WASTA: Curses and Cures
In this exploration of WASTA, I will do three things:
- Look at the true meaning of this activity that takes its toll on businesses throughout the world.
- Examine the impact it has on the human capital of a business, the curses.
- Suggest some cures that have been successfully implemented in the real world of business.
THE TRUE MEANING
WASTA is really an acronym that stands for the “Willing Acceptance of Subordination, Tyranny and Abandonment of personal will.” More directly, it means that when you accept or use WASTA you have given up a part of your personal freedom. Freedom means the ability to say ‘no‘ to things that compromise your personal integrity. WASTA also means you accumulate debts. Nothing comes free. WASTA is a form of currency that operates in exactly the same way as financial debts. When you use someone’s WASTA you will have to recon with payback time. Payback means that you either return the favor or lose the ‘friendship’ and ‘support’ of your ‘dear friend’.
The very act of asking for WASTA is an admission of your inadequacy, weakness, or inability to get something done legally. Therefore, the minute you accept it, you have given the party offering the WASTA power over you. It is like taking a rope, tying a noose around your own neck and then giving the end of the rope to someone else to pull or release as they please. “Too extreme!” I hear you object. Let me help you visualize a situation.
The business of obstructing other people’s business has been developed to a fine art. Even the most basic services are made to seem incomprehensibly complex, tortuously bureaucratic and interminably lengthy. Nothing is possible without a ‘middle man’ and generous amounts of ‘grease’ to get you through the quagmire of antiquated procedures. This is the ‘leverage power’ that those who make a living from WASTA use. It is a trap for the innocent, the anxious, the fearful, the incompetent, the greedy and the guilty. It is your own vulnerability that gives those who offer WASTA, power over you and ownership of a part of your soul and your freedom. It is also what causes investors to look elsewhere.
The subject of WASTA is wide and complex, and since I am not writing a book, I will limit this discussion to the use of WASTA for employment purposes. I do however need to discuss it against the backdrop painted above to show why some individuals or companies may be more susceptible than others.
CURSES: THE IMPACT ON THE HUMAN CAPITAL OF A BUSINESS
What happens if for some reason or other your company decides that WASTA, is after all a way of and they want to play things that way? Also, what if they confuse WASTA with sound business planning and marketing strategy and use WASTA as a survival mechanism? You do me favors, so I do business with you. The result is that your company will be ‘blessed’ with employees with varying degrees of incompetence. These persons could be at any level in the company, from doorman to senior manager.
Curse # 1: Everybody will know who the new employee’s WASTA is and will immediately divide into camps, for, against and indifferent. This will limit this person’s effectiveness from the start.
Curse # 2: Depending on the strength of the new employee’s WASTA, he or she may ignore the authority of his or her supervisor if the supervisor does not have a more powerful WASTA. It becomes ugly if the WASTAS are from opposing sides. Overall, the result will be a breakdown in the ability of the supervisor to control his or her team or department. There will almost certainly be a drop in initiative taking.
Curse # 3: Other employees in the same department will notice the insubordination of the new employee and this will lead to questions such as: “What is the point of working hard or doing a good job since other people can just be parachuted in and get paid for doing very little?” If the new person’s salary is higher than the existing salaries, watch out for major de-motivation and falls in productivity.
Curse # 4: Spiteful behavior will develop towards the new employee. This will lead to ‘slow downs’ and /or ‘blockages’ in the workflow as colleagues express their unwillingness to cooperate with this person along with an unconscious or conscious desire to cause them to fail.
Curse # 5: If this new person takes a post that one of your more competent employees had his or her sights set on, that person will start updating their CV and looking for opportunities outside of your company or outside the country. When competent people leave, they take valuable knowledge, skills and customers, both internal and external with them. Key staff turnover results in direct and indirect financial losses to your company.
Curse# 6: The bonds of loyalty between employee and company, if they existed, will be weakened and if already weak will be broken. Lack of loyalty could mean an increase in self-serving behavior: longer lunch breaks, frequent visits to the washroom, increased sick days and overall absenteeism, lateness, formation of cliques, abuse of company property, resources and facilities and even, in extreme cases, theft.
Curse # 7: Investment in staff development and training could yield poor returns due to the fact that people develop a belief that progress is not based on ability but on WASTA. The ‘smart’ ones will benefit from the training but will use it to move to other companies or seek overseas jobs where they believe they stand a fair chance for progress and advancement based on their abilities.
Curse # 8: Not being able to attract and keep the most qualified staff, or, losing them to competitors.
Curse # 9: Creating a work ethic based purely on money. Employees and employers sell out to the highest bidder. Don’t expect employees to make sacrifices for you if they see that they don’t really matter to you. If you sell them out, they will sell you out too.
Curse # 10: Not building a business on solid foundations. If your business is built on doing favors to key clients so they will do business with you, where will that put you if you fall out of favor or if the client takes his business elsewhere or just has an accident or dies or something like that?
The net result of a work environment where WASTA is used as a means of employment, promotion, bonus allocation, performance appraisal, selection for overseas training or other Human Resource Management function is one of low productivity. You may be sure that the people who will leave first are your most competent staff.
Those who will stay until retirement are not necessarily your most loyal, but those least able to compete in an open job market, i.e. those who came in by WASTA or those who know they are no longer employable and are waiting for their indemnities.
The other employees who will stay are those who have their own agenda or are building up a business of their own and are using the company as an insurance policy until they are ready to break away. Just imagine the level of creativity and productivity you will get from such a workforce, and ask yourself if using WASTA is really such a smart investment for your business? In place of the one or two contracts you will get, you will be losing millions of hours in productivity and who knows how much in direct and indirect theft of resources.
Your business should be built on solid foundations. Businesses built to last offer products and services that customers need and want. I don’t believe any of the businesses that have built up superior reputations and brand names have to do favors by employing incompetent staff so they can get business. It is the other way around.
Cures are tough in cultures steeped in the WASTA mentality since time immemorial, but not impossible. There are short-term and long-term cures and both must be addressed if we want to build sound businesses.
The Short Term
Cure # 1: Clean up your act, past and present. “People who live in glass houses can’t throw stones.” Make sure that you are legally and morally covered on all fronts. It gives you incredible power and self-confidence when facing opposition.
Cure # 2: Work continuously on developing your personal skills and competencies as well those of your workforce. That way you will retain good people and be able to pick and choose from the best when you need new talent, since your business will have a reputation for excellence. This will make it hard for people to approach you with a WASTA for a loser.
Cure # 3: Avoid becoming indebted to people who will then have power over you by asking for the favor to be returned in unsuitable ways.
Cure # 4: Say ‘No’ by saying ‘Yes’. Have clear job specifications for all positions and jobs in your company, so that when approached for a WASTA, you can say, “I will be happy to accommodate you if you have someone who meets these specifications.” Even better, be proactive and approach the WASTA owners by giving them first choice in providing the profile you need.
Cure # 5: Use professional recruitment techniques in all phases of recruitment and selection so that you don’t expose your company to unnecessary aggravation. These services can be developed within your own company or outsourced.
Cure # 6: Make it clear that if you do hire someone who has a WASTA, they will have to comply with company requirements like anyone else. Be sure that you have a rigorous trial, training and testing period before new employees are confirmed in their positions.
Cure # 7: Ensure that your internal systems are set up so that the opportunities for abuse are limited. Appraisals, bonuses, salary scales, promotions, etc. are all subject to abuse. These should be redesigned for transparency and based on measurable indicators. If the effect of behavior or performance cannot be measured, then it is not having an impact on your business and should not be used for reward or compensation.
Cure # 8: Outsource services that you do not want internal staff to get involved in, so that no group gets power over other groups by having privileged information. Ensure the neutrality, objectivity and trustworthiness of the outside party.
Cure # 9: Use modern market and consumer research to understand what customers need and want and build your business on solid foundations. Ensure you get the right people to implement the plan. Put them in the right places and develop and keep these people by using tried and tested business practices that have helped businesses grow around the world.
Cure # 10: Get over the idea your area of the world is a place where business cannot be conducted like in other parts of the world! If that were true, why is it the dream of almost every young male and female to get out of their current situation and go where they can be appreciated and valued for their accomplishments?
The long term cures are not the subject of this article, but I am sure they will present major challenges to Ministries of Education, Administrative Reform / Development, Social Affairs and many others worldwide who really have serious public awareness and education campaigns that must be addressed. If only we could emerge from the days of old and enter the new century.