The culture of fear and distrust at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) has come to light through various testimonies at the commission of inquiry. What has not been known however is the extent to which management attempted to conceal this information. Until Tuesday.
Speaking before the judicial inquiry into allegations of impropriety at the state asset manager, PIC senior human resource audit partner Diamond Motimele told the commission how the executive head of HR Chris Pholwane put him under pressure to present misleading results of a workplace climate survey.
The commission’s terms of reference includes an investigation into whether there has been any discrimination against employees regarding remuneration or performance awards, and whether senior executives victimised any staff members.
Employees barely satisfied
The PIC conducted employee engagement surveys through an independent service provider between October 2016 and May 2017 to assess the workplace climate and culture.
Motimele explained that employee participation was so low in the first attempt to carry out the survey that they had to run it again.
“Despite my many assurances with regard to anonymity and confidentiality of participants, employees were uncomfortable to participate, citing they would be tracked through the system and harsh consequences would follow,” said Motimele.
When a second survey was conducted between December 2016 and January 2017, again the uptake by employees was slow even though the retake was conducted both electronically and manually.
Employees were so concerned and fearful of being identified that they asked for their demographic information such as race, gender and occupation level to be excluded from the survey, said Motimele.
In the end, 168, or 51% of PIC staff participated in the survey with 73% of respondents opting to respond manually.
The final employee satisfaction score was 56.7%, lower than the 60% targeted in the corporate scorecard.
Dissatisfaction with leadership was a high priority issue among the key outcomes of the climate survey report. The report proposed that executive management undergo coaching or orientation on the PIC’s values and build trust with employees. Other issues were related to performance management, incentives and communication.
“The results did not surprise me at all,” said Motimele, adding that the HR team was fortunate to have even achieved a score above 50% given the circumstances relating to the PIC climate at the time.
While Motimele was not surprised by the results, he said it was clear that Pholwane had expected a different outcome to a point where he started to openly criticise the service provider and the methodology used. In the end, he said Pholwane took over the survey process opting to deal with the service provider directly and ignoring his professional advice.
Motimele said that from his observations, Pholwane’s greatest concern seemed to be the negative impact the results would have on the corporate scorecard target on employee satisfaction.
A 56.7% score meant that employee satisfaction would be rated a two on a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest score.
Falsifying employee satisfaction
Motimele testified that to try and present a picture of a happier working environment, Pholwane suggested that they combine the 18.1% neutral scores with the positive ones to “enhance the final outcome”. Apparently, this was advice that Pholwane had received from the chief financial officer Matshepo More.
This would have the effect of increasing employee satisfaction to 74.8%.
“I advised him that in my entire working experience I had never come across such a practice. I further advised him that doing so was against best practice,” Motimole told the commissioners.
Motimole said that while he insisted that the original survey as reported by the independent service providers be presented, he was surprised to find that employee satisfaction was rated 74.8% in the final PIC corporate scorecard.
He testified that he was not aware of how Pholwane had presented the scores to the executive committee and other committees within the PIC or whether he had brought attention to the fact that the scores were a combination of positive and neutral scores.
Motimole said that presenting a final rating of above 70% was “completely misleading” and amounted to a falsification of the report.
“It is my view that this was against the principles of ethical behaviour, the PIC code of conduct, good corporate governance and best practices,” he added.