For a country regarded as one with probably the highest literacy levels on the continent to be entangled in a devastating economic situation for close to twenty years is a big misnomer if not a slap in the face of education. The main purpose of education is supposed to empower individuals and society with the capacity to solve their problems, continuously improve their lives and overcome what to the uneducated societies is unsurmountable. Education is even supposed to give a society or nation the capacity to effectively compete with other societies and nations and gain its own economic space. Education is supposed to be the vehicle for economic development. This is not what is in Zimbabwe today.
By Simon Bere
For a person from outside Zimbabwe and without the inner details of things, the economic situation in Zimbabwe may sound all too political and nothing else.There is no doubt that political harmony and normalisation of relationship with the global community will add impetus to Zimbabwe’s economic progress. What is flawed is believing that political resolution is all what the country needs to solve its economic problems. There is way more to Zimbabwe’s economic challenges beyond the theory of global and internal politics. Here are some missing 12 missing elements.
1. The Need for a Long Range Economic Master Plan
For a long time, apart from a brief phase when the country talked about Vision 2020, Zimbabwe has been using five year economic plans to drive its economy forward. Regrettably, the country has not been able to follow through with any of its plans, measure its successes and then build another five year economic plan based on the previous. The economic plans have always been conceived as part of election manifestos and interest on follow through has traditionally suddenly dropped once elections where over. Not only that, every election cycle has come up with a completely different economic plan. This is a major challenge in planning, as it leads to cycles instead of a consistent trajectory creates sustained growth.
In the strategy cycles, we have always argued that Zimbabwe desperately needs a long range economic master plan. This master plan can have a fifty year horizon or, if bold enough, a hundred year time horizon. This is, in fact, the separating the country’s economy from the past and the present and creation of a new economic future for the country. One of the biggest advantage is that such a master plan provides for all generations present and coming to galvanise on one common desired future to which they can contribute in series, some carrying on from where others leave it. With the long range master plan in place, political parties can then contest on what they will do in the next five years to contribute to the attainment of the master plan and how. This will maintain economic direction. Of course the master plan can continuously be improved depending on ground realities and the global forces.
The process of creating and managing the long range economic master plan can be called visionary economic management, which is the highest level without which it will be a struggle for Zimbabwe to shirt towards a path of sustained economic growth and prosperity. In fact, the recommendation is a four level, hierarchical, simultaneous economic management model
- Visionary economic management
- Strategic economic management
- Operational economic management
- Tactical economic management
In this model, the long range, the medium term and the short term are all operated at the same time by different teams and the four levels. It is different to the linear approach of starting with the short and hoping to them move to the medium term and finally to the long term.
2. The Need of a Complete Process from Problem to Solution and from Plan to Desired Results
Legend has it that Zimbabweans are very good at coming up with brilliant plans but fail dismally at the implementation of those plans. Given the number of economic plans and blue prints that have been crafted but never survived beyond official launch, this may actually be true. The most important strategic question to ask is;
Why does Zimbabwe fail to follow through with its economic plans and blue prints?
I will argue here that the first reason why Zimbabwe fails is most likely due to a lack of well defined guiding process for translating plans into practical actions and then the practical actions into results. In other words, Zimbabwe seems to excel and “the what of things” and then struggle on the how, the process.
There are some generic process used to deliver results in strategy. The simplest is a six step process-asses situation, think, plan, act, measure results and review and adjust performance and strategy. Another popular and effect process is the vision, image, strategy, performance, alignment, resourcing, action, results measurement and strategy and performance review and adjustment. The use of processes to guide people from ideas to action and from problem to solve is the cornerstone of success especially in science and in other high performance disciplines. The same tools are under- utilised in Zimbabwe, leading to many still born economic plans and blue prints.
3. The Need for Skills and Capacity
The second major reason why Zimbabwe’s economic plans execute poorly or fail to execute is lack of skills and capacity. First, when the country produces economic plans and blue prints, serious questions are not asked and answer on the skills and capacity required to drive those economic plans successfully. There is an assumption that there is enough skills and capacity in the country to drive the plan and turn it into action that will lead to results. The other question that is never asked is who exactly is going to do what to make things happen with the economic plan.
While talking about this, it is important to highlight a skills audit done by government which concluded that Zimbabwe has skills deficits in many areas. I tend to agree with that. First, it is important to clear a common confusion between knowledge and skills. High literacy levels do not necessarily equate to high levels of skills. It is easy to very articulate in an area, for example marketing or leader and lack the marketing or leadership skills at the same time. Skills are the capacity to do. Knowledge is about awareness and understanding. The two often work together but they are different.
There is another element of capacity and skill to discuss. Most of the skills that the skills survey targeted are academic and subject matter skills. The survey did not include critical skills such as thinking skills including strategic thinking skills, leadership skills, critical thinking, emotional skils, managerial skills, entrepreneurial skills and organisational skills that are so vital for economic recovery and growth.
The bottom line regarding skills is that any organisation can produce a brilliant plan, but if what the plan requires for successful implementation is beyond the available skills and capacity, that plan is doomed at birth. The only way to make a plan succeed is also to acquire or develop the skills and capabilities required to implement it.
4. The Government-Private Sector Binary Approach
The government-private sector binary economic management model is a major flaw that contributes to failure to drive the economy forward. According to this model, government and the private sector are the two critical economic players. In other words the fate and destiny of the economy lies in the hands of the two players and so the government excessively relies on the private which it sees as the only important part for economic development and growth. Here is the problem;
- The private sector is composed largely of business owners who are intensely interested in preserving their economic value. Private sector players are by large extremely busy running their enterprises and may not have enough energy and time to commit wider economic issues especially those that are futuristic and might adversely affect their current enterprises. Most private sector players are concerned with the present with a special focus on how they can survive and thrive in the moment. But shift the economy from the current to where it should be requires thinking beyond the present and investing huge amounts of time and energy in creating the future that may be radically different from the present and might actually sink some of the existing entities that belong to the present day private sector players.
- In many cases, the private sector players may shy away from engaging government in a brutally honest way for fear of being victimised economically. They may play the “good guy” with government and deceive it, making the situation worse for everyone.
- The private sector, being too busy running their entities may not have the time and energy in research and development, in the creation of the new that is a must for economic advancement, in the accurate assessment of the situation and in the generation of credible and powerful solutions for extracting the economic from where it is to where it must be.
Instead the government-private sector binary model which is inherently weak, Zimbabwe needs a more robust economic management model which also brings two critical players in to the core of economic management. These two players are
- Philosophers, Original Thinkers, Theorists and Strategists (The POTTS)
- The technocrats, intellectuals, teachers, academics and specialists (The TITAS)
One can argue that Zimbabwe’s rate of economic failure was fuelled when the country started dismissing input by academic into economic management by labelling it “bookish” or theory. Yet in reality, books are only a medium for collecting and sharing knowledge and theory is informs the practice. In other words, the quality of the theory used in the attempt at solving a problem or achieving a goal determines whether or not one will succeed in solving the problem or achieve the goal. In that vein, one can argue that the reason why Zimbabwe has not yet succeeded in solving its economic challenges is simply because it has not yet discovered the winning theory for solving the problem. In the same vein, one can also argue that Zimbabwe will not be able to successfully resolve its economic challenges until the country discover the correct, accurate and comprehensive theory for doing so. Between them, the POTTS and the TITAS are the best place to provide the critical invisible philosophical, theoretical, analytical, innovation and strategic input into the economy, enabling government and the private sector to thrive and survive and propelling the economy forward towards prosperity and growth.
5. The Lack of an Integrated Planning and Execution Approach
The economy is a multivariable system defined by the follow and distribution of goods, ideals and services within the society. The challenge is that the way the economy is structure can deceive us into thinking that the economy is made of many disintegrated elements. Even the government ministry approach which is supposed to improve performance can actually undermine economic success is the ministries operate like independent silos within the economy. Synchronised, integrated, thinking, synchronised integrated planning and synchronised integrated execution are irreplaceable from success, the reason why Zimbabwe must operate like one powerful economic machine with one powerful team of teams, if the country is to make it.
6. The Need for a Strategic Approach
Although the strategic approach is an integral part of integrated thinking, planning and action, I singled out the strategic approach because of how vital the strategy of things is for success. It is not by accident that strategy originated in the military where, in war the stakes are high and loss of human life is a real possibility. Sadly very few in the corporate and economic worlds are deeply interested in strategy to understand its vitality and the implications of ignoring it or paying lip service. Strategy and leadership are one and same thing in the military and yet in other spheres of life that borrowed strategy, they mutilated it and dismembered strategy, taking the leadership away. The results is we have many people in leadership position who have been robbed of the critical insight that strategy is the main key result area of leadership in every discipline and situation.
The mere shifting of dealing with a situation from the reactive or tactical approach to the strategic approach dramatically shifts everything else and may be the decisive factor between the fate and destiny of an economy. This is so important is we remind ourselves that the purpose of strategy is to produce the best theory to guide action in order to achieve desire goals as quickly as possible with the least loss of time, asserts and resources. Strategy seeks to bring efficiency, preservation and effectiveness is the execution of plans and programs for solving problems and achieving goals.
7. Poor Leadership Model
While everyone agrees with the adage that everything rises and falls on leadership, definition, meaning and understanding within the Zimbabwean society of what leadership is all about is so varied and even so flawed that to claim to understand the meaning of the adage that it rises and falls on leadership becomes contradictory. In the context of many, leader and leadership are one and the same thing. When there is talk of leadership deficiency or leadership failure, the majority quickly relate this to a specific individual or individuals in positions of authority. There is a common but sad misunderstanding that being in position of authority is what leadership is all about, the expectation that it is only the people in positions of authority who are supposed to lead. The result is that everyone else will easily blame leadership failure on those in positions of authority because authority is confused with leadership. The truth of the matter is, in practical terms, leadership is everyone’s business and leadership success and failure cannot be possibly be attributed to single individuals or group. The truth is leadership is not about positions or authority. Leader is a shared responsibility. Everyone in the economy has a leadership role and no single individual can produce leadership success especially in big and complex system such as an economy. In any functional society and economy, there are at least seven dimensions of leadership and five levels of leadership (Visionary, Strategic, Operational and Tactical) that must operate synchronously.
The point here is that for Zimbabwe to succeed, the country must develop the best possible leadership model for driving the economy forward. The current theory of leadership is defective and will lead the country nowhere. In addition, the country needs a serous leadership capacity building program so that there are effective leaders in all dimensions especially in the political, economic, business, organisational and technical domains of the economy. It is important to emphasis
8. The Need for High Levels of Organisation
In one of the senses, strategy is a way of organising resources in order to produce a predetermined result as efficiently and as effectively as possible. People are one of the most important resources that need to be organised in order to deliver success. A nation may have all the skills and resources it needs to succeed economically, but if there is disorganisation especially of the people, them there will be no success. Zimbabwe suffers severely because of a predominant cultures of competing and of individualism instead of organising themselves into a high powered team of teams pursuing a common economic vision.
Certainly, this is not the full solution for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, neither is it a replacement of the current efforts but government and other players. However, these soft invisible issues cannot be ignored, neither can they be trivialised without severely undermined the country’s capacity for a speedy economic recovery and return to prosperity and growth. Theory is practical. Strategy is vital. Philosophy is the centre of practical success. The metaeconomics determines the economics.
©Simon Bere, 2019 [email protected]