How business leaders and entrepreneurs can empower themselves amid economic change

Many business leaders, despite understanding the need for a change in mindset, are not as flexible and adaptable as they believe themselves to be, says the author.

Many business leaders, despite understanding the need for a change in mindset, are not as flexible and adaptable as they believe themselves to be, says the author.

Published Dec 16, 2023


By Cathy Banks and Jackie Kennedy

When South Africa’s business landscape continues to face challenges such as load shedding, the quiet quitting trend, and change such as the steady advance of artificial intelligence, and the widespread datafication of business processes, change leadership strategies have not only become key in an organisation but a vital element in the sustainability and growth of a business.

The global acceleration of change has reshaped how people approach their work and impacted organisations’ bottom lines.

According to projections by the World Economic Forum, by 2025, more than two-thirds of the skills deemed vital for today's jobs will undergo significant changes. Additionally, a third of the key skills needed in 2025 will include technological abilities that are not seen as essential in today’s job market.

This is less than two years from now.

Jackie Kennedy, the founder of LeadMe. Photo: Supplied

As the rate of change has escalated across every sector, the need to ensure that every person within your organisation is equipped to deal with it, not simply endure or resist it.

Leaders are all too often overly impressed by strategic thinking and lofty ideas of their businesses and where it’s heading, yet they underappreciate their internal culture and its far-reaching implications into the future, particularly on their bottom line.

No matter your strategy, your impressive skillset, or your sector, no matter how slick your tech or optimised your processes are, without a workforce willing and able to continually embrace change and lead themselves, your best strategies and most innovative systems are dead in the water.

Change the way you think about change

The landscape of business has shifted; big changes and unpredictable events are commonplace. Many business leaders, despite understanding the need for a change in mindset, are not as flexible and adaptable as they believe themselves to be. The gap often stems from a deep-seated fear of change – an unacknowledged belief that change equates to loss. Until this is addressed across entire companies, organisations will continue to struggle, resisting change instead of leveraging it to their advantage.

Go slow to go far

Cathy Banks, the founder and director of Analyze Consulting. Photo: Supplied

As change accelerates, it’s important to remember that people don’t adapt at the same speed. People aren’t machines. They need time to change and adapt. When we allow for this, and make space for people to bring their best selves to work, we begin to tap into their full potential. While most organisations would love to opt for a short cut, there’s no substitute for investing time and money into your people. Our approach ensures that change is not only implemented but also sustained. It’s this steady progress in the same direction that cements all the knowledge and skills attained.

Take everyone with you

Extending leadership training beyond the top executives is essential. If you’re wanting to create a future-fit company, every person – from CEO to intern – must learn how to lead themselves better. The World Economic Forum again predicts that by 2025, 50% of all employees will require reskilling, with leadership being one of the top 10 skills in demand.

The Centre for Creative Leadership reports that 86% of organisations with leadership development programmes can rapidly respond to adversity in an unpredictable business environment. What’s more, leadership development results in a 114% increase in sales, 70% lower turnover, 71% higher customer satisfaction and 90% lower absenteeism.

In South Africa, where leadership challenges are often intertwined with cultural, economic and political factors, this training is even more crucial.

Sync up, don’t supplant

Your processes, tech and people are not competing entities. Nor should they ever be viewed as independent silos. Appreciating how inter-connected they are, and working to leverage each whenever change is afoot, is how to ensure you stay future-fit.

As industry-disrupting technological advances continue to arrive thick and fast, a potential risk is that organisations focus all their attention here, and decrease their investment in their people and change leadership. Yet any increased investment in tech or process demands a corresponding focus on your people.

A recent World Economic Forum report shows that while machines with AI will replace about 85 million jobs in 2025, about 97 million jobs will be made available in the same year, thanks to AI.

Instead of replacing people, forward-thinking companies must ask themselves: How can our people work with AI instead of being replaced by it? Getting the most out of your workforce’s non-artificial intelligence will increasingly become a key differentiator between companies that thrive, and those that barely survive.

Identify the real cause to find the right solution

Oftentimes, companies approach us with a specific problem that they need solved. Yet it’s not the root problem – it’s a symptom of something else entirely. Ask more questions and invite diverse voices into the conversation to uncover the true underlying causes of your organisation’s specific challenges. The approach is particularly relevant in the South African corporate environment, where diverse perspectives can lead to more comprehensive and effective solutions.

Ask yourself these questions to get closer to the root problem:

– Have you invested heavily in your processes and yet, you’re not getting the results you’d anticipated?

– Do you have an amazing strategy that isn’t playing out as intended? Why do you think that is?

– Is a new tech system not working because of a hardware glitch, or because learnt behaviours haven’t shifted at the same pace?

– Does there appear to be a pervasive lack of initiative in your workforce?

– Is there a high turnover of staff, and/or or a seeming “go-slow” approach to tasks not directly overseen?

South African companies are urged to re-evaluate their approach to change leadership, prioritising people at the forefront of the process. It’s vital to recognise that for employees to effectively embrace changes in technology and processes, they must be equipped with the right mindset, behaviours and capabilities.

Building a culture that is not just tolerant but adaptable to change is imperative. This people-centric approach to change leadership will help fortify organisational resilience and contribute significantly to broader economic and social prosperity.

By investing in people’s capacity and creating readiness for change across people, process, and technology dimensions, companies can lead more effectively and compassionately.

Cathy Banks is the founder and director of Analyze Consulting and Jackie Kennedy is the founder of LeadMe