With the shortlisting of candidates for Principal Secretaries, the search for national leadership has begun in earnest.
Transformation is a national agenda in Kenya. However, though most people have a general idea of what transformation is, not enough people know how to go about it. More people need to understand the concept to avoid being fooled and frustrated by institutional window-dressing and the recycling of conventional CEOs. Transformation is much more than change, a new coat of paint or even new leadership. Transformation is a process of renewal that facilitates the long-term survival, sustainability and success of an organization. Transformation is hardly an academic exercise, but the process does have eight laws.
1. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Scientists tell us that the human body totally renews itself every seven to ten years. This amazing fact equips the body to not only survive but also adapt itself to the changing environment. Some people will recognize this law from the book of Romans, but James Allen who wrote the classic “As a Man Thinketh” espouses the same truth. You cannot expect new results with old thinking. Einstein is quoted as saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results". Fundamentally new thinking must be brought into an organization to ensure transformation. Leaders that rely on tradition and past success will drag the nation back into history. The future is not determined by the past.
2. Keep the customer in focus
This quote is not business jargon; it is common sense. The citizen is the sole reason for national transformation. Without the people, the government is irrelevant. Transformation should focus on ensuring that the people survive and thrive in the new environment. When national focus shifts to tax, stakeholders, salaries or even specific leaders, citizens will not support the government. Citizens, a nations customers, must be the primary, if not the only, beneficiaries of every transformation initiative.
3. Upgrade the organization continually
Some people would like to use the word “update” rather than “upgrade” in this law. However, in essence, this law means that what worked for an organization in the past is not going to work in future. Every organization lags behind its environment. Every athlete knows that, “what got you there is not enough to keep you there, leave alone to take you ahead”. Any government or organization that slides into the comfort zone of success is hanging on the cliff of major failure.
4. Align organization values-systems
Any attempt to transform an organization without aligning its culture to the new service delivery requirements is a recipe for disaster. People’s values and attitudes drive performance. The proverbial story of the donkey that refused to drink water when taken to the river, finds potent application here. Skills and technology build organizational capacity, but an organization will not advance without a shift in the people’s will to serve the public.
5. Uphold integrity
Integrity is both a personal and organization quality. However, integrity is not, “not doing wrong” or, “doing right”. Integrity is the ability of a person or organization to deliver on their promises. National transformation will take place when our people and institutions do what they promise to do. The electricity company, for example, fails the integrity test every time there is a power blackout. Leaders fail the test every time they do not pursue what they propose to do. Employees fail the integrity test when they ask for more pay and produce no value.
6. Develop new leaders
This law underlies the biggest tragedy of many national transformation initiatives. Constantly recycling old leaders and never developing new leaders does not move the nation forward. Jack Welch not only diligently developed leaders to take up senior positions at General Electric (GE); but he also religiously got rid of 20% of the bottom performers within the organization. GE survived and thrived, not because of its top leadership, but because of the depth of its new leadership. If we are to see national transformation in Kenya, it should be liberally populated with emerging leaders.
7. Evolve with your customers
Many organizations are guilty of treating their customers with contempt. They consider their customers to be, “the same old, same old”. They offer one standard product like Henrys Model T Ford. When pressed for choice by his customers, Henry made the car in four colors. Frustrated customers migrated to other carmakers. What Henry did not know was that his customers had evolved. The very good product he offered whetted the customer’s appetite for more. There can be no national transformation if the government does not keep up with transformed citizens.
8. Lead the transformation process
Finally, someone must be willing to lead the transformational effort. The leader must be willing to be a pioneer and step into places people have never been before. This is the main reason why transformation cannot be led by conventional or “experienced” CEOs. Such leaders are not willing to take risks that would jeopardize their career. Conventional leaders are only comfortable with minor changes and at ease with the status quo. It took unconventional leaders to turnaround CIC, KWS, UCHUMI and Kenyatta University. Transformation goals must initially look impossible, if not stupid.
Successful transformational leaders, like Mandela, often have little or no experience, and may have no superior academic qualifications in the area in which they lead change. Most have the ability to set clear goals and work things out as they go along. The basic ingredient is a professional competence and a keen sense of enterprise. However, all such leaders understand the power of leadership; have new ideas and the courage to implement them. And possess an above average passion to drive the arduous transformation process to completion.
Allan Bukusi is the author of How To lead Corporate Transformation