Furthest Right

An Eternal Search For The Silver Bullet

These days we use the term silver bullet to refer to an action which cuts through complexity and provides an immediate solution to a problem. The allusion is to a miraculous fix, otherwise portrayed as “waving a magic wand.” The belief in the magical power of silver, especially of weapons made from silver, is very ancient.

The idea of a single fix for problems is of course magical, but the Pareto principle is more practical:

Pareto Analysis is a statistical technique in decision-making used for the selection of a limited number of tasks that produce significant overall effect. It uses the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) the idea that by doing 20% of the work you can generate 80% of the benefit of doing the entire job.

Applying this to a currently failed society like South Africa before looking at more advanced countries, one might be tempted to look through the lens of leadership, because leaders have an 80% effect on their followers. Therefore asking 20% of the population to motivate 80% looks like a good idea, but we all know that will not work simply because leaders assassinate those who reveal corruption in the party when the nation regresses to third world status:

The ambush was exactly what Mr. Magaqa had feared. A few months before, a friend had been killed by gunmen in his front yard. Then, as another friend tried to open his front gate at night, a hit man crept out of the dark, shooting him dead. Next came Mr. Magaqa, 34. Struck half a dozen times, he hung on for weeks in a hospital before dying last year.

All of the assassination targets had one thing in common: They were members of the African National Congress who had spoken out against corruption in the party that defined their lives.

Another possibility is to spread information from the 20% to the 80% populace using media and education. It may seem simple enough, but media has its own survival in sight which they ensure by capturing their audiences with selected sensational hit pieces such as rugby privilege. Education will also not work because of widespread corruption in schools.

A third option is the internet and cell phone networks where virtually every person older than twelve can access. The Government is pro-broadband and what they call the Fourth Industrial Revolution and applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook are pervasive in society. Also informal banking applications and even the new 5G technology are planned for 2020 implementation.

However, since mainstream media tell all their customers social media is fake news, using this option to fix society also falls by the wayside.

Another option might be business techniques since capitalism “works,” meaning public methods will fail while private initiatives might succeed. Asking multi-national corporations for feedback is generally a good idea since they view society from the outside and while not doing a proper survey, some feedback did point towards human resources as a general source of discontent in South Africa.

Human resources refers to the problem of labor, and our tendency to view it in egalitarian terms where all must be represented. This then forces society to accommodate, which causes it to accept deleterious behaviors as normal and even defend them in order to keep labor happy.

Internal in the country it is known that the governing political party is in a permanent alliance with the biggest labor union federation in the country, which is illogical from a business perspective. It’s like asking the Pope to be the Minister of Trade and Industry.

While businesses generally work independently from government other than paying taxes and regulatory compliance, a constant abrasive interaction between labor and business (apart from yearly salary increases) is the moral conundrum of occupational safety and specifically work related fatalities.

Despite externally caused death statistics comprising murder, homicide, and traffic accidents on the rise or at least moving sideways on a plateau, work related deaths have dropped 45%. This is a good indicator that business is indeed effective.

Using the wider implication of safety to the benefit of society is of course entirely possible. One attempt to do this has already failed however, where a non-profit called “Business Against Crime” (BAC) was established with the sole purpose to stop white collar crimes (corruption) but disintegrated.

However, the incentive to improve society using safety remains enticing because the safety-economy correlation is estimated at 61%. Looking further into the maze of safety and specifically ergonomics, the matter regarding Cumulative Trauma Disorder came up.

  • Cumulative trauma disorders are the most frequent cause of lost work and workers’ compensation claims in certain industries
  • A cumulative trauma disorder, also known as CTD, is defined as the excessive wear and tear on tendons, muscles and sensitive nerve tissue caused by continuous use over an extended period of time.

The idea that accidents result in physical trauma is generally accepted, but that it has a longitudinal effect getting worse after repeated accidents, is less known and the same applies to psychology.

For example, it is well known that abuse during childhood affects people, but studies apparently found that abuse during adulthood is much worse.  An easy example applies to soldiers eventually suffering PTSD, but it was also found that cumulative trauma (CT) predict PTSD.

  • The current results suggest that current PTSD occurs in approximately 4% of the general population. This rate is roughly equivalent to the 3.5% reported for the United States
  • In both the general population and inmate samples, CT continued to be a strong predictor of PTSD

That employees suffer trauma in their organizations is described in books such as Impact of Organizational Trauma on Workplace Behavior and Performance.

When confronted with a stressful event that surpasses the ability to cope, this experience may lead to trauma. This condition, an emotional response that jeopardizes psychological integrity, produces a series of symptoms that includes flashbacks, strained relationships and physical manifestations.

It goes further (unfortunately) and may encompass the entire organization or even external groups;

When affected by events with a strong adverse impact, an organization, all or in part, may exhibit signs of collective traumatization that in turn, deteriorates social bonds, damages external relations, and possibly instigates secondary and transgenerational traumatization.

Then it gets (a lot) worse:

The former includes massive redundancies, abuse of power and rank, catastrophic events, hostile take-overs and considerable transformations.

In summary it is possible to say that by allowing business actions to improve the human resources problem in its country, the South African Government (regardless of political persuasion) may well improve its image as a third world wasteland.

The silver bullet to improve Human Resources is then for Business to focus on avoiding the risk of psychological cumulative trauma caused by a society in crisis, dovetailing with business oriented stages of growth, instead of business-oriented stages of decline.

One known methodology is to fire bullets before you fire cannonballs:

  • With our Rhythm Think Plan Do methodology, you will have the discipline built in to avoid or reverse some stages of decline. If you stick to a Think Rhythm and follow our process for documenting and testing assumptions for new strategies, always firing bullets before cannonballs
  • your team will have to face the brutal facts and make adjustments when you are tempted to “deny the risk and peril.”
  • Rhythm dashboards will help you remain accountable to your 20 mile march, and your coach can help you stay disciplined rather than seeking a silver bullet.

However, if business is not allowed to fix human resources, the third world wasteland will not just be an image anymore, and this applies to any other country too.

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