African Explosives Ltd was the first major company to apply Schuitema's Care and Growth™ philosophies in a comprehensive manner. Graham Edwards, the now-retired former managing director of African Explosives Ltd and later managing director of the holding company AECI, was a prime mover in this application in the 1990s and 2000s. This is an edited summary of what he said about his experience of Schuitema's service at the colloquium.
Things had to change – it was a burning platform.
The lessons that we derived from applying Care and Growth™ from the mid-90s onwards are applicable today. There was nothing specific about that time, although there were things specific about the growth that we achieved in Africa, where we had hitherto not been allowed to operate (because of sanctions on South African companies).
1994 was probably our worst year ever from a safety viewpoint - in late 1994 AEL killed a total of 10 people in a nitro-glycerine explosion. That signalled the end of AEL making nitro-glycerine. Nitro-glycerine was one of our most profitable products; the only other profitable product we had at that time was capped fuse, which had been around for 50 years. Both products were out of date.
So, AEL was still profitable, and was the biggest company in the South African explosives industry, but was in a lot of distress with low growth potential. Costs were rising way above inflation and profit was declining. Added to that, we had quality issues and the horrendous safety performance.
Things had to change – it was a burning platform.
AEL was effectively taken over by ICI in a restructuring in 1994, so there was new management, including David Harding as operations director.
In what we did, I don't want to overstate or understate the importance of Care and Growth™. It wasn't our only initiative. We also hired Gemini to do business process re-engineering, which improved the numbers; and applied 20 Keys, which improved housekeeping; and the Theory of Constraints which resulted in a radical reduction of our working capital.
In applying the Schuitema thematic, we started working, top-down. David Harding and myself got our bosses at that stage to agree to it.
There is no question that if senior management is not in favour of it, it's very difficult to drive such an initiative. Then, the only thing a subordinate manager could do is implement it in his/her section. You can still deliver Care and Growth™ because there is very little difference actually in the activities of a manager who is benevolent compared to malevolent - the difference is in intent, in the ‘why?’
As a manager you can still say ‘you are going to do that job’, but the question is what is in your mind and heart when you say that. Your subordinates will see it immediately – they'll know exactly what your intent is - whether you just want to get that job done; or whether you are doing it because you want to grow people in the process. But the actual activities don't change that much - the issue is the intent. So you can always implement in your area, however small or large.
We started with the top team and implemented Care and Growth™ all the way down in management, from the managing director to the team leaders. Everyone was effectively trained twice – for example, I was trained as part of the top team with my boss and my peers; and also as part of my team with my subordinates.
We also had immediate follow-ups, with Wendy and Etsko and other Schuitema people coming in to talk our experiences through with us - the difficulties we were facing, how we were managing, the deliverables, etc.
The third leg was an early representation of Schuitema's Personal Excellence™ Programme.
Gemini, 20 Keys and the Theory of Constraints would claim credit for large areas of our success. They would be right, but also wrong. Because, in terms of the thematic, they were supplying Means and Ability. What they could never do was get people to willingly apply the systems.
The Care and Growth™ philosophy was the golden thread that stretched through all of these initiatives.
The Care part is really to treat people as people and not just as numbers, to look after them and understand them as people.
The Growth part splits into Means, Ability and Accountability.
Means is ‘do they have the tools to do the job?’; Ability is ‘do they know how to do the job?’. And if they have those two, they can legitimately be held Accountable for achieving the job.
So, in one sense a simple concept. But it’s not easy or quick to apply because this involves behaviour change which happens one person at a time. It took us 10 years.
It took us two years to train 250 managers in the organisation. Then the follow-ups with managers started.
There is always a tendency, when pursuing behaviour change, for people to try and not change and to divert into finding something new. So they would bring up new things and suggest that we try them. But really, they are avoiding the behaviour change.
They would say, "Okay, we've done Care and Growth™. But we've heard about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (or something else), so let's start working on that." But they are doing that really to avoid changing.
Because personal, behavioural change is difficult.
What was achieved from AEL's point of view?
First, the hard deliverables like increased competitive advantage and shareholder return – particularly essential in a listed entity like AECI.
But the improved safety performance was the hard achievement that I am most proud of. Our Total Recorded Injury Rate (TRI) went from 1.9 to its current level of below 0.35. For a 10-year period we effectively had no fatal accidents.
The other achievement was how growth was achieved in the company. For the first time (following the lifting of sanctions) we were allowed to operate outside of South Africa, in the rest of Africa. In the process we downsized radically within South Africa.
This was a massive amount of change. Often such change is accompanied by massive ill-will from unions and employees. In fact, there was none of that, with a lot of good work being done by David Harding in engaging with the unions.
But in the whole organisation, virtually at every level, there was a willingness and benevolence - people were willing to do what was right for the whole.
The essential difference between where we started and where we ended was that our employees had developed the ability to suspend their own agendas and embrace what needed to be done.
At the end the leaders in AEL at every level understood that they were there to serve – they were not there to be served. This was a massive mind change.
They also clearly understood that their subordinates were people, they had an interest in those people, they understood who those people were, and they talked to them. That was a change from where we were before as well, when there were steep hierarchies.
We also instituted a training ladder, which meant that there was a path of training for every individual.
Within the organisation, there was an expectation of fairness rather than softness. This gives the Accountability which allows for legitimacy - people understand that they have the Means and Ability and if they haven't done the job, there will be consequences.
We also implemented a Schuitema 90-day deliverables cycle in the so-called Accountability Format. Accountability was split into various categories – safety, quality, production productivity, overtime, etc. Depending on the quality of the leadership, either they all turned green or all turned red. So the myth of saying "I can't improve safety and production and control costs together" was debunked.
Every company starts from a different point.
AEL at that time (the late 1990s) was like a family – as long as you had the right values and you were a solid citizen, the company would look after you. You in turn never criticised another manager, you were never too critical generally, and everything moved along with a nice warm feeling.
So the challenge was to put some bite and stretch into the organisation. Another organisation might be completely different – it might have a lot of bite and stretch already, and the challenge might be to put some Care into it, rather than Growth. Every organisation has its own unique history and culture so every intervention is different. But the same principles will definitely work in all cases.
In the end, the leaders at AEL also had the courage to recognise as well as discipline people. You might think that you don't need courage to recognise people - that you just need generosity. But, for instance, if there are three people and I've recognised only one, then I must be able to answer the questions surrounding the other two and why I picked the one out.
You find that weak leaders are too scared to recognise people as well as too scared to discipline people. The two things go together and both are related to courage.
So leadership tasks were directed towards accountability in two ways - not just accountability in terms of discipline or censure, but also accountability in balancing reward/recognition with discipline/censure. So we encouraged leaders to go around and find things that were being done right, as well as things that were being done wrong. And many people were given the equivalent of a warning, but actually recognition ("You did a great job in doing (action specified) … this morning. Well done!"). We did that on an ongoing basis and we measured it, and it was very deliberate.
The relationship with the unions changed completely. In 1996, when we started, we did a Schuitema Communications Survey, which asked people, particularly those at the lowest level, where they got their information about the company from. Universally, they got it from their shop stewards. Three years later, we repeated the survey and the shop steward had dropped to number seven in the list, displaced by ‘my team leader’; ‘noticeboard’, ‘briefing’, ‘company brochures’, etc. Shop stewards are important, but they shouldn't be running your business.
Management’s line of communication must be clean and down the line of command. That's how you get employees to want to do what the company needs them to do.
David Harding, commented at the colloquium:
“Besides developing excellent managers, the thematic also provides an excellent way of communicating, which is seen to be involving rather than just telling. It is critically important that you harness that shopfloor energy and you're not going to do it by just bashing them about the ears. There is a particular need for this today in South Africa, post-Marikana.”
In one sense the individual growth achieved was more sustainable than the company growth because, being inner growth, it was largely irreversible. The individual growth relates to the ability to suspend your own agenda for something bigger. You either gel with Care and Growth™ or you don't. And if you don't, you will find it quite difficult to work on a site where it is being applied comprehensively.
For me, just the words "here to give" have a different energy compared to “Am I going to get something out of this?" An issue is once you work out that you're here to give, then the question is "give what?" And then the question arises "What if I give it all away … what will be left for me?"
But with experience, the more people give, the more they find they have to give. You find other elements of yourself which you can give. For instance, I knew that the organisation needed stretch so what was I going to give? I was going to try and stretch everyone. So that was great and I felt I was contributing - and it was a contribution.
And there is a time for that. But then there is also a time for care and just listening to people, and a time for reaffirming that the targets aren't changing and that people have to get to those targets. And there is a time for being very, very robust and talking in single-syllable words, and a time for explaining to a person that you are not impressed with his/her performance.
But why is this part of Growth? When you go into these discussions you have to suspend your own agenda and look at the person and ask: "What is needed by this person at this time? Does this person need a kick in the butt, or some encouragement, or training, what is needed?" And to do that you have to have a kind of alert spaciousness without your own agenda.
But in all this, how does the job get done?
The results flow. Of course, you set the agenda and the objectives clinically after looking at the market. You have to apply that same logic to the organisation and ask: "What do we need to achieve to serve our customers and our communities and our people? What are those objectives?" And those objectives are sometimes pretty stretching.
But the issue is often to suspend just saying "I need you to get the job done" and to replace it, in terms of the objectives and understanding, with "How can I use those objectives and understanding to grow people?".
So you may need to get the job done, but someone may need that job in order to grow. So you allocate the job to him so that the job gets done and the person grows. Which will mean that that person subsequently can be put onto something bigger and better because he has done that job.
So the issue becomes more challenging around how you use the environment to grow the people rather than how you use the people to solve the problems. That's the inversion. But once you set the objective and have given them Means and Ability, they really only grow once they have been held Accountable. When the subordinate knows that nothing but the best performance will be accepted, and anything less will be dealt with clinically, that brings out a person’s ability to grow.
So, for instance, in a review discussion, you have to suspend your own agenda – you have to say "what is the issue, how can I help here, what is my contribution?"
Every individual who stayed in AEL, bar none, grew. Of course, some never made it through because some just don't get it and they left. Some struggled with it, but everyone who stayed moved forward.
One problem we found was that, for instance, in a safety incident as soon as someone was injured, the knee-jerk reaction of everyone down the line was:
"Fire him! because he was not wearing his protective equipment/he wasn't sticking to instructions … therefore he is guilty!"
So we had to install the Leadership Diagnostic because it asks the questions "Why? Why? Why?" – "whose job it was to ensure that he didn't do that?" and "why wasn't that job happening?" and "whose job was it to see that the environment was right, and why wasn't that happening?"
This effectively lifted a lot of the accountability up from the people involved in the incident into the first and sometimes the second and third line management. So the Leadership Diagnostic tool was extremely useful to get our thinking clear on the appropriate way to react to those sorts of incidents.
The Personal Excellence course grew out of the need, in my view, for people to just take time out to internalise some of these changes, to grapple with them.
Applying the thematic was a journey of discovery, and in any journey, you have to allow some space. Not everything that you do is going to work immediately, perfectly. Every organisation starts from a different point, every organisation needs to improve in different areas and in different key deliverables.
There is a massive amount of experience in Schuitema now so they can analyse this, but you should still allow space. The process needs a lot of interaction and feedback and looking at what didn't work, what to do next, how to change it, what different approaches to take.
This is about growing people, and in getting excellent people. So the focus is on people and delivering the change in those people, the inner growth.
Because it's not an easy process it's something that people will try and duck and dive out of. We managed to resist the temptation to keep trying new stuff.
Regrettably, there is a sequel to the AEL experience. I left AEL at a point and went to the group (AECI) head office and I appointed someone from outside of AEL, from elsewhere in the group, to head AEL. And virtually within three years, all of the systems that had been in place, and a lot of the benevolence, were gone. So it doesn't self-sustain, it requires sustenance.
The other issue is that because it's an inner journey, if the bus has already travelled to Cape Town, it is hard to get someone who is still in Johannesburg (that is, a new leader) onto the bus.
So it's hard, when a new leader comes in who has different views and ideas and wants to change. The new leader of AEL did change things. Quite honestly, I didn't believe that the changes would be as disastrous as they were.
That person no longer works for us and management is now looking at re-implementing Schuitema.
The simple truth is: if you do not deliberately keep this thing going, then there is no doubt that it slips. It is like the second law of thermodynamics – the entropy of the world is increasing. Your garden outside is beautiful now, but turn away and in six months when you come back it will be a forest.
And that's where AEL went to, and that's why we are resurrecting Schuitema there now.
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AECI is an explosives and specialty chemicals company domiciled in South Africa. Group businesses service the mining and manufacturing sectors both locally and internationally. The focus for growth is on Africa, South America and South East Asia. AECI’s businesses are characterised by application know-how and service delivery. They often operate in niche markets and are supported by leading technology which is developed in-house or is sourced from international partners.
In the last five years the Group has invested R2 billion in a strategic capital investment programme to enhance its future growth in the mining and manufacturing areas, with particular emphasis on mining chemicals and initiating systems.
Dr. Graham Edwards is the Executive Director of AECI Limited. He joined the Group as a design engineer in 1978 and worked in production engineering; strategic planning and marketing before being appointed Managing Director of African Explosives Limited in 1999.
He became an Executive Director of ACEI limited in 2007 and CEO in 2008. Graham was initially introduced to the Care and Growth Leadership model when he sat in on a workshop run by Etsko Schuitema for Rainbow Chicken in the early 1990’s. Care and growth became AEL’s leadership ethos under his leadership and has continued to be part of the fabric of the organisation for close to 20 years.
His benevolence enabled the birth of the Personal Excellence programme and he remains an advocate of the Intent framework.
Schuitema’s Human Excellence model has provided a golden thread to the organisational transformation he has facilitated over many years, initially at AEL and subsequently at AECI Limited.