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Facing reality

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

As I watched - virtually - and listened to a sermon on a Sunday morning recently, one of the preacher's messages made me reflect on my last article about reality. The discussion in my article was about 'reality check.'

The preacher's message that made me reflect back was about taking stock of where we've been and where we are today, considering, among other things, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Reality check, I had suggested, was the first phase an organization or a person must go through when preparing for change.

The question then arises after the first phase: What do we do after a reality check or after 'taking stock of where we've been, where we are today, and where we need to go - moving forward? The answer much depends on what the reality check reveals. If, on the one hand, the reality check shows a clean bill of health, then we must be doing the right things right and can continue along the same path. On the other hand, if the reality check shows an unhealthy situation, then it is time to prepare for the next phase - the 'facing reality' phase.

Facing reality can be challenging for any organization, individual, or even a nation. We can conduct a reality check (take stock of the past) to examine and understand how we have managed our affairs and how this has impacted our situation. Facing reality is a different matter, but crucially important. More often than not, facing reality can be humbling or even destructive. Hence, there is a need to go through the first phase - 'the reality check' – with the thoroughness required to detect and establish anything that is not going according to expectations, and to acknowledge where things need to change. At this stage, whether we are talking about a country, an organization, or an individual, it is critical to face reality if the changes we must institute are to be meaningful.

Facing reality is a critical stage in resolving organizational problems. It is about confronting real issues, situations, or problems, with the intention to fix them. It is the responsible thing to do.

My discussion on reality check was in the context of two areas of reference, namely:

  1. The IMF-World bank loans and institutional restructuring requirements for Kenya.

  2. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission's (SRC's) failure to tame the public sector's wage bill in Kenya.

Perhaps mine was a futile attempt to suggest that all was not lost since, with adequate capability capacity, which Kenya can muster and deliver, our country could successfully manage the restructuring of the nine public institutions the IMF had identified for the exercise. The restructuring, I suggested, could be done successfully even under the 'strictly prescriptive' loan conditions the IMF/World Bank sets as witnessed in sub-Sahara African countries in the 1980s/'90s. The secret, I argued, would be to take charge of the restructuring processes. However, taking charge would require of Kenya to be prepared to face reality.

I still believe Kenya has a cadre of well-qualified organization development (OD) practitioners, whose core activities include helping organizations face reality - for it will not just happen. Facing reality is possible only after realizing and accepting the impossibility of implementing the country's/organization's strategies unless there are changes in the current ways of conducting or doing business.

Introducing and implementing changes is a demanding, challenging task. Business schools frequently refer to 'the IBM story' as a perfect example of what it might take to make meaningful organizational changes. The IBM story is just one of many. Often, there are losers in any organizational change.

My discussion this time is in the context of the Kenyan public institutions the IMF has identified and recommended for restructuring. It is also in the context of the SRC's mandate for the public sector's remuneration systems and the wage bill. In both cases, the affected institutions could do the right thing, that is:

  • Take the driver's seat, and conduct 'a reality check.'

  • 'Face reality.'

  • Resolve to make whatever changes are necessary to move forward successfully. To do otherwise is to abdicate the responsibility for institutional 'wellness.'

There are no simple prescriptions for organizational change. The organization must be ready for it. Furthermore, as the owner of the process, the organization must have the requisite internal capability to participate fully in the change process. And, there lies the challenge for the institutions that must structure, and for the SRC on its responsibility for taming the public sector's 'wage bill beast.'

In summary, before embarking on organizational change,

  1. Conduct a 'reality check.'

  2. With the help of an OD practitioner, be ready to 'face reality.' The OD practitioner can assist in:

a.) Identifying the real problem(s) – not the symptoms

b.) Selecting the most appropriate interventions

c.) Interventions' implementation

d.) Monitoring and checking results

e.) Assessing the impact of the interventions

f.) Making any necessary corrections using the same process {i.e., steps (a) to (e) above}. It is a continuous process that helps build and strengthen the organization's capability capacity for continuous self-renewal.

Any shortcut to the above process is bound to fail. There are no shortcuts to organizational change.

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