Etienne Pretorius, PBC Group (Pty) Ltd, provided the content in this article and is a response to the call for Business Management Consultants in Operations, HR and Financial Management in South Africa | 25th April 2020.

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You are by-passed unless you change your approach to the future .

Charles Handy

Change will very often end in revolutionary change. Our world experiences a new era as we discover a “new normal”. At the time of writing this article, much of the world is under legislated lockdown to remain in their homes in isolation. This is an attempt to curb the infection rate of the coronavirus (Covid-19). Our way of communicating with each other has become very different as online webinars replace venue-based conferences; as business meetings using online platforms replace travelling by car to have a face-to-face meeting. Questions are being asked: Do I need that employment contract? Why should our manufacturing facility not divest and outsource non-core functions? Has the old way of vertically integrating a value chain changed? Should I incur the capital investment of automation? Is automation a risk to my job? Is our business culture conducive to survival? As the leader of the organisation, am I the one hindering effective change? How can I cut my overhead expenses and become more profitable?

Crisis is change trying to happen.

Mack Newton

Change might be discontinuous and make planning difficult, but even if it occurs in a continuous pattern it normally requires a dramatic paradigm shift before people embrace it. During unprecedented times a person is experiencing change brought on by a crisis. This is not necessarily the healthiest way to encounter the change needed, but will certainly get the job done. The alternatives are that we avoid change and leave it to chance, which might culminate in crisis anyway; or we make a conscious choice to change and, instead of just accepting the circumstances as they arrive, we try and prepare for them. For instance, I know many people who have demonised and resisted the use of social media. During the lockdown they find themselves on the back foot in terms of communication capability. This has happened because other people have worked through the learning curves and are ready to use social media (e.g. marketing and lead generation) and are circumventing the disrupters using methods they are already familiar with. While the late adopters are still fumbling about as they are suddenly forced to negotiate the learning curves while in the midst of a crisis. They find market share slip from them because their competitor has already learned the required competencies to advance ahead.

The discussions right now seem to have changed. This is not surprising considering the impact Covid-19 is having. We should be asking the right questions and being honest with ourselves as we seek the answers to those questions. If we make the choice to change it becomes a pre-emptive decision and probably the healthiest way to proceed. We can hold on to the methods, processes, systems and ways of doing business, or we can adapt. The “future of work” is something of a buzz word right now, and a reasonable one. The thing is … this buzz word isn’t really new, is it? These things were being discussed by people like Charles Handy and Alvin Toffler for years now. They just seemed to have been before the time … or is it that we didn’t really listen to them.  

The funny thing about proactively adopting change is that it becomes easier the more we do it. We need to understand that security is an illusion. Employment contracts end and product lifecycles go into decline, all of which force us into a response to crisis (it’s reactive). If we have accepted that change is going to happen and our circumstances will become very different, then we would be able to flow with it. We need to decide that we are going to release the way work was done and adopt the “new normal”.

Freelancing certain skill sets, outsourcing certain functions or adopting the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) mindsets are the things we should adopt. We should bring people close to our business who can help and start collaborating with them. There are even certain roles we might choose to never include in our business. These decisions will require a certain relationship between the consultant and the business, but also between businesses within the same industry. Previously we may have seen another company as a competitor without considering that a joint venture would benefit both parties. There is an evolution in the way we market our offerings and very different ways of reaching an agreement between parties. Change is always an acceptable dynamic which would benefit them rather than hurt them, assuming it’s handled proactively. We just need to ask the right questions so that we can find the right answers.

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