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Evolution of philanthropy and CSR

In today’s world more and more firms from SMEs upward – never mind publicly quoted ones – have taken corporate social responsibility as a natural component in how they operate.

For some, it came more naturally than for others. For those where owners’ and directors’ values resonated with being responsible citizens, it was an easy evolution, one they felt good about.

Applying my colleague and friend Prof Michael Hopkins’ CSR definition of “treating all key stakeholders responsibly” (he and I, together with prof Mike Sacks, are co-founders of the Institute for Responsible Leadership) was not a bridge too far. Indeed, their values were such that “saying no when they should” and “treating others as they would wish to be treated themselves” is how they were probably brought up from an early age.

For others with weak consciences though, these are alien concepts that would prevent them from closing the kind of shady deals that keep them in business.

They’re quite OK with incenting beneficiaries at the purchasing end, exploiting their workers, creating a negative impact on the environment, evading tax payments and so forth.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where impunity is rampant, so corporate social irresponsibility is still widespread.

Those organisations that typically invite me to join their boards or to act as a consultant to them are overwhelmingly the ones in the first category.

It’s those who are ahead of the game, in CSR as in talent management, innovation and elsewhere, who know they can still do yet better in their quest for long-term sustainability.

It is of course such organisations with which I want to be associated, and if I am asked by the other kind to engage with them I politely decline, saying I am already too busy.

What have I and others found? (And here I am not talking about public companies.) Most if not all have been making contributions to good causes from time immemorial.

It’s what we used to call charity, typically “helping the needy in society”, and very likely with one-off donations in response to urgent requirements, whether in cash or kind and including volunteering. At the higher end, philanthropy goes deeper to address the root cause of social issues and requires a more strategic, long-term approach, with advocacy sometimes an additional component.

The original meaning of charity, “Christian love of one’s fellow,” is rooted in Late Old English, while philanthropy, or “the love of humanity,” originated in Greek. When “charity” entered the English lexicon by way of Old French’s “charité”, the meaning evolved into what we know today.

Meanwhile, the practice of modern philanthropy is often credited to titans of industry like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, all of whom launched their Foundations to make the world a better place.

Henry Ford explicitly wanted to reduce poverty in his country, as among the consequences would be that more people could buy his company’s cars. And here in Kenya our philanthropy role model is Manu Chandaria and his family, with their Chandaria Foundation.

Dr Chandaria was recently in America, where he was the first African to receive the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

In his acceptance speech he revealed that having returned from his university studies in the US, early in the life of the still small family business owned and run by his father, he suggested they set up their Chandaria Foundation to help Kenyan communities – having been inspired by the example of Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie.

His father at first thought this to be premature, but after a few years, he acquiesced as his son Manu persuaded him that it was indeed a worthy initiative to be “givers” who are useful to society by serving the community and not just by writing a cheque.

Since then the Chandaria Foundation has blossomed into a major supporter of healthcare infrastructure, secondary and higher education, poverty relief, and the environment.

So that’s something about philanthropy. Now to conclude this article, back to CSR, and this by way of a link to my next one, where I will be delving into the latest trends in CSR and how it relates to ESG (the Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions) and the SDGs (the Sustainable Development Goals).

Life is becoming far more ambitious and complicated in these areas, and organisations from the bottom up – not merely for-profit ones – must keep up to date with what is expected of them. Back in a fortnight.

Competent or confident politician?

Some time ago I wrote an article about Trump as a man whose I’m-OK-You’re-not-OK behaviour, one that required consistent win-lose interactions with others, masked a deeply insecure soul. Yet despite these insecurities, despite this lack of self-esteem, he built up extraordinary self-confidence, and through bullying, cheating and lying he achieved all that he did.

I refer to this as I recently read a provocative article in the London Times about Britain’s immediate former Prime Minister, Liz Truss. The headline said it all: “Truss proves talent-free bluster isn’t just for men”. And the opening paragraph tells us she broke one of the last glass ceilings. Not as the first female PM in her country, for she was not, but as “the first woman to reach the highest office propelled by gargantuan self-belief alone”.

Writer Janice Turner rightly reckons the kind of self-belief she displayed has not been associated with her gender. Indeed, she tells us, feminists have been known to pray “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre man”.

We’ve been reading a lot about women holding back from higher office while younger and less experienced men lobby their way through. Here though, Ms Turner observed “a shameless, narcissistic, talent-free sense of entitlement”. Wow. Lots in common with Trump for sure, and indeed with so many politicians the world over.

I have also written about the competence-confidence matrix, with the competent one who lacks confidence often suffering from the “imposter syndrome”, while the confident one who lacks competence displays a cocky arrogance. The ideal position, as espoused by my heroes such as Ed Schein and Adam Grant, are those who behave with “confident humility”.

So where is Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss’s successor, in all of this? In a much better place. We have been reading about the values with which he was brought up and which it appears he has been able to largely hold on to despite entering the cut and thrust world of win-lose politics: family, honesty, education and hard work. Not a bad quartet.

His competence, certainly in matters financial, is indisputable. And his communication skills are definitely superior to hers. Well, that’s no big deal, as rarely have I come across such a wooden performer as Liz Truss in such a high office. Boy was she in need of coaching…but who knows, maybe her excess of self-esteem over self-awareness made her uncoachable.

How about our politicians here? For sure some are more competent than others, and some are better communicators than others. Many are at their best at high-octane campaign rallies whose objectives are mere entertainment, hype and goodies-distribution, while others know how to switch between such show-business performance and more serious and substantive output.

To be a politician, confidence is everything. As each one puts themselves forward for election, they are certain they will win, however justified or unjustified their optimism. So it was with Truss, so it was with Sunak; and so it was with all our political candidates in August, including those who lost.

Our responsibility as citizens is to study the competence-confidence mix of those who seek our votes, where competence includes adherence to good values and where mere confidence is woefully insufficient.

It was good to see the Mkenya Daima campaign focusing on this requirement for not only selecting good men and women, but then holding those who succeed at the ballot to account. It is why the Mkenya Daima tag line is Nitatenda Wajibu Wangu (I will do my responsibility).

It’s so dispiriting to me to see huge numbers of voters in the developed world casting their support for the Trumps and the Trusses of this world.

It shows the weakness in the civic education provided in so many countries that allows for populist promise-makers to get away with what they clearly should not… including Boris Johnson and his Brexit ones.

We’ve been through our elections just a few months ago. Have we selected enough of the humbly competent? Stay on the ball, fellow Kenyans, as President William Ruto has challenged us to do.

Rishi Sunak promised British citizens a government of “professionalism, integrity and accountability at all levels”. And President Ruto, when he confirmed his new cabinet, also called for integrity and accountability. We must indeed “do our responsibility”.

Remember our national values

It’s quite some time since I wrote about national issues in this column, allowing the extravagant 24/7 political campaigning and the media’s relentless focus on it to sweep over me. Reflecting on it all, plus on the election itself and the days since, I realised that throughout these months I can’t remember when any of our political contenders referred explicitly to our national values.

Yes, there was much talk about national unity and public participation; inclusiveness and protection of the marginalised; ethics and integrity; transparency, accountability and good governance; sustainable development — all which I am quoting from the national values as stated in our Constitution. But as far as I am aware no one directly related such matters to these stated values.

I’ve written before about how our leaders never refer to these values, and not least because they are just a list of 20 words and phrases – including the ones featured above – buried deep in that long, formal document that is our Constitution. I have suggested hauling this list out and reducing it to a small number of short punchy phrases, as countries like Singapore and Rwanda benefit from. Their leaders live the values as role models for them, and talk about them as part of their regular leadership language.

Now that the frantic politicking has calmed down it’s good to look back over the campaigning period. Fortunately, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has analysed the main challenges Kenya faced in the build-up to the election, and here are its findings:

  • Lack of trust between communities, among leaders and in government institutions.
  • A sub-culture of violence, where politicians manipulate citizens into engaging in aggressive acts.
  • Divisive and selfish politics, where most leaders are more concerned about acquisition of power and wealth, their own self-interest and ambitions, than the wellbeing of the citizens.
  • Ethnic polarisation, simulated by hate speech and other forms of ethnic incitement.
  • Late, inadequate and insufficiently coordinated response to conflict.
  • Structural inequalities in the distribution of political and economic resources, historical and current.

We are rightly proud of the fact that the elections unfolded peacefully, but as we peruse these findings there is clearly much to work on as far as our values are concerned… and this in the context of our national vision, as NCIC’s report concludes: “Most leaders in Kenya seem to have abandoned the nationalist vision of equity and justice, and given primacy to the acquisition of power and wealth.”

Who should take the lead in bringing national values to the top of Kenya’s agenda, so future such NCIC reports can read differently? Realistically, it seems we can rely on only a small minority of our elected leaders to play that moral role. So how can we build a critical mass of influential individuals and institutions to take us to that much better place?

Yes, NCIC is there, and it has been doing well partnering with religious leaders, the private sector’s Mkenya Daima, civil society, youth, communities and government entities. And the CBC’s Values-Based Education is vital for nurturing future generations. Then, where are you and your organisations in all of this?

As we enter a new administration, it is a time of opportunity. Many of those who are the most influential and who should most act as role models for healthy values will remain the ones who least do so. So we must make it harder for impunity to reign.

Transparency and accountability must continue to be enhanced, with the support of technology and with the law and order entities working ever closer together to deter poor behaviour. And if only we could limit the time and cost of campaigning!

Along with being serious about penalising those displaying negative values, we must also recognise and celebrate the good guys, not least through the media. For there are plenty of Kenyans who live good values, however hard that is in our very challenging political, economic and social environment.

On October 20, we celebrated Mashujaa Day. By happy coincidence it coincided with World Values Day, an annual campaign to increase the awareness and practice of values around the world. So let’s bring our national heroes into our values-nudging campaign.

It is a major project, a long journey. One on which we must embark urgently and vigorously. Now.

In negotiations, go eye-to-eye

How do you get to win-win? By exchanging offers and requests, and indulging in give and take – maybe upfront simultaneously, or maybe over time – now us, then you. Each side is prepared to be “generous” to the other, to make “sacrifices” for the greater longer-term mutual good.

Ethical, responsible vendors look beyond simply maximising short-term revenue. They equally expect to deliver on customer satisfaction, for it is this that leads to repeat business and referrals.

Just like purchasers who look to the future go beyond merely trying to slash the price at which they buy and to extend their credit terms. They know the suppliers too must cover their costs and make a living, so as to be there for them tomorrow.

In leading up to the negotiation the vendor should adopt the mindset of an adviser to the buyer, helping them make the business case for their solution. Yes, solution (not just the product and its features), with its cost-benefit analysis to show it makes sense.

This requires gaining a good understanding of the needs of the buyer – bearing in mind that what they think they want does not necessarily align with your perception of their need. Reaching alignment here in itself can become an important aspect of negotiation.

Are prospects too focused on short-term cost-minimisation? If so how do you move them to look at the broader context of value-for-money? This kind of negotiating is particularly important for suppliers who don’t expect to be the cheapest but to offer the best product/solution with a good return on having invested in it.

This requires preparing a document that goes way beyond a statement of product features and price (a “quotation”) to showing a full understanding of the need and how it is being met, maybe with alternatives and recommendations (a “proposal”).

With capital goods, where installation, maintenance and other ongoing services are provided, one of the biggest challenges is avoiding the blame game when problems arise, which all too often they do.

This requires investing time up front to agree on a code of conduct should such issues emerge. The objective is to keep calm and be solution-oriented, accepting that no one is perfect. That’s negotiating and building robust win-win relationships at the outset.

When I launched my early career as a key account manager of large IT clients, I was much younger than those with whom I was interacting on the customer side.

The challenge for me was to hold my own despite the great age difference, and I found that due to my understanding of the essence of the business case for our solutions I was confident enough to engage with such people as adult to adult, as equals. I respected them, and they respected me; we listened to one another and co-created the way ahead.

There are plenty of confident young people, and not least here in Kenya. Equally though, I have found many who feel intimidated by elders, not least in our society where the older you are the more respect you expect, and that your way will prevail.

(Now well into my third age I push back whenever I feel I am being offered excessive respect purely as a result of being a mzee… or, for that matter, a mzungu.)

So when it comes to negotiating, at whatever age – or whichever gender, it is vital to overcome feeling inhibited merely because of being younger or being a woman. No, enjoy interacting with prospects and clients eye-to-eye. Yes, enjoy.

Chat about other things; laugh together; commiserate. Treat them as partners, where both you and they will do well from the relationship and where you look forward to interacting. That’s how your first contract with such a customer will be far from your last.

How to agree without giving in

A few weeks ago I was invited to run a workshop on negotiating skills for a group of senior engineers who sell capital goods for a well-known European multinational, and it took me back to the last century when I was an account manager offering large IT solutions using mainframe computers.

It reminded me of my library, where I knew I had some material on the subject. I found more books than I expected, including some which I don’t remember ever reading!

Undoubtedly the best known among them is Getting to Yes – Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, together with Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project. The second edition, the one I have, was published in 1991, and I strongly recommend this classic.

Here’s the essence of the “principled” negotiating laid out there, which has you neither too soft nor too hard. If you are too soft you end up the exploited loser, while if you are too hard you fail to develop a relationship and are likely to restrict yourself to a one-off transaction, as the other party won’t wish to deal with you again.

(This was the case with Trump, during his time as a wheeler-dealer in the New York real estate business, as we learned in “his” book, The Art of the Deal.)

Principled negotiators are in between: reasonable and fair, aiming at mutual benefit. They build and preserve relationships, assuming the other party is a partner and not an opponent. Put briefly, it’s a win-win approach to interacting, the one I adopted right from when I launched into the capital goods marketing business in the late 1960s.

What kind of attitude makes for an effective negotiator? Here, let me turn to another of the books I pulled down from my shelf, The Negotiator – A Manual for Winners, by Royce Coffin. It was published in 1973, and I inherited it from my father, who in those days was a management consultant as I am now.

Coffin advises us to be self-confident and optimistic, so we can be relaxed, creative and bold. He then suggests not rushing at talks.

Rather, be patient, and take time to understand and to build trusting ties. And do so by being friendly and cheerful, and applying a light touch. If necessary, pause to review and reflect, and consult with others.

From The Negotiating Game – How to Get What You Want, by Chester Karrass (published in 1970, and also inherited from my father), I learned about the “negotiator trait clusters”.

First is task performance, involving planning, problem-solving, initiative, product knowledge, reliability and stamina. Next comes aggression (or, as I would prefer to call it, assertiveness). Here he identifies power exploitation, competitiveness, team leadership, persistence, risk-taking, courage and defensiveness.

To a softer trait now, socialising, meaning personal integrity, being open-minded, tactful, patient, compromising and trustworthy, plus displaying an acceptable appearance.

Being an effective communicator is also key, with verbal clarity and good body language, focusing on listening, generating warm rapport, plus skills in debating, role-playing and coordinating.

A final duo: first self-worth, involving self-control, self-esteem and dignity, enabling one to gain the other party’s respect – and even to risk being disliked; and possessing high ethical standards. Plus gaining the boss’s respect, and being identified with a sufficiently senior organisational rank.

Last but not least, one’s thought processes: general practical intelligence, education, insight, analytical ability, decisiveness, negotiating experience, broad perspective, and clear thinking under stress.

The last publication I’ll refer to is my Summer 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review, whose theme was Great Deal Making – The Art and Science of Negotiating, and rereading it vividly reminded me of the lessons I learned when I was in the game, ones I now share as a consultant.

I can’t resist ending by saying that I was recently with one of the workshop participants and I asked him if what we covered had made a difference. He confirmed it had with the recent signing of a major order.

Taming the abuse of power

Readers of this column will have seen previous articles of mine in which I have written about Leaders Circles I have facilitated with my colleague Frank Kretzschmar. The last one was about sustainability, and the theme of our most recent one was “How we deal with power: from victim to perpetrator to victim”.

We’ve all heard that “information is power”, and as Frank and I looked up other suitable quotes before our story-telling gathering we came across some useful provocations, including “Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best,” from doomsday merchant Edward Abbe; and, also pessimistically, William Gaddis shared that “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.”

More upliftingly, Lao Tzu told us that “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” And Alice Walker reminded us that “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

How power is wielded lies at the centre of whether things work or don’t work, we briefed our participants as we invited them to the event. Power itself is values-neutral. So at what point does it become good or bad? Where and how does abuse begin?

Who determines that power was indeed abused? How is it even possible that power does get abused? Does it happen when moral concepts are excluded from the exercising of power? When corruption is used to distort rules of the game that had been based on a broad consensus? When individual powerful people lose all sense of self-awareness and proportion?

We are seeing that too many neurotics and egocentrics are key players in the power game. And as a result, we give up on essential issues out of comfort, thoughtlessness or anticipatory obedience. They then take advantage of the resulting vacuum. Are we not to blame for this?

So how do you tame the abuse of power? As leaders, you cannot do without power. How do you empower yourself and others? And how far may or must you go in order to gain (back) power and influence?

How do the exercise of power and ethical action coexist, for there are fewer and fewer fixed reference systems? Exercising power without stepping over the boundaries of individuals is not possible. But is it possible to exercise power while remaining innocent? It is undoubtedly a question of balance.

We were interested to hear where and how those who participated in our event have succeeded in keeping power in the good area, and this we certainly did. We learned about the challenge of leading volunteers, in business and professional organisations, and in service clubs like Rotary and Lions.

And we talked about the need to “decolonise” and spread decision-making from the over-influential Global North towards the Global South, including in how research funds are allocated.

We also heard stories of power abusers – from our own traffic police to Vladimir Putin – and of being the direct victims of more powerful and unconstrained players.

One spoke about the fragility of power, as evidenced in the Arab Spring (and more recently in Sri Lanka, and with Johnson in the UK); while another worried about the constraints faced by the UN Security Council in fulfilling its mission of holding the world together.

I reflected that rather than wanting to feel powerful, my expectation was and is that I can be of influence, and above all in bringing people together – as a mediator, an integrator, a connector.

I enjoy helping others to building their capacity so I can empower them, and hence delegate to them. I see the goodness of power-sharing, which requires openness and trust.

Here I am, deep into my third age, a time of life when most of us no longer expect to wield direct power (except, perhaps, in the political arena). One way in which I hope I am being of influence is through these columns.

A few weeks ago I published by 400th one, and this one marks fifteen years since by first contribution here. My sense has always been that I largely preach to the already converted, but my hope is that my readers will emerge reinforced in their views, and so promote them more boldly. I might even convert a few here and there, and who knows, perhaps enable them to become more powerful.

In closing, I urge you to exercise your power by voting next month for men and women who will wield power responsibly. Or else you will be their victims. But hey, I’m preaching to the converted.

Preparing the youth to be responsible leaders

The Institute for Responsible Leadership (where I am a co-founder) recently partnered with UNITAR (the United Nations Institute for Training and Research) with whom IRL collaborates closely) to broadcast a webinar on youth and responsible leadership.

Keynote speaker Sebastian Hofbauer talked about how youth have become significant “influencers” through the use of social media – some positive, but many not so. The latter are primarily in it for the size of their following and the revenue they therefore generate.

So we need government regulation, he suggested, but also self-regulation, this in partnership with the private sector and including through the UN Global Compact. Much helpful food for thought.

In my contribution as a panelist, I focused on two youth organisations with which I have been closely involved since the late 1970s. Both have been spectacularly successful at developing highly responsible young leaders – many of whom have gone on to occupy the highest positions of leadership in Kenya and way beyond.

The first one I spoke about was Rotaract, the young persons’ Rotary, where young adults aged 18 and over join – as in Rotary itself – to offer service while enjoying each other’s friendship, and where they also develop their leadership skills, not least through learning by doing.

There’s no better way of accelerating one’s development and one’s career than by joining such volunteer organisations, and the earlier one does so the better.

For here one is exposed to projects and committees, to managing people and funds, while learning about policies and programmes, meetings and minutes, and so much more about leadership.

Rotaracters apply Rotary’s “4-Way Test”, so in everything they think, say or do, they ask: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” and “Is it beneficial to all?” It is young adults who practice such values as honesty and fairness that are attracted to this organisation, and their membership there reinforces these further.

The first Rotaracter I met was in 1979, a young man called Stephen Musyoka, whom the Rotary Club of Nairobi where I was a member selected to benefit from a post-graduate scholarship at the Mediterranean Institute of Management in Cyprus. Now better known as Kalonzo Musyoka, he went on to develop a very successful career in politics, where practicing the 4-Way Test is so challenging!

In 1986, when I became the President of our Rotary Club, one of my main goals was to relaunch our Rotaract Club, that had meanwhile faded away.

I challenged two young professionals in the IT company of which I was CEO, Henry Njoroge and David Muiruri, to gather together a group of suitable people to form one, and indeed before my year was done the Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central was launched.

Since then it has continued to thrive, a permanent source for developing responsible leaders. Indeed the current President of our Rotary Cub, Gideon Akwabi, became a Rotaracter in 1989 and emerged as a leader there before joining our Rotary Club in 2012.

The second example I chose was AIESEC, which was launched in 1948 as an international association of students of economics and commerce, enabling them to be exposed to other European countries and cultures in the aftermath of the Second World War.

When I was an undergraduate in the mid-sixties I undertook AIESEC internships in France and America, and they were life-transforming exposures for me.

I became a member of the advisory board of AIESEC Kenya soon after arriving here in the late 1970s, and ever since I have enjoyed mentoring generations of AIESECers – the brightest and the best of responsible young leaders.

AIESEC partners with major institutions that act as hosts for internships, and these days it attracts students from all disciplines and actively supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

You can just imagine how that develops their members as responsible young leaders. Like with former Rotaracters, AIESEC alumni are consistently sought after to occupy leadership positions. (One such is Polycarp Igathe.)

I am currently involved with the inspiringly responsible leaders of the AIESEC chapter at Strathmore University, whose Vice-Chancellor Vincent Ogutu I first met when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi… as a result of him being a member of AIESEC.

So you can understand why I am such an enthusiastic advocate for young women and men joining these wonderful organisations, as they are extraordinary incubators of responsible leadership.

Making 360-degree appraisals beneficial

360-degree appraisals provide feedback to employees not just their supervisors. They can be horizontal, among colleagues who work together at the same level, and/or vertical, from those at lower levels commenting on their bosses.

Sounds like a good idea, yes? After all, each one of us can benefit from holistic feedback to become more self-aware, more in touch with reality, so as to understand where we can improve our performance. Right?

Sure. Except that many organisations that have introduced side-to-side or bottom-up assessments have suffered negative unintended consequences.

Indeed my first experience of formal 360-degree appraisals was with a global multilateral institution whose Kenya director would cry on my shoulder about his supervisor being completely disinterested in what he felt many of his staff unreasonably needed him to do and not do in order to assess him positively.

It provided an easy opportunity for disgruntled staff to get their own back on him if he had made tough – but in his view necessary – decisions about an issue. And instead of appreciating his resistance to taking the easy way out by being unduly nice to his staff merely to gain popularity and higher ratings, his boss would just condemn him for the negative reviews.

It is such risks that make me wary about recommending 360-degree feedback to all and sundry. I am more likely to if an organisation enjoys a particularly healthy culture of high trust all round, and where all levels have been prepared for handling such a sensitive subject in a constructive way.

As a first stage, I often suggest that such feedback be provided between teams rather than individually – like between levels, departments and functions.

Another question that arises is where extremely low ratings, accompanied by highly negative comments, are made about some receiving their 360-degree appraisals. Should they be shown the precise content of such feedback?

Might it lead them to have their self-confidence and self-esteem battered, and even to overfocus on the likely sources, however anonymously the responses will have been submitted?

Would it be less disruptive for whoever is discussing the feedback with them – whether their supervisor, the HR function or an external coach – to merely offer a sufficient flavour of what has been provided, before turning to how they can deal with the issues expressed by changing some of their attitudes and behaviours?

Either way, adequate reference should also be made to positive feedback that will have been provided.

If the ones who’ve received particularly harsh feedback should perhaps not be shown the whole ugly picture, is it OK to share the full story with those where more positive views were expressed about them? I don’t think so. Let there be a consistent approach.

Whether an organisation’s appraisal system includes 360-degree components or not, it is vital that all involved – everyone who appraises and all who are appraised – are engaged in sessions to help them understand the purpose of such exercises, i.e performance improvement, personal development and career planning, all within a coaching culture.

Not an occasional parental lecture to one’s children; not tick-in-the-box annual compliance with having “done” appraisals and pleasing the folks in HR; not just a way to negotiate a salary review or a promotion.

I long ago ceased being surprised by how in very few organisations do appraisal systems add value. On the contrary, too many are but a disruptive, time-consuming nuisance, harming rather than enriching relationships of mutual trust and respect.

Adding the 360-degree component requires yet more focus on purpose, yet more time to plan and implement, yet more continuous follow-up. If appraisal systems work well they are extremely valuable, making everyone feel good about contributing to each other’s learning and growth.

So I am a passionate advocate for them, including the collection and sharing of broader feedback. Plus, I should add, at the highest level, among boards of directors and with CEOs – often the ones who least dare apply such treatment to themselves.

So, does your organisation’s appraisal system help you as an individual move forward, and is this in alignment with the progress of the whole entity? And is your culture robust and honest enough to handle a 360-degree component? These are mission-critical questions that must not be avoided.

Avoiding family wars that ruin businesses

These days I am being invited more frequently to help align family members within their businesses so they can lead the organisations they own more effectively.

I am encouraged by those who reach out to me for such assistance, as it speaks of being realistic about the importance of cohesiveness among them and of feeling optimistic that they can indeed do better.

In my capacity as an adviser — or, as I often label myself, coach — I first listen to each family member involved, getting a sense of their personalities and styles, and of the roles they play in their enterprise.

In a spirit of “appreciative inquiry” I like to start by having them tell me about the achievements they are proudest of and the strengths that explain them, and then asking them to share the challenges they face — including and not least with other family members.

For this to happen I don’t rush into these topics, but begin by building a relaxed, cheerful and trusting relationship with them, getting them to talk more generally about their lives, while revealing something about mine.

Business school

As I was preparing to write this article I caught sight of a book I’d bought some years ago at the London Business School bookshop but had never got round to reading.

Published in 2008, Family Wars is about some of the biggest family-run companies in the world, showing how in-fighting among family members threatened to bring about their downfall.

It covers families such as Ford, Gucci and the Watsons of IBM, using these as examples of different categories of wars, not least between fathers and sons, among siblings, and as a result of marriages between families.

It also provides advice for anyone involved in a family business, offering suggestions on how to avoid such problems.

The book’s authors are London Business School Prof Nigel Nicholson, whose research interests include the psychology of family business, and Grant Gordon, the director-general of the Institute for Family Business and a fifth-generation member and former senior executive of William Grant & Sons, the distillers of Glenfiddich whisky (my favourite).

Despite relating stories of specific family “wars” they are careful to point out that many with family ownership outperform other kinds of organisations, and that some of the world’s oldest companies are those that have remained owned by their founding families.

I related very closely to what I read about both the kinds of challenges that family businesses commonly face, and how to prevent them and handle them if and when they arise.

Not least about the wisdom of “appointing skilled non-family professionals to fill business leadership roles”; “appointing a neutral ‘ombudsman’ as co-mentor of a sibling team”; and “instituting appraisals and regular feedback on work output and mentoring for family members”.

Not surprisingly, Grant and Nicholson refer to the lack of trust as “the real killer”, where one person sees another as unreliable, inconsistent, devious or duplicitous. And – as I do – they advocate for a spirit of forgiving and seeking forgiveness.

To avoid undue conflict, a culture of equity and fairness must prevail, with no cheating and taking of shortcuts. Worst of all is the hiring of lawyers to sue one another, never mind if the dirty linen starts getting washed in public.

Just as insufficient cohesiveness leads family members to either waste energy in fruitless attempts to win battles at the expense of a relative, or to disengage and scatter, so excessive cohesion, where families retreat into their own exclusive world, are also unhealthy.

Consensus builder

The challenge is to nurture an atmosphere where differences can be aired and consensus built, in a spirit of give and take.

Yes, we want the leadership team in family businesses to be diverse — including these days by including the women. We want representation of a spectrum from elders to millennials, and it’s good for members to have varied exposure to education and to other cultures and countries.

Some will have a greater appetite for risk than others. Some will be more focused on longer-term sustainability and on being fair to all key stakeholders and some will be keener than others on professionalising.

The question is how such diversity can be brought together without generating wars, and by whom.

Who in the family is the consensus builder, the mediator? Or does the business, as so many do, require external help to keep the peace and allow each family member to contribute and thrive in their own way?

Do your part to end civic illiteracy ahead of polls

Some of us struggled more than others in 2021: some with their health, some with their livelihoods and others with both. For me, as readers of this column are aware, my severe encounter with Covid-19 meant I was out of action for quite some time. But here we are at the beginning of a new year, and I thought it would be good to share some reflections on the state of the nation as we enter this season of election frenzy.

For quite some time now we have settled into expecting only Ruto-Raila front-page headlines in the dailies, as the media responds to our apparently insatiable appetite for following the non-stop race to State House, with all its noisy competition. Huge political rallies are the order of the day, as our politicians roam the country building momentum for their respective causes.

They gather their packed crowds, where few wear masks and those who do mainly hang them around their necks – great for spreading Covid-19. And this while shopping malls understandably require visitors to show their Covid certificates. Some have rightly asked “why not those attending rallies?”

These rallies, and so much else around political campaigning, are costing millions of shillings each and every week, and we are still gathering speed for the increasingly hectic cash-spraying we shall witness in the months ahead. This causes many of us deep concern about where all the money is coming from, with no limits imposed, as though an endless easy supply is on tap.

Equally concerning is the overwhelming attention being paid to campaigning by our politicians and others at the expense of worrying about Covid-19, the state of the day-to-day economy, and the country’s longer-term development. Except, admittedly, through their evolving manifesto headliners, with their catchy high-cost giveaway approaches to reducing unemployment and poverty.

The media loves following this source of vivid entertainment, with its cast of colourful, adrenalin-fuelled personalities. The crowds love it too, happy to enjoy as many rallies as they can be bussed to. For whom will they vote though? For the ones they believe will make the best leaders, the most skilled at governing? Or the most “generous” today, the most entertaining, the ones who are from their own ethnic group?

My sense is that reasonable awareness exists about who can perform well as leaders. But such rational awareness is too often overwhelmed by behaviour that succumbs to short-term gratification (a nice way of describing handouts).

Over the holidays, reading Robin D.G. Kelley’s foreword to America at War with Itself by Henry A. Giroux, I came across the term “civic illiteracy” – a “cultivated and imposed state” in that country according to him, and I related it to such a phenomenon here, where politicians have led voters to expect to be paid if they are to be supported. How sad.

I have never heard a single one of the candidates, at any level, refer to our national values – the ones buried deep in our Constitution and never sought out by our leaders. Such values were well promoted in the BBI document, but inevitably the politicians– and hence the media – merely selected the component that they claim mitigates against our winner-take-all style of elections and ignored everything else.

So, while the politicians play with their politics, the rest of us must find immediate and practical ways to deal with issues such as containing Covid-19; increasing the productivity of our farmers and the competitiveness of our manufacturers; mitigating the consequences of climate change; nurturing self-discipline in our schools; and reducing the digital divide.

I have now lived in Kenya for not too far off half a century, and throughout my time here I have seen the amazingly high potential of this wonderful country and its energetic, enthusiastic and entrepreneurial people, many highly educated. They are why Kenya has achieved so much since it threw off the shackles of colonialism. Equally however, it has consistently been my strong feeling that Kenya has greatly underachieved relative to its great potential.

We have outstanding leaders here, world class – including and not least in the very challenging public sector. But not so much in the world of politics. As we enter this year of elections, my appeal to you readers of the Business Daily is to do what you can to influence those around you to vote for candidates who will create that enabling environment within which we can all feel proud of living our Vision 2030 by that time.

PS. Just a few hours after I wrote this article I heard the President’s New Year message, in which he called for leadership over politics, and for boldness and vision over popularity. Kudos, Your Excellency.