African enterprises: build your boat now before the next tsunami hits

Much has been written about the pandemic’s impact on business and its role as a once-in-a-generation catalyst for accelerated digital transformation. Across the continent in enterprises large and small, and in every industry, business leaders have had to adapt with great urgency to survive the immediate disruption and ensure the long-term viability of their businesses.

Some analysts believe speed has been the fundamental aspect of the pandemic’s impact on the business world, and is a central feature of what comes next. Business leaders have been confronted with urgent questions around enabling new ways of working, managing new demands from customers and playing a more active and positive role in their communities.

The quest for greater resilience

There is no doubt that we are speeding towards an uncertain future. While the first year of the public and private sectors’ response to the pandemic has been defined by a sense of urgency and speed, I would argue the next few months will be defined by how well organisations build greater resilience to overcome the impact of future disruptions.

A recent study found that 45% of global executives believe that building an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience is crucial to adapting to the new world of work.

To build such a culture, organisations need to look at embedding purpose in their businesses and to focus on developing the potential of the people who work there. A healthy and informed perspective allows business leaders to move boldly in the face of uncertainty and more effectively guide their organisations as they adapt to new challenges.

Purpose leads the way

In terms of purpose, I strongly believe the time is over for one-dimensional organisations that focus purely on chasing quarterly revenue targets.

Revenue remains important and is the lifeblood of any organisation, but the modern world demands that business leaders align their organisations to a higher purpose.

Whether that is making the world run better or supporting the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, purpose-led organisations are far more likely to attract the talent, partners and customers needed to succeed in the modern business environment.

In fact, analysts estimate that purpose-driven organisations have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of talent retention. What’s more, one study found that purpose-driven organisations had a 13.1% average annual return on equity, compared to a 4.1% average for the S&P 500 over a 10-year period.

Employees also value purpose: 84% of millennials in one study said that making a difference is more important than professional recognition.

New world of work brings new challenges, opportunities

The hybrid work environment most organisations have had to adopt has created new challenges for managers and leaders to effectively motivate, guide and manage their teams. While challenging, this fundamental cultural shift toward more flexible work holds the promise of finally unlocking the possibilities of the digital workplace, which holds the potential for more measurable and manageable ways of work.

Organisations need real-time insight into employees’ current state of mind, their perception of their work, challenges keeping them from performing at their best and gaps in processes such as onboarding. This allows business leaders to make quick adjustments and maintain a positive and fulfilling employee experience at every step.

Using an experience management tool that produces measurable, data-driven insights can bring structure and consistency to how organisations respond to employee expectations. Technology is an invaluable tool here: only two in 10 employees in one study strongly agreed that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

Finally, the sheer complexity and constant and rapid pace of change means intuitive decision-making is often not sufficient to effectively lead an organisation.

Intelligent enterprises maintain their edge

Organisations that have embarked on the journey toward becoming intelligent enterprises that seamlessly blend data, technology, systems and processes to enable real-time insights and decision-making across the business, are now lightyears ahead of the competition.

Having the capability to quickly deploy new technologies – such as AI-assisted processes or scalable cloud applications – empowers organisations with agility and adaptability, both essential components of building greater business resilience. What’s more, it lends a sense of certainty to the decisions they make, as such decisions are grounded in accurate data.

Our recent shared experiences across the African continent should teach us that no one is immune from disruption.

The world already faces the consequences of climate change which could disrupt the global economy in ways that far outweigh the impact of the pandemic. Scientists believe the Covid-19 pandemic is almost certainly not the last one we’ll see, especially if we persist with unsustainable ways of living.

However, the same challenges also hold the promise of transforming the way we work and live to bring us toward more sustainable, innovation-driven and fulfilling ways of working.

The pandemic has been a tsunami that has swept across the globe. We are still feeling the ripple effects through every industry and in every country. Investment into building greater resilience could hold the promise of a tsunami-proof lifeboat that can protect organisations and their employees, customers and partners from the worst effects of the next wave, while bringing us all closer to calmer shores.

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Cathy Smith
Cathy Smith is managing director at SAP Africa

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