Organisational silence amongst staff members in parastatals is one of the many reasons that have led several SOEs down the drain.
Organizational silence refers to a collective-level phenomenon of saying or doing very little in response to significant problems that face an organization.
Many at times workers would sit back and watch how the leadership of SOEs mismanage the affairs of the institution at will. All this happens right under the nose of employees who opt for silence in fear of repraisal.
This week we got a tip-off about the brewing storm at Namwater, a company seen as the epitome of good governance in the country and most certainly one of the best-managed SOEs.
When a whistleblower from Namwater approached me with information about the board and management’s decision to bulldoze organisational reforms, I immediately thought of the Roads Contractor Company(RCC) and SME Bank which have hit rock bottom.
In SME Bank’s case, Namibian workers watched on as Zimbabwean executives and well-connected Namibians looted the bank. No one dared to report the transgressions to the authorities or even the media because they feared they might lose their jobs.
Well, their silence did not pay-off, they still lost their jobs.
Perhaps they felt that reporting maladministration is none of the business, forgetting that once the company sinks they sink with it.
Our people need a mental shift related to reporting abuse of power in our public entities. Victimisation is not a good enough reason to watch thieves plunder public resources.
But it is time to take the gilt off silence. Research shows that silence is not only ubiquitous and expected in organizations but extremely costly to both the firm and the individual.
Individuals are frequently convinced that keeping quiet is the best way to preserve relationships and get work done, forgetting that by turning a blind eye to acts that are not in tandem with company policies makes them accomplices.
Silence often starts when we choose not to confront a difference, and it is most common amongst those who have reached a level of comfort in their lives. They tend to isolate themselves from the system.
Employees who do not form part of management structures in SOEs should take up roles of watchdogs. They need to keep the leadership under careful watch and report any anomalies.
In the case of RCC, workers were silent while the leadership on a daily basis threw the media and the line ministry under the bus with untruths.
None of the employees dared to speak truth to power when they saw the rot rearing its ugly head. Today they are faced with uncertainty because every day they wake up to go to work could be their last day of work.
SOEs are not personal assets of CEOs, hence they should not be allowed to run affairs the way they run their family houses. Therefore, any decision that threatens the stability of any SOE should be challenged head-on.
Our people in the public sector should be the foot soldiers of taxpayers and protect what belongs to the nation.
That can however only happen if we place high value on understanding system complexity and not take comfort in organizational silence.