How ubuntu can improve performance at work

By Prof Vuyisile Msila, Author of Ubuntu: Shaping the current workplace with (African) wisdom

An ubuntu driven workplace seeks to achieve excellence through production. Pio et al show how productivity can be achieved differently under Western management and ubuntu indigenous management:

Productivity and efficiency in the traditional Western leadership/management perspectives are defined in terms of the ratio between production output and input cost. Maximising productivity is the raison d’être of organisation in the Western management tradition. Everything is about limiting costs and producing faster and promoting competition among employees, who are considered to be input costs.

Needless to say, this attitude contributes to fractured relationships, which contradicts the core belief under ubuntu that humans should take care of one another. In ubuntu the priority is on peaceful, harmonious coexistence and social well-being of fellow humans, productivity and efficiency become an outcome rather than the raison d’etre of the organisation, and optimism of productivity and efficiency therefore becomes of operational goal.

In times of economic downturns, for instance, employees would rather take across-the-board pay cuts than hold on to their current salaries at the expense of having their co-workers laid off as would be the recourse in Western management practice.

But all these need a strong leader who constantly demonstrates ubuntu values to all employees. It should be easy to see ubuntu spiritual values embraced by employees who internalise this for productivity as well. Sometimes productivity can be low in the workplace but we can sometimes fail to diagnose problems. What causes the negative effects on production? A number of reasons can be the cause for low production:

  • Uncertainty – when there is no clear communication and employees are not sure whether they have a job or not tomorrow.
  • Culture and climate that are not conducive. A hostile environment will breed unwilling workers. (Later in this chapter we look at how leaders can manipulate culture to suit ubuntu cultural values).
  • No motivation – unmotivated employees will not produce the set targets. Again later in this chapter we will focus on motivation.

In my study of organisational leadership and production over the past two decades I have discovered 11 ways that effective leaders use to motivate their employees and these are relevant to all workplaces:

  1. Magnifying the goal of the village;
  2. Building strong communication channels;
  3. People need a strong leader;
  4. Employees need to be constantly supported;
  5. Without set targets the village will not accomplish its goals;
  6. Ubuntu requires all to work within teams;
  7. People should have reason to come to work;
  8. An effective team is a team with the right tools;
  9. Constant professional development is necessary;
  10. Productive employees are mentored;
  11. Magnifying the brand.

A.T. Martins lists 12 ways to improve employees’ productivity:

  1. Make all employees accountable for their goals and their assignments – leaders need to specific when delegating duties.
  2. Ensure that you follow up with them about progress at various stages – leaders need to follow up on tasks delegated.
  3. Avoid micromanaging while managing people; remember they are humans, not machines – employees need the best working environment.
  4. Encourage reward, motivate and recognise all jobs well done employees are motivated by a pat on the back for a job well done.
  5. Reach out to all employees working for you – employees want to be treated well, leaders need to show compassion.
  6. Set realistic and achievable targets for the workers – leaders should always set attainable goals.
  7. Encourage team work for better results – leaders should break isolation because in teams employees can inspire one another.
  8. Make sure that people enjoy their work and are happy to come to work every day – the working environment should be a happy environment.
  9. Do not let a task become monotonous and boring – leaders should rotate people in different jobs according to their expertise.
  10. Sponsor your employees for courses; send them to programmes that will help them improve their skills – employees’ skills need to be improved to enhance productivity.
  11. Do not waste too much time behind closed doors; spending hours in meetings when that time could be spent on delivering results – effective time management is crucial.
  12. Make sure that you provide your employees with time saving and efficiency enhancing devices like laptops, smartphones and other digital devices – they can help employees to save time and be productive.

The ubuntudriven workplace can follow these to enhance productivity. The culture in ubuntu promotes diligence and collective responsibility. People appreciate respect and dignity shown in the organisation. In any workplace job satisfaction is crucial. People will leave an organisation when they are not satisfied.

Prof Vuyisile Msila is the Head for the Institute for African Renaissance Studies at Unisa. His research focuses on general leadership and management as well as professional development of school principals. He also focuses on African leadership models, the improvement of education and the Africanisation of curricula.

His new book Ubuntu: Shaping the current workplace with (African) wisdom looks at how we can use the old values and wisdom of our forebears to create more humane and productive workplaces. Click here to learn more about this new book

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