SHAREHOLDERS in companies have many ways to be heard.
From demanding an audience with the bosses to interpreting annual reports from the comfort of their mahogany dining room tables, the odds are stacked in their favour to keep a close tab on the way things are run with their money.
If, after proper consulting, voting and negotiating they feel their voices are not adequately heard, they are faced with all sorts of options on what to do with their shares, and how to find a cause that can benefit more from their involvement.
But giving up is not an easy decision. Money and time invested over a period seem to grow a certain affinity – and shareholders, as they should, try to find every way of making sure all their avenues have been exhausted before breaking open the piggy bank and blowing the end whistle.
As a citizen I am slowly finding my feet in the web of choices I have in how the "company" I have invested roots and rands in is being run.
The lessons from Mamphela Ramphele’s book, Conversations with my Sons and Daughters, are not designed to be subtle.
She alerted me to the way we’ve been thinking about ourselves, and the place we allocate to soft voices when loud - and seemingly dangerous ones - loom large around us.
Reading the book, you are reminded how we operate as "subjects" and with a mindset that "those in authority know best, they will tell us what to do, they will decide when this or that happens".
In her conversations, she urges her sons and daughters to become effective shareholders of South Africa Inc, starting with understanding what it means to be a shareholder.
I have been thinking about my role as shareholder in South Africa Inc. I too enjoy the benefits of its dividends; from striding across its vast spaces to satisfy my curiosity, to digging my toes deeper into her sandy beaches, to living healthily off the fruits of her plate.
And also to speak with a hope that my voice adds value to the conversation, and not just be seen as a high-pitched hysterical soloist in a choir already filled with sopranos.
As a modern citizen connected by a near infinite range of communication options, offering manifold sources of wisdom and restless opinions, it is hard to keep my ear tuned to my inner voice.
For me the danger is not the collection of believers with the strongest message, but the lack of patience in letting the small voice be heard.
And not just hearing because it is “cute" to do so, but acknowledging that their meditations on matters have simmered through the boiling pot's spirited cooking.
Companies have evolved over years to hear the "small voice". They use measures like internal surveys that measure culture in teams, to structured performance discussions which (when done properly) offer airtime to everyone to link their own roles to what the bigger picture is aiming for.
The quiet individual within a team who respectfully thinks about the brand they represent, or the role they play in making things better based on an understanding of their own strength, is rewarded with opportunities and incentives.
This may not score them the throne at the canteen buffet with the ones that entertain the masses, yet their voices are captured somewhere in a structured system that understands the collective voice is stronger than the loudest individual.
I know it does not work like that in every company. But the ones who are proving to have a meaningful existence in a modern economy have figured out how to listen to themselves.
Countries may do well to invest in the same.
The blurring line of state, party, business, citizens and their views on the economy is headlining again. May the small voices surface in a way that brings calm to issues we think are so cut and dried.
*Adriaan follows big and small voices on Twitter as @aiBester as he hopes for some reason to help us find the answers. Opinions expressed are his own.
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