Having championed the cause of reviving State-Owned-Enterprises (SOE) for more than two decades now and since hailing from a private sector background, I am frequently asked how exactly to transform Pakistan’s SOEs, especially on a micro-management level. Before going into the details, it would be interesting for the concerned to know that in a recent Accenture survey, 72 percent of the CEOs said citizen trust is critical to the competitiveness of any type of enterprise, be it a private, public, not-for-profit organisation or for that matter, any other type.

Earning this trust means that executives (including those of the SOE) must recognise and address the profound changes happening both inside and outside their office walls, from the pandemic’s lasting effects to calls for racial and social justice to their performance evaluation based on pure market principles. Further, the other most highlighted element of success was on workplace diversification; on how it is a critical part of this trust-building response. While representation matters at every level, it’s especially important at the top.

“When people see someone competent whom they can relate to and identify with, it opens up new possibilities. If you can see it, you can be it.”

Based on some real-world advice ranging from Etheredge and the six DEI leaders and the writer’s own analysis of the state of affairs in Pakistani SOEs, here are five steps towards the goal of resurrecting their dwindling fortunes.

Step 1: Constitute a real corporate board and get the board on board.

The era of ceremonial board membership is over. Today’s boards play an essential role in workforce strategy, and the more hands-on they are, the better. Accenture’s Modern Board 2020 Survey found that 83 percent of “highly involved” boards review diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) metrics frequently, while only 3 percent of “low involved” boards do. When it comes to developing diverse leadership, board engagement functions as oversight, holding executives and managers accountable for putting values into practice. Forming a competent, independent and an all-powerful board has been a major weakness in our SOE and unless this is addressed, success will remain elusive.

Of course, many boards suffer from their own lack of diversity and this is something that can be addressed as the institution moves towards modernisation and reforms. One solution could be that when selecting the boards to perhaps at that time look beyond traditional networks—historically exclusionary and biased—and proactively seek out diverse directors. Thus far, our economic or political managers assigned with this task have just been fishing in the wrong pond or dealing in the wrong priorities.

Step 2: Know what your

stakeholders value.

This is an area where we (meaning our SOEs) fare the worst. The management is simply unaware of the consumers expectation from it or they do not contemplate how important delivery and consumer satisfaction can be to their own success and fortunes, or they simply do not care. There’s a growing body of research that shows just how much consumers’ satisfaction diversity matters to an institution’s sustainability. For example, a 2019 Accenture retail study found that almost 62 percent of customers would either switch brand or show disloyalty to an institution’s interest (in any way possible) or misuse services, if they suspect the institution’s management of corruption or incompetence or bias. Similarly, a 2020 World Bank report on employee expectations revealed that how transparency on DEI metrics influences their on-the-job satisfaction and why they would stop short of giving their best or even sabotaging the institution itself if they felt cheated on the counts of commitment, diversity, merit-oriented succession-ladder and inclusion.

Step 3: Cultivate emerging leaders.

Leadership pipelines form the foundation of any organisation’s future, and for many young people, growing into leadership roles, workplace diversity is as mandatory as free coffee and high-speed wifi. The numbers back this up—Sourcea: World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers surveys, 2020 and the 2021 Gallup Report.

But diversifying the leadership pipeline doesn’t happen by accident; it requires thoughtful strategy. The key to this is the recruiting efforts in organisations. No surprises here that in our SOE, this is one area that is glaringly compromised; nepotism, bribes, political leverage, mediocrity, etc, all are rampant.

Step 4: Empower action,

not just representation.

Bringing a competent, experienced and a diverse mix of empowered leaders into the room is a starting point, not the end game. Giving corporate captains the support they need to act on their own terms puts a human/practical face on corporate governance initiatives. It’s also how on-the-ground change happens—professional expertise, personal experience, plus the confidence to influence is a powerful combination.

It’s this opportunity to make a direct impact on outcome and to transform the enterprise itself, that should excite the new leaders and not just the position’s title, history or rank. Inspiring leadership can serve as a role model for those who have been told, time and time again, that there’s no hope for a particular institution, which incidentally also happens to be their employer!

Step 5: Inspire with intention.

The key is that in modern-day management where there is so much data available and developments are taking place at an extremely fast pace, corporate leaders have to be vocal, firm and clearly take positions on topics. Silence suggests that the management does not care. For resurrecting any business or enterprise, it is essential to create an inclusive environment and also it is incredibly important that organisations clearly educate their people on what they are expected to deliver and the consequences of failure. That there are no sacred cows and only performance and delivery is what matters in their respective careers.

For example, in a change conversation, to get to a long-term vision and to a change in the organisation’s very culture and ethos, leaders at the top will have to personally undertake employee engagement and display a personal leadership prowess to not only command respect and action, but also because if the same employees (who been consistently failing to provide desired results over the years) are to be motivated as winners, it is important to gauge the things that they actually feel and experience, since they would be concerned on a lot more focal points and critical areas and on things that the top leadership may not know about or can appreciate.

Five steps from representation to deep transformation