Corporate South Africa needs to change it's approach to transformation

Deloitte Director Trevor Page says companies have to do much more than they are currently doing if they are to succeed in building truly transformed workforces

I think we have only scratched the surface towards the true meaning of transformation. It has been treated too much as a numbers game or changing the demographics of leadership, but that's not transformation. Transformation means taking your corporation and making sure it reflects the society in which you operate and the markets you serve as well as growing and nurturing diverse talent that can take on the challenges of a very rapidly changing world. It’s about being an accountable corporate citizen in everything you do and in every decision that you make around people and how you manage them. It must be reflected in the corporate social investment that you make, who you recruit and at what levels, how you train people, who you train and how many you train.

Many companies say they are transformed, but when you see for example their training budget you realise that they couldn't be doing this over the entire organisation. They rely on hiring strong graduates or “poaching” talent from other companies, but then the pool of talent remains quite small.

It's nice to be a blue chip professional of any race or gender because you can get a job easily. Can you imagine being someone who struggled to get into a third-tier or second-tier university in South Africa and has sat at home unemployed for five-to-six years without a job because there are no opportunities for them?

In my view, if you really want to be truly transformed, go and look a bit wider than traditional schools and see how many of those people are gems that you can bring through a development program and a process of mentoring and good training. Given good mentorship and opportunities, this additional talent pool can come up to speed quite quickly because they have the drive to succeed and they will often work very hard. The key is to radically increase learning and development budgets and capabilities within our organisations and also to use the great learning technologies available to speed up delivery of relevant and quality education and training.

You will find people with the intellect, the will and the energy to succeed, but if your hiring policy is to hire graduates from top universities only, or to only hire candidates with 5 years’ experience, you are not doing anything to advance the country’s transformation agenda.

Going the extra mile for late bloomers

At Deloitte, we have young millennial graduates who have little experience who I bring onto my projects because they have great energy and enthusiasm.  

Some of my senior colleagues will say, ‘this one's got a performance problem so I won't have them again’ and I say, ‘give them to me. Let them come and sit with me on one of my projects and I will tell you after a month whether they have a performance problem or not'. More often than not, I find that they are not poor performers at all. All they need is a little encouragement, confidence building and to feel comfortable in their surroundings. This applies to young candidates of all races for that matter. It’s not a racial issue and it’s not a gender issue either.

From a gender transformation perspective, there is often a debate about women and whether they are able to commit fully to our projects, but I’ve never had a problem with the women that work on my projects. We must acknowledge that, as women get married and have children, they need more flexible work hours. That is all. It does not mean that they are “lazy” or “managing boundaries”. It just means they have different life challenges. What you have to do is tap into their strengths and see how you can adjust and accommodate them and create conditions for them to participate fully. I know it sounds idealistic but, as a leader, you have to think differently in defining and managing the workforce of the future, particularly with diverse groups of employees.

A holistic approach

So when you talk about transformation I think it's got to be a more holistic discussion.  As South Africans, we have not really unpacked it fully. I think we have to say, ‘what are we talking about when we say were are pursuing both economic and social transformation?’ 

As a society, I think we should be way beyond ticking boxes. We may have already “missed the bus” in a lot of respects and there is anger in broader society. That is why, in order to keep corporate South Africa going, we’re going to have to lift up a lot of people along the way who have the drive energy, enthusiasm and ability.

Trevor Page is a Director within Deloitte South Africa and a leader in the company’s human capital consulting practice. Trevor Page has worked in various parts of the Deloitte, from being an HR Manager to setting up a Human Capital consulting practice for the firm's Singapore business, and finally being part of the Deloitte South African Partnership. He was also responsible for developing the organisational design framework for Deloitte globally, which has helped to triple global revenue in Organisational Development services over the last five years.