Case Studies

Afrika Tikkun – An Astounding Culture Shift In One Year

Aug 2016

Just because an NGO (non-governmental organisation) has a benevolent purpose and is non-profit-making doesn’t mean that its employees are engaged. As with any other organisation, special action is needed to address employee engagement.

Improved employee engagement is something which almost all managers would like, but which many simply give up on.

Afrika Tikkun is one of the largest NGOs in South Africa. Its objective is to develop competencies within South Africans living in townships and it uses these competencies to deliver much-needed developmental services to children and youth. It employs 551 people in six centres and its head office in Johannesburg.

After one year of concerted effort within Afrika Tikkun, before- and after- surveys conducted by an independent organisation, Mindset Management Programs, have shown that whereas staff were relatively under-committed to the organisation previously at 27% (compared to Mindset’s national average of 29%), a year later employee engagement had soared to 59%. This shift was described by Mindset as “astounding”.

Mindset says its survey is a “comprehensive diagnostic instrument that measures on a sub-unit level all facets of employee engagement and organisational health – from culture and alignment with values to performance management, internal communications and employee enablement”.

Leonie van Tonder, chief operating officer (COO) of Afrika Tikkun, was appointed to this position in July 2013. She previously headed up one of the business units of one of South Africa’s leading banks, First National Bank, until 2009 when she retired.

Van Tonder accepted the position of COO of Afrika Tikkun on the express condition that the Legitimate Leadership Model should be implemented in Afrika Tikkun. She had previously implemented the model in her section of First National Bank.

Van Tonder is determined that Afrika Tikkun should expect no less from its staff just because they work for an NGO, than a leading commercial bank should expect from its staff – in fact, Africa Tikkun should expect more. This is despite the fact that NGOs cannot pay salaries equal to commercial banks.

In 2013, Afrika Tikkun renewed its commitment as an organisation to achieving outstanding community development results, says Van Tonder. This followed a comprehensive internal evaluation in August 2013, in which it was decided that the organisational culture should be addressed because:

  • Afrika Tikkun had just been through a retrenchment process.
  • Management had a genuine interest in staff’s opinions.
  • Management believed in people’s ability to adapt to a changing world, with the necessary support.
  • There was a need to restructure the operational area to clarify reporting lines and deliverables.

Says Van Tonder: “Being an NGO it is crucial that we are able to measure and evaluate everything we do. This helps us ensure the effectiveness of our programmes and interventions to ensure that we are using the most effective strategies to support children from ‘Cradle to Career’ (the corporate motto – editor). Achieving good results also impacts on the sustainability of our work. By establishing a baseline from which we can measure changes, we are better able to demonstrate to our donors that our operational costs lead to measurable positive change.

“In order to understand more about how Afrika Tikkun staff could articulate the organisational culture, Afrika Tikkun was privileged to have the help of Johan Poolman from Mindset (an organisation unrelated to Legitimate Leadership and the Legitimate Leadership model – editor), who was able to give us some options and guide us through a baseline evaluation process.

“A notification was sent from the CEO of Afrika Tikkun (Marc Lubner – editor) to all staff, asking them to please partake in an anonymous online survey. Staff were assured that management would pay close attention to their views expressed by the survey results.

“The Employment Engagement Index was run in August 2013 with much fanfare. 399 staff members completed the survey and 102 chose not to (80% participation).

“The baseline results of the survey were rather disappointing. The 2013 results illustrated a disengaged staff. Our overall score for employee engagement was 27%.

“This score was 2% below the national average – which most would agree is less than what we should be aiming for! It was clear that decisive leadership and much introspection was required.

The following actions were taken:

  • An organisation development analysis report was done by two specialists. The results were presented to the Afrika Tikkun executive with recommendations.
  • Senior managers attended Mindset’s one-day Flow@work Employee Engagement workshop in which they gained insight into the impact that the different drivers of engagement have on the engagement levels in their departments.
  • Actions were taken by senior management to address the five top negatives revealed by the survey.
  • A roadshow was conducted through South Africa, in which detailed feedback was given to the general staff by Van Tonder. There was 100% attendance.
  • Human resources (HR) officers were tasked to set up different forums to address staff complaints
  • HR complaints were followed up by the COO regularly.
  • The philosophy of Legitimate Leadership ( and its accompanying skills was imparted to all management over a period of 12 months, starting with the executive management which was required to lead the change in organisational culture. All management staff participated in two-day Legitimate Leadership workshops to learn more about legitimate leadership. Initial introductions were comprehensively followed up with 10 days (a day per month) of coaching sessions to help managers internalise the Legitimate Leadership philosophy and practice the approach in their everyday management of staff and programmes on site. The topics covered included:
    • The True Meaning of Care (Time and Attention)
    • Performance Management
    • Empowerment
    • Making Masters (Dealing with Victims)
    • Holding People Accountable

All non-managerial staff attended a one-day workshop called “Grow to Care”.

All these sessions allowed staff to better align their daily actions with the purpose of their programmes. Staff were also able to more clearly articulate the link between their daily duties and the broader strategy of Afrika Tikkun.

  • At the end of 2013, a roadshow was done by Marc Lubner (the CEO) in which he addressed the staff at every site. The vision, mission and values of Afrika Tikkun were used to re-emphasize the organisation’s Cradle to Career development slogan.
    Says Van Tonder: “In September 2014, (exactly a year after the baseline survey) the Employment Engagement Index survey was conducted to measure the effectiveness of the activities (detailed above). This time there was no fanfare. Senior management at Afrika Tikkun centres, now established as legitimate leaders in the organisation, were left to ensure staff members that wished to participated in the online survey. “The outcome of the 2014 survey (also done by Mindset, which donated the total cost of both survey exercises) demonstrated a remarkable turn-around in the organisational culture across all six centres and the head office. A result of 59% employee engagement was measured with an 87% staff participation (482 out of 551)! Not one of the top five complaints from the 2013 baseline reappeared. Having addressed those, we now have a new ‘top five’ to tackle in the coming year! “This is a dramatic change that I am proud of – not least because it is the result of the collective efforts of staff across our organisation. On reflection, there are some key actions that I think made the difference:
  • If you want staff opinions, ask them – not the HR department.
  • Staff will only trust you if you prove, by your actions, that they can rely on you.
  • Do not ask staff for their opinions and then fail to do anything about it.
  • Establish the legitimacy of leaders in their respective roles in the organisation by respecting and supporting their decisions in word and action. You don’t always have to agree with them, but get out of their way!
  • Executive management needs to be visible and must NOT interfere. Nothing demotivates and disempowers a manager more than staff receiving instructions from others.
  • Appreciate and praise staff in public for tasks well performed.
  • Censure in private. Never do to another which you would not appreciate when done to you.
  • DO NOT celebrate mediocrity – you devalue high standards and affect morale.
  • Be authentic and true to your values.”

What the culture shift means on the ground

The story of Afrika Tikkun’s organisational culture shift may resonate with managers. But the individual stories of the organisation’s staff members are likely to resonate with everyone as human beings. Here are three of those stories taken from emails (shortened, but otherwise unedited) sent to Afrika Tikkun’s human resources officer, Lamees Parker.

  • Nokuthula Dyantyi was a Family Support Services worker who has more recently been promoted to a Community Development Practioner in Delft, Western Cape. In this role she supervises Family Support Workers. Dyantyi wrote the following email to Parker: “On the day of my interview, my heart was so broken because my sister’s child was raped, by the gang boys. The interview went well. I answered all the questions. We were four candidates one of the candidates was the ex-manager. I was feeling so strong it wasn’t easy but I make it. The next day you came and brought the news she said Thulas (Nokuthula –editor) you have been successful and you got the position. I was crying when I heard the news. The tears were the tears of joy because to be the manager was the biggest growth and achievement in my life. Now I’m doing well in my position on my first Child Abuse Campaign I met the target I have a lot of success stories. I want to say thank to you for your motivation to say we must apply as FSS team. You were the one to encourage our team that we can be more than we thought we could be. You also played a big role in our lives especially making sure we qualify as Social Auxiliary workers with the bursaries from Mrs Ann Harris and also later asking Afrika Tikkun to assist us to pay the balance of our fees as there was just no way we would be able to afford to pay it ourselves. Afrika Tikkun has cared for me and grown me in many ways. I am proof of care and growth.”
  • Nandipha Busakwe was Afrika Tikkun’s Nutritional Support supervisor in Mfuleni Township, Western Cape, but was more recently appointed as administrator in the primary health programme in Delft. Dyantyi wrote the following email to Parker: “From the 1st of March 2008 I started at Afrika Tikkun as a cook. And later I was a supervisor, and I was supervising the cooks only … They were 10 altogether. When we started we were not doing the orders and requisition only the administrator was responsible for that, but I was taught how to do them. And after that I did the orders for the nutritional support programme by myself. Afrika Tikkun organised trainings for me and my team e.g. Domestic Bliss, health and safety reps. Then I have been attending the Legitimate Leadership which changed my life and made me take risk and give me opportunity to full fill my dreams. There was a vacancy for administrator at Primary Health Care and I applied … I’ve got the post and I’m starting on the 8th of September (2014 – editor) and I’m ready to start. After I heard the good news I felt like crying, reaching the top of the mountain and I’m so proud of Afrika Tikkun for developing people. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Afrika Tikkun for believing in me and not doubting on me that I can do the best I can … I just want to encourage those who think the position they are in now is the end it is not in AT (Afrika Tikkun). There is a room for development just work hard, do your best .There is somebody watching you.”
  • Princess Sonkosi was previously a home based carer and is now the Community Development Practioner in Mfuleni Township, Western Cape, supervising family support workers. Sonkosi wrote the following email to Parker: “When I started working at Afrika Tikkun I dropped from the 2nd year at the University of the Western Cape because of financial problems I’ve just told myself that challenges and difficulties are part of life. I’ve trained as a Home Based Care at Mitchells Plain for 3 months. I’ve started working at Afrika Tikkun in 2007 as a volunteer at Primary Health Care … In 2008 I get a position as a Team leader for patient advocates at Delft South clinic. Delia encouraged me to finish my degree and I applied to continue in 2010. In 2010 I did my Psychology 2 because I failed the subject. Lamees applied for a bursary from Anne Harris who paid for my fees. In 2010 June I get another position as a TB coordinator at Delft, working with the TB DOTS in the community and the TB Assistants in both facilities. In 2011 the DOTS were stopped and there was a new programme TB/HIV I went to an interview I get the post as a TB/HIV supervisor at Delft South clinic supervising 15 community care workers. I worked there for 18 months and I get a post as a Family Support Services programme manager in September 2014 at Mfuleni that’s where I am today and in all the changes of position I feel so happy today and I’m very proud of myself although I still have to finish my Psychology module 322 statistics to get my degree. I would like to thank Afrika Tikkun for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to spread my wings and fly. An added bonus was the care and growth training that just made me see sooo much more and opened up doors for me. To those who want to see themselves on top one day I just want to say “go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you have imagined.”Lamees Parker’s overall comment is: “The change in the people has been absolutely amazing and I have received positive feedback from their managers and the general managers. Everyone in our group that has been on the training felt that the training had a positive impact and we all learnt a great deal and we will definitely continue to grow and care for our staff.” Van Tonder says: “To appreciate these emails it is necessary to understand that Afrika Tikkun sources its staff working in the communities in which its centres are situated. We very often mine diamonds that were lying neglected in the dust for too many years. To experience the effect of Legitimate Leadership is a priceless privilege.”
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