By Lucia Mabasa
This year marks South Africa’s 30th anniversary.
It should be a momentous moment; a time to celebrate, but it is also a time to reflect. Those of us privileged to remember those heady days tell of the excitement and incredible feeling of hope of waiting in time to cast our vote.
For millions of South Africans, it was a right that had been denied them – and their parents, their grandparents, and their great grandparents.
So much has happened since then.
Often it feels like we might have lost our way, but in reflecting we need to remember where we were when we began this journey as a brand-new country. Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves as a nation – at other times, it seems as if we aren’t hard enough.
There is a particular resonance this year for me and the company I run because we were birthed five years into our nation’s journey – on May 1, 1999. What a time it was: South Africa’s pioneering woman mountaineer Cathy O’Dowd was making history by becoming the first to summit Everest from both the north and the south and Thabo Mbeki was being inaugurated as our country’s second president.
There was so much to be proud of – and yet that night our offices were burgled, putting us on the back foot before we had ever begun.
The times since have been just as extreme a roller coaster of triumph and near disaster for all of us; state capture and the Springboks; Afcon 95 and Ke Nako 2010; loadshedding, COVID 19, Stillknocks...
It’s difficult to keep up, which is why it so important to use anniversaries not just to open the champagne and put on the party hats but to take some time to think about this journey and, if you might have lost the plot; get out the map, recalibrate and get back on track. In our case, our silver jubilee is a priceless opportunity to think about what we set out to do and how we wanted to do it.
It's not just about taking pride in our accomplishments, it’s also about regrouping, recommitting to the original ideals of the company. In our case, we have looked at things we did then and why we stopped. It led us to revitalize something that had been so special at the time, but then we moved on and consigned it to history.
It’s a bee.
In the beginning, the bee was a play on BEE; our women-led company made it our mission to help companies get past the pitfalls on the road to black economic empowerment to reach the figurative honey pot at the end, when empowerment is properly done.
These days, the concept of the bee has developed far greater significance – for us and the world we live in. It’s an indicator species of the health of our ecosystems and our planet, but it’s also far more than that. It is synonymous with teamwork and hard work under the aegis of the Queen Bee all for the common good; working smartly by choosing the best flowers to pollinate and creating a hive that benefits those who work for it as well as the broader community in which the hive is built. It is also about making sure the right bees do the right jobs.
It's an allegory that is as fitting for us as an executive search firm as it is for the country. Do we have the right people in place? Are we all working for the common good? When bees work as one, the entire ecosystem flourishes. When we started this journey, we wanted to make a difference to this country, we wanted to make a tangible contribution, but also, we wanted to build a sustainable business that benefited the people who had the faith in it in the beginning to found the company and for those who worked for it afterwards.
I hope we have succeeded. But this process has reminded me of the importance of having a story to go with the journey, not just to keep us on track but to ensure those that come after the founders hold true to the course that was set, whether it is a company or a country.
Does your company have a story, or do you just chase the next month’s pay cheque? Many of us do just that and the result is depressingly predictable: disaster.
This year, use the opportunity to reset the clock by recalibrating the narrative. Think about the company you work for; if you established the company, think on the reasons why you took that step. If you are a manager or leader within the company, but not the founder, think on why you joined. What difference did you want to make? Have you?
And if you haven’t made a difference, don’t give in to despondency. The Chinese tell us that there are two perfect times to plant a tree: 20 years ago, and right now.
Be the change you want to see, be the catalyst for growth and development but always do it by looking back before you look forward because the answers might have been there all along.
* Lucia Mabasa is Chief Executive Officer of pinpoint one human resources, a proudly South African black women owned executive search firm. pinpoint one human resources provides executive search solutions in the demand for C suite, specialist and critical skills across industries and functional disciplines, in South Africa and across Africa. Visit www.pinpointone.co.za to find out more or read her previous columns on leadership; avoiding the pitfalls of the boardroom and becoming the best C-suite executive you can be.
** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.