April 2010

“I coined the term ‘future shock’ to describe the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a short time” –Alvin Toffler:  “Future shock” in Horizon”  1965

Change in the CC’s Office

When writing this article and the subsequent book of the same title Toffler presumably didn’t have the COID Office in mind. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply – he viewed future shock as a general managerial mistake in any environment. Now reverting to my March column on this website, in which I let the role players speak for themselves, you could deduce that it was suggested by the politicians and senior staff members’ own admission that matters in the COID office are not kosher. To put it mildly it appears in disarray.


Toffler also gave us the phrase “massive adaptational breakdown” to describe what happens when an organisation changes too quickly. In the 1980’s when management science touted changes to techniques sometimes only for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses, Toffler’s words were meant to warn over-zealous managers about the dangers of changing techniques when the flavour of the month changes and not sticking to entrenched and winning formulas. But Toffler’s warning is just as relevant to governments as it is to enterprises and specially to institutions of the state which operate as enterprises. Obviously the Compensation Fund comes to mind and the effects of the change in political winds have been shocking.

This “massive adaptational breakdown” is an accurate diagnosis of the state of the COID Office. It has become a real sickness from which too many arms of the civil service is suffering. The political agenda since the start of political normality focussed on one aspect and one aspect only: The transfer of power at all levels to the previously disadvantaged as speedily as possible.  Senior managers right to the lowest ranks were appointed in the civil service with the primary aim to represent the county’s population demography at all levels.

Toffler 1 provides clues as to why the desired political ideals haven’t been achieved in the COID Office, as the press has reported our politicians admitting to in last month’s column. He says:  “The highest quality power … comes from the application of knowledge”. No intelligent South African can question the moral necessity of redressing the wrongs of our political past but no moral person can justify the blunders that have been made in the name of rectifying these wrongs. The poor level of knowledge amongst the leaders who have replaced the technocrats in the COID Office speaks for itself.

The pursuit of the political ideal without thought for practical repercussions has turned the noble objective into a farcical chaos. When offering a practical suggestion that the outgoing staff members should train and mentor, we were labelled paternalistic and our offers were flatly refused. When I once committed the sin to suggest that the outgoing senior officials who were experts in their specific positions in the organisation be kept on contract for a further 6 months to a year in order to train the newcomers, I was asked to leave the meeting.

Whilst this may have less effect in an environment where skills can be quickly acquired, it’s been disastrous in the Compensation Fund where it takes at least 10 years to train a claims officer in the many facets of the claims process, including familiarising themselves with the relevant case law. To have placed officials into senior positions without this grounding or the necessary support is not only to have set them up for failure but to have jeopardised the chances of their stakeholders – the injured employees above all – from deriving the much-needed benefits from the system.

Sadly, the fact is that the COID Office is not alone in this quagmire. Many organs of the civil service are in chaos as is often reported in the media and experienced by the public.

And while I’m in this pessimistic frame of mind, I pose you this question: for how much longer we will be burdened with this problem. For generations still?

I have nothing further to add to this, you the kind reader can make your own deductions.

Is there a Solution?

I have no idea what the immediate steps to solve the problem should be. Toffler and Peters have numerous processes to turn these kinds of problems around. Ideas which I cannot foresee being tackled and pursued by management in civil service. Many of us are also just too scared of being critical because the lie so often repeated is that , at best, it is unpatriotic to find fault with any branch of the civil service or, at worst, it is just veiled racial bias.

If I thought my solution would be heard, I would hope that the state would take the initiative to start dialogue with employers’ organisations. Forget fancy jargon such as workshops or imbizos, just sit around a table and start planning; labelling these get-together events is irrelevant, their purpose is the key issue. Unless both parties do something soon the Compensation Fund can start drafting the obituary for their closure.

As the employer, just remember whose money is involved: not the general taxpayer’s contribution but the employers’ annual assessments.

“To take someone’s common law rights away and then arrogantly abuse the lack of a legal remedy, should be made a criminal offence”

1 Power Shift, 1990, page 15 

Till next time.