HomeOpinion & AnalysisRe-imagining the workplace: Of kingdoms of survival in the workplace

Re-imagining the workplace: Of kingdoms of survival in the workplace

Last week we explored the interesting subject of fiefdoms which is an unofficial term used to refer to the usurpation of power in a subtle manner by members of a company or any group who don’t have official or formal power or authority. We looked at how this can become a big problem for a careless organisation and might affect people relationships and productivity because of interfering with the super-objective of the entity affected. While fiefdoms are subtle and very difficult to pin down and address, some organisations must content with a much direct vice in management and leadership that we will explore today, and call “kingdoms” for our purposes. We established last week that the human resource comes with all sorts of experiences to the workplace. Experiences that are both good and bad. Some come with excitement, ambition, and a deep desire to grow, some with green naivety, some with an insatiable quest for power and control, while some come with wounds of having been harassed by power and even been disenfranchised to the extent that they either live in fear and so underperform or have a siege mentality and are deeply afraid that what happened to them might happen again if they are not careful and so they decide to position themselves in such a manner that power is either in their hands or at least that they are on the side of power.

The workplace then, with all these characters and the different experiences they bring is a dismal swamp any serious CEO wants to understand and “heal” and transform for productivity. Perhaps Zimbabwe, just like most African countries, needs the appetite for research in the corporate world to grow so that we have serious researchers coming in to investigate the meaning of this and the implications all these variables have on productivity above all, and the welfare and wellbeing of the human resource. It is fascinating for any people orientated management enthusiast to read such research reports as that of Daniel Coyle in the form of the book; The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Effective Groups. Daniel Coyle is the award-winning, NY Times-bestselling author of several books on leadership and performance, including The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent. This kind of interest in the workplace, in groups and communities should become a must for any leader who means business and wants to leave a mark in the workplace for themselves, their people and posterity.

In The Culture Code, Coyle explores the human resource as an intricate and complicated resource that does not even understand itself and so operates largely from a position of “survival” and auto-pilot reactions to actions and the energy around it. You get the sense as you read the book that we have a lot of work to do in the workplace and that self-awareness should become a big subject for everyone in the workplace and of course beyond, because of the disastrous interactions the human resource is exposed to with lack of knowledge. It is my belief that The Culture Code, and of course many other books and works that have been done by researchers and scholars of note should become a must read for leaders. Someone should create a non-academic curriculum for the leader in Africa because it is not enough to hold an academic diploma or degree to lead people for productivity. School is good but something more experiential and transformative is needed here because a lot of damage is happening in many circles for not investing enough in knowing scientifically.

With this kind of surface knowledge that people have the difficult terrain of the workplace to navigate, it is understandable that in their quest for survival, they do all sorts of despicable things for themselves and to each other to survive and take material care of themselves and their families. This is not to say it is justifiable that we have a survival of the fittest ethos in most organisations that include religious ones where God is expected to be found. Even there you will find human beings at each other’s throats, baying for each other’s blood. It is not desirable even if it were understandable that we have such a status quo in the workplace. What is disheartening and worrying is the fact that these challenges have become the order of the day to the extent that you look funny when you say that there is something wrong and something needs to be done. Why would anyone listen to you when you find beautiful pictures at reception with high sounding visions about how customers are at the centre of what the organisations do? It is when you ask who their customers are and they mention everyone except their own internal customer, the employee that you realise that there is a big problem here. You will not be surprised when you do a behaviour audit to learn that there are a lot of people related challenges that affect productivity and growth. You learn that that same company that prides itself in big visions about customers must content with disciplinary hearings, absenteeism, dodgy sick leave, undesirable staff turnover, and some such vices and you will know if you have some learning in that area that these are symptoms of a bigger cultural problem and just a tip of the iceberg. You would know also that productivity is suffering, unbeknown to the shareholder.

It is understandable even if it is not desirable that without a clear vision and processes of people management and guidance with a clear understanding of culture and its implications on productivity, people will find ways to survive and one of those ways, if they have a semblance of power is to grow it and use it for their safety. They are afraid and feeling unsafe and if leadership does nothing about making the space safe, human beings will create their own survival safety even if it means doing so at the expense of the company and others. Those who honour the different ‘kingdoms’ in the workplace that come with power will also feel safe and continue to survive. What becomes unsafe is the company and its objectives. The collective desires are also distorted because of jostling for power, resources, and influences. Some go to the extent of investing in negative psychology and making sure that they really hold power and do so with some science. A story is told, for example, of a religious organisation leader whose leadership philosophy was based on the controversial book; The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene who also wrote; The Art of Seduction. How such a book found its way to the man of God’s book shelve and leadership philosophy, no one knows. Needless to say, that the culture of that religious organization was a total disaster with other ‘kingdom’ within proving the adage that ‘the culture of an organisation is the character of its leader, correct.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a South African organization as a learning & development specialist, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on bhekilizweb.bn@gmail.com

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

NewsDay Zimbabwe will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.