How South African Companies Can Empower Themselves With Authentic Change Leadership

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When South Africa’s business landscape continues to face challenges such as load-shedding, the quiet quitting trend, the steady advance of AI, and the widespread datafication of business processes, the question surfaces: is change leadership really worth focusing on?


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The global acceleration of change has reshaped how people approach their work and impacted organisations’ bottom lines. According to projections by the World Economic Forum, by 2025, more than two-thirds of the skills currently deemed vital for today's jobs will undergo significant changes.

Additionally, a third of the key skills needed in 2025 will include technological abilities that are not currently seen as essential in today's job market. This is less than two years from now.

Cathy Banks, Founder and Director of Analyze Consulting, underscores the importance of preparing every individual within an organisation to adapt to these changes. “As the rate of change has escalated across every sector and industry, so has the need to ensure that every person within your organisation is equipped to deal with it, not simply endure it, or worse, resist it.”

Echoing this sentiment, Dharmita Babu, Leading Change Specialist at Analyze, highlights the often-overlooked impact of internal culture on an organisation's way forward. She adds:

I always say, culture will eat strategy for breakfast. By this, I mean that leaders are all too often overly impressed by strategic thinking and lofty ideas of their businesses and where it’s heading, yet they underappreciate their current
internal culture and its far-reaching implications into the future – particularly on their bottom line.

No matter your strategy, your impressive skillset, or your sector, no matter how slick your tech or optimised your processes are – without a workforce willing and able to continually embrace change and lead themselves, your best strategies and most innovative systems are dead in the water.”

After their recent acquisition of a 50% stake in LeadMe Academy, a pioneering leadership development company, Analyze and LeadMe have experienced a fair amount of transition and organisational change themselves. Their experts offer the following insights for South African corporations navigating uncertain times:

Change the way you think about change.

The landscape of business has shifted; big changes and unpredictable events are now commonplace. Jackie Kennedy, Founder of LeadMe, observes that many business leaders, despite understanding the need for a change in mindset, are not as flexible and adaptable as they believe themselves to be.

This gap often stems from a deep-seated fear of change – an unacknowledged belief that change equates to loss. Until this is addressed across entire companies, organisations will continue to struggle, resisting change instead of leveraging it to their advantage.

And lest one thinks that this kind of focus on ‘soft skills’ has a soft impact on the bottom line, think again. “The way an organisation approaches change affects the bottom line far more than most tend to recognise,” says Kennedy.

“When there is too much change happening too fast in an organisation, and individuals aren’t equipped to deal with it, they tend to react in ways that have a far-from-subtle impact on the bottom line,” adds Analyze Co-founder and CFO, Reyer Meihuizen.

Poorly managed organisational change has been proven to lead to a decline in organisational performance, reduced profitability, and a damaged internal and external reputation.

“People managers are often thrown in the deep end and forced to sink or swim without a textbook. A programme [that] provides multiple tools for any workplace situation [can] help[...] managers with their own growth,” says Sune Venter, Field Sales Manager from Servier, an international pharmaceutical company.

Go slow to go far.

As change accelerates, it's important to remember that people don't adapt at the same speed. Kennedy notes:

People aren’t machines. They need time to change and adapt. When we allow for this, and make space for people to bring their best selves to work, we begin to tap into their full potential.

Banks further explains that the LeadMe programme, spread over 12 months, is designed to facilitate steady progress and lasting transformation. “While most organisations would love to opt for a shortcut, there’s simply no substitute for investing time and money into your people.”

Our approach ensures that change is not only implemented but also sustained. “It’s this steady progress in the same direction that really cements all the knowledge and skills attained,” adds Banks.

Take everyone with you.

Extending leadership training beyond the top executives is essential. “If you’re wanting to create a future-fit company, every person – from CEO to intern – must learn how to lead themselves better,” says Kennedy.

The World Economic Forum again predicts that by 2025, 50% of all employees will require reskilling, with leadership being one of the top 10 skills in demand. The Centre for Creative Leadership reports that 86% of organisations with leadership development programmes can rapidly respond to adversity in an unpredictable business environment.

What’s more, leadership development results in a 114% increase in sales, 70% lower turnover, 71% higher customer satisfaction and 90% lower absenteeism.

In South Africa, where leadership challenges are often intertwined with cultural, economic, and political factors, this training is perhaps even more crucial. “Our organisation has grown massively over the last 18 months - this is the joy of being in a startup,” notes Carla Gustafson, Head of Wellness and HR at HyperionDev, an ed tech startup.

“When we know that employees are going to get a course in personal development, a very focused look at themselves, their own strengths, their own weaknesses, their own development points, and by going through that journey they are learning how to actually take other people through that journey should they grow into leadership positions and I’ve seen the success of that.”

Integrate tech and people.

With rapid technological advancements, there's a risk that organisations may focus excessively on technology at the expense of their people. Babu warns against this tendency, highlighting the need for a balanced approach that values both technology and human capital.

As industry-disrupting technological advances continue to arrive thick and fast, a potential risk is that organisations focus all their attention here, and decrease their investment in their people and change leadership.

“Yet any increased investment in tech or process demands a corresponding focus on your people.”

A recent World Economic Forum report shows that while machines with AI will replace about 85 million jobs in 2025, about 97 million jobs will be made available in the same year, thanks to AI.

Instead of replacing people, forward-thinking companies must ask themselves: how can our people work with AI instead of being replaced by it? Getting the most out of your workforce’s non-artificial intelligence will increasingly become a key differentiator between companies that thrive, and those that barely survive.

Identify the real cause to find the right solution.

Banks suggests that many of the seeming tech and process-related challenges organisations face are symptoms of deeper issues. “Oftentimes, companies approach us with a specific problem that they need solved,” says Banks.

Yet it’s not the root problem – it’s a symptom of something else entirely.

Banks advises asking more questions and inviting diverse voices into the conversation to uncover the true underlying causes of your organisation’s specific challenges. This approach is particularly relevant in the South African corporate environment, where diverse perspectives can lead to more comprehensive and effective solutions.

Ask yourself these questions to get closer to the root problem:

  • Have you invested heavily in your processes and yet, you’re not getting the results you’d anticipated?
  • Do you have an amazing strategy that isn’t playing out as intended – why do you think that is?
  • Is a new tech system not working because of a hardware glitch, or because learnt behaviours haven’t actually shifted at the same pace?
  • Does there appear to be a pervasive lack of initiative in your workforce?
  • Is there a high turnover of staff, and/or or a seeming ‘go-slow’ approach to tasks not directly overseen?

If the majority of your responses to the previous questions were affirmative, it becomes clear, as Banks suggests, that your challenges are significantly centered around people and their adaptability to change, perhaps more than initially anticipated.

South African companies are urged to fundamentally re-evaluate their approach to change leadership, prioritising people at the forefront of this process. It's vital to recognise that for employees to effectively embrace changes in technology and processes, they must be equipped with the right mindset, behaviours, and capabilities.

Investment in developing these attributes is crucial.

Building a culture that is not just tolerant but adaptable to change is imperative. This people-centric approach to change leadership will help fortify organisational resilience and contribute significantly to broader economic and social prosperity.

By investing in people's capacity and creating readiness for change across people, process, and technology dimensions, companies can lead more effectively and compassionately.

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