In the course of 2020, I interviewed a range of top business leaders to gain insights into their strategy paradigms as well as the practical implementation thereof. Some key themes came up repeatedly during the interviews, and I thought it would be valuable to reflect on these in the year-end issue of ASA.
As Abed Tau stated: ‘Strategy is probably one of the hardest things – it is easy to come up with a strategy, but it is harder to deploy it. In the madness of life, unfortunately strategy does not happen in a vacuum where you can just stop the world, silence, go sort it out quickly and come back and deploy it. Everything is still attacking your business, you still have the cash flow issues, the employee issues, the client service issue. In and among that you must still drive a strategy.’
A strategic framework is key
Whatever the strategic methodology used, there should be a clear and solid framework. The framework should not be complex but rather streamlined enough to be cascaded throughout different levels within the organisation. Strategy should set direction and not necessarily goals, which will in effect ensure that there is enough flexibility to allow for a changing environment.
To quote Yolanda Cuba: ‘The biggest travesty is having all the people and all the resources but no direction. The direction needs to be determined by your strategy – determine where are you going to play, how you are going to play, and how you are going to win.’ She added that ‘strategy is not a one-day affair; it is something you live with every day, being very systematic about it to ensure you succeed.’
The importance of organisational culture
Nearly every person I interviewed touched on the importance of corporate or organisational culture to ensure success. From the experiences and insights that were shared, management consultant Peter Drucker’s quote ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ appeared to be true.
Michelle Olckers spoke about the impact of culture on strategy: ‘The culture that you create around a business ultimately helps define how your staff contribute to that strategy.’ Ajen Sita emphasised: ‘Strategy has to be pervasive right through the organization so that your newest recruit who joins your organisation know not only what the strategy is, but what their role is within the strategy.’ Anton de Bruyn described passion and positivity within culture: ‘What pulls one through in a time of crisis is passion and the way in which you approach it. Positivity unlocks creative thinking. It is all about positivity and accepting challenges. You need a management team and employees with a lot of passion.’
Leadership stood out as the catalyst linking the themes of a strategic framework and organisational culture. Even though strategy (and the implementation thereof) is ultimately the responsibility of executive management, taking a collaborative approach ensures more buy-in and better implementation.
Michelle Olckers explained: ‘The only way you keep your staff coming with you and being aligned is to have constant engagement around strategy – it can easily get forgotten − you want to get feedback of what is happening within the business and you don’t necessarily pause and explain of how it fits in strategically and how they can contribute.’ Ajen Sita framed it thus: ‘Strategy has become a live process, daily, weekly, monthly. We bring our leadership team together regularly where we keep holding the mirror up to ourselves to ask is the strategy still right? Are the priorities still aligned? Is the execution still on track? It has become a dynamic process.’
The strategic process has migrated with leaps and bounds to incorporate a wider spectrum of stakeholders and more inclusive management of aspects relating to environmental sustainability and social impact.
David Green articulated the V&A’s purpose as follows: ‘Our purpose is that we collectively create the world’s most inspiring waterfront neighbourhood, creating the platform to be able to thrive and flourish. It is as much about the space between the buildings, the activities, the vibe, the buzz that makes it as it is about the buildings themselves. If you do not have a proper and meaningful relationship with your community or neighbourhood, you don’t have a right to survive and you will not survive.’ In turn, Yolanda Cuba said: ‘We derive our licence to trade from the community – it is a core part of any strategy.’
I found the learning and insights from others’ experiences and career learnings very valuable − a special thank you to Anton de Bruyn (CFO of the Shoprite Group of Companies), David Green (CEO of the V&A Waterfront), Yolanda Cuba (Chief Digital and Fintech Officer at MTN), Ajen Sita (CEO EY Africa), Abed Tau (CEO My Dough) and Michelle Olckers (Co-CEO of Mazars SA) for their willingness to share their time and experience during the interviews in 2020.
Look out for more ‘On strategy’ interviews in 2021!
AUTHOR | Christiaan Vorster CA(SA), SAICA Regional Executive