Thursday 9 April 2009


“Ownership” is one of those enormously over-used, misunderstood and largely idiotic management words. Whether it’s spouted by highly-expensive consultants, people who’ve read too many customer service and management books or just the simple-minded it doesn’t matter. Everywhere you go you hear managers woffling on about taking ownership of problems, taking ownership of customer needs or some equally meaningless rubbish.

It’s all total nonsense because nobody knows what it actually means. For them it’s just a word they stole from one of the pointless books or probably more likely from some other consultant’s presentation they attended.

It doesn’t mean taking a bit of care, it doesn’t meaning pretending to sound as if you’re interested, it most certainly doesn’t mean having a set of customer service standards that everyone ignores. Yes, of course everyone ignores them. I think we all know that when an organisation publishes customer service standards, they usually do so because one of those enormously expensive travelling customer service “gurus” has told them to do so. One of the gurus like John Tschohl who graced Botswana with his presence recently and who, during his presentation, repeatedly referred to this country as “Tanzania”. At least he could pronounce it, we know from his web site that he can’t spell “Botswana”.

But you have to ask yourself why organisations publish these standards. Why do they spend lots of money publishing them for us to see? I think it’s probably because they have failed themselves to get their staff to work properly so they are relying on you and me to do it for them. It’s a way of saying to their staff “Look, we know we’re pathetic managers, too scared to discipline anyone for being useless, so we’re going to hand over responsibility for your performance management to the public.”

It’s a smoke screen. Like so many performance management tools and techniques it’s just a way of covering up the fact that the managers are bad at their jobs. It’s a way of using impressive language to hide their failure to hire the right people, motivate them, develop their skills and, when necessary, fire the useless ones.

I think that what we want to see is action rather than words. We want to see organisations that don’t fool around publishing standards they don’t really care about. I would rather work with an organisation that just did it right in the first place, one that didn’t feel the need to publish the standards they are almost certainly going to fail to meet.

What we want is companies, restaurants, banks, cellphone service providers that just make things work the old-fashioned way, by actively managing their staff, delivering their services effectively and doing what they are there to do.

An example of this is NBFIRA.

So far, I’ve been hugely impressed by the Non-Banking Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority. This body has been set up by Government to regulate and control all the financial service providers who aren’t classified as banks. That’s anyone who provides pensions, investment schemes and, perhaps most importantly, micro-lenders.

You’ve probably already seen announcements from NBFIRA in newspapers such as Mmegi about various companies that they have investigated. The announcements warn consumers that they shouldn’t trade with these companies because they have been de-registered by NBFIRA and are no longer allowed to operate in their industry. What’s more they often even say WHY the offeders have been kicked out. I think that this is an excellent thing. NBFIRA’s job is to protect us, the consumers of Botswana, not the industry or the service providers. It’s excellent that they are not only being open about their activities but they are actually getting off their backsides and doing what they’re meant to do.

They have also published rules and regulations that they propose will govern the micro-lending industry. With limits on the interest that can be charged, rules about how they do arithmetic so people can compare prices and very strict rules on registration I think we might finally have the sharks on the run. (Yes, I know sharks can’t run.)

Yes, some micro-lenders will go out of business (sad, eh?) but so be it. There’s no moral right to make money out of another’s misfortune.

NBFIRA have also been in the press for less impressive reasons. There have been allegations of hiring decisions that were perhaps not as wise as they should have been but the impressive thing is that once these issues were raised they didn’t go into complete denial, they seem to have listened and taken action.

We need more regulators to behave like this. No, I’m not saying we need more regulators, I think we have just enough already. I’m not a huge fan of bureaucratic regulation but there are times and places when some regulation is needed. Financial services is a very good example of this and I’m certainly delighted that NBFIRA seems to be acting rather than just speaking about it.

Maybe they’re even taking “ownership” of the situation?

This week’s stars
  • Dineo from the Border post at Tlokweng for being cheerful, smiley and the very first person ever to have been celebrated from that border post. Every other comment we’ve had about that crossing has been negative so it’s wonderful to hear they employ at least one person who does a great job. Why is it that everyone seems to love the staff at the Ramotswa crossing but they think Tlokweng is so terrible?

No comments: