Preparing your organisation to navigate change

Preparing your organisation to navigate change

27 November, 2018    

Shungu Chirunda, the new chair of the Cenfri Board, shares her views on the factors that contribute to the success with which organisations are able to navigate change.

The past decade has been characterised by global turmoil; which skills do you think leaders of organisations require to navigate times of uncertainty?

Curiosity. Agility and resilience are frequently cited in the global discourse, but feeding into both of these is the skill of listening curiously (both externally and internally). Your competitor could be anybody, anywhere. Listening curiously for the early warning signs of opportunity or mass disruption, and taking time to join the dots, feeds anticipation and is a lever to responsiveness in times of uncertainty.

Clarity. As communities and consumers become more informed with the ability to connect through technology, so do our workforces, and increasingly all sides of a story or message are challengeable. Losing trust is expensive, rapid and painful for a business. In times of turbulence, together with accountability, there is a need for leaders to communicate clearly, transparently, responsibly and inclusively when engaging teams, clients or customers.

Care. I like this quote by Patrick Pichette, former CFO of Google: “Never lose the opportunity to be a good leader, whether attracting people into an organisation or when they have to leave.” For me this speaks to the need for leaders to recognise – and plan for – the inevitable impact of disruption on people in the context of the increasing likelihood of job changes or job redundancy. The question to ask is, “What culture or support structures should exist in the modern organisation for those who need to transition?” And, as the globe becomes more nodal and networked, to ask, “How can re-skilling people be turned into a pivot or competitive advantage?”

There is an ongoing global conversation regarding diversity and business leadership, particularly at board level. What do you think organisations can do to ensure greater diversity at senior levels?

The statistics speak for themselves that without diversity, there is a significant underrepresentation of thought, perspective, potential and performance in an organisation. I acknowledge that the conversation is not binary but multifaceted, and encompasses gender, race, age, culture, etcetera.

For me, diversity speaks directly to the future relevance of an organisation and invites the question whether an organisation can creatively keep up with, or respond to, the velocity of social change or indeed serve in a world dominated by the consumer and decidedly diverse social networks.

The right questions are being asked at a time when swifter progress in this area should be possible – and can be made. Sourcing approaches for diverse board candidates could be adapted. For example, organisations could employ approaches similar to talent mapping so that looking for candidates does not have to occur when the need arises but could be anticipatory. This would give an organisation time to observe and informally engage a number of candidates for consideration ahead of the need arising. Likewise, depending on the organisation, the pool of consideration could be the leadership pipeline earmarked or en route to the C-Suite roles. The rise in entrepreneurship and startups also allows for the inclusion of founders of businesses and successful startups in the mix.

What can financial service providers in Africa teach the rest of the world about transforming the lives of individuals and innovating in response to challenges?

Africa speaks to ingenuity, creativity, resilience and adaptability. The opportunity is how these have been used to co-create and develop financial products. For now at least, I believe that – in Africa and possibly elsewhere – there remains a place for human/customer-centricity in the design and delivery of innovation, particularly of financial products. It doesn’t stop there, however.

The leapfrog potential in Africa is not just in what needs are addressed. It is also what needs arise or can be foreseen in the development and use of the products.

If the endgame is to empower a people group, then it is critical to understand how they have empowered themselves and how to solve what continues to frustrate them. What’s important is how innovators harness the entrepreneurial spirit of a community and build that into their product, its deployment and evolution.

You have considerable experience in representing business interests to regulators. What advice would you give to organisations that claim existing regulations hamper their ability to operate efficiently or innovate appropriately?

The pace at which innovation is taking place almost defies the notion that regulation is a hindrance, especially where regulators cannot anticipate the source of disruption. The first opportunity is for organisations to look beyond existing regulation and think about the regulator environment as a network of stakeholders. It is likely that an innovation does not have one but several possible regulators with mandates that would be interested in an innovation’s existence. The disposition towards that innovation will not necessarily be homogenous, and so the opportunity to argue in favour of it may be wider than a linear approach may imply, especially if no regulation exists for that innovation.

This provides the second opportunity – proactive engagement. There is an opportunity for organisations to ask, what could the regulations of the future look like? And, on that basis, how do you bring regulators along? Organisations should consider whether they can turn regulation into a competitive advantage and engage from that as the starting point.

There is a dawning realisation by regulators that they too are being disrupted by innovation and face an increased risk of disintermediation. There is therefore a growing willingness to engage and an opportunity for organisations to lean into this by sharing how their innovations respond to or anticipate solutions to some of the most pressing issues that are, or will be, on the “must-do list” for the community/society/country.

As the newly appointed chair of the Cenfri board, what are you most looking forward to exploring?

It is a privilege to serve on a board that is becoming more diverse in every iteration. For this, I am grateful for the leadership and foresight of my predecessor, Frik Landman, for bringing us this far. I am genuinely looking forward to working with my distinguished fellow board members to support the Managing Director and Team Cenfri, as they surf the waves of change, and curate and create a conversation about what is possible in Africa and globally in this space.

Who or what are you watching right now?

I am following the Singularity University discourse. I am also actively listening to thought leaders like John Sanei, who is exploring the psychology of human responsiveness to – and readiness for – the future. I’m interested in the conversation around “the future of jobs”. If the macro trend is a redefinition of employment and jobs in the future, I’m interested to see what opportunities this presents for rethinking employment/unemployment in Africa.

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