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Posted By Siphiwe Y. Mashoene, Wednesday, 27 May 2020





The most important and difficult part of the Covid-19 crisis



Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


Decision-making is the most important and difficult part of the Covid-19 crisis.  Given the reality of the world-wide pandemic, decisions are being taken at seven layers:

  1. At a global layer, scientific health leadership is provided by the World Health Organization, and other international organisations such as the World Economic Forum, International Labour Organisation, and International Monetary Fund.  They make decisions from their perspective, i.e. health, labour, or the economy.  Sometimes these decisions result in guidelines provided to countries on how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  2. At a regional layer, such as different continents, or regional blocks such as Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Southern Africa, regional decision-making structures exist to guide the countries of the region on how to respond as a collective.  For instance, President Ramaphosa also plays a leadership role in the African Union and therefore influences the response from the African Union countries to the pandemic.
  3. At a national layer, different countries make their own decisions on how to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, hence different regulations being implemented in countries all over the world, with some similarities between most of them.  The Presidents and Ministers are the main decision-makers but being advised by specialists such as scientists and other experts.
  4. As a provincial layer, the premiers and MECs for Health and their top leadership take the national decisions further by deciding on any provincial specific measures or interventions to be implemented.
  5. At a local layer, local government, and other local organisations such as non-profit organisations, decide on how they will engage in decision-making based on their local context.
  6. At an organisational layer, business and other leaders make decisions about how they will respond to the crisis in terms of their own unique realities inside the organisation and the contextual and environmental factors informing these decisions.
  7. At a personal layer, individuals decide how they will respond, and their decisions are expressed in their behaviour and actions or omissions.

The problem with decision-making at all these different layers is that there are many things that can go wrong from the global layer, through to regional, national, provincial, local, organisational and personal layer.  And we have seen hundreds of examples about these gaps over the past 61 days.   What is important about decision-making is that your decisions must be rational or justified and defensible.  This applies both at the level of regulations, implementation and behaviour.  However, the missing link is the philosophy underpinning the decisions.  Your thinking about the crisis and its associated risks impacts on how you will respond.   

Here are some guidelines for improved decision-making during the Covid-19 crisis at all of the above seven layers:

  • Develop a clear philosophy based on sound principles or values of how you will make decisions based on your risk exposure.  We were told that curbing the spread of the virus and preparing the health system not to be overwhelmed was the overarching philosophy of decision-making.  We were also told that scientific evidence is the main source of decision-making, hence the reality of the rationality of decisions being challenged when this was perceived not to be the case. If the philosophy is “curbing the spread” all decisions and regulations must be aligned to this philosophy and be consistent, within rational and reasonable limitations or boundaries.  If the philosophy changes to “heard immunity” than the flood gates can be opened, but then this decision needs to be based on evidence, stated openly and leaders must account for this decision and its consequences.
  • Do a proper analysis of the situation globally and nationally, but also at your layer of decision-making, bearing in mind that all of us operate at multiple layers of decision-making.
  • Create relevant and appropriate decision-making structures, such as disaster management committees in addition to normal decision-making structures such as boards, councils and management teams, supported by advisory panels making recommendations. Decide upfront how you will reach agreement, and how you will deal with disagreement and dissent.
  • Orientate all decision-makers about decision-making science from a health, risk, safety and socio-economic perspective, but by still using sound decision-making methodology irrespective of the circumstances.
  • Obtain the right and relevant information to enable an effective decision-making process and outcome.
  • Decide on the rules of engagement, e.g. develop a clear terms of reference on how decisions will be made.
  • Generate alternatives to achieve your objectives and then decide on the best alternatives.
  • Develop clear protocols, consistent guidelines for implementation and monitoring of decisions.
  • Ensure that proper change management and communication plans and actions are in place to ensure that the decisions are correctly communicated and implemented.
  • Decide on the consequences of your decisions and accept that you will have to live with these consequences, or admit to errors and implement corrective actions.  However, if there is a continuous reoccurrence of errors, or new mistakes made, the credibility of the decision-makers will be at stake and implementation will be compromised in the process.
  • Formulate specific action plans to implement the decisions.
  • Keep an eye on all levels of decision-making as the situation changes, but also in being mindful that any weak links may result in unintended or disastrous consequences.
  • Review the decisions for effectiveness and adjust accordingly.

On 24 May President Ramaphosa ended his lockdown level 3 speech stating that “it is in your hands” quoting the father of democracy in South Africa, Nelson Mandela.  That in essence, refers to individual responsibility. Changing our individual behaviour and complying to regulations is at the heart of this level of decision-making, provided that individuals behave in a responsible manner.  As individual citizens we are also faced with the consequences of our decisions, such as being arrested for non-compliance, infecting ourselves, and infecting other people.

The most important question to answer is whether we are making the right decisions.  Following the above guidelines will play an important role in making sound decisions.  Ultimately, all decision-making structures, including individuals should be able to answer five questions:

  • Why are we making this decision?
  • What exactly is the decision?
  • How will we implement and monitor the decision?
  • When will we implement it?
  • Who will be part of the decision and who will implement it?

Answering these questions is the key to sound decision-making.  However, not having all the right information, could lead to the wrong decision being taken and implemented. This problem is exacerbated by contradictory or conflicting perspectives, especially in the light of gaps in scientific evidence informing the decisions. If decisions are questionable, it will not be credible and trust in the decision-makers will be eroded and non-compliance will be the natural consequence, like we have seen in response to the tobacco regulations.  The safest approach is always to err on the side of caution, in particular when the health and lives of people are at risk. 

As Mark Twain said: “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.”  The problem is that the majority of us making decisions at any of the above seven layers of decision-making only have 61 days of experience in making decisions about a pandemic.  We must first try to prevent making mistakes.  But we will make mistakes, but we need to own these mistakes and correct them as soon as possible without causing any harm to other people.  Philippa Anderson asserts that there is no such thing as a perfect decision – there are always going to be trade-offs as we have seen with the different ministerial clusters. Achieving one objective, such as feeding hungry people may put their lives at risk if they are infected by the Covid-19 virus. Similar mistakes based on trade-offs and catch 22 situations will be made at organisations as we move to level 3 on 1 June.

In conclusion, decision-makers are in a difficult situation given the reality of uncertainty about the true nature of the Covid-19 virus as admitted by the World Health Organization.  Management teams have to deal with this high level of ambiguity, uncertainty, volatility and complexity. The right decision today, may be the wrong decision tomorrow.  All decision-makers are vulnerable and need to apply their minds when making courageous decisions in these difficult times.  Rapid responses may also be needed when new crisis situations emerge on the ground, or if there is yet another shifting in the goalposts by government.  Their risk-adjusted strategy provided them with high levels of agility and flexibility in enabling decision-making, but now has also evolved into serious inconsistencies, confusion and irrational decisions.  Ultimately, decision-making is the most important and difficult part of the Covid-19 crisis. It is evident that while South Africans are well-known for our national weakness in implementation, the Covid-19 crisis has also exposed our weakness in decision-making. Refining and improving our decision-making capability over the next few weeks will determine our effectiveness in dealing with the level 3 lockdown or other subsequent levels of regulations.  Most decisions during this time are life and death situations and should therefore not be taken lightly.  The President was right: It is in our hands.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information on the Coronavirus, visit

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A leadership pledge for Covid-19 managers

Posted By Siphiwe Y. Mashoene, Tuesday, 26 May 2020





A leadership pledge for Covid-19 managers:

Rising to the occasion during tough times



Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


In 2017, top industrial psychologist, Prof Theo Veldsman from the University of Johannesburg facilitated the development of a leadership pledge in implementing the world’s first leadership standard developed by the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).  The purpose of the leadership standard was to guide South African leaders in terms of their behaviour as leaders when leading their teams and companies. When reviewing the South African leadership pledge, it is evident that it provides a clear guideline for leaders in rising to the occasion as managers of the Covid-19 crisis at an organisational and societal level.


The reality is that most managers experience increased levels of stress during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Not only do they need to deal with the stress experienced by their employees, they are also faced with their only levels of uncertainty, yet they are expected to provide leadership during these difficult times.  Overnight all leaders have become Covid-19 managers, given the fact that they are now expected to manage the epidemic in their workplaces.  Apart from obtaining the necessary knowledge of the Covid-19 virus, and its implications for the work environment, managers now need to provide leadership in terms of health, safety and wellness in the workplace.  Most managers are not trained in these three areas, in particular not from a hygiene perspective.  This is a tall order, because we are expecting almost the impossible from managers, and that is to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace.  Not even scientists agree on how this could be done, and conflicting statements my Ministers and a range of other leaders, exacerbate the problem of uncertainty and increased levels of stress and anxiety.


In view of the above, in addition to obtaining all the necessary available knowledge of Covid-19 health and safety regulations and interventions, leaders should focus on what they should do best, and that is to provide leadership during these tough times. Hence, the need to revisit the leadership pledge of the South African leadership standard. The leadership pledge provides clear affirmations of what leaders can and should commit to in every leadership, but also during this period of turmoil.

The South African leadership pledge is as follows:


“In my calling as a leader, and in my aspiration to be an outstanding leader, I commit myself to the leadership standard with the following actions:

  1. to challenge the status quo with courage, perseverance and resilience in the relentless search of a better future for all, including addressing socio-economic challenges
  2. to create and pursue an inspiring, inclusive, and shared vision/dream that will leave a worthy, lasting legacy for current and future generations  
  3. to serve others and the common good unselfishly through a ‘we’ agenda, even if personal sacrifices are required of me  
  4. to live our values with unwavering integrity at all times, and to be ethical in all I do by being good, doing good, and ensuring good
  5. in demonstrating genuine authenticity, to lead by example, my talking and walking being the same under all circumstances 
  6. to take personal accountability for all of my decisions, actions and their consequences, and also of those I am leading 
  7. to treat those I lead with respect, dignity, fairness and care, and create deep trusting relationships with them around a shared destiny
  8. to enable and empower those I am leading to be courageous, challenging followers, filled with passion, hope, confidence, and faith  
  9. to be visible and present where it truly matters and to ensure that real value is being added 
  10. to reflect on my leadership and to continuously develop myself as a leader, and to support other leaders and people in their development and performance”

Each of these 10 statements can be customised in guiding leadership behaviour when it comes to responding to the Covid-19 crisis. These 10 affirmations of the leadership pledge is not only relevant during times of stability, but even more so during times of instability.  Leaders need to be authentic and rise to the occasion in providing exemplary leadership during these tough times.   Although it is imperative for leaders to focus on the short-term contingency plans, what will make these plans work, is the quality of leadership.  Leaders must bear in mind that employees are uncertain and confused about some of the illogical and irrational regulations faced by them, and despite the relaxation from level 4 to 3, employees are likely to experience a culture shock when they return to the workplace with unprecedented, uncomfortable and strict protocols of safety.  Many of these protocols will result in extreme levels of inconvenience, so much so, that some returning employees would rather like to go back home than complying with the protocols and facing their fear of infection at the workplace.  We are now also entering a phase where many people will have family members and friends being infected, hence Covid-19 has now become a reality that is getting closer to people. No longer is Covid-19 a virus infecting other people, it is likely to infect millions of people over the next six months, hence the need for leaders to be decisive, yet caring when leading their teams.


While the leadership pledge is a document for everyday leadership irrespective of the organisation and its circumstances, it is evident that it can guide leaders to achieve some form of stability, hope and even excellence during this time of crisis.  Some leaders rise to the occasion during crisis, but it remains a challenge for most leaders to excel when there is so much uncertainty, fear, anxiety and trauma around us.  Making difficult decisions, and leading people forward during these tough times, requires a special kind of leader – a person who can be in touch with people, but also able to guide people in protecting them from harm.  It is a reality that disciplined behaviour will be required from all leaders and employees.  Use the South African leadership pledge as a guideline in refocusing and affirming your leadership commitment to your people, your organisation and society at large.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information on the Coronavirus, visit



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Level 3 regulations for university students:

Posted By SABPP, Monday, 25 May 2020



Level 3 regulations for university students:

Back to campus or your home desk?



Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


From the 1st of May under lockdown level 4 regulations, a controlled return of final year university students in programmes requiring clinical training, starting with medicine and the phasing in of all other programmes, including nursing, dental and veterinary sciences were allowed.  All other students were since then supported through remote multimodal teaching, learning and assessments until they can return to campus.

On 23 May, Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande announced that at the relaxed level 3 of lockdown to be implemented from 1 June, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the Department of Higher Education and Training.  This group of returning students will include the following cohorts of students:

  • All groups that have already returned during level 4 (i.e. medical and nursing students);
  • Students in the final year of their programmes, who are on a path to graduating in 2020;
  • Final year students who require access to labs, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to the residences and private accommodation;
  • Students, in all years of study, who require clinical training in their programmes (provided that the clinical training platforms have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to safety protocols); and
  • Postgraduate students who require lab equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.

However, the Minister did indicate that universities may also consider the selected return of other categories of students to residences who may face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments, provided that the above categories are prioritised, and that all safety and logistical requirements are met. Dr Nzimande also confirmed that all university students have zero rated access to online learning systems and that these arrangements have been successfully negotiated with data companies.  He warned students that free data should be used for studies only, and not for “wrong things.”

As announced by the President on 24 May, the whole country will move to level 3 from 1 June, but specific hot spots in certain districts will be targeted with additional measures.  While only 33% of students can return to campus, it is a requirement that the university has used at least two to three weeks to get the campus ready. In other words, students will get two weeks’ notice to return to campus.  The Minister will publish any further directions in terms of the Disaster Management Act to permit such travel, and the respective universities will issue permits to identified students to allow for their travel back to campus.  It is important to emphasise that only the above five categories of students will be allowed to return under level 3.  All other students will be supported through remote multimodal teaching learning and assessments until they can return to campus when announced to do so in due course.

The Minister will allow some universities to identify other groups of students in line with their particular contexts.  However, any deviation from this criteria must be approved by the Department of Higher Education and Training and must fall within the maximum of 33% of the student population under level 3.  Only when a district moves to level 2 of the risk-adjusted strategy, will the reintegration of the next group of students be permitted, and then a maximum of 66% of the student will be allowed to return.

The total student population, i.e. 100% of students will only return at level 1 and that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Under level 1, the Department of Higher Education and Training will require the strictest enforcement of physical distancing and health protocols.  Further details regarding the return of students, the specific criteria and all other arrangements will be published by the Minister in the Government Gazette.

Students throughout South Africa should therefore continue to focus on their studies during lockdown. Here are some guidelines for students:

  • Leverage the online learning platform of your university;
  • Develop your digital technology skills during this time;
  • Prepare for online assessments;
  • Follow your university on social media for any announcements within the next few weeks;
  • Look out for any emails or announcements from your university;
  • Stay in contact with other students via your phone or social media;
  • Keep in contact with student societies and student chapters via social media;
  • Continue to practise safe hygiene practices at home;
  • Prepare yourself for strict safety regulations when you return to campus and your university accommodation later this year.

From the above it is evident that the Department of Higher Education and Training has opted for a dual strategy of saving lives, as well as saving the academic year.  It was good to see that the Minister managed to emphasise both these messages in his presentation on Saturday.  The Minister highlighted that students are expected to embrace online learning in terms of work readiness, given the fact that under level 3, the majority of students (66%) will still study from home.  Thus, it is clear that most students will continue with their studies from their desk at home, until further announcements are made which us unlikely to happen within the next two months.  The readiness of universities in terms of safety protocols will be assessed, and under no circumstances will the safety of students and staff be compromised.   In the interim, university staff and students should continue with online learning, while keeping an eye on any further developments.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). Please note that the foundation of this article is a summary of the Minister’s presentation on 23 May 2020. Students will receive official communication from their university management and should respond to any changes or developments as they arise.  For more information on the Coronavirus, visit  

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The value of values

Posted By SABPP, Monday, 25 May 2020





The value of values:

An anchor during the Covid-19 crisis

 by Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


Today we look at values as an anchor during the Covid-19 crisis.  We will first review the importance of values in times of stability and then reinforce the essence of values during these times of lockdown. The premise of today’s article is that values are an important anchor during a crisis.  The Chambers Concise Usage Dictionary defines an anchor as “something that holds someone or something steady.” That is exactly why values are so important, both during times of stability and instability.


For too long companies and politicians would get away with a lack of focus on values. For instance, politicians keep on violating their own regulations and ethics codes, including the Constitutions of their countries and political parties.  Likewise, business leaders have generated beautiful and impressive lists of values such as integrity, honesty, passion for people, innovation, caring, compassion, accountability, responsibility and respect.  At some companies these values are visibly displayed at corporate head offices, boardrooms and the integrated reports of companies.  However, recent examples of corporate scandals can be traced back to a failure in the application of corporate values. Very few companies do not have clearly articulated values guiding the behaviour of their leaders and staff.  Says Arisha Archary, HR Executive at Old Mutual: “The corporate culture is shaped by shared values, and good employers take steps to ensure their values and their employees’ values are aligned.” 


That is the reason why the South African leadership standard includes values as one of the five key elements of sound leadership.  The leadership standard makes it clear that it is not only about stating values, but living the values that is so important for organisational success. Hence, leaders should mirror the values and behaviour they expect from employees.  This is why the success of the massive workplace hygiene campaign over the next three months will depend to a great extent on leadership.  We can learn from our leaders in mining who have over decades displayed exemplary leadership in living the value of safety.  All meetings in mining companies start with a reminder of the value of safety, and mining managers lead by example in putting safety on the agenda of all these meetings.  Now an intensified safety regime is being developed, and leaders will lead by example and employees will then follow in their footsteps in applying safe and hygienic behaviour in the workplace, at home and in other public places.  It may require companies to reframe their current values, or to link safety to other existing values, such as compassion or caring. This collective effort will require significant organisation culture change.  People returning to work will experience this the moment they are screened before entering a building.




The reality is that people come to the workplace with different values. Even good values like integrity and honesty mean different things to different people.  Thus, the role of leaders is to ensure that there is a common understanding of values for the organisation and then ensure that these values are clearly communicated in the organisation, and embedded into its culture.  Certain individuals may also feel that their own personal or religious values are more relevant than the empty stated values of the company.  For example, some people feel uncomfortable if they value honesty and integrity while they often experience discomfort when management and colleagues lie to customers about what is really happening in the company.


Furthermore, values guide decision-making.  Just imagine what could have happened in the recent corporate scandals, if one person stood up and said: “I don’t think we should continue with this deal in this manner, it is against our values.”   Unfortunately, this did not happen (or if it happened, the person was side-lined).  Or, it was business as usual until a whistle-blower decided to spill the beans, or when investigators or the media did their own homework to expose the truth.  Additionally, the working group developing the leadership standard for South Africa, also insisted that leaders must take action against those not living the values, referred to as “toxic leaders” in the standard. The same should apply to “toxic employees” who behave against the values of the company.


It is evident that government struggled to make decisions about regulations pertaining to the lockdown.  Clearly, there was a clash of values and priorities, for instance safety versus economic rights of doing business.  Unfortunately, while one was hoping for the highest standard of ethics and integrity when almost the whole world is in lockdown, during this time of suffering, it is sad to see so many business owners, managers, employees and government officials violating their organisation’s values and ethics codes. Here are ten examples:


  • Managers keeping shops open while they know that staff members have been infected with the Covid-19 virus;
  • Managers and employees not complying with the hygiene and other regulations of government;
  • Employees who have tested Covid-19 positive still using taxis, going to work and interacting with other people without physical distancing;
  • Managers and employees being non-compliant to the lockdown regulations;
  • Employees receiving full salaries while they have done little or no work;
  • Managers using the lockdown as an excuse for business under-performance;
  • Businesses inflating the prices of products;
  • Brutality and human rights abuses by the police and military officers;
  • Funding earmarked for people who have lost their income not reaching the beneficiaries;
  • Theft of food parcels.

However, to be fair to honest business leaders and government decision-makers: The coronavirus epidemic created an uncertain environment for decision-making.  Making decisions without facts or hard scientific data complicates matters, especially when decisions have to be made that appear to be a clash of values, such as deciding to close the economy to protect lives while you know that this very decision will eventually also destroy lives.  It also became apparent that not all scientists agree on all the regulations and interventions, and it was unclear whether government decision-makers listened to the scientists when making new regulations, especially when the relevance and rationality of the regulations could not be linked directly to curbing the spread of the Covid-19 virus.


Although the President admitted to mistakes with some of the regulations, whether these mistakes will be corrected, remains to be seen.  It is also a reality that in certain cases such as the ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco that there are strong arguments on both sides of the debate, and that there will be people who will be upset irrespective of the final outcome.  It was also difficult to make decisions with devastating consequences for people, in particular the socio-economic impact of the lockdown, such as the hardships experienced by tobacco and wine farm workers.


Let us refocus on a positive note by providing ten guidelines on how to make values work during the lockdown within an organisation:


1. Make your organisation’s values visible in the organisation (e.g. on notice boards, on your website, social media, documents, meeting rooms);


2. Arrange informal and formal conversations about the values of the company and how it relates to the lockdown;


3. Ask employees to generate examples of conformance and non-conformance to the values;


4. Make it clear to employees what typical behaviours are expected when living the values of the organisation;


5. Integrate values in your performance appraisal process and allocate a high weight for values;


6. Create a recognition system to formally show appreciation when employees conform to the values;


7. Include and contextualise the organisation’s values as part of communication about the lockdown contingency planning and actions;


8. Do regular assessments on conformance to the values;


9. Develop clear action plans on how the values can be lived by all managers and employees;


10. Use change management and organisation development methodology to leverage your values in building your organisation culture.


When looking at these guidelines, you may think that it would not be different in times of stability and instability as we experience during the lockdown and the broader reality of an economy in recession moving towards a depression.  You are right, but that is exactly why values are so important.  If your values were clearly articulated during the period of stability, it would have been a good yardstick for behaviour when employees were working from home during the lockdown.  Moreover, in times of despair, people need to hold on to values or principles.  Values would have been very helpful to keep managers and employees focused during this difficult time.  Also, the lockdown was a good opportunity for employers with people-driven values such as caring, compassion, and people-orientation to anchor their decisions in the application of these values.  Conversely, it also would have backfired if employers claimed to be a “caring employer” and then not show any or little care for their employees and customers when practising poor hygiene.  Some employers continued with inadequate protection for employees and poor sanitising, or even worse, not caring for employees who have been infected with the Covid-19 virus. 


In conclusion, the third element of the South African leadership standard is values.  The key question leaders should ask is what values they would like to instil in the organisation before, during and after the lockdown to ensure that management and staff are united around the same values. In fact, while people are working from home in different cities, towns or suburbs, values are one of the most important factors uniting managers and employees, but only if there is a common understanding and individual and collective commitment to the values of the organisation.  In addition, leading by example in living these values is a key responsibility of all leaders.  Taking responsibility and ensuring accountability means that action must be taken against leaders and staff when the values are violated. For instance, now that “safety” has become a common value for all of us, compliance will be key when employees return to work, and disciplinary action must be taken in the event of non-compliance, given the fact that non-compliance would constitute behaviours and omissions spreading the virus to other people.  In worse case scenarios, this could lead to the death of fellow employees or customers.  Values should be visible and be lived on a daily basis to ensure that it becomes part of the culture of the organisation. Leaders should lead these efforts by displaying authentic leadership behaviour anchored in explicit values.  Values are important every day, but even more so as an anchor of stability and focus during these times of uncertainty, instability and confusion.  Let us make values one of the critical success factors in refocusing our Covid-19 planning at our companies, and society at large, especially as we move to level 3 of lockdown in the coming week.



Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information on the Coronavirus, visit 


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Posted By Siphiwe Y. Mashoene, Sunday, 24 May 2020








Use the power of your will during lockdown



Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


We all need a little willpower from time to time, not only to survive, but also to grow and to make things happen.  The Google dictionary provides a very useful definition of willpower, and that is “control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.”   Google goes on to suggest that most of our bad habits are due to laziness or lack of willpower.  And then the Cambridge English Dictionary defines willpower as “the ability to control your own thoughts and the way in which you behave.”   Cambridge Dictionary provides the following practical examples to explain what willpower really is: “It took a lot of willpower to stay calm.”  Collins Dictionary states that willpower is “a very strong determination to do something.” 

There are some very useful lessons for us in these definitions of what willpower, in particular as it relates to dealing with the Covid-19 situation and the lockdown:

  • We can control our thinking, attitude, behaviour and reaction to the situation;
  • We can restrain impulses, for example surely many of us felt at times to break the lockdown rules, but fortunately many people managed to restrain themselves;
  • We all have bad habits, such as poor hygiene, a lack of discipline, resistance and non-compliance to rules and regulations;
  • Moments of inaction and laziness;
  • Dealing with our frustrations;
  • Staying calm despite the circumstances;
  • Being determined to do something, e.g. continue with work and studies or complying with the regulations.

Most of us struggled to come to terms with the initial 21 days of lockdown.  Then we had another 14 days extension of the lockdown, and now we are on Day 57 already.  It appears as if we have more willpower than we thought.  Perhaps the human need to survive is probably the strongest of all human needs.

I had a personal goal of not going out at all during the first 21 days. I achieved that.  I managed to keep it up for 53 days, and only went out for the first time on Day 54.  I was determined to prove to myself that I can reach the goal of 50 days without going out of our complex.  Fortunately, from 1 May when moving down to level 4, it helped to do an early morning walk.  But staying focused and disciplined despite the difficult circumstances is how I managed to use my willpower in achieving my goals.  And of course, there were days of frustration, anxiety, fear, inaction, poor concentration and despair. 

Gillian Bruce-Knight puts willpower in perspective: “Willpower comes from being willing to do something. Either you are willing to do it or you are not. Willpower is that simple.”  In other words, you decide whether you want to do something, and how well you will do it.  Thus, willpower applies to work, studies, family life, chores, or anything you need as you engage on the process of decision-making.  Psychologist William McDougall puts it in even simpler language when he says: “Willpower is character in action.”  Hence, you have an opportunity to display your character to the world when you take actions.  Then you are judged by the quality and quantity of your actions.

In the pre-lockdown period when we were still watching sport, I would always support the underdog, whether watching tennis, cricket, rugby or netball.  I always want the underdog to win, even it is clear that the underdog is weaker than the favourite. Most of the time it is predictable that the player or team with the best talent would normally win.  But often the favourite or highest ranked individual or team has a bad day and the underdog would win.  Sometimes it is not about a bad day only, but the sheer willpower of the underdog.  As American swimmer and actor Johnny Weissmuller asserted: “With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower.”  

During this period of lockdown, our resilience and perseverance have been tested to its limits.  However, it is not a matter of strengths versus weaknesses, but rather whether you are using the power of your will.  Victor Hugo puts it so appropriately: “People do not lack strength, they lack will.”  Therefore, if your will is strong enough, you will make it happen.  Over the years we have seen different definitions of competence, and I have reached the stage where I have simplified all these complex definitions of competence in summarising it in six words: The ability to make things happen.   The opposite is also true: You are incompetent if you can’t make things happen.  Orison Swett Marden posits: “A will finds a way.”   There will be times during this period of lockdown when you will feel stuck and you will not be able to show what you have accomplished. That is the time when willpower is needed.  Kenneth W Christian states: “You are only as lazy or lacking in willpower as you think you are.”  

As the old Chinese proverb goes: “Great souls have wills; feeble ones have only wishes.”  Sometimes you will write your goals down, but it is then important to use your willpower to follow-through on these ideas.  In fact, willpower starts with being willing to do something. Peter Drucker challenged our commitment or willingness: “What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.”

Honore de Balzac says: “There is no such thing as a great talent without great willpower.” Talented people have all the potential in the world to achieve success, yet they do not always realise that potential when they lack the willpower to leverage their own talent.  Dan Millman goes further and states: “Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” Surely, we are now faced with so much apathy, doubt and fear during the Covid-19 crisis, but we can overcome it with our willpower to persevere and to keep achieving the goals and actions we have set out upfront.  Use your willpower to get through this lockdown by unleashing the power of your will.

Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information on the Coronavirus, visit 


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The top skills in the World of Work

Posted By Siphiwe Y. Mashoene, Saturday, 23 May 2020





The top skills in the World of Work:

Are you leading or lagging?



Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


Over the past 20 years, there were several studies focusing on the skills required for the new world of work. According to the World Economic Forum the top skills in the World of Work for the year 2020 are as follows:

  1. Complex problem-solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Co-ordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision-making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Interestingly, while these skills focus on the world of work, they are not only relevant for top managers, but also for other professionals and employees, especially during this time of lockdown.  In fact, most people have applied some or all of these skills while working from home.  For instance, you may have been in a position in which you had to renegotiate your lease agreement like many people have done in recent times.  In addition, the Covid-19 situation and lockdown in particular required people to display a very high level of emotional intelligence.  Being restricted to your home required you to increase your level of self-awareness in terms of your own focus, strengths, frustrations, and maintaining or building relationships with family members, colleagues, suppliers, customers and your manager.   It is also encouraging to see how some people have stepped up in some of these skills areas.  Some managers realised that complex problem-solving is now required to deal with higher levels of uncertainty and complexity given the fact that our conventional approaches to forecasting and managing projects and problems during times of stability have become irrelevant, or had to be adapted considerably.

Some of these skills will require more attention, focus and development than others.  As an example, cognitive flexibility is a special skill during the Covid-19 crisis. According to Wikipedia, cognitive flexibility is “the mental ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously.” The Handbook of Behavioural Neuroscience (2016) defined cognitive flexibility as the ability to adapt behaviours in response to changes in the environment.  All of us had to apply the skill of cognitive flexibility during this difficult period.  We were required to handle so many different aspects at work, at home and society at large, especially in the light of uncertainty, complexity and conflicting and changing conditions.  Moreover, we were required to adapt and change our behaviours when isolating ourselves from other people and to practice additional hygiene requirements and other forms of behaviour change.  However, we all have ample opportunities to practise the top 10 work skills of 2020.  Here is a quick set of basic guidelines to practise these skills in the current circumstances:

  • Consider different options and apply your mind and a variety of problem-solving techniques when solving problems at work and home;
  • Think deeper and more critically about conventional wisdom and the things around you, including the future of business and the world of work;
  • Apply your creativity in making your home and work environment more interesting and conducive to working remotely and productively;
  • Use your people skills in influencing other people if you are in a non-management or specialist position, and people management skills if you manage other people or your household;
  • Coordinating with other people is of utmost importance when working on projects and initiatives;
  • Emotional intelligence is needed to first have self-awareness, and secondly to build and maintain good relationships with other people;
  • Think clearly when using the skill of judgment to reach conclusions and to make decisions affecting your behaviour, work, family and life in general;
  • Assess your skill of service orientation to customers and make the necessary improvements where necessary;
  • Work on your negotiation skills when it is necessary to negotiate your position, contracts or other forms of reaching agreements on actions going forward;
  • Practise cognitive flexibility when entertaining different or multiple concepts and when you are required to change your behaviour in terms of hygiene, physical distancing, and complying to all the Disaster Management Act regulations.

Most of us applied the top 10 skills to a greater or lesser degree over the first five months of the year, and in particular over the past two months of lockdown. Admittedly, you will immediately see that you are more proficient in some of these skills than others.  Reinforce your strengths and work on those areas requiring more attention. Also use other team members who may be stronger in some of the areas you are struggling with. There will be people in your team with better judgment than others, therefore, make them part of your decision-making. Likewise, your most creative people will find it easier to display creativity than those who lack creativity.  Using a strengths-based approach to building and growing individual team members and the team at large can help them grow as individuals and active team members adding value to your organisation. 

What is important to realise is that these skills are the unique value-adding skills required in the world of work today. Ironically, they are also life skills during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you are leading in the application of these skills, congratulations, and keep it up!  Also help others if you see they are struggling.  Some of these skills also need to be developed in your children, such as problem-solving, creativity, emotional intelligence and judgment.  If you are lacking or lagging in any of these areas, use the last seven months of the year to develop and refine your skills.  Then you will not look back to the year 2020 as the year of lockdown, but the year of developing your top 10 skills in the new world of work and add significant value to your family, organisation and broader society.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information on the Coronavirus, visit  

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The 20 P’s of successful e-learning

Posted By SABPP, Wednesday, 20 May 2020




The 20 P’s of successful e-learning

 By Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP


It is today 30 days or a full month since Stellenbosch University started with online learning when the second quarter of academic studies resumed on 20 April.  Having worked at the University of South Africa (Unisa) for 11 years earlier in my career, online learning was not a new phenomenon for me.  At Unisa online learning was the most important form of student teaching and support, given the fact that students studied at Unisa from all 9 provinces and many other countries throughout the world.  My own learning about online learning also occurred via the National Association of Distance Education and Open Learning of South Africa, as well as the Association for Talent Development (ATD) in the USA where I was exposed to some of the top thought leaders in this field.  At ATD and in working with Human Resource and Learning and Development Managers at private companies throughout South Africa, it became clear to me that the term electronic learning (e-learning) was preferred in the business world, both globally and locally. I subsequently contributed some of my views and experiences in a book entitled “Delivering E-learning: A complete strategy for design, application and assessment” by Kenneth Fee published by Kogan Page.

There are some serious debates about the effectiveness of online learning, and while different schools of thought have emerged over the years, the reality is that schools and universities had no other choice but to use and attempt to leverage e-learning during the lockdown.  Many institutions were caught off-guard and unprepared for embarking on e-learning, while others went out of their way to ensure that e-learning is used during the period of lockdown.  In general, most e-learning specialists recommend the use of both synchronous (in the same time) and asynchronous (in own time or self-paced) learning.  Given the devastating effects of the lockdown, I decided to use asynchronous learning, in other words adapting my approach to e-learning by leading students with the content, and then let them study in their own time, in particular by engaging in online discussion forums and learning journals as part of the process of reflection.  In this way, students could manage their own learning, while I am available as their facilitator to answer questions and support them when needed.

It is important to first make the paradigm shift in not trying to behave and act “normal” in “abnormal” circumstances.  Trying to act normal in abnormal circumstances would be insensitive and just show that you are not in touch with reality.  Values like respect and compassion are more important during a crisis when all people are stressed, including students.  The coronavirus situation is a pandemic or global crisis affecting the whole world. Let me do a quick reality check to explain how this affects learning:

  • The majority of countries are in lockdown with a significant reduction in economic activity, and devastating socio-economic impact and consequences;
  • The lives of students and their parents have been disrupted by being forced to return home to study full-time at home;
  • Most people, and therefore most students too, experience increased levels of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, panic worrying about their health, studies, family members, friends and parents;
  • Bandwidth and connectivity problems complicates e-learning;
  • Students are concerned about the current discomfort, as well as their future studies and careers in a contracted economy where jobs will be scarce;
  • Some students were even required to assist their parents or other family members with work;
  • It is a traumatic experience to be isolated from the campus, your fellow students, your lecturers and support staff, your friends and other family members, as well as from girlfriends and boyfriends and other partners in your life;
  • If several parties (parents, brothers, sisters, friends) are all working and studying from home it becomes crowded and difficult to concentrate when you experience distractions and interruptions during a typical day of studying;
  • Students also had to make several other sacrifices during these periods of instability and disruption, such as contributing to chores at home, or to even assist their parents in trying to run a business or doing work from home;
  • The fear of infection became a reality in some communities and families when members of family, or their neighbours were infected with the Covid-19 virus, or living in constant fear when family members continued to work in essential services;
  • All families experience their own challenges, conflicts and crises, and being under the same roof with the same people for 24 hours a day while trying to study is a tall order for many students, especially if space is limited;
  • In many families income has been reduced, and for some students too, especially those who previously had part-time jobs in sectors totally shut down such as restaurants and bars.

In the light of the above realities, I reflected on my previous experience of e-learning, as well the more intensified and stressful period of e-learning over the past 30 days at Stellenbosch University. Using an asynchronous approach to e-learning, I decided to organise my experience into the most important lessons, with a specific focus on what I consider to be the most important critical success factors in making asynchronous e-learning work in practice. I call these lessons the 20 P’s of making e-learning work:

  1. People focus: E-learning is about learning, it is not about the “e” of e-learning. While technology is important, learning is more important, thus a strong people focus is key in making e-learning work.
  2. Purpose: Despite using e-learning as an alternative to traditional classroom training, the purpose of your learning should still be clear.  In fact, given all the distractions in the home learning environment, it is even more important to make the purpose of learning clear to students. In addition, students must understand how different sub-sections, chapters or learning units fit into the bigger picture, so that they will experience a high level of alignment and integration when pulling all the different sections of the module together.
  3. Positivity: With so many bad news, negativity, uncertainty and anxiety around us, it is even more important for the lecturer to mirror positivity when engaging with students. We are all experiencing increases levels of stress and anxiety, and although it is important to acknowledge the crisis, be positive in all your engagements with students.
  4. Planning: Lecturers must ensure that they plan their content and sessions in appropriate ways.  When you present a face-to-face class in a conventional classroom, you have more freedom to use your own personal style and knowledge throughout the period to share your content with students. E-learning requires more careful planning in terms of how you ensure that you still achieve your learning outcomes in a different way, albeit in a more flexible manner.  The right things must still happen at the right times, and you need to be able to make a plan if something goes wrong.
  5. Principles: Establish clear ground rules in making e-learning work effectively. General principles of net etiquette should be observed, for example, the appropriate use of language and to show respect towards other students and the lecturer.
  6. Partnership: Make it clear to students that e-learning is a real engaging partnership between the lecturer and students. Both parties need to contribute optimally to make e-learning work effectively. E-learning is two-way communication at several levels of learning.
  7. Professionalism: Most academic courses prepare students to follow professional careers. E-learning provides an excellent opportunity for students to prepare for the real workplace where they will be expected to conduct themselves as professionals.  When the lecturer mirrors the professionalism expected from students, most students will reciprocate in professional conduct throughout the period of online learning.
  8. Prioritise: Be careful of not over-loading students with too much preparation work and content.  This is even more important during the crisis period when students also have other priorities to attend to such as looking after their younger brothers and sisters. Prioritise key content and use smaller chunks of learning to get your message across.
  9. Presence: Although it is important to encourage students to learn on their own and at the own pace, the lecturer must have a presence, in other words you must stimulate the learning from the start and enter and exit when necessary.  This means that there are times when you let discussion forums continue without you, but you need to moderate and intervene to see if students are going in the right direction. Getting the balance right is key, if you are too visible, you dominate the forums too much. On the other hand, if you are invisible, students lose interest. Getting this balance right in terms of your presence is the key to success.
  10. Participation: The success of e-learning depends on student participation.  Hence, the need to continuously encouraging students to participate in the discussion forums and their learning during their own time.
  11. Photos: If the lecturer must have a presence, students must also have a presence. It is therefore important for students to also upload their photos on their online profiles.  Not only does it make the student look more “professional” it also assists in creating stronger connections between the lecturer and students, and among the students themselves when they see each other’s photos.  It gives a “face” to the comment or contribution of each individual, and it reminds us all that learning is about people and the value you bring to the class.
  12. Pictures: As the old saying goes: “A picture speaks a thousand words.”Make your learning content as interesting and attractive of possible for students. Use pictures, diagrams, and figures to explain content in more user-friendly ways.
  13. Presentations or PodcastsLecturers must still share their presentations with students, and using voice overs enables the students to go through the slides in their own time, while the lecturer explains the slides to them. Other forms of content such as podcasts or videos can also be used to enrich the content and learning experience.
  14. Platforms: It is important to leverage the platforms provided by the institution. At Stellenbosch University we use SUNLearn, while other universities have their own platforms, like myUNISA at Unisa or Blackboard used at many other institutions of higher learning.  Most of these platforms have similar functionalities.  However, some lecturers use these platforms merely as “dumping” sites, in other words lecturers simply “dump” content for learners to access, read and use.  This is one-way communication and therefore an ineffective method of learning.  That is the reason why I appreciate the phrase used by Magda Barnard, Curriculum Advisor at the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch, when she states: “You don’t upload documents, you build the site.” This a profound statement for both lectures and students: We don’t upload and download content, we engage with it, we build on it, and we leverage all opportunities such as the forums to create a more integrated and engaged approach to learning.
  15. Personal Reflections: Encouraging students to do personal reflections is a powerful way to let them take full responsibility for their learning.  When they reflect on their learning, they internalise the content and it becomes a personal journey of discovery and growth.  Not only does it build their confidence, it also provides an opportunity for lecturers to see whether students have managed to master the key aspects of the session or chapter.
  16. Practical application: After you have covered the theory and provided some practical examples for them, create opportunities for students to apply the theory.  Also encourage students to generate practical examples.  Use the e-learning platform to stimulate thinking about how the theory can be applied in the real world.  Either create practical scenarios such as case studies, or let them work on projects where they can apply their knowledge in practice.
  17. People analytics: Unfortunately, some e-learning platforms do not provide metrics such as participation rates, or the number of engagements. However, given the power of technology it is possible for all e-learning platforms to provide relevant analytics to inform decision-makers about possible follow-up interventions. 
  18. Praise: Recognise the contributions and achievements of students. I award three prizes, or digital badges per week:  Most active student, Best contributors and Best Reflections.  Acknowledging the work of students is encouraging them to stay motivated and to continue focusing on their studies.
  19. Pleasure: Think of ways in which you can make the content more interesting for students. Infuse an element of fun into the learning process. While students should see the seriousness of their studies and deal with the complexity thereof, they must still be able to derive pleasure and satisfaction from their studies. Use a sense of humour, cartoons and create some lighter moments to improve the overall transformative student experience.
  20. Personal touch: The most important of all these guidelines is to ensure that there is a personal touch used by the lecturer in ensuring that students are motivated to leverage the e-learning opportunity.  Stay human and provide a personal touch in your comments and engagements in discussion forums. Use the names of students as much as possible. Students must never feel as if they are only a number, or as if they are accessing an online call centre.

E-learning presents the only opportunity for lectures and students to continue with some form of facilitated learning during the lockdown. Despite some drawbacks and limitations, most of the typical problems experienced during the transition from traditional face-to-face learning can be alleviated by following a more human approach to e-learning.  E-learning is 80% about people, and only 20% about technology.  Most of the 20 P’s presented above are about a people-centred approach to learning. The only difference is that we learn via a human-computer interface, with people on both sides of the technology.  In fact, people are at the centre of the technology. While technology provides the platforms, people make it happen. 

Lecturers and students are encouraged to leverage e-learning for the benefit of completing the 2020 academic year. It is indeed possible that we may return to campus in the near future, but optimising e-learning in the meantime, is an excellent opportunity in embracing the power of technology, while empowering students in the process. Moreover, we are preparing students for the workplace, and most national and international companies are already using e-learning as a form of learning for more than 20 years. Although blended or hybrid approaches to learning has been popular before, all these companies have used e-learning only over the last month. Let us embrace e-learning as a powerful form of hybrid learning and continue to focus on academic quality and integrity and the achievement of learning outcomes in preparing students for a business world in which technology is one of the top drivers of business success.


By Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP

Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information on the Coronavirus, visit

This article is dedicated to Miné de Klerk and Firdows Talip from the Centre for Learning Technologies and Magda Barnard from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University for their excellent support in enabling and facilitating online learning at the university. I also want to acknowledge all my honours degree students in Industrial Psychology and Human Resource Management for their active and excellent participation in online learning during the lockdown.


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From 5 levels of lockdown to 5 stages of grief

Posted By SABPP, Wednesday, 20 May 2020




From 5 levels of lockdown to 5 stages of grief


By Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP


As loyal citizens we were asked to prepare ourselves for the 5 levels of lockdown. We were told that we were at level 5 (without knowing it), and that we would move to level 4 on 1 May.  This led to a major outcry from all sectors, so much so that government has since the last week in April moved to a more “consultative” mode of decision-making around the Covid-19 crisis.  However, the approach to consultation currently is to promulgate a range of regulations affecting different sectors and all individuals as citizens of society. Although this is quite a unique approach, given the fact that disaster management (a euphemism for a state of emergency) is normally not negotiated and simply enforced.  This creates even more confusion when some of the regulations are challenged for its rationality regarding its relevance for preventing the spread of the virus. When the socio-economic hardship is seen as worse than the risk of infection, a high level of non-compliance occurs, followed by increased infections as a result of certain sectors being allowed to operate with little physical distancing such as the taxi industry where masses of people are at risk of being infected.

People experience grief because of the coronavirus epidemic, and the lockdown regulations in particular.  In a brilliant article by David Kessler and Scott Berinator published in the Harvard Business Review, they remind us that we are all going through the five stages of Covid-19 grief.  It goes like this:

Stage 1 - Denial: “This virus won’t affect us.”

Stage 2 - Anger: “You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities.”

Stage 3 -  Bargaining:  “Okay, if I social distance for 2 weeks everything will be better, right?”

Stage 4 - Sadness: “I don’t know when this will end.”

Stage 5 - Acceptance: “This is happening, I have to figure out how to proceed.”

It is a reality that people are at different stages of grief, and you move from one stage to the next as you decide on how you will respond to the situation.  People also change their views based on how they think it through, the information they receive, and how they are influenced by other people and the media.  Unfortunately, it is a reality that if you are stuck at a lower level, in particular stage 1, you will be the most non-compliant and therefore at the biggest risk of being infected, and for infecting other people with your reckless and/or non-compliant behaviour.  Sadly, many pastors and other church and funeral goers contributed to mass infections by continuing with church and other religious services, and therefore recklessly spread the virus.  Some of these pastors also passed away of Covid-19 soon after these acts of non-compliance.

People at Stage 2 may be grumpy and stay at home, while some of them will take the odd chance of being non-compliant by venting their anger at government or the police.  Both the stage 1 and stage 2 groups are also the most likely to fall for conspiracy theories.  Many South Africans initially accepted stage 3 when they were first told to be in lockdown for 21 days, and while moving back to stage 2 for a few days after the next extension of 14 days, and then managed to stay calm under stage 3.

When the risk-adjusted strategy was launched from 1 May, a lot of people moved to stage 4 when they were filled with sadness in realising that this will not end soon.  Fortunately, though, people who have accepted the situation have moved to stage 5 and are managing to work out ways of coping with the reality, while occasionally reverting back to stages 3 and 4.  However, since the devastating socio-economic impact, hunger and indeed the collapse of businesses have become a daily reality all over the country, some people slipped back to stage 2. 

Now many people have gained new hope that with the relaxation to level 3 they will be able to move to a better situation, but unfortunately while from a geographic perspective this will be most of the country, from a population perspective, it will mostly be the metropolitan areas where high population density is the norm and the spread of the virus is almost impossible to control.  In essence, it means that relaxation will happen in rural areas, while strict regulations will still be in place in the major cities.  Thus, the so-called “opening” of the economy will not really happen if it opened in Witsand, but not in Cape Town.  All major cities and districts where most of the economic activity takes place will still be at level 4 lockdown, and over time some of these districts may even move back to level 5. Some people at level 4 will move to grief stage 2.  In addition, if a person at stage 5 of grief is behaving very well and then abused by a police officer, the individual could revert back to anger (stage 2), and a loyal good law-abiding citizen is then lost in the process.

Government decision-makers and managers of companies responsible for the occupational health and safety of employees returning to work, should keep the 5 stages of grief in consideration when welcoming their employees back to work.  They even need to consider it now while employees are still staying or working from home.  Employees at grief stages 1 and 2 are the people most likely to transmit the virus from their homes to the workplace.  It is therefore of utmost importance that companies obtain the services of psychologists who can assist management teams in creating sufficient awareness of the Covid-19 virus, while supporting them to move to stage 5 of grief.  Treating people with respect and dignity is key, and professional change management and organisation development work will be needed to prepare people for working and living in a Covid-19 society at work sites and at home.  Although the 5 risk-adjusted levels of government can be challenged, they are here to stay and we need to adapt to whatever level we are on.  Likewise, the 5 levels of grief is a reality and presents an opportunity for careful planning and change management in ensuring that your workforce is prepared and united in addressing Covid-19 in an appropriate way.

In times of high levels of uncertainty, inconvenience, complexity and turmoil, especially when there is a continuous shift in goal posts, the importance of assisting people in dealing with grief cannot be over-emphasised.  This level of awareness may be useful in guiding decision-makers in government and business to improve their awareness strategies, in addition to providing more rational and sensible regulations and interventions in curbing the spread of the Covid-19 virus.


By Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP

Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information on the Coronavirus, visit


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Entrepreneurs in lockdown

Posted By SABPP, Tuesday, 19 May 2020




Entrepreneurs in lockdown:

Unlock their value in a new talent economy

By Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP


Entrepreneurs are the backbone of a thriving society, and unfortunately also the greatest victims when economic activity is shut down. During these times of lockdown it is interesting to see how many entrepreneurs simply don’t want to give up.  Many of them continue to think of new ideas to generate income such as producing masks, inventing new e-commerce solutions or simply to produce new products or services. Others forced into lockdown given the nature of their products or services, continue with philanthropic work to keep themselves busy and to contribute to society.


It is now more than 40 years since top management guru Peter Drucker argued for a shift toward an entrepreneurial society.  Drucker challenged executives to make innovation and entrepreneurship a “normal, ongoing everyday activity.”   As Julian Birkinshaw, a professor in strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School asserts in the online publication SA Business Index, this type of thinking on entrepreneurship requires a fundamental change in mind-set.  Given national lockdowns all over the world, these “normal, ongoing everyday activity” Drucker spoke about has been shut down with devastating effects for the entrepreneurs, their staff, the economy and society at large. 


Sadly, and to our detriment here in South Africa, it is clear that we have a long way to go before this paradigm shift occurs in our country.  In fact, many entrepreneurs and their staff were the first victims of the lockdown, while entrepreneurship was not actively encouraged in the country before the lockdown. Universities and colleges prepare students to become managers and professionals working for big corporations.  At best some universities in their economics and management faculties have a small sub-section called entrepreneurship intended to prepare entrepreneurs for the future while the rest of faculty is seen as the mainstream academics preparing students to enter big business.  When they do enter big business, they are confronted with the reality of retrenchment and down-sizing, a situation that is even more prevalent in this period of lockdown.   It is already a fact that entrepreneurial activity in South Africa is less developed than in other countries.  And with 30% unemployment South Africa is not in a position to afford poor entrepreneurial activity.


It is clear that leading competitive nations world-wide flourish on entrepreneurship.  Top countries have realised that if you want your economy to be successful, you need thriving entrepreneurs.  It is therefore not surprising that some of the world’s top global companies come from the most competitive nations such as the United States of America.  Just look at the phenomenal success of companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others to see the success of a country driving economic success on entrepreneurship.  Closer to home, Rwanda is now the leading nation in Africa in terms of opening opportunities for entrepreneurs.   Almost all barriers to opening a business have now been removed and it is possible to open a business 24 hours a day in Rwanda. That is real commitment to supporting entrepreneurs to start up and become successful in the shortest possible time.


Admittedly, luck also plays a role.  If you are in the hand sanitising business for a long time, surely it was not because of your vision that you would do so well today, it is simply luck that the Covid-19 crisis creates a high demand for your product.  Other entrepreneurs have moved away from producing their normal products and ventured into areas where the needs are.  However, this is only part of a short-term survival strategy to generate some income to pay the bills.


Entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial talent is the new currency in the modern business environment. In fact, we missed the opportunity of making the transition from knowledge economies to talent economies.  A talent economy is one in which talent drives economic activity like we have seen in the Silicon Valley.  In South Africa, Cape Town has evolved into a talent hub driving information technology, tourism, retail, insurance, call centres and other talent focus areas as the centre of economic activity.  In Johannesburg, Sandton has been such a talent hub, and in recent times, Rosebank in Johannesburg and Pretoria East have overnight established themselves as talent hubs being driven by the best qualified talent making things happen in these talent centres.


It is a sad reality that companies are punished during the lockdown for their lack of talent management before the lockdown.  If you maintained a big proportion of employees who simply sit at home while they are unable and unskilled to deliver any work from home for your company, you are responsible for your own demise as an employer.  You are paying the salary of an employee not adding any value to your business. In some companies this would be the majority of your staff compliment, and if the relief funds are not adequate for you to survive, you will be faced with the inevitable reality of retrenchment.  Put differently: Your employees have become the victims of your lack of talent development and management prior to the lockdown, and you cannot blame the lockdown for this omission.  It is during this time of crisis that companies should also learn the hard lesson of the need to employ more intrapreneurs, i.e. people who can generate ideas and use business entrepreneurship to generate money for the business.  For instance, progressive universities have created specialised income-generation units to harness entrepreneurship and innovation capabilities within academic institutions. 


However, entrepreneurship and talent economies do not happen automatically.  They need an environment conducive to experimentation, creativity, innovation and growth.  Ideas can only be converted to sustainable businesses if the environment is supportive and enabling of such initiatives and if leaders actively encourage such initiatives. 


The following actions can play a significant role in driving entrepreneurial talent:


  • Teach children at a young age about entrepreneurship and business opportunities;
  • Create opportunities and competitions for business ideas to be recognised and supported;
  • Make entrepreneurship an active and visible part of school and university curriculums;
  • Build strong funding opportunities for entrepreneurs to support the start-up phase of their businesses;
  • Conduct research to support good practice in entrepreneurship;
  • Create specialised entrepreneurship hubs, and refocus their work to sustain themselves in periods of economic decline;
  • Use the reduced period of business activity to train entrepreneurs in the skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs;
  • Train entrepreneurs in hygiene to prevent their businesses from being closed down;
  • Create a visible pool of intrapreneurs and innovators in organisations and set them up for success.

In essence, we need to elevate talented individuals and drivers of business and entrepreneurial activity in South Africa.  While entrepreneurship and economic activity has been supressed over the past seven weeks due to the Covid-19 crisis, we must remind ourselves that the coronavirus and junk status arrived at the same time.  As a country, we will need increased entrepreneurial activity to turn the economy around.  Moreover, we cannot afford the high failure rate of new businesses and therefore need to expend all effort in setting these businesses up for success. 


Since the beginning of April, all our focus has been on dealing with the short-term crisis and risk of the Covid-19 crisis. Business activity has been significantly reduced and health responses prioritised. Unfortunately the cost to the economy and the social crisis it created was a heavy price to pay. We now need to think even more innovatively on how to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, while allowing businesses to operate in safe and hygienic environments.


Over the medium term, we will need a massive national programme on entrepreneurship, not only to sustain and grow current entrepreneurs, but also to create new start-ups and to make them successful.  Furthermore, neglected and unrealised opportunities such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and e-commerce, e-health and digital business need to be prioritised and driven at a national level to stimulate economic activity and growth. If we succeed in the quest for entrepreneurship, business will be able to grow and we will empower ourselves to drive talent economies with talented entrepreneurs at the centre of a dynamic business environment.  Once a true talent economy is established in a relaxed lockdown environment, more entrepreneurs will be attracted to the new talent economy and we will begin to see business success being replicated in different parts of the country and continent.  But to make this work, we need to put entrepreneurs at the centre of talent economies and drive business activity around them.  Thus, we need to leapfrog ahead and this requires a fundamental paradigm shift in moving away from the industrial economy (2IR), to the knowledge economy (3IR) to the 4IR talent economy. Let us all be change agents and catalysts for driving the new talent economy as we make the transition from lockdown level 4 to 3 over the next two weeks.


By Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP

Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).   For more information on the Coronavirus, visit


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Do you have tension or hypertension?

Posted By Siphiwe Y. Mashoene, Sunday, 17 May 2020





Do you have tension or hypertension? 



Dr Marius Meyer - MHRP


One of the most important unintended consequences of the Covid-19 virus crisis is that although it dominates the news, social media and most conversations there is a renewed focus on other aspects of health. The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize has been very vocal and continuously highlighting the high impact of underlying health conditions, or comorbidities on the mortality rate of Covid-19 patients.  In particular, cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma and hypertension were mentioned as some of the top underlying health risks for Covid-19 deaths.

Today is World Hypertension Day, and therefore a good moment for putting the spotlight on hypertension, not only in relation to Covid-19, but also in dealing with it as a health risk on its own.   According to Dr Mkhize, hypertension is elevated blood pressure and the number one contributing risk factor for global deaths.

According to the Department of Health, hypertension causes stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney failure and blindness.   South Africa has one of the highest hypertension rates in the world, with one in three adults living with hypertension.  However, the Department states that only half the people who have hypertension know it.  This means that a large proportion of people don’t know that they have high blood pressure.  That is the bad news, because it means that many people are potentially at risk for both hypertension and also Covid-19 without knowing it.   The good news is that high blood pressure is preventable.

The Department of Health provides the following guidelines to reduce the risk of hypertension:

  • Maintaining healthy body weight (focus on a good healthy diet and exercise)
  • Exercising for an average of 30 minutes per day (use the 6:00 – 9:00 allowed time or any time at home for exercise during the level 4 regulations)
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables daily (add this to your lockdown shopping list)
  • Decrease consumption of salt, sugar and caffeine (reduce and manage these three)
  • Don’t smoke (listen to Ministers Mkhize and Dlamini-Zuma)
  • Reduce alcohol intake (listen to the two Ministers again)
  • Avoid stress where possible (manage your stress)
  • Make time for relaxation (take breaks during your lockdown work)

All of us experience tension and high levels of stress during these abnormal times of being in lockdown while we suffer from increased levels of frustration, anxiety and panic about so many hardships you are facing, including the fear of being infected. Stress levels are at an all-time high and therefore needs to be managed by all people, whether you have hypertension or not.

I am blessed and fortunate to have inherited my father’s low blood pressure. That is the luck of inheritance. But unfortunately, on my mother’s side, she only discovered high blood pressure after a stroke.  We need to raise awareness about hypertension and manage it more proactively, and once diagnosed, treat it with the necessary medication to prevent a further health risk.

In addition to everything I have learned about the Covid-19 virus over the past three months, the biggest lesson for me personally has been the importance of underlying health conditions. I never knew the word “comorbidities” before.  With this knowledge we are faced with the reality of a serious national health risk given the seriousness of many of these underlying conditions.  Many of these conditions are such a major health risk that they are killers on their own. Combined with Covid-19 your live is considerably shortened if you fail to recover from the coronavirus infection. That is the reason why medical teams all over the world have celebrated and applauded patients in wheelchairs or walking out alive from hospitals after recovering from the intense periods of being on ventilators as a result of Covid-19 treatment.

Let us add hypertension to our list of employee health and wellness priorities in developing an integrated employee wellness strategy at our organisations. Not only will it raise awareness and help us to reduce the health risk of hypertension, it will also enable us to include hypertension management as part of our strategy for reducing the risk of death due to the Covid-19 virus.


Dr Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). For more information on the Coronavirus, visit


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