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A message to those in the top job

May 10 2018 12:50
Marcia Klein
KNH Corporate affairs and communications manager S

(iStock) (Kelvin Wanjohi, News24 user)

It is 2018 and many South Africans are more enlightened than they were during the country’s blighted past.  

Yet many in corporate leadership positions remain oblivious, living in a blissful bubble created by their having too much money, too many yes men telling them they are right, and too little humility to think that any need for change applies to them.

Here are the 11 things that corporate leaders should know by now (but that many don’t):

It is not okay to be racist or sexist. And certainly not if you are a leader.

Don’t be like former Imperial CEO Mark Lamberti and call one of your employees an affirmative action appointment who is not worthy of advancement – not in the heat of the moment, and not behind their back.

If you are Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos, you may not say that women have a “bitch switch”.

Some employees have what it takes to advance and get more money or a better position and some do not.

Either way, it has nothing to do with their race or gender, unless, of course, it is part of a deliberate attempt to keep them “in their place”. If you don’t understand that yet, you should not be the CEO.

Your huge salary is for handling crises.

Steinhoff directors Johan van Zyl, Heather Sonn and Steve Booysen unashamedly attempted to reward themselves €100 000 to €200 000 each, and to give directors additional fees to attend meetings so they could deal with the disaster they oversaw and signed off on, and have the responsibility to fix. (Van Zyl has since resigned.)

MTN Group former executive chairman Phuthuma Nhleko did the same thing, getting R72.2m in pay and bonuses for negotiating the reduction of a fine slapped on his company by Nigerian regulators. 

Just because you are lucky enough to be in a position to get performance and share rewards when the company does well (and, let’s face it, this is not always of your doing), you are not entitled to make up other awards to keep bonuses flowing when things are going badly.

Your job is to make sure the company succeeds and, if it doesn’t, your job requires you to fix it. That is, supposedly, exactly why you are paid so much.  

You don’t deserve your multimillion-rand salary.

There are many people who work as hard as you do, with as much skill, experience and responsibility, who are earning a fraction of your salary.

The difference between them and you is opportunity, not your superiority.

In fact, your risks and responsibilities are probably lower than many. You have a team behind you that carries the responsibility, and few CEOs have historically borne the consequences of their company's misfortunes.

Your salary is set by your equally over-remunerated board and is not based on anything other than comparisons with all the other CEOs who are also earning too much.

Ask any CEO about their salary and they will tell you it is a board decision and has nothing to do with them.

If you cannot acknowledge that your salary is excessive and undeserved, you are out of touch with reality.

The excuse that you just can’t find the right black people or women to fill important posts just doesn’t wash anymore.

The fact that there are still only a handful of black and women CEOs of major companies and that most boards and executive teams are still predominantly white and male, means you have not made enough of an effort to attract and promote people from other backgrounds.

Just because you are comfortable with your old networks does not mean it consists of the only people with ability or potential.

And just because most of your lower-level workers make your diversity targets look okay, or that you have black or women executives in charge of human resources, transformation or communication, does not mean you have transformed the company.

Doing whatever it takes to meet revenue and profit targets, regardless of the ethics, is not okay.

Neither is it okay for companies such as KPMG, SAP, McKinsey and others to have any involvement in corruption or suspicious deals, contracts or practices.

It is also not okay to point fingers at government corruption or incompetence but apply different standards to the private sector or yourself.

Corrupt or unethical practices are unacceptable. If CEOs are involved in bad governance, dodgy accounting or crime to get the results they need, they can’t excuse themselves by claiming they’re merely great risk-takers who’re “pushing the envelope.”

They’re unethical or corrupt, and so are their companies.

The company is not your personal fiefdom, even if you are the CEO and a significant shareholder.

It is not okay to use company resources for your benefit. It is not okay to hire your partner, go on personal trips, be flown up to work every week from your beach house at the company’s expense or take family and friends out to dinner on your company credit card.

This behaviour has become widespread and brazen, reflecting the attitude that this kind of conduct is acceptable.

You earn enough. Spend your own money on yourself, just as your employees have to.
 
Your culture should not necessarily be the company culture.

Just because you believe in it or it is the latest recommendation of a management guru, your company may not be better off being ruled with an iron rod, excessive box-ticking and performance monitoring, constant team-building, endless meetings or impenetrable hierarchies.

Your employees need to work productively in a good environment, be treated with respect and have the opportunity for promotion.

They certainly don’t need to live in fear or be subjected to your own follies.

The minimum wage is just R20 an hour. You should be asking yourself why you are reluctant to pay this.

If you are being paid R5m a year, you are earning R417 000 a month. 

Employees earning the minimum wage can take home R3 500 a month – probably what you spend on your cellphone contract or on one or two good nights out.

Workers need to feed their families, educate their children and get transport to and from work. Do the maths.

Don’t turn a blind eye to the treatment and pay of outsourced cleaning and security staff just because your suppliers are in charge.

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba announced that the city will hire 1 400 former Jozi@Work and contract staff to ensure “fair remuneration and dignity is provided to these contract workers”.

These employees now have permanent jobs and earn R6 000 a month instead of the R2 200 they were being paid.

Companies can take a leaf out of his book. People who contribute to the smooth running and success of your business deserve a living wage.

Show more respect for employees’ private lives.

Although it is acceptable in some circumstances to expect employees to work overtime, on public holidays and on weekends, it is not acceptable to demand that they make these sacrifices without compensating them with time off or additional pay.

You need to invest just a little in people’s futures.

People have to start their careers at the bottom, but unpaid or low-paid internships mean that many students will be excluded from the opportunity unless their parents can continue to support them while they work. Help to give students just a tiny taste of the opportunities you have had.

This article originally appeared in the 10 May edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

business  |  management
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