by Vally Padayachee, Independent energy expert
Disclaimer: The author wishes to state upfront that the views expressed in this article may not represent the views of all the members of the respective organisations he represents, given inter alia the diversity of the respective membership profiles of those organisations.
The title of the article, “Carpe diem folks, Eskom’s in a poverty of the soul crisis – just fix it!” is metaphorical in nature and was very carefully chosen. The phrase ‘Carpe diem’, (Latin: “pluck the day” or “seize the day”) was used or coined by the Roman poet Horace. The Latin phrase was given a boost in popular culture by the 1989 film Dead Poets Society and is commonly translated as “seize the day” and was also made popular by Nike in their well-known “Just Do it” slogan.
A ‘carpe diem’ approach encourages people to reasonably focus on the present, appreciate the value of every moment in life, and avoid postponing things unnecessarily. To implement the concept of ‘carpe diem’ and successfully seize the day, one should focus on the moment (the now) and take advantage of it as much as possible. Hence at its core, ‘carpe diem’ means to do whatever is necessary; do whatever it takes to seize the day, pluck the day, seize the moment, seize the opportunity now, act decisively, give leadership to, and improve – especially a situation considered a crisis, etc. This is applicable in addressing South Africa’s current national energy security challenge as characterised by the electricity or power crisis and evidenced by the associated debilitating Eskom load shedding. Hence ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) can also contextually be interpreted as a rallying call to action, especially in terms of the country’s electricity crisis.
Simply, Eskom’s current electricity crisis can be paraphrased and described inter alia as a
“Poverty of electrons, Poverty of energy capacity, Poverty of money, and a Poverty of the soul crisis”.
I intentionally used the word “poverty” because poverty is now generally recognised to be a man-made event or situation. According to Xavier Peralta, Global Head of Education Services en Cloud Blue-Ingram Micro Cloud, we live in an era in which companies not only need to have a corporate social responsibility but need to create a shared set of values. Business more than ever can not only be about business but must understand how it contributes to society. Companies have a soul, and this soul connects everything that matters for them. When this soul is lost then the company is condemned to disappear. Recognise this soul and the paths and principles that rule it because this is the key to ensure longevity for the company.
A company without a soul is a machine without life. Its soul is what makes a company a real organisation. There are many different factors that guide us in choosing one company over another such as quality, price, efficiency, innovation, etc. These are all factors a company needs to control. But there’s an intangible factor that makes a company thrive and that is its soul.
It’s the company’s leadership’s responsibility to embody this soul. When a company has a soul that is alive, customers want to come back, they love their products and employees feel part of the company and want to contribute. The soul gives meaning to their work and creates a collective sense of ownership and pride. When there’s no soul and the focus is only on business, sooner or later the company will begin to falter and eventually “die”. The soul of a company is what keeps the company alive and keeps everything connected in the most beneficial way.
“It isn’t equipment that wins battles; it is the quality and the determination of the people fighting for a cause in which they believe.”; “Failure is not an option”.
(Gene Kranz, former US astronaut, head of the NASA team that rescued the Apollo 13 mission).
In “The why of WORK”, Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich (“Ulrichs”) present, inter alia, an excellent and serious discussion of the nature of personal “meaning” at work and they hope to change the conversations between leaders and employees to focus not only on what needs to be done but also on how it feels to do it.
It’s generally become common knowledge that we all work not just for money but also for “meaning”. Through our work we (as employees) seek a sense of purpose, to make a contribution, have connection to, value in, and hope. Meaning is tied less to belongings and more to emotional bonds, a sense of purpose, and using one’s skills to serve the needs of others. In companies, including Eskom, meaning and abundance are more about what we do with what we have than about what we must begin with or what we accumulate.
I was employed at Eskom Generation in various technical and leadership positions at Eskom Head Office and at a power station for many years since the early 1990’s when Eskom Generation (let alone Eskom per se) was reflecting world class performance levels, inter alia including Energy Availability Factor (“EAF”) = 90%, PCLF = 7% and UCLF = 3%. Eskom at the time was one of the top five performing power utilities in the world in virtually all categories and/or metrics.
Though it was the envy of many global power utilities it was also admired and respected by these utilities. Eskom also had many inhouse developed technical, engineering etc policies, procedures, and systems that other global utilities were utilising through inter alia for example the Engineering Power Research Institute (“EPRI”) membership. Besides some of the various technologies the Eskom’s Sustainability Index and Long-Term Plant Indicators (“LRPHIs”) were also global firsts that added significant value to Eskom Generation’s business.
I argue that besides all the top-notch policies, processes, systems, training, and development programmes that had contributed to Eskom’s world class performance at the time, a major contributor was also the world class employees, leadership, management, technical, engineering staff, etc that worked for Eskom and especially Eskom Generation at the time. Eskom was a company of choice and attracted many excellent resources especially technical resources and investment. I recall that at one time Eskom’s investment rating was higher than the government’s sovereign rating. These employees, including myself, were fortunate at the time to have worked in an environment wherein they were able to give off their best, found meaning, happiness, fulfilment, purpose, etc in their work but most importantly they were also supported, empowered etc by the Eskom leadership at the time.
Hence it is mind boggling and shocking (but maybe not surprising) that Eskom in the last 15 years has plummeted to one of the world’s worst performing power utilities wherein its EAF is now around 50% out of a dispatchable capacity of 48 GW, robust and or intense load shedding is the norm of the day and with the Eskom electricity grid that could potentially collapse at any time if no urgent serious action is taken by Eskom and its shareholder. It’s sad that Eskom’s now considered as a power utility with pariah status.
The Ulrichs argue that the search for meaning adds value in two senses of the word. First humans are meaning-making machines who find inherent value in making sense out of life. The meaning we make of an experience determines the impact on us and can turn disaster into an opportunity, loss into hope, failure into learning, boredom into reflection. The meaning we create can make life feel rich and full regardless of our external circumstances or give us the courage to change our external circumstances. When we find meaning in our work, we find meaning in life.
The Ulrichs continue to elaborate that in addition to inherent value, meaning has market value. Meaningful work resolves real problems, contributes real benefits, and thus adds real value to customers and investors. Employees who find meaning in their work are more satisfied, more engaged, and in turn productive. They work harder, smarter, more passionately and creatively. They learn and adapt. They are more connected to customer needs. They also stick around. Good leaders invest in meaning making not only because it is profitable. Making sense can also make cents.
They also define an “abundant” organisation as an organisation with a work setting in which individuals coordinate their aspirations and actions to create meaning for themselves, value for stakeholders, and hope for humanity at large. An abundant organisation is one that has enough and to spare of the things that matter most: creativity, hope, resilience, determination, resourcefulness, and leadership.
I am still closely involved with Eskom and again without any fear of favour attributes this plummeting of Eskom’s performance besides the so-called poverty of electrons, energy capacity, money to a human resources issue. Besides losing several competent and experienced Eskom Generation staff in the last few years I further argue that the current Eskom Generation staff (though many are trying to give off their best) they’ve because of the significant or rapid deterioration in the Eskom Generation operating environment or landscape the productivity of these staff have also reduced drastically.
Many of them especially their core staff have lost their sense of meaning, purpose, motivation, creativity, resilience, determination, resourcefulness and indeed leadership. Many of them will leave Eskom if they can find another job to their preference. I believe further argues that these dire human resources situation parameters or characteristics are a major contributor to the drop in Eskom Generation’s performance.
In essence I am of the opinion that “the soul of Eskom is now virtually destroyed and needs urgent fixing”.
I contend that Eskom Generation’s human resources predicament now reflects several organisational pathologies which if not attended to as a matter of urgency could further exacerbate Eskom Generation’s current performance resulting potentially in the collapse of Eskom Generation, as a worst-case scenario.
An organisational pathology is a broad concept that includes any internal aspect, characteristic, irregularity, inefficiency, or dysfunction of an organisation that could threaten the survival of the organisation.
The following are some other examples of organisational pathologies (also reflective of a destroyed company’s soul):
- Arrogance of power
- Excessive dependence on procedures
- Failure to see ties between organisational outlay and effects
- Lack of any “will” to learn and acquire new knowledge from employees
- Shifting the responsibility for mistakes to others
- Surrendering to the herd effect,
- The ignoring of minor signals,
- Concentration on the symptoms of the problem, not their causes,
- Shortening the time horizon for decisions,
- Lack of vision and reactivity, and
- A quest for novelties and disregard for tested solutions
(Source: “Organisational pathologies under conditions of economic downswing” by Jacek Pasieczny, University of Warsaw)
Eskom therefore needs as an urgency a total psychological turnaround, top to bottom in addition to strategic, financial, and technical turnarounds if as a worst-case scenario the collapse of Eskom is to be avoided. Eskom now also needs urgent interventions to make it once again an abundant organisation as per the Ulrichs’ model.
In closing, I believe that any new CEO (and COO) that gets appointed by Eskom now must be someone that has significant competencies and experience in having successfully turned around companies like Eskom from a psychological perspective, in addition to possessing competencies in the other turnaround areas as mentioned.
I believe that the psychological turnaround of Eskom must “trump” all the other turnaround aspects because the psychological turnaround will of necessity contribute to the success of the other turnarounds as mentioned in above.
About the author
Vally Padayachee, CD(SA), FInstD; FIRMSA; MBA; MSc (Eng); GCC; EDP (Wits), Power and Energy Expert, Former Eskom executive manager and former City Power JHB executive.
Padayachee has over 40 years’ “hands on” experience across all levels from operational, technical, management, executive, director, CEO up to and including Board level in the power and energy sectors. His profile also includes having worked in such major blue-chip companies as Toyota Manufacturing SA, SAPREF Shell and BP Refineries, Mobil/Engen Refinery, Eskom Generation, City Power JHB, GIBB Consulting Engineers, and Altron Power (Powertech).
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