Mobilisating the Workforce… or, Forcing the Mobile.

Mobilising the Workforce‘ was the title of a short presentation by Gary Bamforth of the London-based Communications Executive Council (CEC) in Cape Town last week, hosted by the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) at the swanky Crystal Towers Hotel and Spa (where everything is seamlessly seamed in pink, and the lifts are frilled with pretty curtains.)

And the coffee is very, very good.

A reasonably valuable session with a few key insights shared, it was also a thinly veiled sales pitch, it turns out, with the affable Gazza apologising for the fact that, as a non-professional in the communications field,  he wouldn’t really be able to answer many questions… Nonetheless, he was very generous with what he did have access to, and a big thanks to Joann Julius of the IABC for organising the event.

So, we quickly forgave Gary being here to drum up new business. Everyone has to eat, even the British. (The CEC is a subscriptions-based conglomerate dedicated to sharing best-practice models and case studies with its clients.)

The thesis of the presentation was that ‘the global economic downturn has placed a premium on workforce speed and adaptability to change.’ This, coupled with the CEC’s ‘research’ – (a bit more transparency on this would have been good, because it seems that the research often supports the CEC’s business motives)  shows that the level of mobilised employees (i.e. ’employees working harder, and on the right things… actively driving company goals’) in your typical medium-size operation is typically very low, around…. wait for it… 10%.

How the heck do organisations survive? By those 10%ers doing the work of others, perhaps.

OK. So the antidote, according to Gary’s Gang, is to

  • involve people with a personal connection, and
  • jack up the peer support…

Personal connection is defined as the degree to which employees link what they do with the organisation goals (that eternal question in SA: how do we get them to engage with our values, rings faintly in my ears…) Peer support is all about providing access to peers and information, partnering, sharing, that kind of thing. (By the way, Richard Sennet’s incredible books on the way knowledge and skills grow and are shared in working communities shows that the whiff of competition in the workplace – organising teams competitively, for example – is a killer of innovation.)

This sounds fair and good. Nice, simple principles. However, in the well-resourced world the CEC operates in, this is mostly done with the electronic media. This is a stumbling block for me.

Policies on access and online information in South African organisations, according to feedback from other delagates, seem to be in their infancy. We also have challenges with broadband, hardware, and significantly, trust. Access Denied is a familair refrain.

My question is: what other media can we use? What role could print play? Carrier pigeons? Music ensembles? Are there indigenous, sustainable  technologies that help us feel human, connected, and part of a directed community, that would make sense to explore in the local context?

And then a suggestion came: cellphones.

They should be on our national flag.

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