Last Saturday, I had a rendezvous with a longtime friend. Most of the time, we used to meet at the historic Ras Hotel for lunch on weekends. This was after our separate visits to the barber shops, the two nearest bookstores and the newspaper street vendors, who were our only sources of current affairs. As smartphones and computers took over our lives, we started to drift apart.

It was immediately after we met that he vowed to unplug from computers. He lamented the mess occasioned by introducing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software at the company where he works. The software was hoped to integrate, in real-time, different departments and processes of the company. It did not work, despite the expenditure of millions of Birr and the dedication of dozens of staff. My friend’s expectations were dragged through the mud.

Bewildered, frustrated, defeated, and powerless, as his inputs in the in-house customisation were flatly rejected, he even contemplated resignation. Worse still, internal IT professionals and the executives of his company thought the ERP was a magic bullet transforming business management. It was as though they were from a different world. He always wonders why they speak different languages from him.

I told him about an employee called Tigist, meaning “patience” in Amharic. Her patience was exhausted with the company and she resigned out of frustration. I was hired in her place. To my surprise, I found excel files of lists of the company’s assets. This would have taken me almost a year to compile. A dynamic database, it saved the company millions of Birr. It was then that I went to her new employers and told them how valued she had been to our company, and how immense a value they got in her.

Companies sometimes fail to value their employees until it is too late. They assume that software and structures do the work without recognising that people are needed to run them. The same goes for a CEO of a Silicon Company that was a new hire. He was brought in to fix its fall-out from the IT revolution that it had played a key realising. It was a couple of decades ago.

Soon after starting work, the CEO was concerned his phone was not working. Reportedly, having never been up against such an exasperating situation in his life, he summoned a technician to his office, who explained the problem. The previous CEO had had his phone lines cut. The leadership of the company that invented the information technology-services industry had had itself disconnected to avoid incoming calls.

More out-of-touch signs soon surfaced. He wanted to know how many people were employed at the company. It took six phone calls to find out. Asked to see the previous month's financials, the numbers were unavailable. The company closed its books on a quarterly basis. He asked for the previous month's sales results.

Reportedly, what was so annoying came when he tried to send an email to the company's 140,000 employees. It could not be done. The company, he learned, was tangled up in 16 different email systems: AOL, Exchange, Hotmail – some even used their clients' systems. The company was responsible for keeping thousands of corporations and government agencies in touch worldwide, but its CEO could not send an email to his own people.

It is people who run an organisation. Systems, structures and processes are support. My advice to my friend was to keep in touch with his surroundings and convey the message to the company he belongs to. What is brilliant on paper will be measured only in its results through the degree to which people in the organisation understand, adopt, and put it to use. Otherwise, it is a dud.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 23,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1160]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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