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    Corporate conduct: The need for positive behavioural attributes

    Many South African businesses are trapped in a low growth cycle. Much of this stems from problems that lie in the macro socio-economic and political spheres in which businesses find themselves. However, what is becoming increasingly clear is that the organisational challenges of corruption, unethical conduct or poor productivity, are directly related to employee behaviour. It is not surprising, therefore, that many companies are placing high emphasis on behavioural attributes at recruitment interviews. These are then linked to desired workplace outcomes and levels of productivity.
    In the complex world we’re living in, competency skills on their own are not sufficient in achieving organisational excellence. Organisations are complex social structures characterised by social diversity, contesting political views and different employee aspirations. Hence, if economic goals are prioritised at the expense of social and organisational cohesion and without the necessary social support, dysfunction and alienation will result.

    As part of employee integration into corporate life there is a greater need for ‘transversal' or ‘soft skills’. These encompass a broad palette and include effective communication, high ethical standards, teamwork, self-leadership and emotional intelligence. The importance of these is underscored by the increasing number of high profile corporate scandals. Some that come to mind include the Enron Scandal, the Volkswagen emissions misreporting, the Steinhoff International share price shenanigans, and locally, the ‘state capture’ allegations presented at the Zondo Commission.

    As South African society evolves beyond brand and political loyalties, we find that consumers and civil society are holding business and political leaders to greater account. Corporates like Shell (through its attempts to do seismic tests off the coast of South Africa) and political leaders who are considered lacking in moral fibre, are increasingly shunned by consumers and followers. Like the voters who recently punished the ANC for its poor governance by boycotting the party during the local municipal elections, similarly, shareholder activists are holding business executives to account.

    It follows, therefore, that a workplace that is rich in technical skills combined with positive behavioural attributes will be more productive and resonate more favourably with a consumer base than one which does not prioritise human-centred conduct.

    So how do we embed ‘excellent’ behaviour in our corporate culture? Scholars have written extensively about this and what seems increasingly clear is that excellence is not a superhuman skill. It needs neither academic qualifications, nor positional authority. The Japanese nailed it down to ‘kaizen’ or making small incremental improvements on an ongoing basis. William C. Taylor in Simply Brilliant – How great organisations do ordinary things in extraordinary ways! shows how common business practices such as treating clients well can result in amazing outcomes.

    Embedding positive skills must be an intrinsic part of business schools’ curricula and then be reinforced through role modelling by business leaders and corporate culture. An example of this is the Leadership and Self-Development (LSD) module in the TSIBA Business School curriculum and reinforced through its internship programme.

    What is important for employers to recognise is that employees are social beings; deeply shaped by the beliefs they are exposed to and the environments within which they were raised. Therefore, in the same way that stories were used to shape behaviour in formative years, similarly, stories through ‘lived’ organisational values need to be integrated into the organisational ecosphere to facilitate integration and coworking.

    In conclusion, building an inclusive and excellence-based corporate culture is an imperative in our competitive business world and should be led from the top. It is no use demanding positive behavioural attributes from the employees when these are not role modelled by senior management. Fair, equitable and excellent practices must be prioritised throughout the organisation. As we’ve seen with many defunct companies, ignoring this can be perilous!
    In the complex world we’re living in, competency skills on its own are not sufficient in achieving organisational excellence. Organisations are complex social structures characterised by social diversity, contesting political views and different employee aspirations. Hence, if economic goals are prioritised at the expense of social and organisational cohesion and without the necessary social support, dysfunction and alienation will result.

    As part of employee integration into corporate life there is a greater need for ‘transversal' or ‘soft skills’. These encompass a broad palette and include - effective communication, high ethical standards, teamwork, self-leadership and emotional intelligence. The importance of these are underscored by the increasing number of high profile corporate scandals. Some that come to mind include the Enron Scandal, the Volkswagen emissions misreporting, the Steinhoff International share price shenanigans, and locally, the ‘state capture’ allegations presented at the Zondo Commission.

    As South African society evolves beyond brand and political loyalties, we find that consumers and civil society are holding business and political leaders to greater account. Corporates like Shell (through its attempts to do seismic tests off the coast of South Africa) and political leaders who are considered lacking in moral fibre, are increasingly shunned by consumers and followers. Like the voters who recently punished the ANC for its poor governance by boycotting the party during the local municipal elections, similarly, shareholder activists are holding business executives to account.

    It follows, therefore, that a workplace which is rich in technical skills combined with positive behavioural attributes will be more productive and resonate more favourably with a consumer base than one which does not prioritise human-centred conduct.

    So how do we embed ‘excellent’ behaviour in our corporate culture? Scholars have written extensively about this and what seems increasingly clear is that excellence is not a superhuman skill. It needs neither academic qualifications, nor positional authority. The Japanese nailed it down to ‘kaizen’ or making small incremental improvements on an ongoing basis. William C. Taylor in ‘Simply Brilliant – How Great Organisations do ordinary things in extraordinary ways!’ shows how common business practises such as treating clients well can result in amazing outcomes.

    Embedding positive skills must be an intrinsic part of business schools’ curricula and then be reinforced through role modelling by business leaders and corporate culture. An example of this is the Leadership and Self-Development (LSD) module in the TSIBA Business School curriculum and reinforced through its internship programme.

    What is important for employers to recognise is that employees are social beings; deeply shaped by the beliefs they are exposed to and the environments within which they were raised. Therefore, in the same way that stories were used to shape behaviour in formative years, similarly, stories through ‘lived’ organisational values need to be integrated into the organisational ecosphere to facilitate integration and coworking.

    In conclusion, building an inclusive and excellence-based corporate culture is an imperative in our competitive business world and should be led from the top. It is no use to demand positive behavioural attributes from the employees and these are not role modelled by senior management. Fair, equitable and excellent practises must be prioritised throughout the organisation. As we’ve seen with many defunct companies, Ignoring this can be perilous!

    Stanford Kasai (PhD) and Rudi Kimmie (PhD) are from the TSIBA Business School. They write in their personal capacities.

    TSIBA
    TSIBA provides future-focused business education to ambitious individuals and emerging businesses. Its offerings include a Business Degree, Postgraduate Diploma in Small Enterprise Consulting, vocational certificates, short skills programmes and tailored short learning interventions. Boost your career today!

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