Management Consultant Mike Eldon

Big picture thinking needed from the private sector

Imagine for a few minutes that you are the President of the Republic of Kenya. Less than three years ago you and your colleagues put together a manifesto for the TNA party and for the Jubilee Coalition, in which you laid out what your government aimed to achieve during its term of office.

When teams of experts put such documents together, for sure they dream about a better future for the country, and as far as Kenya is concerned they will definitely do so in the context of Vision 2030. They will also make sure they toss in some headline-grabbing “flagship” projects to catch media attention – in the case of Jubilee, initiatives such as the procurement of thousands of laptops for students, free maternal healthcare, and the Standard Gauge Railway. Jim Collins, author of the book Good to Great, would call these the President’s “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”, his “BHAGs”.

So much for the political razzmatazz. Such showstoppers must be included, otherwise State House will remain a distant and unrealistic dream for any aspirant. But now imagine you (the President that is) have invited to State House the head of your government’s think tank, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, and the Chairman of KEPSA. Also present are the Kenya Country Director of the World Bank and (had it still been fully up and running) the Secretary of the National Economic and Social Council. The purpose of the meeting is to talk about the future of the country.

You are aware that the people you have invited are far less interested in the short-term political impact you make. They want to engage with you – as do you with them – on the few overarching issues that, when taken together, will lead to Kenya fulfilling its extraordinary potential. What would you all talk about? What would you not talk about? And how?

To help you out let me report on a small gathering of leaders from the private sector I was part of recently. Those present had all been provoked by what happened at the last President’s Round Table, at which our State House host challenged us to think at a strategic level and to propose the key priorities to him and his cabinet. What a turnaround. Normally it is the politicians – in the West as much as in our part of the world – who are accused of imprisoning themselves in “short-termism” and of mere manoeuvring against their opponents. Yet here we had our top man telling the rest of us to shape up and rise to a higher level.

Good therefore that as a result of the President’s challenge one among our small group decided to assemble his own list of the big issues. And here it is, more or less as he shared it with the rest of us: building infrastructure; creating jobs, especially for young people; reducing poverty; fighting corruption; improving security; transforming productivity and developing our human resource; offering transformative leadership; making it easier to do business (including making regulations more user-friendly) and improving our competitiveness; strengthening the  justice system; ensuring the optimum utilisation of our emerging natural resources; making devolution work; rationalising the budget structure and process; delivering on Vision 2030; focusing on “Kenya Futures” – planning for the demographics of 2050; working on our national values system; strengthening Brand Kenya – and the role of the media within that; and building an efficient and less wasteful public service.

It was just that, a list, a raw initial list. It was as yet unstructured, still to be sorted into priorities, never mind being populated with content. But just seeing it was more than enough to make us sit up and reflect. And I hope it has the same effect on you, dear readers. Remember, you’re in the meeting as President, so these are the areas where you want your people to contribute.

Now imagine you are no longer the President, the recipient of the wisdom of others. Now you are who you are. And you must be intelligent and knowledgeable as you propose to him. Which of the topics from my friend’s list do you adopt as yours? What steps do you propose that will make a difference? What serious, affordable, implementable ideas are you putting forward?

OK, let me be generous. First, just choose your top three issues among those I’ve listed above. That in itself is an interesting exercise, to figure out which ones drive all the others, those without which progress cannot be made elsewhere. Is leadership there? Are the national values? Productivity?  (Am I hinting at my candidates?)

Then, of all the topics, choose the one where you will make your contribution, identifying also to which others it links. Which ones affect the one you have selected, and which others does it in turn affect?

But please don’t just keep your thoughts to yourself. Share them with each other. Stimulate conversations about these subjects with those you know. Write your ideas down, and send them to the organisations I imagined were represented in the State House meeting. And, why not, share them with me, either in the online comments space or by e-mailing me.

Let’s make this kind of strategic engagement much more normal, never mind that it’s far less fun and far more challenging than talking about politics. Surely it is from among the readers of Business Daily that we should expect high quality proposals on what needs to be done to see Kenya surge ahead. We must do more than critique the ideas of others. We must include ourselves among the authors, the builders, of national strategies for transformation.

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