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The 5 signs of a dysfunctional Kenyan organisation

“Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like “excellence” and “quality.”
Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an observation of reality.
Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar.
Sign No. 4: Decisions are made at the highest level possible.
Sign No. 5: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it.”

Albert J. Bernstein PhD, MSN.careerbuilder.com (2 November 2009)

My website readers are proving to be a treasure trove! In response to my recent series on odd and outmoded office practices, I have been referred to several very good, very entertaining pieces by others. The 5 signs of dysfunctional organisations have been excerpted from an excellent recent article by Dr Albert Bernstein, a psychologist, consultant and author. He had 15 signs; I’ve highlighted five here that most reflect Kenyan organisations.

The first sign is one that I have been battling against for years: florid and grandiloquent mission and vision statements. So, check yours out: is it full of empty platitudes, or does it actually say anything worth saying? I think I know the answer…

The second sign that you work in a place that doesn’t work is in the treatment of mavericks and whistleblowers. What happens in your company to the person who doesn’t conform, who doesn’t buy the act, who keeps asking questions, who refuses to colour between the lines? In most large Kenyan organisations, people like that are viewed with distaste, if not suspicion and hostility. They are usually frozen out in no time.

The third sign made me laugh out loud: If there’s a problem, call a consultant or hold a seminar! Rather than confront the usually quite-obvious cause of the problem, go away to Naivasha and engage in inane team-bonding and mind games. Study best practice. Find your inner selves. It’s far better, people, to confront reality and change whatever you have to. Consultants and speakers have their uses (I should know), but never use them to shirk your own responsibilities.

The fourth sign is also telling in Kenya. Who makes the decisions at your place? The chances are, it isn’t you. Decisions in Kenya, depending on your ownership structure, are made by “the board”; or by “the family”; or by “the principal shareholder”; or by “the Ministry”; or by “London”. Every place has its “wenyewe“. Everyone, it seems, can refer to some mysterious and nebulous higher authority in order to avoid taking responsibility for any action. The result is a perpetual merry-go-round of blame-shifting and ass-covering.

Yet that doesn’t mean that companies don’t pretend to “empower” you or be “inclusive” or create “ownership”. They talk that talk all the time. But you tell me: when was the last time someone asked you to assume responsibility, think something through, take a decision – and then just do it? The norm is something quite different, and is reflected by Dr Bernstein’s fifth sign shown here. “Delegation” has quite a special meaning in Kenya. It doesn’t mean you are given authority; it just means you are issued with some specific tasks which your boss is too busy and too important to do. And you are expected to do them exactly how the boss would do them (if he had the time) if you are to be deemed successful…

So, do you want to apply the doctor’s five signs of organisational illness to your firm? Go ahead, but it might ruin your holidays…. Rather than pour scorn, though, ask yourself this: to what extent are YOU propagating these bad behaviours, and when are you going to stand up for doing things differently?

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