Out with ‘jobs for pals’
'Companies need leaders who can improve efficiency and create a culture of learning', writes Primarashni Gower
Although several government departments and companies are sending their staff on intensive project management courses to equip them with skills to implement strategies, nothing will change if the top management is weak and “jobs are handed to pals”.
This is according to Professor Pieter Steyn, principal of Cranefield College, which offers postgraduate qualifications in project and programme management. He says student numbers at the college are almost 800 a year and students come from a wide spectrum of economic life, including financial institutions, industrial companies, government departments and agriculture. This is an indication of the importance attached to having project and programme management skills.
Steyn says organisations realise they cannot undertake projects on an ad hoc basis. “They have to be competitive or they will be forced out of the market.”
He says project management entails “delivering a specific objective” within a set time. “It is about planning and monitoring your resources in a way that you achieve maximum use. A project manager should ensure that strategic benefits accrue to the organisation where he or she is employed.
Steyn says a project manager draws on human talent from various departments (such as IT, marketing, production and finance) and gets them to work in harmony, to deliver on a goal, without having direct authority over them.
In South Africa major government projects being undertaken at present are the Gautrain, the construction of stadiums and other infrastructure for the 2010 World Cup and the implementation of the R6-billion Kha ri Gude mass literacy campaign over four years. Any glitches such as the late delivery of materials or staff going on strike (as was the case with construction workers a few weeks ago) could result in extra costs and a delay in the delivery of the service or product.
Steyn says: “A government department can have all the knowledge and skills at middle management level but if you don’t have leaders on board with the right attitude, who can build a culture of trust and support, you can forget it. What we need is to stop appointing friends from the country club, or politicians who jump on to the podium and say ‘look at how we’re going to change’ and then they appoint their incompetent pals.”
His students often complain that when they return to their companies to implement the skills they have attained, “it’s like banging their heads against a ceiling as the top leaders have not changed in the way they do things”, he says. “Apart from having good policy, strategy and a skilled workforce, companies need leadership that is transformational — leaders who know that they should move their organisations from being bureaucratic to one that has a learning culture. And they need to stop looking at their operations in silos, but as cross-functional processes” as this brings about effectiveness and efficiency.