South African companies can empower themselves with authentic change leadership, writes Jackie Kennedy, CEO of LeadMe Academy.
When South Africa’s business landscape continues to face challenges such as loadshedding, the quiet quitting trend, the steady advance of AI, and the widespread datafication of business processes, the question surfaces: is change leadership really worth focusing on?
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 currently 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 currently seen as essential in today's job market. This is less than two years from now.
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.
Here are a few insights for South African corporations navigating uncertain times:
1. Change the way you think about change. The landscape of business has shifted; big changes and unpredictable events are now 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. This 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.
2. Go slow to go far. 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.
3. 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.
4. Integrate tech and people. With rapid technological advancements, there’s a risk that organisations might focus excessively on technology at the expense of their people. Dharmita Babu, leading change specialist at Analyze, warns against this tendency, highlighting the need for a balanced approach that values both technology and human capital. “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,” says Babu. “Yet any increased investment in tech or process demands a corresponding focus on your people.”
5. Identify the real cause to find the right solution. Banks suggests that many of the seeming tech and process-related challenges organisations face are symptoms of deeper issues. “Oftentimes, companies approach us with a specific problem that they need solved,” says Cathy Banks, founder and director of Analyze, “Yet it’s not the root problem – it’s a symptom of something else entirely.”
Banks advises asking more questions and inviting diverse voices into the conversation to uncover the true underlying causes of your organisation’s specific challenges. This approach is particularly relevant in the South African corporate environment, where diverse perspectives can lead to more comprehensive and effective solutions.
The World Economic Forum furthermore predicts that by 2025, 50 percent 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 percent 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 percent increase in sales, 70 percent lower turnover, 71 percent higher customer satisfaction and 90 percent lower absenteeism.
South African companies are urged to fundamentally re-evaluate their approach to change leadership, prioritising people at the forefront of this 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. Investment in developing these attributes is crucial.
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.