uma isahlafuna”.

Had this been in 1879, and a couple of hundred miles North and inland, I might have thought I was about to receive a disemboweling at the hands of King Cetshwayo’s victorious Zulu army on the battlefields of Isandlwana. There was both power and passion in his voice, and a response from Gogo’s and Grandkids alike that they were in agreement and were ready to follow him into battle.

And they are in a battle. An economic battle for survival where they have learnt that their only weapon is themselves. Themselves and each other. Battles turn to wars, and wars demand war cries, and a call to arms. They are arming themselves no longer with political power, but with money and knowledge.

“A dog won’t bite if it’s busy chewing”

This rallying cry rocked me in its raw rurality.

The Fourteenth Century Father of English literature and writer of Olde English classics, Geoffrey Chaucer, had something to say about this in that “idle hands are the Devil’s tools”, and he probably interpreted this from the Bible’s Book of Proverbs 16:27, and the Turks have a wisdom that everyone is tempted by the Devil, but idle people tempt the Devil.

The Zulu version cut me to the core in the word ‘bite’.

When I am busy in my own life I don’t have time to bite. I have no interest to harm others when I engage in my own meaningful work. I don’t bite into the meaningless universe of remote controlled channels of repeated reruns (unless the Golf is on), and I don’t bite at my children out of boredom. When I am busy chewing, I don’t sit too long tippling at the tavern of travail and temptation or banging on the bar of boredom and blame. I get off the couch of slouch and I go for a stroll in the suburbs or a swim in the golden light off the sea. When I am detached I look for inspiration in a device, but when I am engaged, my inspiration is right across the table in the unasked light of my children’s own chewings.

What was the best thing that happened today? And the worst? And if I stop long enough to listen to the stories of the tennis or cricket, or water polo or dream dress, I stop biting at the blank spaces of an uncertain future, and I fill the present with presence. I enjoy the conversation even more than the meal, and I don’t rush off to the same looped CNN latest update.

I phone a friend in the traffic on the way home instead of biting at the next taxi driver, and I turn off the TV to read something far more meaningful.

When I am bored, I bite. The bite does not always show up as a violent temper tantrum, it could be far more painful and poisonous in dismissive disengagement or snide cynicism. What could be more damaging to a child’s view of the world than the negative reflection of someone they look to for guidance?

When our global level of employee engagement is dismally low and trending downwards, and the unemployment of our youth in South Africa hovers on the wrong side of half, something will bite. And it may bite at the coffee stations and water coolers in the passages of perceived politically correct politeness, or it may bite in the next rock thrown in a protest against poor service delivery. While it may look like life giving water from afar, the acid of anger will eat us from the inside, unless we have something else to get stuck into.

Interesting phrase that: “Get stuck in.” Perhaps it is the quickest way of becoming unstuck?

While the Youth at Besters are here to save money, as they do so, they also find meaning and purpose. They share stories of fear and excitement, of despair and hope. They have a community to eat with and there’s less time and reason to bite.

They save themselves in this way, and nothing is more dangerous than the venom of our own vindictiveness towards our very own selves.

Maybe I need to chew on that thought for a while myself?

Steve Hall

Engaged or Disengaged?

Recently Steve, one of our directors, asked a chief executive, “How many people work for you?”

“About 25%”, was his unexpected answer. But was he perhaps exaggerating?

In their most recent report on employee engagement, the Gallup Organization
identified three groups of employees.

There were those who they define as “engaged”.  They are committed to the
work that they are doing and to the team to which they belong.  They are
fully present.

The second category are those they define as “disengaged”.  They are neither
committed to the work that is required of them nor are they to the team.
They blame and complain, but they do come to work …. some days.

And the last group, which has only recently been identified, is described as
“actively disengaged”.

The percentages shown in their most recent survey in our area, described as
“sub-Saharan Africa” which surely includes South Africa, are very worrying

10% are “engaged”
57% are “disengaged”
33% are “actively disengaged”

Worldwide the percentages are as follows:
13% are “engaged”
63% are “disengaged”
24% are “actively disengaged”.

More concerning is the suggestion that “actively disengaged” might better be
described as “destructively engaged”.

For a number of years we have been measuring individual, team and
organizational energy, using our reliable eQ Energy Survey, and our results
reflect very much what the Gallup Polls suggest.

If you thought of asking yourself the same question: “How many people
actually work with me?” we could help you arrive at a fairly accurate
answer.  And then help you to improve it … quite radically.

Engaged and Disengaged employees

“ENGAGED” now has a new meaning beyond an engaged telephone or a young couple who have “plighted their troth” as Shakespeare wrote. It is now used more and more often in HR circles to describe an employee who likes what they do and who they do it for. An ENGAGED employee, because they are happy at work, delivers of their best there. Perhaps, surprisingly, it describes a minority of employees if credible surveys done all around the world are correct.

The majority of employees – up to 92% in some countries – are DISENGAGED.  They aren’t happy at work or their performance is mediocre.

Since there is growing evidence that ENGAGING the DISENGAGED significantly enhances the bottom line, a whole range of new and more sophisticated strategies have been evolved such as bonus schemes, retention plans and team builds.

ATTRACT, RETAIN AND REWARD is now a common HR mantra. The simple assumption that more money buys more employee happiness and, as a result, better bottom line, doesn’t seem to be working.

And the mantra, with all the investment it involves, is not working because for the overwhelming majority of people what blocks or discourages full ENGAGEMENT is not a money issue – it is a human energy issue. Unfortunately money cannot buy human energy on a sustainable basis.  It has to be earned. Leaders understand this, managers don’t.

Our company, “Learning to Lead” has over 20 years experience in defining human energy, and the impact it has upon human outcomes. We specialize in Human Energy Management to improve the effectiveness of the individual, as well as the team.

Aligning the individual to the groups objectives

Alignment is always such a one-way process in corporations. “You must all align with me” is such an outdated attitude to relationships.

It simply doesn’t work.

A husband who demands that his wife “align herself to his objectives” is courting a divorce, as would a wife. Parents who insist that teenage children “align themselves to the parents’ objectives” are also in for a surprise. So, too, are corporations.

The real challenge is to co-create objectives that accommodate all the wishes and dreams of all the stakeholders – not just those of the CEO, the shareholders, or customers – but all the stakeholders.  That way it truly becomes OUR vision and everyone can and does buy in and engages.

What could we do better if we all worked together in high energy high trust relationships?

Where could we get to if we pooled our resources, abandoned our power games, and worked together by each spiralling up the energy and effectiveness of the other?

What sort of a legend could we become if we used all the potential human energy we have within our team?

These are far more exciting options than merely trying to align the employees with the company’s objectives.

Does your company, or do you, co-create objectives to accommodate the wishes of all stakeholders?

Execution Excellence…and Energy

Managers are on a treadmill – a daily grind towards execution excellence. Driven by competition, internal and external, we get up earlier and work later; desperately seek skills and competencies; design systems and structures; invest in technology; build hierarchies and then try to flatten them; create, monitor and avoid controls; set budgets and targets with shorter and shorter review dates; clutter the day with meetings about what happened yesterday, constantly try to find blame for the past and predict the future; cut costs; cut payrolls and cut corners.

Managers are on a treadmill and it moves faster and faster.  They are lonely, live a divided life, and demand more compensation – in the form of bonuses, huge salaries and stock options – for the sacrifices they are making.  Danger money?

Yet the awful truth is that the organisations they are managing are standing still or even going backwards.  Execution never becomes excellent – it remains mediocre.  There seem to be very few exceptions.

More team builds, strategic planning sessions, more carrot and more stick.  More effort and most often no sustainable benefit.  More command, more control and less response.

Ernst & Young have just published bleak research findings amongst which is the observation that 66% of strategic decisions taken don’t get implemented.  A study in the United States amongst senior and top management showed that 69% didn’t know what their company’s vision, mission or objectives were…and didn’t care!  Franklin Covey has a process for measuring execution excellence and in most organisations they find it to be worryingly low.  Levels of stress, burnout, divorce, however, keep climbing.  A recent finding published in the United States suggested that almost a third of the population was clinically depressed.

Why?  Why?  Why?  Because we have lost our balance – personal and organisational.  Because we have forgotten that getting things done and finding the energy to do them are both essential.  We have to balance them.  We have forgotten that willing human energy gets things done far quicker, far better and far cheaper than power and punishment.  But you can’t buy it – leaders earn it.  It’s not that competence, structure, systems, budgets, bonuses, authority and order are wrong.  Far from it, they are essential and they all require management – lots of it.  But without willing human energy they are futile.

A modern racing yacht has all of these features – design, competence, structure, process and the captain has to have authority too.  But without wind it doesn’t move and any auxiliary motors it may have are not enough to feel its true potential.  To feel it “in the groove” only the lightest touch on the tiller is needed.

We can arrange to help you measure your organisation’s execution effectiveness. Your own assessment will challenge you.  Even more challenging will be the results from an internal energy survey, which we can help you do.

Then even more exciting is the energy journey when you see the prospect of a high energy team of high energy individuals on a sustainable basis – including yourself!  To a yachtsman it’s a steady 50-knot wind from the right quarter; to a glider pilot it is a powerful thermal.  To a human organisation it feels like magic.

Spiralling up energy is what excites us most – and what we do best.