Repeat after Me: Batho Pele
This is one of several HR Doctor
articles stemming from an amazing trip to the Republic of
South Africa to speak at the annual conference of the
Institute of Municipal Personnel Practitioners of Southern
There is a great excitement in
the air about this country. From the moment we landed at Cape
Town airport and entered a large, bright, clean arrival
terminal with signs proclaiming "Welcome to the Republic of
South Africa," we could sense a great pride and a great
South Africa has begun its second
decade of democracy and freedom from the segregation and
discrimination of the apartheid era.
core government policy in this second decade of independence
from apartheid is a very simple but very compelling
concept - "Batho Pele." It means "people first" in
the Sesotho language. This is the single most important
concept in public sector service transformation and
role of the government service, indeed, the role of every
employee of government is to think, work and act with a
commitment to serve the people, not themselves.
Batho Pele motto is driven by the tremendous need for
great human resources.
is true that great HR is the catalyst in any work or service
environment. Whether it is police, fire, public works, health,
recreation, the managers will not succeed and the services
will not be well delivered unless personnel decisions are made
ethically and efficiently.
That was the real theme of the
conference, which united HR leaders in municipalities
throughout South African government at this four-day
gathering. That was the theme which transcended people from
different regions, different tribal backgrounds, different
languages and different customs.
Batho Pele centers on
eight major principles or guidelines:
setting and communicating
access to services and to
information access and
openness and "transparency"
about how decisions are made
dealing effectively with
Provinces are free to add to the
list. In the province where much of our visit took place,
KwaZulu-Natal, two additional principles have been added to
Batho Pele was reflected
in a quote from the 2006 State of the Nation address by South
African President Thabo Mbeki: "We cannot allow that
government departments become an obstacle to the achievement
of the goal of a better life for all because of inefficient,
insufficient attention to the central issues of effective and
speedy delivery services. Government cannot become an
obstacle" - What a great thought! Batho Pele
cannot work and becomes merely a slogan in an environment
where government employees, in South Africa, or in the USA,
think of themselves instead of their clients.
was hard to hear in any of the themes presented at the
conference or, more importantly, the private conversations
between people at the conference, the use of the words "I" or
"mine." Rather, the dominant phrases were "ours," "our nation"
and "we." There was an excitement here that reminded the HR
Doctor - a student of history - of what it must have
been like to be in America at the time of expansion of the
country over the horizon into new territory.
vision of the country spanning the part of the continent from
one ocean to the other, growing, developing and strengthening
is the same vision present in South Africa today. However, it
is mixed with a clear dose of reality for the many and huge
obstacles standing in the way of this vision. These barricades
include a public sector workforce where 90 percent of the
employees have few or no skills. Many are illiterate. Many
speak one or two languages but they are living in a world
where 11 languages are recognized as "official."
Imagine communication and
management challenges in a world of 11 official languages and
a workforce with only 2 percent management and 8 percent
skilled employees. The training and development need for
effective and personal communication is
Its not a matter of writing a
memo or sending an e-mail. For a manager, it may be a matter
of physically going to the scene of an HR need, perhaps
accompanied by a translator, and conveying a message from one
human being to another looking one another directly in the
face. The sense of realism mixed well with the sense of vision
and passion echoed throughout this visit.
all of Americas greatness, we are also in need of a "vision
transplant." It is nowhere near enough to have a vision that
is tactical or short-term, such as avoiding embarrassment
until the next election or making it through to retirement
vesting. Rather, there is a need for Batho Pele, a
dominant rallying cry that can unite a government agency,
millions of people, or be a focal point of continuous
innovation and improvement.
we have something to learn from the ambitious, positive future
being dreamt about and acted on in South Africa? Think about
it! Then repeat after me: "Batho Pele!"
The HR Doctor http://www.hrdr.net/