Marikana, The Massive Failure of Leadership and the HR Function

We should be careful that our perspectives reflect a mind-set that will perpetuate the current climate of industrial anarchy in the mining sector. In terms of the Marikina incident several factors that require further investigation. Some of these include:

1. More than a year ago (around the municipal elections) there was already a “buzz” around the company in question about fatalities and even suicides in the local community. The feeling of some workers was that if it were not for the elections the government would have closed the mine;

2. One should further ask what the human resources management climate at the company was. Were HR and management effectively monitoring this build-up of dissatisfaction? How did their internal specialists advise management and what did management do about this?
3. The lack apparent lack of equity related to earnings between workers and management is further cause for concern, and is in itself an attack on the moral basis of capitalism (something that the mining industry can ill afford). An info graphic from City Press, for example, shows that the income of the top three executives of the company can pay the salaries of approximately 4000 drill operators. It does not go unnoticed that at least one of those three were absent from his post since the strike started. One wonders what the effect would have been if the relevant individual were not there and there was no strike.Would the mine have been crippled the way it was? Maybe and oversimplification but also a sign that we need to rethink the way we see workers, treat them not only as inanimate instruments of the production process, and most of all see their real value!

Marikina cannot be described as a negotiation gone wrong. It constitutes a failure of leadership at all levels, of the HR function, which together with political instability, a community in squalor (several reports confirm this) as well as political opportunism created a “perfect storm” in labour relations. The fall out is that we have a crisis that constitutes a lower ebb, than the most sensitive moments in our countries transition. As HR practitioners we should own up and start playing our role, rather than the politics of our companies!! Our advice and professional courage could be the difference between life and death!

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Tags: HR, leadership, management, marikana, people, strategy

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Comment by Tim Malone on October 10, 2012 at 11:20

Very well put Phil.

To my knowledge, there isn't an institution in SA that offers a qualification in Leadership. Yes, MBAs and other degree and diploma courses sometimes have a module on leadership and there are a few 'certificate' programmes offered. I lecture leadership part-time to Honours students and they are generally desperate to gain a greater understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader, yet their degree courses only include around 18-24 hours throughout their 4 year programme!

Comment by sylvia hammond on October 8, 2012 at 22:25

Thanks Phil and Jean - I have an interesting article from last week's Mail and Guardian - I'll scan and add as well  - provides interesting context as well.

After years of participating in job grading one of the definitions that is imprinted on my brain is: "the solution is not obvious and may take time to find".  Welcome to South Africa - no easy solutions but definitely time for us to raise our sights to the challenge - in the interest of all of us.

Comment by Jean Lohbauer on October 8, 2012 at 21:14

I watch mostly from the sidelines as I swopped the HR role for business some time ago. Let's be honest, the HR function is a joke becaue of the contribution this function DOES NOT MAKE. It is a line function firstly, but because we cannot move beyond certain business structures, it will always remain an esoterical and lumpy department, and that is why the comment from 'GEN Y' is real. So, to all HR practitioners, get involved in the business in terms of integrating people and as co-workers and stop treating them like mushrooms!

Comment by Phil de Kock on October 8, 2012 at 20:50

Thanks for all the wonderful comments. I received this extract from an ex-colleague (a typical Gen Y, brilliant black man - and industrial psychologist) Maybe this is the challenge before all of us... to create a meaningful career and life. One that really contributes!

"You and I face the difficult choice of trading meaning for money; we weigh the searing moments of real human accomplishment against the soul-sucking "work" of earning the next car payment by polishing up another meaningless PowerPoint deck packed with tactics to win games whose net result is the creation of little of real value for much of anyone who's not a sociopath. This is the deepest kind of theft; not merely prosperity having been looted from societies, but significance having been stolen from human lives"

Umair Haque

Umair Haque

Umair Haque is Director of Havas Media Labs and author of Betterness: Economics for Humans and The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. He is ranked one of the world's most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50. Follow him on twitter @umairh.

Comment by Christine Botha on October 8, 2012 at 18:21

Valid and insightful comments from everyone.  I would like to add that, as HR Professionals, we all reach a stage where we simply do not have answers.  I would like to encourage all our colleagues to reach out to one another for advice, support and mentorship in times of crises.  In my experience help is readily available from all sources, including professional bodies such as the SABPP.  My second comment is that I believe all HR Professionals, especially those in executive positions, must be competent in alternative dispute resolution.  John Brand confirmed my views in a 702 morning show discussion with John Robbie.  Are we (and I am generalising) not too reactive?


Comment by sylvia hammond on October 8, 2012 at 12:45

Thank you for raising this discussion and the responses highlighting many of the key current HR questions - over the last two decades we've had HR people being encouraged to focus on: "human capital", "talent management", "organisational effectiveness", and becoming a "business partner".  All trends promoted by the so-called developed countries. 

I would suggest that South African HR practitioners need to stand up and be counted in what matters to South Africa. We have enormous problems of poverty and unemployment.  Desperate people have nothing to lose. Even the briefest scan through the "platinum weekly" reveals that this incident was highly predictable.  The solutions I've seen so far are an increase and an agreement to look at grading levels.  Fine so far - but where are the real solutions - housing, family accommodation, schools, churches, healthcare - a community infrastructure?  And Pauls following your SABPP comment, Marius is on the right track to advance regional committees - maybe the local committee should be setting up a meeting with local employers and government departments for much more comprehensive solutions. 


Comment by Mandlenkosi Mdletshe on October 8, 2012 at 12:40

 "As HR practitioners we should own up and start playing our role, rather than the politics of our companies!!"

Well presented Phil

HR suppose to be the neutral as possible practicable in an organisation .

Human Resource are the custodian of all policies and all Labour laws.

As you are saying it in the real fact companies should not let their employees become the victims of politics ,they employ the workers not union members .although we had that right of association and join union of our choice ,that is possible after working hours. If  HR were doing their jobs properly at Marikana's case all that would be avoided.To start with HR was supposed to sensitize the issue before it came out of control deal with it holistically and honestly.  

HR is the representative of all in a company that form part of organisation,They mus not treat employees like furniture ,the employees got mind   

Comment by Pauls Gibbons on October 8, 2012 at 11:33

I agree with your comments.  My question is this... Is HR a partner or a puppet?   And I am not being flippant in this question.   HR professionals often bemoan the fact that they don't get proper recognition nor a seat at the top table but are they stepping up?   Are we doing what is right or what is expedient?   Are we simply puppets at the hands of management, to do their bidding and, often, to 'work the system' and make the problems go away?   We need to get to the point where business respects HR professionals in the same way that they respect financial professionals.  But we won't get to this point unless HR professionals start acting the part; refuse to 'bend the rules' and insist on being heard as ethical, moral and responsible role players.   Putting on my SABPP Ethics hat now, I would point out that we are trying to support HR in stepping up to this role, by unpacking the competencies and behaviours required and providing an ethics hotline for practitioners.   I believe, though, that there are many HR people who don't represent the profession in the best light either because they don't have the knowledge, skills and experience to do their job properly or because, in their quest to become a partner to management, they have lost sight of what they are supposed to do.   When things are going well, leaders and HR can look outside and be proud, when things aren't going well - we should look inside and see what we are doing wrong.

Comment by Christopher Sharpe on October 8, 2012 at 11:03

Absolutely agree.

Comment by Brian V Moore on October 8, 2012 at 11:02

Well said, Phil.



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