President Cyril Ramaphosa needs an all-encompassing, easy to sell directive for public servants on his promised pilgrimage across what some dubbed troubled government departments. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA
President Cyril Ramaphosa needs an all-encompassing, easy to sell directive for public servants on his promised pilgrimage across what some dubbed troubled government departments. And whatever he sells must have a ripple and enduring effect across the public service post factum.

According to businessman Phil Crosby, “no one can remember more than three points”, a fact that speaks to the 20-minute rule for great public speaking on attention spans and keeping focus. We generally find it difficult to remember more than three points.

According to Alf Rehn, professor of management and himself a public speaker, “life is just too busy and too confusing to really focus on much more, so regardless of how many brilliant notions are thrown our way, we subconsciously try to pick out just a few, sometimes just one, to make sense of it all”.

This is particularly important since there can never be hopes of radical socio-economic transformation without a properly oiled and focused state apparatus.

It is not an easy ask. After all, we are talking about 35 different government departments which speaks to a variety of organisational cultures at differing rates of performance. While the presidential visits will focus on senior leadership, their usefulness can only be actualised if its messages reach the round about 500 000 staff members under the employ of national departments.

That’s a hint that a clever outreach and communications plan will be needed.

Aaron Buchko and Kathleen Buchko of Bradley University argue that “it is the presence of a common set of values that forms the basis for organisations” and that “values also establish a basis for action, as these create the norms of behaviour that are the basis of the organisation’s culture”.

Prevailing international consensus is that successful organisations have common, core organisational values as an important component which drives performance. Informed by this fact, General Electric’s former chief Jack Welch developed a simple, yet powerful tool termed a Performance-Values Matrix to direct the company’s ascent into an institution with a world-class and high performance culture.

Prolific author and expert on sport leadership Jeff Janssen describes this tool as a matrix which evaluated people along two critical dimensions.

One is performance which looks at “how well the person drives and achieves important results”. The other is values which evaluates “how well the person embodies and exemplifies the team’s core values”.

In short, for a meaningful Ramaphoria effect, the essence of the president’s conversation with senior managers across departments must be about the type of core values government must embrace.

On the one hand he will need to be persuasive by targeting individual and collective thoughts, feelings and consequent actions of public servants. Read that to mean a need for a clever communications and outreach effort.

On the other hand, there must be enforcement through the Performance Management and Development System government has been at pains to implement for years.

To quote Department of Public Service and Administration on failures to give effect to this system, “performance agreements are not developed, provision of performance feedback and cases where the outcome of the assessments does not adequately reflect the link between individual and organisational performance”.

While the tendency of departments and their accounting state institutions is to see each other as independent bodies, for the public it is one government that is succeeding or failing in its duty.

And it is this view of the public that the state serves, not of public servants, which must guide the president’s approach about values government should adopt.

Judging from media reports, the ruling party’s policy prescripts, court judgments and public sentiments, government is continuoually failing to demonstrate a sense of accountability and consequence in its dealings.

So, the deal with the present corrosion, while casting an eye into a hopeful future, the president must encourage all departments to adopt accountability and consequence as their core values.But these must not only be understood in negative terms. While requiring swift action against wrongdoers, it must equally recognise and celebrate commitment and positive efforts.

The third value to add is ubuntu. This will emphasise that fact that government champions African traditional value systems by the way it appreciates the interconnectedness of all beings and things.

Put differently, in every decision they make and action taken, public servants will be encouraged to appreciate the impact of such on others and their cosmos.

A glimpse at core values adopted by different departments talks to a mishmash of good intentions which might implicitly, but not explicitly, talk to the prevailing public mood about what government should be and strive to become.

For example, the Department of Public Enterprise lists seven values which are “Bold, Professional, Caring, Integrity, Fun, Passion and Batho Pele principles”. For the Department of Water and Sanitation it is “Transparency, Respect, Excellence and Everyone”

Judging by media reports, it can be safely concluded that there’s a disjuncture between these values and how the affected departments are experienced by the public.

What is needed is something short, yet comprehensive. Relevant to the present, but also futuristic in outlook.

Most importantly, it must be easy to remember and sell to its implementer, which are public servants and the public who are its intended beneficiaries.

And such core values are Accountability, Consequence and Ubuntu.