Elevator Speeches and Old Friends: A Perspective From South Africa

I welcome the chance to contribute to the Willmore Consulting Group blog. Joe, your comments and cautions about the relative merits of an”elevator pitch” and “audio logo” for performance consulting are probably an appropriate way for me to link up with you again, after our interesting discussion in Washington DC a few months ago, during the ASTD conference there. In fact, it was probably my old (correction: venerable? valued and versatile!) friends Jim and Dana Robinson who introduced me to you, as well as to the concept of a performance consulting “elevator pitch” back in 1981, when they first came out to South Africa on a combination honeymoon trip & “Partners in Change” analysis of our performance improvement strategies in the Edgars Retail Group, which covered over 300 branches in several Southern African countries. As the Edgars Group Training & Development Manager, I had met Jim at ASTD in Anaheim in 1980, as well as comparing our learning, goal setting and basic performance management approaches with what was being achieved in JC Penney, Sears Roebuck, and other US retailers.At that time, we didn’t even know what an “elevator” was, as we used “lifts” to get us up and down our buildings…….but Dana and Jim soon got us all reviewing the many organisational and leadership factors that were enhancing or inhibiting learning, motivation and results, in our complex company and society. The initial scepticism of divisional HRD and line managers about “what can these Americans teach us, after 3 weeks in Africa?”, was replaced by enthusiastic responses to their practical questions and assessment tools, which subsequently became embedded in the corporate culture……and Edgars executives became recognised as thought leaders in assessment centres and innovative merchandising.

So thanks for the introduction to performance consulting, Jim and Dana; and for our ongoing sharing of ideas and “strategic business partner” concepts since the turbulent 1980s in South Africa. Here’s hoping that our plans for an elephant safari in Botswana and Namibia next year, become reality!
What’s happening in the performance improvement field in sunny South Africa these days? In a word, plenty! Although our national soccer team (nicknamed “Bafana Bafana” or “the Boys”) may not walk off with the Soccer World Cup after the tournament which takes place here in July 2010; our business sector is holding up fairly well to the current economic challenges, and President Jacob Zuma’s administration seems committed to reducing crime and corruption, as well as improving performance monitoring, evaluation and accountability in government.

Best wishes, Joe; and if you or any associates want to continue this conversation, “siyabonga kakhulu” (maybe you can polish your Zulu, too?).

Bill Sewell
People and Performance, Cape Town, South Africa
“Aligning people, performance and evaluation strategies”