This project report is a submission to GlobalGiving's 2017 Fail Forward Contest, where organizations are asked to share a story of when they tried something new that didn't go as planned and how they learned from it. Enjoy!
Afrika Tikkun focuses on the holistic development of young people from Cradle to Career – this means that we are committed to the young person in the context of family throughout the full lifespan of their youth. Our comprehensive model of empowerment requires that those working with the children and young people are from the same communities, and are equipped and supported to deliver the best services they can give.
However, our five community centers are not isolated, and so the myriad of social challenges that exist in the disadvantaged communities we are based in, directly impacts everyone at our centers. Therefore, development of our staff is a priority, which requires intensive energy and commitment. This is the story of how we have tried, failed, picked ourselves up and tried again to increase employee engagement and have an effective management system. It’s a story of failing fast and failing forward – because we work with children, and their lives our precious. Failure has allowed the organization to learn valuable lessons, and ensure even our failures are successes.
When current Chief Operations Officer, Leonie van Tonder was appointed in 2013, she walked into an organization in a crisis of employee morale. Managers of our centers were not well-integrated within the organization, and employees felt that they were undervalued and their opinions did not matter. To rectify the issues surrounding staff and management, an independent organization, called Mindset Management Programs was hired to compile comprehensive surveys to figure out the nature of the problem.
Mindset’s survey measured: “all facets of employee engagement and organizational health – from culture and alignment with values to performance management, internal communications and employee enablement.”
Staff participated in an anonymous online survey and were assured that management would pay close attention to the views expressed in the results. The survey showed that 102 out of 399 staff members chose not to participate. It was a disappointing result that re-emphasized the fact that staff members were disengaged. The overall score of 27% for employee engagement was 2% lower than the national average.
Decisive leadership and close introspection was required.
STEPS TAKEN BY OUR COO TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM:
Leonie Van Tonder, who had accepted the position on condition that the Legitimate Leadership Model be implemented, helped to steer the organization towards the following actions:
- Senior management attended an Employee Engagement workshop where they gained much needed insight into the impact that the different drivers of engagement have on the engagement levels in their respective departments.
- Actions were taken to address the top five negatives revealed by the survey.
- A roadshow was conducted through South Africa which provided Leonie Van Tonder with detailed feedback from general staff – there was 100% attendance!
- Different forums to address staff complaints were set up and HR complaints were regularly followed up by the COO.
- The philosophy of Legitimate Leadership, emphasizing both care and growth (growth through empowerment of the individual) was imparted to all members of management over a period of twelve months, starting with the executive management who were required to lead the change in the organizational culture. Also, initial introductions were comprehensively followed up with ten days of coaching sessions, to help managers internalize the ‘Legitimate Leadership Philosophy’ and practice the approach in their everyday management of staff and programs on site.
- All non-managerial staff also attended training in the ‘Grow to Care Philosophy’.
All the trainings allowed staff to better align their daily actions with the purpose of their programs. They were also able to better articulate the link between their daily duties and the broad strategy and vision of the organization. This has been a five years process, but Afrika Tikkun can now say it has better internalized the values of care and growth.
THE WIN TAKEN FROM THE LOSS AND HOW IT HELPED US IMPROVE OUR WORK:
In September 2017, results from Legitimate Leadership were impeccable! Senior management, now established as legitimate leaders, conducted a survey to measure the effectiveness of the Model. The outcome of the survey demonstrated a remarkable turn-around in the organizational culture across all five centers and the Head Office.
Employee engagement rose to 59%, with 89% staff participation – 482 out of 551! Moreover, not one of the top five complaints brought up reappeared and staff felt that they could now express their views freely and be heard.
Important lessons learned that helped us turn this failure into a ‘successful failure’:
- If you want staff opinion, ask them – not the HR department.
- Do not ask for staff opinions and then do nothing about it.
- Staff will only trust you if your actions prove that they can rely on you.
- Establish the legitimacy of leaders in their respective roles by respecting and supporting their decision.
- Executive management needs to be visible.
- Appreciate and praise staff in public for tasks well performed.
- Censure in private.
- Value high standards and morale.
- Be authentic and true to your values.
We now understand, that in order to continue reforming disadvantaged communities and developing young people, the organization must come together as one and fix internal problems to better serve the community. Once that has been done, we can be fully committed to carry out our mission. It has taken time, significant energy and focus, but it has been worthwhile. Because of this effort, we are so much further down the road towards meaningful empowerment and community development from the inside out.