Simon Bere Correspondent
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 20 years is a big misnomer, if not a slap in the face of education.
The main purpose of education is supposedly to empower individuals and society with the capacity to solve their problems, continuously improve their lives and overcome what to the less educated societies is insurmountable.
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 happening in Zimbabwe today.
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 that 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.
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 ones.
The economic plans have always been conceived as part of election manifestos, and interest on follow through has traditionally suddenly dropped once elections were 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 that 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 50-year horizon or, if bold enough, a 100-year time horizon. This is, in fact, 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 advantages is that such a master plan provides for all generations, present and future, to galvanise on one common desired outcome to which they can contribute in series, some carrying on from where others would have left.
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 move 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 and 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 at the four levels.
It is different from the linear approach of starting with the short and hoping to then move to the medium term and finally to the long term.
Need for 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 blueprints 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 blueprints?
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 at “the what of things” and then struggle on the how, the process.
There are some generic processes used to deliver results in strategy. The simplest is a six-step process — assess 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 underutilised in Zimbabwe, leading to many stillborn economic plans and blueprints.
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 blueprints, serious questions are not asked and answered 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 be very articulate in an area, for example, marketing or leadership, and lack the marketing or leadership skills at the same time.
Skills are the capacity to do, while 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 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 skills, 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.
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, so the Government excessively relies on the private sector, which it sees as the only important part for economic development and growth.
Here is the problem:
(a) 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 shifting 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.
- b) 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.
- c) The private sector bosses, 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 economy from where it is to where it must be.
Because the Government-private sector binary model is inherently weak, Zimbabwe needs a more robust economic management model, which also brings two critical players into the core of economic management.
These two players are; philosophers, original thinkers, theorists and strategists (the POTTS), and 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 academics into economic management by labelling them “bookish” or theoretical.
Yet in reality, books are only a medium for collecting and sharing knowledge, and theory 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 problems.
In the same vein, one can also argue that Zimbabwe will not be able to successfully resolve its economic challenges until the country discovers the correct, accurate and comprehensive theory for doing so.
Between them, the POTTS and the TITAS are the best place to provide critical invisible philosophical, theoretical, analytical, innovation and strategic input into the economy, enabling Government and the private sector to thrive and survive and propel the economy forward towards prosperity and growth.
Lack of an integrated planning and execution approach
The economy is a multivariable system defined by the flow and distribution of goods, ideals and services within the society. The challenge is that the way the economy is structured 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 in the way ministries operate like independent silos within the economy. Synchronised, integrated thinking, synchronised integrated planning and synchronised integrated execution are needed for 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.
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, yet in other spheres of life that borrowed strategy, they mutilated it and dismembered strategy, taking the leadership away.
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.
It is important that we remind ourselves the purpose of strategy is to produce the best theory to guide action in order to achieve desired goals as quickly as possible, with the least loss of time, asserts and resources.
Strategy seeks to bring efficiency, preservation and effectiveness in the execution of plans and programmes for solving problems and achieving goals.
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 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.
Leadership is a shared responsibility.
Everyone in the society has a leadership role and no single individual can produce leadership success, especially in big and complex systems 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 serious leadership capacity building programme, so that there are effective leaders in all dimensions, especially in the political, economic, business, organisational and technical domains of the economy.
Need for high levels of organisation
In one of the senses, strategy is a way of organising resources in order to produce a pre-determined 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, then there will be no success. Zimbabweans suffer severely because of a predominant culture 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 by Government and other players.
However, these soft invisible issues cannot be ignored, neither can they be trivialised without severely undermining 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 meta-economics determines the economics.
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