Building an agile business in a changing Zimbabwe


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ZIMBABWE – So, your profits are down or non-existent. Power and water shortages and regulatory costs of compliance are crippling your business. 

Labour costs are sky high! Your competition is killing you, and your customers are unhappy. Sounds familiar? If this applies to your business, read on………

There was a time when the business world was more predictable and stable. This allowed companies to plan more confidently for the future.

Until recently, most companies could comfortably occupy a niche market position, and expect minimal or at most moderate competition and profit.

Now with globalization and technology making it much easier for companies to knock off other companies’ products, services and unique selling propositions (USPs), businesses must be agile to ward off competitors and maintain their bottom line.

As the future becomes increasingly unpredictable, more and more businesses are turning to training and organizational development (OD) as a solution to transforming, sustaining and enabling their organizations to adapt and innovate in a changing world.

This could mean coming up with a new business strategy or redesigning products and services, especially where competitors can launch with minimal investment. But most importantly, upskilling staff to think more creatively and flexibly, and giving them the tools to stay agile in turbulent times.

What is business agility?

In a business context, agility is the ability of the organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes and thrive, by finding better more productive and cost-effective ways to create value for customers and the business.

Because change is perpetual, a highly agile and resilient organization responds successfully to the arrival of new competitors, rapid technological advances and sudden shifts in market conditions including ever changing customer demands. Agile and adaptive businesses take advantage of emerging opportunities, thus increasing profitability and market share.

Many organizations large and small are increasingly turning to change agents and HR or OD specialists to help them develop a truly agile business and workforce. Research also shows the value added by human resources in driving organizational agility through equipping staff with skills to think and work differently (Nijssen and Paauwe 2010).

This could mean deploying talent in the right place, simplifying processes, removing unnecessary duplication, and managing change in a more planned way (Ravet 2011). Businesses therefore need to be proactive to allow for a more agile and profitable organization, rather than changing when you have to because there are now ‘burning issues’.

In the fiercely competitive retail and fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) space a new landscape is emerging with Choppies supermarkets, Innscor’s Spar outlets, and TM/ Pick n Pay all vying for the same mass market.

This could not have been predicted 5 years ago. In addition, the ‘hot’ competition among bread makers such as Bakers Inn, Lobels, Plaza and Pick n Pay bread will come down to not just who has the best-tasting bread, but who has the most adaptive and innovative systems and processes, and customer care.

The importance of customer care in delivering strategic goals was further highlighted at the recent CCAZ (Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe) awards where Telecel again won an award for Customer Service Excellence in the mobile telecommunications sector, for their customer-centric approach. At a macro level, meeting customer service expectations will also attract much-needed foreign capital investment, which will bring greater business success and grow the country’s economy as per the ZimAsset (Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation) blueprint.

Why the growing emphasis on being agile?

With today’s volatile and unpredictable economy, agile businesses need to constantly look for innovative ways to cut costs and eliminate waste, to remain viable and improve the bottom line.

Thus the ability of an organization to be continually change-ready is a key contributor to sustainable and strategic success. This requires managers to have the skills to make informed decisions quickly and to think flexibly and creatively, particularly in a fast changing environment.

This agility to respond quickly to ever changing customer needs and market pressures also requires leaders that are well-trained in leadership and management solutions. OD interventions such as business improvement skills, performance management, Lean, strategic planning and team-building are some of the many ways in which businesses can work with HR OD consultants to become more agile.

Hence the reason why the Dangotes of this world have established a reputation for adapting their strategies to meet customer demands, and continuously upskill their human capital to keep up with ever changing industry and market conditions. This is the mindset of agility – being open-minded and option-oriented to boost sales, profits and productivity, and spot opportunities, through OD interventions.

How to stay agile in turbulent times

Business agility offers tangible solutions to meet the changing needs of the business, customers and workforce. This allows companies to control operational costs and generate competitive advantage through more superior customer focus and innovation (CIPD Research Report 2014).

To become and stay agile, businesses must:

• Have agile strategies and capability to plan for the future to stay relevant and ahead of the competition.
• Develop simpler systems and processes, and leaner ways of working aligned to the business to increase efficiency and productivity.
• Upskill their human capital with appropriate skills to be more resilient and resourceful in times of change, using OD interventions.
• Develop the right culture, behaviours and capabilities to remain agile and innovative by fostering continuous learning and improvement.
• Have robust talent management and succession plans to ensure they have a workforce skilled to deliver the service for organizational survival.
• Grow resilient leaders using OD interventions including training as a driver for organizational agility and sustainability.
• Have an engaged and agile workforce with a change-ready mindset, to cope with unknown future challenges to boost business performance.
• Be customer-focused by putting customers at the heart of business, through training and developing staff and systems to be more responsive to customers’ needs.

In the coming weeks we will explore how agile leaders and business owners can routinely anticipate change and proactively embrace the opportunities to deliver their strategic priorities including bottom line.

This will ensure that leaders are not working with a 1995 mindset in today’s rapidly changing environment, which places their businesses at a huge disadvantage.

As the ‘year of learning’ draws to a close, I am reminded of the famous quote by Charles Darwin:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

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