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Life Lesson #11: Be Hard On Targets But Soft On People


I heard this expression for the first time in a meeting with Laurie Dippenaar, one of the founders of RMB and one of my unofficial mentors. By unofficial mentor I mean I learnt from him by watching him and listening to him. He “mentored” me without knowing. 

Business is, in the first place, about targets.

If we don’t sell enough policies, retain enough clients and manage the claims value chain well enough, we won’t have a business. However, we need to keep in mind we rely on human beings, not machines, to reach or exceed those targets. The challenge for every leader is to find the balance between targets and people. If you want to build a successful business, a world-class business, you have to aim high; you have to set ambitious targets and you have to drive those targets hard. But if you are indifferent to the fact that you rely on people, on human beings, to achieve your targets, your efforts will not be sustainable. 

Does that mean people don’t have to perform? Does it mean we don’t have to make our KPIs?

No, not at all. Accepting non-performance will lead to failure. Accepting mediocrity will lead to obscurity. Making targets is the minimum requirement. It’s, in a way, a “ticket to the game”. 

However, human beings are complex and multi-faceted. We have a need for acceptance, recognition, and belonging. We are social beings. We have families, we are in intimate relationships, we have relationships and interests outside of our work environments. We need to recognise this reality and create a safe and welcoming work environment. I have always regarded MiWay and its people as my extended family. We try, through our focus on culture and values, to create a family feeling inside the work place. 

In my experience, good performance (generally speaking) leads to a sense of well-being. High performers are often happy employees provided they receive the recognition they deserve, and the organisation has a strong and healthy culture. 

The wisdom of Plato comes to mind when we reflect on the tension between targets and people: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle.” He also said: “Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch”. 

We will never drop our standards. We strive to be world-class. That means we set ambitious targets. However, we rely on people to achieve our targets. Be hard on targets but soft on people. 

Have a great day and stay safe. 

Stay blessed,
René Otto, CEO: MiWay Insurance Ltd


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