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Zim and ‘chickenocracy’

CHICKENS spend their entire lives on the ground scratching and flapping.

Brett Chulu

Chickens have wings, and so give us the impression that they can fly. The sad truth is that they cannot fly. Such is the state of many institutions in Zimbabwe. It’s called “chickenocracy”.

Chickenocracy is the outward projection of a commitment to upholding high standards when, to the contrary, actions on the ground tell a sad story of poor standards. Simply put, chickenocracy is pretending to be an eagle when you are a chicken.

Think about it
Chickenocracy confuses chickens for eagles. Just because a bird has wings does not mean it can fly.

The worst form of chickenocracy involves a system of moulted (completely de-feathered) chickens that still come running when food is thrown at them by the one who moulted them.

Chickenocracy is like a cloud that promises rain, but cannot deliver even a single raindrop.

Chickenocracy in business
Chickenocracy manifests itself in many forms on the business front in Zimbabwe.

You have business entities that tout the virtue of excellence when their actions have mediocrity written all over. A case in point is one service provider in the educational sector that uses a catch phrase built around the word excellence. They use this catch phrase as a payoff line in their advertising material.

This service provider is well-known for providing substandard services and ill-treating and not paying workers on time.

To the public, the service provider gives the impression of an organisation that adheres to high standards. Impressive advertising and partnering with respected international brands easily deceive potential clients dealing with this service provider for the first time into parting with their hard-earned money.

Stories of near-destitute workers, diversion of clients’ monies to fund operations resulting in the late delivery or non-delivery of service in some cases abound.

The irony is that this service provider who, like a chicken, pretends to fly has the temerity to continue using a payoff line which embarrassingly touts excellence as their core value. Not only is this laughable, it’s annoying, if not disgusting. This is chickenocracy. It’s the sad story of many of our business enterprises today.

We now have businesses that simply do not care anymore about correct spellings in their branding. You have shops neatly branded as “stationary” shops. It’s only when curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to check out what product or group of products called “stationary” really look like do you learn that it is just good old stationery.

I have come across a well-packaged newly-launched product with a payoff line that says it’s a “truely …” product. It’s interesting that my computer immediately corrected me when I typed “truely”. If this is creative licence, it is not impressive.

It’s “truely” amazing how we just don’t care about high standards anymore. It’s “truely” sad that we seem to have resigned to these low standards.

A supposedly upmarket retail shop has a well-stenciled notice stating that any “inconvinience” caused is regretted. If upmarket businesses are descending into chickenocracy, what hope is there for upcoming enterprises?

Would you not forgive them for writing WhatsApp as “Whatsup” or for being “wholesellers”? If they warn you on their bond-paper- and-pen notices that if you “loose” your disc you will be “charged”, can you blame them?

Listed companies are not immune from chickenocracy. I have seen abridged statements that are labelled as reports, which, on reading are not reports at all. If an entire section titled as a report is dedicated wholly to talking about the company’s intentions for the following year, in what sense then is it a report? You would expect that a listed company has people knowledgeable enough to know that plans are about the future and reports are about the past. It’s chickenocracy.

Chickenocracy in governance
It’s very surprising to learn that boards of directors in some organisations in Zimbabwe are populated with big names that have been rendered lame ducks.

Annual reports carrying profiles of these directors are imposing and give you the sense that companies with such high-profile individuals will be directed with excellence.

It then comes as a huge shock that embarrassing scandals fester and occur right under their watch. There is nothing sophisticated about some of the shenaningans perpetrated by executives. You would think that our high-profile non-executive directors, for all their famed brilliance and experience, would pick the scent of such nefarious schemes miles away or even in their sleep. They have wings, but they can’t fly. It’s chickenocracy.

Chickens are well-known for moving in crowds. Our non-executive directors are supposed to act independently. In other words, they are supposed to behave like eagles that are not afraid to fly alone when necessary. Chickenocracy in governance is partly perpetrated by this crowding behaviour where non-executive directors are cowed by powerful executives into rubber stampers.

For the love of money our supposedly independent directors are transformed from eagles into chickens. Worse still, in that state of chickenocracy, the “chickens” have their feathers moulted.
Have you seen how a completely moulted chicken will still come running to the one who de-feathered it when they throw food to attract them?

Such is the sorry state of corporate governance where non-executive directors are forced to be “chickens” so that they can still enjoy being fed with fat sitting allowances. This is the saddest extent to which chickenocracy can descend. When our eagle directors are reduced to moulted chickens, it’s a national crisis.

Sometimes chickenocracy is due to confusing chickens for eagles. How many times these days do you read about those who are held in esteem who are now better known for “sexcellence” than excellence and for “sexpertise” than expertise?

Is it not chickenocracy when our schools spruce up their premises and facilities only when dignitaries are due to pay an official visit? Is it not chickenocracy when our towns and cities attempt to clean streets and mend potholes when VIPs are due to tour their territories? By doing this, are we not creating an impression of people who uphold high standards when in reality we dwell in mediocrity? It’s called deception. It’s chickenocracy.

A yet deadlier form of chickenocracy is complaining about it and doing nothing.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant and business strategist pioneering innovative HR and business practices in both listed and unlisted firms in Zimbabwe. — brettchulu@consultant.com

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