I consult with organisations on matters such as strategy and employee effectiveness and I also come across those same issues on the few boards that I sit on and there is a scary commonality that I see with many a Ugandan organisation and that is the commonness of mismanagement and incompetence.
Incompetence is the inability to do something successfully while mismanagement is being careless or inefficient. I am always surprised that Ugandans are so comfortable with mismanagement and incompetence to the point that they get shocked when you suggest that the twin vices be eradicated.
Take the example of one charitable organisation with a growing budget and workforce. A senior female manager in the organisation met a girl who impressed her with her singing ability. The singing girl asked the manager to give her a job and even though there was no vacancy, the manager created for her a volunteer position as a receptionist.
After several complaints from clients and numerous management review meetings to discuss the poor performance of the volunteer, the organisation searched for and hired a full time receptionist. At the same time an administrative position opened up within a project being implemented by this same organisation and the senior manager pushed with all her might for the singing but non performing front desk volunteer to fill this position. The supervisors of the project expressed their grave reservation about employing the singer as an administrator, both verbally and in writing but the senior manager was undeterred.
To cut a sad story short, the organisation is now spending valuable time, money and emotional resources to clean up the mess of mismanagement and incompetence created by the singer turned staff.
The ills include messed up records and millions of shillings unaccounted for.
In another incidence, my client, a CEO sent me a text message on a public holiday to the effect that a supplier had impounded a vehicle for one of their subsidiaries for delayed payment. When we met later, I learnt that the supplier had an account that was over 6 months overdue and had unsuccessfully requested for a credible repayment plan from the organisation.
During one debt collection visit two members of staff practically laughed out the supplier. One told him that they could not pay him because they had more pressing needs to take care of and another said that they could not pay the money because the original invoice got lost. Pissed off, the supplier contracted a lawyer to collect the payment on his behalf.
When the lawyer sent an intent to sue letter; the manager of the subsidiary ignored it and did not also bother to inform the CEO. Next court summons were delivered and still the subsidiary manager ignored it. The day of court came and only the plaintiff was represented. Judgement was passed in favour of the plaintiff and hence the impounded vehicle. Still the subsidiary manager sat on this information.
It was a bystander who alerted a board member of the enterprise that bailiffs had towed away a vehicle and that is when news filtered to the CEO.
Turning a blind eye
It is unfortunate that the two examples I quoted commonly occur in many Ugandan organisations and enterprises. The incompetent or mismanaging staff is rarely sanctioned but is usually protected by someone higher up. The rot continues to spread; good people who cannot take it any longer either leave or are even fired for daring to suggest improvement of performance.
Then one day the waste begins to spill into the sitting room, because the blocked sewer cannot no longer contain it, and that is when the organisation starts looking for organisational plumbers like yours truly. What is sad that even at this stage the motivation is not to stop the rot but rather to cover the bad smell so that the public does not know!
I should not really wonder about this because our culture is wired in such a way that we rather spend more time and resources at the funeral and burial of a person we know than actually providing those same resources to improve the wellbeing of the deceased at a time when he or she was still alive.
Grace Makoko is Standard Chartered’s head of financial markets, East Africa. E-mail: GraceTibihikirra.Makoko@sc.com