HomeBusiness DigestSwinging open the doors in SME’s

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However, we also mentioned that growth comes with systemic problems that may eventually spell the demise of the organisation. We believe that something needs to be done to these organisations and chart the way for future indigenous businesses that will be born out of the re-birth of our economy.

While organisational problems fester, the company will continue to grow, albeit with a ticking failure time bomb strapped to its back. It is important to realise that as the company keeps growing,it would no longer be a start-up business, but rather, an entity that should be matured into a corporate. The change-over from being an old acquaintances’ club-led outfit to a corporate entity is the moment that I will call the hinge moment in the organisation’s life, ie, the moment an organisation’s door proverbially turns from being closed and insular to being open to growth. The hinges on the door have to be fitted onto the door by the founder, or whoever has controlling stake, by making bold decisions.

The hinge moment should be seized to turn the organisation around, focusing on eliminating the systemic problems we discussed in the last instalment, among others. It is important to note that an organisation is a social network in respect of its internal relations, which should be geared to function properly. Relationships form naturally when people interact and spend time in the same vicinity, as we noted from the research by Dunbar. The optimal numbers for maintaining stable relationships are easily surpassed when the organisation continues to grow. It is therefore important for the leadership to make concerted efforts to nurture internal relationships that are conducive to productivity enhancement.

The pioneer group, as we discussed in the last instalment, have the mistaken belief that they hold a birthright to be viewed as right always. They stifle all the good that could come from others who do not belong to their own club. Everyone in the organisation is always watching their own backs and treading carefully to avoid stepping  on the toes of the pioneer legion. It makes business sense to sit the pioneers  down and show them the light on the importance of everyone’s contributions. In practice this is very difficult because of the brotherhood that exists between the pioneers and the founders, or with the one holding the controlling stake.


To easily rid the organisation of this systemic failure menace one needs to just fire them like Donald Trump does on the Apprentice, though spicing the process with a golden parachute – payment to facilitate a quicker exit. Managing them out is a painful process that leaves a lot of scars on the organisation; rather restructure and lay them off. As much as it may sound heartless, it is important to never lose sight of the fact that this crew can destroy the organisation. While you are at it, send the identified imbongis home as well, as they would be useless and sulking in corners when their masters depart.

After the departure of the pioneers, the rest of the organisation would still have people that have been around for some time. We will call these people the tenured crew, rather than older employees, as that could be mistaken to refer to age differences. These tenured employees are tightly knit together into an inner circle that may be hard for newcomers to break into.


The organisation should infiltrate the tenured employees’ inner circle by mixing them with the newcomers, with initiatives such as slotting newcomers in between the reporting hierarchies. It would be beneficial in creating a cross pollination of relationships by making the tenured crew mentors of the newcomers across all levels in the organisation. Trust and mutual respect would emerge from this interaction between the two groups, which will most likely blend into one group with a shared identity.

Every person’s contribution is important in shaping the organisation’s future. Try telling that to the pioneers and their imbongis and they will call for your scalp, hence they should pack their personal belongings. The organisation should give every employee a voice to harness innovative ideas. Great ideas have quite often come from the least expected quarters. The general hand cleaning the floors and shredding paper will tell you the importance of using both sides of the paper for all your internal printing, saving half the cost of paper.


The kitchen lady will tell you that the electricity bill can easily be reduced through the use of flasks when preparing teas for meetings, the water would take longer to lose heat and no fresh boiling water would be necessary. The driver will tell you that the delivery vehicle fuel bill is better managed if deliveries are dispatched in round trips at designated times rather than transporting one delivery at a time; going back and forth.

Imagine what the receptionist’s ideas would be; the finance department clerk, the procurement officer and everyone else. The incubator for ideas that will save the organisation is not the air-conditioned boardroom, where a group wearing designer suits speak in circles about strategy.

In closing, let us briefly touch on the principles of acquiring client business. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) feel dwarfed by the large corporates when competing for business. The tendency by the leadership of SMEs is to grease the palms of those that sign on the dotted line in the prospective client businesses. Once the facilitation fees are paid, the business flows to the SMEs and all looks well for the moment. The acquisition of business in this way is linked to the tenure of the greased palms, therefore unpredictable and often short-lived.

The abruptness of the termination of the business contracts so acquired at the departure of the connections, or worse, at the initiation of inquiry commissions into irregularities, slaughters many SMEs. Well-meaning SMEs are approached by the powers in potential client businesses and regulators for facilitation arrangements. It would be best to walk away to seek more sustainable ventures. Remember that initially, even when adequately greased, the facilitators are naturally greedy and will demand endless ransoms that would eat into the profitability of the project along the way.

I am not an imbongi who is given to idolise individuals, however, shining examples need be celebrated. Once upon a time in the land of our fathers, there lived a man given the name Strive, who shunned approaches from facilitators but went on to build an international telecommunications brand.


Sam Hlabati specialises in Systems Thinking and Reward Management. You can contact him on samhlabati@gmail.com

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