What is it going to be?

People are expressing anger and frustration towards the government – and not without reason. Be that as it may, complaining, blaming, and shaming makes no difference. It will not do anything to stem the downward spiral of South Africa towards an economic collapse: doom, in unprecedented proportions.

Everyone has had enough, they are “gatvol” of speaking and hearing doom and gloom. South Africans need change, and it is time: people want change – businesses, politicians, and government alike – all want change. A common objective? Possibly a good starting point.

During John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country?” His speech inspired both children and adults; they understood the importance of their contributions towards making a great nation.

What Choice Do South Africans Have?

So, what should (or could) South Africans do? With backs against the wall, most believe we have little or no choice. However, as citizens, we can either choose to reverse the doom and gloom story and become part of an economic revival or sit back and do nothing: get sucked into the darkness.

By simple choice, South Africans have the power to make a difference. They can choose to become someone or no one. Everyone can participate in the creation of a great future for themselves and their families, and a new life for all in South Africa. Each person can choose to shine in their personal qualities and ability – to serve South Africa proudly in a united effort. By choice, employees (ordinary people) can save their companies from collapse, save their and their colleagues’ jobs, and even create new jobs. Each person’s contribution counts towards their employer’s revival and makes them a contributor towards an economic revival on a national scale. As each South African business improves their productivity, so they contribute to South Africa’s economic revival.

If your mind is racing ahead by now and asking how this could be possible – keep reading – all is explained below.

Given a vision and purpose, people will unleash their individual and collective potential (what is possible for them). This phenomenon can be demonstrated by way of two illustrations. The first illustration is one of contrast: our perceived doom and gloom pales to that of Japan’s following the Second World War. The people of Japan and world audiences looked on in horror at the remnants of what was Japan, in the wake of nuclear devastation to the land and its people. How did the Japanese react, and what did the people choose? What would you have done? They chose neither to lick their wounds, nor complain and blame America. Instead, they chose to unite and rise from the ashes of their wasteland with pride and purpose, to become one of the strongest economies in the world in the 1980s. The other illustration relates to leadership, and people wanting change: how this combination achieves outstanding productivity improvements. Please go to the heading “Japan, an Example of a Superhuman Achievement” below for more detail.

Why South Africans Have the Potential to Become Great

Three pillars of hope remain standing for us. First: we have a choice. Second: we can take heart from our good attributes such as determination, resilience, ubuntu, and a desire to be proud – to be recognised as a successful nation, to be unified in purpose, to have political stability, and to be a strong economic and global player. No South African wants to be directionless, with outstretched hands pleading for help. Third: as a united people, we have the power to encourage Government to course correct and to redirect them to join hands with us in creating a future that we all deserve.

South Africans may not have the Japanese work culture – a cohesive and coherent work ethic, along with unity, discipline, and respect for one another – but we can strive to learn it. And become it. We also have fierce determination with tons of creativity, and we are resourceful. In addition, we have the ubuntu philosophy to serve as a great springboard upon which we can develop. We can build on positives. We can develop a winning culture and become a great nation amongst nations. Let’s not chose a “loser” culture. People can choose to become part of greatness and change their circumstances by participating in economic company, business – and in a South African “turnaround and revival”.

Productivity levels in companies, government departments, state-owned enterprises, etc. can ramp up immediately, with good leadership that encourages their people to focus on improving their performance. Not by working harder, but by working smarter. An immediate improvement is achieved through the Hawthorne effect and further significant improvements can be achieved by getting back to basics. The gains in productivity improvements “by getting back to basics” are explained in two examples cited below, under “The Role of Leaders”.

Multiple revival and turnaround successes throughout history demonstrate what people with good leadership, who get back to basics, can achieve. It starts with leaders who show that they care and respect their people. This is when people rise and participate, striving to serve in excellence in every role (and every task they carry out within their role). They strive to become excellent performers; they become relentless in their quest for continuous improvement.

South Africans also possess this latent potential to achieve similar success stories. South African employees can improve their and their companies’ productivity, virtually overnight. Productivity improvements can occur in as little time as it takes for people to decide to change their attitudes. There is significant latent potential within people, wherever they work, to improve productivity. By choice, people can prevent their companies from closing and prevent further job losses. South Africans can achieve an economic revival faster than believed possible.

Let’s Stop Doing What Does Not Work and Change

Division and conflict from the past have gotten us to where we are today. To change requires a new focus: to achieve a common vision and goals – to make magic. It requires a commitment from all to work in unity, and to support and respect each other. If everyone adopts these qualities, there is nothing that will stop them. The companies they work for will continuously improve productivity, raising standards higher and higher, until they become great. This is what will make South Africa great – just as the Japanese made Japan great. Why not show the world what ubuntu can achieve?

Every person, no matter who or where they are, has the power to improve their productivity through progressive steps towards excellence: corporates, companies, businesses, entities, etc. Every leader can become a leader for change by facilitating the development of their people’s potential, thereby paving the way to achieve an excellent work ethic: like the Japanese. By making the right choice, we pave the way for South Africans to become great.

Winston Churchill saved the world from Hitler. His leadership galvanised the British people into determination and resilience, bringing hope and self-belief to them. His leadership qualities are many, exemplified by his famous quote: “… never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Learning from this we, too, will become excellent and successful: proud in everything we do and how we do it. It begins with our choice.

The point is: we have the potential. The opportunity to become great is waiting. Carpe diem – join hands and go for it.

Let’s take the enormous attributes we as South Africans have, and build upon them. We can make this our defining moment: it starts with choice.

The Role of Leaders

CEOs, business owners and the like: you can save your companies from failing, stem the loss of jobs, and help to make your company and the country great. Become a great leader.

The bad news: good leaders get out of their “ivory towers”. Show your people that you care and treat them with respect. These are non-negotiable ingredients for success.

This below example is used because it illustrates that – even with minimal capital expenditure – you and your people can achieve outstanding success by following a hands-on philosophy. There are many such success stories achieved by great leaders.

Dana, a $3 billion corporation, making unexotic products like brass propeller blades and gearboxes, under the leadership of Rene McPherson, primarily supporting the unexciting secondary market in the automobile and trucking industry, became one of the most impressive success stories in people and productivity.

Dana as a proposition in strategic management, would undoubtedly have been labelled as a loser. Yet in the 1970s, this Midwestern business became the number two Fortune 500 company in total return to investors.

By 1973, and without massive capital spending, Dana’s sales per employee had tripled, while in Dana’s industry segment, productivity had barely increased, a phenomenal productivity record for a huge business in an otherwise uninteresting industry.

McPherson’s philosophy reads, in the main:

People are the most important asset.

Nothing more effectively involves people, sustains credibility, or generates enthusiasm than face-to-face communication. It is critical to provide and discuss all organisation performance figures with our people.

We have an obligation to provide training and the opportunity for development to our productive people who want to improve their skills, expand their career opportunities or simply further their general education.

It is essential to provide job security for our people.

Create incentive programs that rely on ideas and suggestions, as well as on hard work, to establish a reward pool.

The Positives from COVID-19

COVID-19 has engendered a psyche for change: people of South Africa want a new beginning, they want hope, improved lifestyles, security, healthcare, success, pride – and the list goes on. The people of South Africa want change. There is a high level of desperation for change. People are seeking something to believe in, a vision that brings hope to their and their families’ futures. The change in people’s psyche drives their dreams, desires, and determination. This change in psyche is a powerful platform for real change to begin.

What Other Ingredients Are Required to Make South Africa Great?

Government must change course. Our history demonstrates that their – and other political parties’ – promises, strategies, and policies have failed. What logic is there when politicians persist with that which failed them in the past? It is time to start afresh: new strategies and policies that bring meaningful change, like those discussed under “The Role of the ‘Trio’ as the Converter Medium”, “The Role of the Private Sector”, and “A Shout to the President for Help”.

South Africans are done with lip service. It is time for politicians and Government to turn away from selfish agendas and demonstrate a new intent with meaningful action. Government has an amazing opportunity to course correct. It depends upon their choice.

We do have “people power” to encourage them with our positive contribution, so let us show them what results people can deliver. A preferred position is that Government make the simple choice and lead instead of being led.

Government should recognise the support they will get and what can be achieved in unity. We can rise and become a proud nation, just as the Japanese did. Show the world a miraculous revival – what South Africans can achieve. The alternative is to follow the trajectory we are currently on: becoming a wasteland. That’s where Japan started in 1947, after the nuclear devastation.

Historically, real change comes from leadership who demonstrate care for their people and engender self-belief; a leadership who gives their people hope through a vision and a road map of how to get there. The spirit of people in South Africa is ready and waiting for such a leader.

A leader with a great vision and intentions aligned to achieve the interests of the people they serve. A leader who is also desperate for change. A leader with the willingness, dedication, determination, and courage to make it happen. History is filled with examples of what great leaders have achieved.

The president has an awesome opportunity to make South Africa great. All he needs to do is allow the people to unleash their latent potential. With the current psyche and a road map, given direction and understanding, South Africans will rise: galvanised and determined in their quest to help the president create an amazing future for everyone.

Why not show us your road map, Sir? Outline how people can develop their attributes and lead us to become united in our quest to make South Africa great. Lead with the qualities and values that made Japan a great and successful nation.

The Role of the “Trio” As the Converter Medium

As the people of South Africa, we can and must encourage the trio (Private Sector, Government, and Organised Labour) to put their differences aside and work towards a common vision with a common purpose. The latent potential of our people is waiting to be unleashed and flourish with great magnitude and momentum. The trio can serve as the “converter medium”: nurturing this latent potential into its full-blown potential by providing the micro and macro road maps needed for economic revival.

The Role of the Private Sector

Every employer should implement a believable, transparent vision, accompanied by a carefully planned road map explaining methods, outcome, and benefits that are understood with common objectives: securing jobs, raising living standards for all (participation), and becoming role models as top performers. In a short space of time, a united effort by the people will inject new energy, bringing with it cost reduction, productivity improvements, and revenue growth.

Immediate performance-improvement strategies, methods, and systems become essential for sustaining and then ramping up productivity improvements gained from the initial productivity “ramp-up” effects of Hawthorne and “back to basics of management” mentioned. Pathways for people development that differ from the conventional are essential, as people have lost confidence in methods companies have used in the past. Introducing anything that has not worked in the past will achieve the opposite of the Hawthorne effect. Current circumstances dictate the need for change. The business must focus on task execution excellence: absolute detail that focuses on continuous improvement in specific roles and the tasks specific to those roles, and then develop digital training available at the workplace.

As is evident, an entirely new approach, systems, methods, and technology is required. So, before you throw your hands up thinking “This is impossible!”, take heart. Don’t be a naysayer. Here is the good news: it is possible, and can be accomplished and implemented fast, with great effect. Methods, know-how, and the technology explained make it possible. A separate publication on this and more to follow.

When people choose to improve their performance (focused towards achieving task execution excellence), chances of survival for the employees and their employer take a giant step forward.

If the unions are serious about helping their members, they should support the company and their members by encouraging execution excellence in everything they do. The powerful digital technological advancements mentioned also transcend barriers which previously prevented people development. These technologies accelerate people development in execution excellence in less time than conventional methods do. The technologies and systems streamline and automate processes, thereby making implementation effective, fast, and simple: providing management with the digital tools required to track and manage continuous development in a micro-focus approach, adopted in the development of their people.

These innovations serve as the “elixir” managers need to unleash the potential of their people, to take their peoples’ performance to higher and higher levels, towards achieving excellence – essential to achieve their ultimate vision.

The Technology “Elixir” Making it That Much Easier and Possible

Technology developed specifically for continuous improvement towards execution excellence must be implemented within the workplace. It is the “elixir” that will grow people in excellence in their specific and important tasks within their roles. The technology methods and know-how will further ramp up people’s productivity, effectively building on the improvements already gained from “getting back to basics” and the Hawthorne effect. It is essential to keep the momentum of performance growing, following initial productivity improvements, to prevent stagnation and regression of performance. It serves as the transition medium, from South Africa’s traditional work culture and ethic, to that of continuous improvement towards high performance and excellence.

By Choice, Everyone Can Contribute Towards a Great Future

  • Show the world that despite what they say, as South Africans “we can do it”. With a vision and renewed purpose, we can become proud citizens of a flourishing and thriving economic South Africa. A leading player in the global arena. A South Africa where all can stand proud with dignity and purpose.
  • Have an understanding that there is a bright future for everyone. A future that is made possible when everyone participates in unity, striving as a collective to achieve the end goal of the vision.
  • Show a united effort, setting aside all differences, while striving for excellence in every task and role which they execute in every area of their lives – be it in business, Government, or public, or with friends and family – no matter where. Become a nation of excellence in everything we do. (This means that people work smarter, not harder!)
  • Every business, corporation, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) can collectively introduce and implement a new Japanese-style work ethic into every activity performed by individual people.
  • Organised Labour should join hands and encourage their members to become excellent in their task execution.
  • Business and Government should introduce the means to facilitate the development of execution excellence in every business, corporation, NGO, etc. Progressively help people to become more effective, efficient, and productive in their roles, and in every task within those roles.

A Shout to the President for Help

Mr. President, we need you. The narrative speaks to our reasons. Help South Africans achieve the impossible. With your help: solving the essential requirements listed below, together, we, the people, and you and your team, can make South Africa great.

  • Give us a believable vision and purpose that the people of South Africa want to get behind and become part of. Encourage and foster your parliament and the greater government structures, including municipalities, to focus on matters that count: lead everyone towards excellence. Focus on achieving a Japanese-type culture in work ethic – integrity and respect – in the quest to support the people of South Africa in accomplishing their vision. Demonstrate intent by delivering results that contribute towards the vision. Encourage members of Government to refocus and to become excellent in their every task. Be proud in the excellence of the services they provide, just as businesses will be.
  • Reflect upon what was done in the past, for it has not worked. We appeal to you: bring change to your government’s purpose and focus; withdraw damaging, pointless policies, become serious about eliminating corruption and selfish political rallying for power preservation (the primary cause of indecision), put aside differences, and work with the private sector towards a common vision.
  • Leave the unimportant and focus on your primary purpose: establishing the foundation the private sector needs to release their true potential. Focus on creating and providing the playing field needed for all to succeed. Bring life and value into infrastructures by allowing low-cost power producers to rescue the economy from the damning high cost of electricity; reduce transport costs by empowering the railways with efficient collection and distribution centres and infrastructure; change a poor education system to one that adds value to the learners so that their value can be realised into the economy; restore healthcare; and restore criminal and judicial systems. The list is endless, but these must be top of your agenda.
  • Demonstrate to the country that you and your “team” can deliver on these. This is what we, the people of South Africa, pay you and your team to do. It is, after all, your job.
  • We are moving into a new order post COVID-19. Guide Organised Labour: they have served their purpose in the old order, but it is time to change their role. It is time for Organised Labour to serve a new purpose in the new order: become part of what makes South Africa great by becoming team players (free of politics, differences, separate agendas, etc). Lead Organised Labour to play a meaningful role in the development of the South African “team” by fostering the development of their members. Inform their members of what great can be: encourage them to work with the private sector and Government towards a common vision. Cooperation from Government and Organised Labour are essential ingredients to achieve the vision.
  • By implementing the above, you will position South Africa as a preferred investment destination. The world will open their arms and support South Africa. Just imagine how many jobs this will create and lives it will change.
  • Please rethink your policy on state-owned enterprises (SOEs): it would be wise to release them to the private sector. Free up desperately needed revenue to finance the above. Let history not repeat itself: Government has failed in managing these enterprises. People in Government have their special skills, but these are proven to be unsuccessful in managing SOEs. Persistent attempts to turn failed state enterprises around have decimated financial reserves. The loss by this persistence is why the poor suffer, education is neglected, and healthcare has fallen into disarray, along with the collapse of most supporting infrastructures mentioned.
  • People are starving and dying. They have lost loved ones. The tragedy is: this could have been prevented. Financial losses resulting from unsuccessful rescue attempts to turn SOEs around have accumulated to staggering amounts, which could have provided jobs; unemployment would be minimal by comparison to current times. These funds could have been put to better use, preventing the collapsed infrastructure that is now desperately needed to save lives.
  • The rescue plan for South African Airways (SAA) failed when aviation experts and professional consultants were appointed to turn SAA around as a going concern. They Save the loss of desperately needed state revenue from another failed attempt. Taxpayers are at the threshold; they could use tax relief for essential needs: to improve productivity and drive economic growth. Authorising practitioners who are unqualified in the field of aviation is beyond incomprehensible. People believe that this just another motive: a scheme to syphon off taxpayers’ money into some dark hole. We know this is not what you approve of.
  • You are the team manager, Mr President. We are in your team. Focus on managing your team. Take up this challenge and utilise the potential latent in all team members: the private sector, opposition parties, and Organised Labour. Lead us to victory. Join hands with the private sector in these desperate times, provide the game plan and strategies for win, win, win, outcomes. Encourage and form part of the people’s vision.
  • Be a contributor to economic growth. Stop those who are selfish-minded, who have ulterior motives to syphon more taxpayers’ money, thereby shrinking our economy further.
  • Stop inefficiencies, bad policies, and corrupt and wasteful expenditure. Lead the revival campaign; get your team to play their part in job creation, instead of being destroyers of jobs.
  • Give everyone (national and international) reason to believe in South Africa (lip service has lost its disguise, rather produce meaningful action). Establish belief in the government and our new future.
  • President, the above narrative is possible through choice: a change in mindset and purpose. The point is: politicians can choose – as can the people – to change their future, by changing their intentions and their attitudes, and by becoming serious about their futures. People and politicians can choose to set aside their pointless rallying for power. To what end is such rallying, anyway? To become a wasteland. By choice, people can become determined – they can become contributors to a great economic revival, rather than be the cause of damage and loss. They can choose to be focused and unleash their potential, to raise their work ethic, set differences aside, work in unity, focus on working towards common goals, and benefit through good intentions for all.
  • President, Rassie Erasmus’s Rugby World Cup success story demonstrated the importance of good leadership. You, Sir, can accelerate the revival process with good team management. Cheer us on and encourage unity, let us all strive for continuous performance improvement, and lead the country towards becoming a winning nation.

The Choice Is Obvious

Government’s prize for making the right choice: an economic revival of unprecedented proportions in the “new world order” – jobs for all; new opportunities for the youth to grow and excel; a better lifestyle for all; and high standards of education, healthcare, security, and justice. Unity and not division. A rainbow nation that everyone is enormously proud to be part of. Equal opportunity for all, and no preferential bias against colour and agenda. A South Africa that looks to an amazing future, leaving behind past legacies, and works as a homogeneous rainbow nation.

And finally, Mr President, our plea: please don’t sell us out to the Chinese.

On behalf all South Africans who care and want change.

Japan: An Example of a Superhuman Achievement

People potential is illustrated by Japanese superhuman accomplishments following nuclear devastation during the Second World War. Japan overcame unimaginable challenges, demonstrating that nothing is impossible. After the nuclear bombing by the USA, Japan was left with a veritable wasteland: a decimated population traumatised by the bombing, dire financial circumstances, devastated infrastructure, and land only sufficient for agriculture. Their land is 26 times smaller than the USA and 1.3 times smaller than Spain; they have no mineral resources.

The people of Japan rose from their state of destitution, to become a global leading economic superpower by the 1980s. Japan began the race with a severe handicap of economic devastation, while their competitors had infrastructure and were economically established. Their achievement is astounding, considering that they competed for market share and growth against superpowers like the USA, Russia, and Europe.

Japan could have adopted a spirit and attitude of complaining and blaming, but instead, they turned their focus and energies towards their future. All they had was a vision, unified purpose, and determination – which was underpinned by a culture of discipline and respect, and a cohesive and coherent work ethic.

Japanese work ethic and culture is one in which every person strives for precision and perfection: task execution excellence in everything they do. Their culture revolves around precision; everything is done with a passion for perfection. They take pride in the precision of minute detail, not even stopping short at rituals when preparing a cup of tea. Their work ethic and standards of organisation are outstanding, and this culture was beautifully showcased during the Soccer World Cup of 2019.


To the people of South Africa: make the right choice and join us in making this vision become a reality. In unity, we can “make it happen”.

What can you do?

  • Start now – support it by registering.
  • You can join the Excellence Club. Click here for your certificate.
  • You can become excellent – focus on doing everything better and better, until you achieve excellence – in everything you do!
  • Challenge your friends, family, children, colleagues, teachers, bosses, leaders, etc.
  • Challenge Government, and everyone in Government, to become excellent in what they do.
  • Spread the vision.
  • Add to the vision that will contribute to economic growth. No complaints!


Courtesy Robert H. Waterman and Tom Peters

Example 1

RMI 80% productivity gain “with hardly a penny spent in investment”.

A subsidiary of U.S. Steel and National Distillers is an integrated producer of titanium products. For years, its performance was substandard. Poor productivity, poor profits. But in the last five years RMI has had a remarkable success, owing almost entirely to its adoption of an intensely people-oriented productivity program.

The program started when “Big Jim” Daniell, a former professional football player, ex-captain of the Cleveland Browns, was made chief executive. The program he installed was described by The Wall Street Journal as “pure corn — a mixture of schmaltzy sloganeering, communication, and a smile at every turn.” His plants are peppered with notices that say: “If you see a man without a smile, give him one of yours,” or: “People rarely succeed at anything unless they enjoy it.” All are signed “Big Jim.” The story does not get much more complicated than that.

The company’s logo is a smile-face, which is on the stationery, on the front of the factory, on signs in the factory, and on the workers’ hardhats. RMI’s headquarters is in Niles, Ohio, which everyone now calls “Smiles, Ohio.” Big Jim spends much of his time riding around the factory in a golf cart, waving and joking with his workers, listening to them, and calling them all by their first name — all 2,000 of them.

Moreover, he spends a lot of time with his union. The local union president paid him the following compliment: “He calls us into his meetings and lets us know what’s going on, which is unheard of in other industries.” What’s the result of it all? Well, in the last three years, with hardly a penny of investment spending, he’s managed an almost 80 per cent productivity gain. And at last report, his average backlog of union grievances had declined from about 300 to about 20. Big Jim, say those of his customers that we’ve come across (e.g., at Northrop), simply exudes care about his customers and his people.

Example 2

Dana, a $3 billion corporation, making unexotic products like brass propeller blades and gearboxes, under the leadership of Rene McPherson, primarily supporting the unexciting secondary market in the automobile and trucking industry, became one of the most impressive success stories in people and productivity.

Dana as a proposition in strategic management, would undoubtedly have been labelled as a loser. Yet in the 1970s, this old-fashioned midwestern business became the number two Fortune 500 company in total return to investors. In the early 1970s, the sales per employee at Data were the same as the all-industry average. By the late 1970s, and without massive capital spending, Dana’s sales per employee had tripled while the all-industry average had not even doubled, (in Dana’s industry segment, productivity had barely increased), a phenomenal productivity record for a huge business in an otherwise uninteresting industry.

Furthermore, Dana is largely unionized, with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in most of its plants. But during the same decade, its grievance rate fell to a tiny fraction of the overall UAW average. The key ingredient is productivity through people, pure and simple.

When McPherson took over in 1973, one of his first acts was to destroy 22½ inches of policy manuals and substitute a simple one-page statement of philosophy. It reads in the main:

Nothing more effectively involves people, sustains creditability, or generates enthusiasm than face-to-face communication. It is critical to provide and discuss all organization performance figures with our people.

We have an obligation to provide training and the opportunity for development to our productive people who want to improve their skills, expand their career opportunities or simply further their general education.

It is essential to provide job security for our people.

Create incentive programs that rely on ideas and suggestions, as well as on hard work, to establish a reward pool. Says McPherson: “The philosophy comes first. Almost every executive agrees that people are the most important asset.”

Their success led McPherson to say, in a statement that “I am opposed to the idea that less government, fewer regulations, capital formation incentives, and renewed research in development activity are what we need most to improve productivity.

My suggestion: let our people get the job done.” At Dana, philosophy does come first; but then it’s largely a matter of a voluntary diffusion of ideas. Everyone is responsible for ensuring that productivity increases take place. McPherson suggests the appropriate starting point: “Personal productivity of the top managers is a vital symbol.” But nobody is told how to do it. If there is a how, it is a simple belief in the inherent will toward efficiency of the man down at the bottom of the organization.

McPherson points out: Until we believe that the expert in any particular job is most often the person performing it, we shall forever limit the potential of that person, in terms of both his own contributions to the organization and his own personal development.

Consider a manufacturing setting: within their 25-square-foot area, nobody knows more about how to operate a machine, maximize its output, improve its quality, optimize the material flow and keep it operating efficiently than do the machine operators, material handlers, and maintenance people responsible for it. Nobody. He adds: “We didn’t waste time with foolishness. We did not have procedures; we did not have lots of staff people. We let everybody do their job based on what they need, what they say they will do, and what their results are. And we gave them enough time to do it…. We had better start admitting that the most important people in an organization are those who provide a service or make and add value to products, not those who administer the activity…. That is, when I am in your 25 square feet of space, I had better listen to you!” McPherson’s focus is always the same. In casual conversation or formal presentation, he never wavers from his emphasis on people.

As one of his former associates at Dana said, “I never heard him make a statement that didn’t say something about people.” McPherson says, “Look at the pictures in the annual reports. Don’t worry about the chairman; he always gets his name under the picture — and it’s spelled right, too. Look for pictures of people [down-the-line workers]. How many of them are identified by name?” Like HP (Hewlett Packard), Dana did away with time clocks. “Everybody complained,” McPherson says. “‘What do we do without time clocks?’ I said, ‘How do you manage any ten people? If you see them come in late regularly, you talk to them. Why do you need time clocks to know if the people who work for you are coming in late?’” He also reinforces the focus on starting from positive assumptions about people’s behaviour as he elaborates on the story: “My staff said, ‘You can’t get rid of the time clocks. The government requires a record of every person’s attendance and time worked.’ I said. ‘Fine. As of now, everyone comes to work on time and leaves on time. That is what the record will say. Where there are big individual exceptions, we will deal with them on a case-by-case basis.’”

McPherson is a bug on face-to-face communication and on discussing all the results with all people. He required that there be a monthly face-to-face meeting between division management and every member of the division to discuss directly and specifically all detailed corporate individual results. (We see that time and again in the excellent companies. They are obsessed about widely sharing information and preventing secrecy. They willingly trade any marginal loss of competitive information for the added commitment.) McPherson even stressed face-to-face contact in institutional advertisements. He put up ads that, as he says, “made my middle managers very nervous at first.” One said: “Talk Back to the Boss,” another: “Ask Dumb Questions.”

McPherson deplores management’s unwillingness to listen: “I wanted a picture, for a slide presentation, of a worker talking to his foreman. We had fourteen thousand photos in the file, but not one of a supervisor listening to a worker.” McPherson spent 40 to 50 per cent of his time on the stump, carrying the message directly to his people. He insisted on what he called “Town Meetings,” with everybody in attendance. “Look at these pictures,” he adds, pushing the stack over to us. “They are from the meetings. Always machine operators, never managers asking questions. You know why? Managers won’t ask questions. They’re scared.”

Another McPherson obsession is training, continuous self-improvement.

McPherson says: The major pressure at Dana – and it is a very real one, as in most of our other excellent companies – is peer pressure. McPherson encouraged the process because he believes that peer pressure is what makes it all go. He says, “You can always fool the boss. I did. But you cannot hide from your peers. They know what’s really going on.” And, of course, there is free and open communication, bordering on a free for all, during Hell Week. He ran ads that supported this one, too: “We put them through hell.” McPherson’s philosophy on job security has been tested severely during the recent hard times in the American auto industry. Much as the company would have liked to avoid it, it had to lay people off. On the other hand, even those actions were accompanied by continued intense communications. Everyone was told what was going on – as it happened. Says McPherson of the practical results.

The McPherson philosophy comes down to the value of everyone is contributing ideas, not just keeping up the pace on the line. “The way you stay fresh,” stresses McPherson, “is you never stop travelling, you never stop listening. You never stop asking people what they think.” Contrast that with the following comment from a General Motors worker, recently laid off after sixteen years in the Pontiac division: “I guess I got laid off because I make poor-quality cars. But in sixteen years, not once was I ever asked for a suggestion as to how to do my job better. Not once.”

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