Decision-free zones are drains on productivity.

"Are you lonely? Bored? Nothing to do? Well... no problem, just call a meeting! You'll get to sit around with your mates, get coffee and biscuits brought to you and discuss nothing of any consequence. Best of all, you don't have to do any real work and before you know it, it'll be time to head down to the pub."

I remember this poster from my early days in advertising and lately it has been playing in my head like an irritating, albeit relevant, ABBA "song worm".

It seems like meetings have become the holding pattern of corporate life - a safe, decision-free zone to hang out in, ironically at a time when we desperately need to land and tackle some very pressing issues.

Sitting through a particularly mind numbing meeting recently gave me the opportunity to reflect on the biggest culprits - the meetings that we all dread but grin and bear in equal measure, the ones that give all other meetings a bad name.

I’m a lover not a fighter. In fact it’s a running joke among my nearest and dearest that I am the UN Peacekeeping force in most (domestic) situations. Which makes what I do for a living interesting: in a nutshell my team and I facilitate honest, blunt and often confrontational strategic conversations for companies (with the aim of creating understanding among all stakeholders).

Often this feels like popping a pimple, opening a wound, draining an abscess – you get the picture. It’s messy, it’s challenging it’s not nice (at the time). But there’s no question that once it’s done it creates an environment of healing, of potential and of hope.

There’s an old Tracy Chapman song that goes: “Don’t you know, we’re talking ‘bout a revolution, and it sounds like a WHISPER!

That was the song worm spooling through my head at the Joburg Indaba last week. The industry’s heavy hitters focused on blunt, but constructive conversations. All around the question: How does SA Mining Inc migrate to a better future?

As expected a myriad of issues were raised: Government and Labour dwelt on the trust deficit; mining companies re-iterated the need for regulatory clarity; the investment community criticized dismal returns and an inopportune “capital binge” by management (cited by Jim Rutherford, the world’s top mining analyst).

Most encouraging though, was the conversations didn’t get stuck in problem mode: ideas started to develop around what a competitive, sustainable, industry COULD look like: Without oversimplifying it boils down to 4P’s:

  • Profit: an obvious one. As a sardonic Sandy McGregor of Allan Gray put it, not just a return OF capital but also a return ON capital would be nice.
  • Partnership: there’s a dawning realisation that stakeholders from “opposing” camps need each other to survive and that partnership and the trade-offs are the only way to prosper.
  • Productivity: Anglo American CEO, Mark Cutifani made no bones about productivity being the key to the future of the industry, and for making up for the lost decade in SA mining.
  • Positive narrative: negative talk destroys investor and other stakeholder confidence. The point was made repeatedly: brand SA Mining needs to get its act together, stop whining in public and create and deliver on a positive narrative that inspires investment.

Probably a lot less, and a lot more than we think.

How much is enough? A million bucks? Ten million? A billion?

It's always a number (only the currency denomination varies). Somehow there's an unspoken recipe for happiness around (maybe it's only a Joburg thing).... it goes like this - make enough money and only once this is achieved are we free to focus on other aspects of our lives. Enough money will automatically result in a satisfying life - ultimate happiness is certain. Isn't it?

Does measurement madness really add value?

JOHANNESBURG - Are you more than the value of your share price portfolio?

Your company's profitability? Your bonus? Your performance appraisal score? Your weight? Your jogging or cycling time/distance? The reps you do at the gym? Your IQ, bank account or property value? As a nation, are we more than our GDP? Our inflation targets? Interest rates? Currency strength? The list is endless. We seem to spend our lives chasing numbers. In fact an alien from another planet could be forgiven for assuming that the whole purpose of our existence is to answer the question - how are we measuring up?

They decorate boardroom walls. Line thick carpeted passage ways. Proudly punctuate reception areas. They always find a spot in annual reports. Key rings, access cards and even tattoos carry their message. I've even seen them displayed behind toilet doors!

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