Much has been written and will continue to be written about the modern workplace as it is constantly changing and evolving. While this sentiment remains true, it can never be forgotten along the way that one of, if not the most significant aspects to any organisation or business being successful and achieving optimal organisational performance is their employees or human capital, and more importantly, the leaders and managers within those organisations that are responsible for guiding these employees.

In this regard, upon reflection on the year past, an interesting survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2023 came to the fore. In short, the survey identified, amongst other things, the most pressing issues that businesses ought to address to ensure that their employees can function efficiently, ensuring that the organisation functions as optimally as possible, thereby leading to better organisational performance. With the BCG survey’s content and results in mind, the first aspect to be discussed in this series will be leadership and change management.

Now more than ever, businesses and organisations are faced with a plethora of both internal and external challenges in relation to their operations. Whether this be in the form of an incredibly trying economic environment such as the one South African business currently finds itself in, or whether it be in the form of load-shedding or countless other factors, the fact remains that doing business in 2024 is no easy task.

This is when it becomes crucial for executives, managers, or leaders of whatever categorisation within an organisation to show leadership and think strategically. When talking about leadership, generally, one has a picture of the boss or manager standing with their team and helping them carry the load as opposed to the boss or dictator that barks orders down the chain of command. While there is nothing wrong with the team player leadership role in the sense described above, when it comes to the modern workplace, with its many challenges and nuances, leadership becomes so much more than just leading from the front due to a highly challenging and dynamic business environment. In the current business environment, effective and successful leadership, for the purposes of this succinct article in the context in which it is written, has two critical aspects:

  1. Identifying the need for change when necessary

No business or organisation functions in a vacuum; internal and external factors are almost always interacting in significant ways with the business and how it goes about its operations. This is especially true in the South African business environment. What is key to successful leadership, in this case, is having leaders that have their fingers on the proverbial pulse in that they are constantly aware of the factors impacting upon the business or organisation. Modern leadership requires knowing when these factors require an organisation to stick to an existing plan or when to pivot.

This form of proactive leadership requires strategy and strategic thinking to always be at the forefront of a leader’s mind. However, this vital tool can only be used effectively if a leader knows their employees, their strengths and weaknesses and the role the employees play within the business and organisational ambitions.

  1. Managing and effecting change

Generally, any form of change comes with a certain level of discomfort as it requires movement from an already strategically thought out and aligned plan to a new, sometimes uncertain path. The key to effective change management is knowing when change needs to occur in the sense that deviation from the already strategically devised plan is necessary and consequently finding the ways and means to implement the change.

While much academic literature exists on the topic of managing change effectively, the most crucial aspect to keep in mind for leaders and employers is the employees. Employees, in whatever capacity they are employed within an organisation, will be at the forefront of implementing and effectively aligning the change that has been implemented. This is where robust, transparent, and comprehensive leadership is a must. Clear communication, direction and initiative are essential from a leader or employer in this scenario, as even the best thought-out plans will never come to fruition without them.

Consequently, given that the environment in which South African businesses operate has many challenges, the need for effective and strategic leadership is an absolute imperative for any organisation. Businesses and organisations should always look at ways of cultivating and instilling leadership and strategic skills within their leaders and workforce to bolster the organisation’s ability to absorb or navigate the many factors that impact it, thereby making it more likely to perform optimally in an already difficult environment.

Article by Daniel van der Merwe

National Collective Bargaining Co-ordinator at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEOSA)