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How robust is your business strategy in an ever changing world?


The landscape of industry in general is changing dramatically. The largest ‘taxi’ company globally, Uber, owns no taxis. One of the largest accommodation companies in the world, Airbnb, owns no property and the largest information company, Google, owns no books……
I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers used a great analogy to highlight the impact of technology on our lives. He made the point that most people in the audience could pinpoint exact times where technology has had an influence on their lives, namely the introduction of iPad, Wi-Fi, skype, fibre and so much more. In contrast, children of today will not know what the term “technology” means when they grow up. This is because it has always been a part of their lives. Children are learning to play with iPad from the age of two and interact with various forms of technology on a daily basis. The other day I spotted my three year old trying to navigate the TV screen in the same way that she controls an iPad, which was rather entertaining, however it was a great example of the new generation’s ability to embrace technology.
It’s hard to believe that cell phones were only introduced to the SA market in the mid 90’s and the iPad only hit our slightly apprehensive South African market five years ago. Needless to say, the iPad captivated the market and these days one would be hard pressed to find a boardroom without at least half of the participants in the meeting taking notes on their iPad or tablets. The rate of change in the technological space has been astounding over the past ten years and is developing at an ever increasing rate.
From a marketing perspective, there have been a great deal of changes to the industry. Consumers no longer want to be bombarded by hundreds of meaningless smses a day. They are opting for a more personalized, contextualized approach to their needs. This form of marketing provides endless opportunities for retailers. An example of this is that customers can be updated of specials in real time via their cell phones as they are walking through shopping centres or driving past specific stores. It also allows the consumer to decide on how much communication they want to receive and the information is specific to them based on their purchasing habits. This information can also be fed back to the retailer so that they receive valuable information regarding their customers spending habits.
So what does this really mean in our everyday lives? Technology has been developed to such an extent that people’s lives are made simpler, their needs are met immediately and the “I want it now” generation has been born. In my business, our online ordering has grown from an inconsequential figure to a quarter of our turnover within a matter of months. A couple of months ago, I was approached by a QR code payment company which we adopted and this has also taken off at a rate of knots. People want convenience and the ability to interact with our business on their terms. This has assisted us in reducing costs as our drivers no longer all need to carry speedpoints. Customer’s cell phones have become our new speedpoint machines.

The other impact of technology is that it simplifies the purchase of a commoditized product.
What do I mean by this?
Well, when was the last time that you called a travel agent to book your flight to Cape Town? If you were booking an anniversary then a travel agent would definitely be the person to call as no technology can replace the human touch of arranging someone to meet you at the airport in a foreign country and making sure that the diving operator, hot air balloon operator, cycling guide etc. and the hotel all meet your requirements to make your special occasion a memorable one.

Technology is great in getting the transactional aspects of your business out of the way so that you can focus on the really important value that you offer to your clients.
The downside of technology is that everyone is now a journalist. Social media means that a small bad experience can be broadcast in seconds. Twitter and Facebook can be both your best friend and enemy. It is more likely that you’ll hear about complaints on social media than someone picking up the phone to let you know that they were disappointed. It’s important to know which sites to keep an eye on so that you keep up to date with the feedback on your business. Responding to a tweet that happened 9 months ago, might not work in your favour, but responding to someone immediately and getting their issue resolved, could convert them to a customer for life, or lose them for life!.
Technology also has a few more practical implications. We’ve had to adapt our businesses to load shedding and implement contingency measures such as generators, UPS, inverters etc.
The landscape in which we work and operate our businesses is changing on a daily basis with new technology being developed, power restraints, legislation changes as well as many other influences.
It is important to have a solid, yet fluid strategy in place to enable your business to deal with all of the changes that are taking place, or may take place.
A strategy should not just be a document which sits in the drawer, it should be a living, breathing part of your business.
It needs to be based on a sound business framework, yet be adaptable in order to change with the times. Doing small things such as updating your marketing strategy to include a more interactive approach might be just what you need to connect with your customers in a more meaningful way. If your business has predominantly grown organically, then perhaps you need to adjust your strategy to include an online presence and make use of the current technology available. The e-commerce industry has gained significant traction in the SA market and may be appropriate for your business to adopt in order to take you to the next level of expansion.
Stress test your strategy on an annual basis by doing scenario planning based on the current opportunities and threats facing your business. Work out a plan of action should the worst case scenario happen and look for opportunities within this space. Identify ways of harnessing opportunities should the best case scenario come to light and adapt your strategy accordingly.
The most important thing to remember is that your strategy needs to be able to change with, or even better, ahead of the times, without losing sight of the core values of your business. It’s important to be very clear, irrespective of technological changes, what the value is that you offer your clients. Technology should simply be there to support this strategy, not replace it.

Kath O’Neill
Strategist and Business Owner


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So Who are the Aardvarks in your Organisation?

I spend a lot of time in the bush. Not many urban dwellers spend as much as 30 nights on the ground in wild Big 5 country; no tents, or running water, or electricity. Every year I have the amazing responsibility of taking people into wilderness areas. This is a huge privilege! Sadly there is not much real wilderness left.

We take them into the bush. All ages and sizes and shapes and orientations. The greater the diversity of the group, the richer the experience.

We don’t take them into the bush to do game viewing although this does inevitably happen. Our primary reason for these visits to the wilderness is to expose them to the powerful teaching that nature has to offer, if they open their senses to all the possibilities. We have seen some people make truly dramatic changes to their lives and lifestyles as a result of their bush experience.

Our focus with most groups, which are mostly executive or business teams, is on leadership, teamwork and how to manage the knowledge in the team.

In this latter case it is remarkable how poorly most people are at mining the information and knowledge that exists in the heads and life experiences of those around them. When one thinks about this it is actually this ability that has kept us alive and thriving over hundreds of thousands of years. There are a multiplicity of reasons why we don’t do this. Unfortunately space does not allow us to unpack these. Suffice to say we would be much better off as a people and a species if we did this a lot better and more regularly. It would undoubtedly enhance our ability to thrive. However, what we have done instead is to make a mastery of reinventing the wheel and not learning from history.

In the bush most people are not very knowledgeable and so survival let alone ‘thrival’ depends to huge extent on the ability of the team to tap into and learn from each other in a true spirit of cooperation and support. Buffalo, zebra and wildebeest and so many other species do this so well.

Now, a key element of really effective leadership is exactly this skill. Leaders should practise this every hour of every day because clever effective leaders learn how to tap into the expertise and knowledge of those that they work with. This is the richness that is abundantly available for those that make the effort.

The other big advantage of following this course of action is that the leader’s colleagues and subordinates feel so validated and affirmed by the fact that they are being asked to make a real contribution for the greater good instead of only completing instruction- and directive- driven tasks day after day!

And then there is teamwork. Nature can teach us so much about the power of the team; and we have so much to learn!

We usually stop and examine and question and interrogate what people see when we come across an antbear (aardvark) hole.

Few people have an exact idea what they are actually looking at. However as a result of the questioning process and because of the pressure we put on them to examine the surroundings and to take cognisance of every little detail in the surroundings the team always eventually (sometimes very eventually) arrives at the conclusion that this hole was made by an antbear.

It is the miniscule minority who have ever seen a live antbear. And yet so many species are dependent on this ubiquitous, and yet virtually invisible, creature. It is estimated that some 40 different species use their holes for shelter, breeding, protection and much more. These range from leopard to snakes to geese to warthog.

The questions that always arise from this experience is: “Who are the Aardvarks in your organisation?”

Who are those indispensable, but invisible, people that keep things running smoothly without much notice or recognition or acknowledgment? Usually in organisations these are the ‘little’ people: Receptionists, pickers and packers, long distance truck drivers, accounts clerks, the admin team and many others.

Leaders would do well to spend some time talking to these people. They will be astonished to find out how much these people know about the organisation that the leader doesn’t but should know.

The power of leadership rests within the power of the leader to affirm and recognise that his or her strength does not come from within but mostly from all those who he has the power to lift up to achieve beyond their dreams


Tony Frost


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New Beginnings – an essential part of sustainable leadership

New beginnings are an essential component of leadership life. Indeed leadership is about creating new beginnings over and over on a sustainable basis

It is what leaders must create in times of crisis, when things need a shake up and especially when things are going well. The last category is the most neglected because when things are going very well most people become either complacent or arrogant or both. When things are going well is precisely the time to think about making changes to position the organization effectively to catch the next wave to be even more successful.

Change doesn’t always come at one in a planned and orderly fashion! There are so many events and occurrences around us that are proof of this!
What is critical in almost every case of beginning something new is to approach it from the vantagepoint of are re-inventing oneself to make the future much better than the past and how to make these new beginnings work for us.

Beginning something new is always a little strange, sometimes even frightening.
But just imagine life without regular new beginnings! Strange they may be, but they are also the essence of life. Without these beginnings there would be nothing!
Our world began with a massive new beginning……. A great deal of energy, of excitement, of newness, wide-eyed breathless newness. A creation that must have started with the tiniest seed of an idea. It turned into something truly beyond human comprehension and absolutely awesome.
Each of us started our own lives in much the same way. Imagine for a moment back to that special time when our parents held us, tiny and helpless, in their hands for the first time and in gazed on in absolute wonderment.

Our personal beginnings can be the same. They hold the promise of so much. All journeys, no matter how they start, no matter how long or short; pleasant or dangerous start with a beginning.
We need to make our beginning events of much more substance. We need to make them into events that become platforms that can sustain continual and renewable beginnings. This is the essence of positive change.
We mustn’t be prepared to change once.
We need to learn how to enjoy constant change. In this way new beginnings become the essence of life and not life threatening.
The difficult part of dealing with new beginnings is not the new, exciting, seductive part. The difficult part is learning how to unlearn the old things; the punishing paradigms of the past; the hopeless habits; the ruinous rules. Unless we learn how to unlearn these, the possibility of exciting new beginnings remains a fantasy.
The reality for us all to understand and to accept is that without dawn there is no new day, without beginning new things we basically commit ourselves to a slow and painful process of tortuous demise.
Most of us at some time or another have lain awake at night battling to sleep. The time that takes the longest to pass are those hours between midnight and sunrise. We long for first light. It seems to take so long to come. We shut our eyes and dawn sneaks up on us so stealthily that when it arrives we find it difficult to believe that it has finally arrived.
You look away and look back and there it is.
In all its glory!
Suddenly the flooding light of a new day, a new beginning is upon us. It floods us with hope, with relief. We realize that the morning sun is the symbol of hope. It is why we awake. It is the sign of all things good in the world. It represents the spreading arms of peace. It is our connection with the dark hours of yesterday.
It is out metaphor for tomorrow.
It is Life itself.
Without new beginnings there can be little hope!

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Resilience – We all need it!

Is there anyone who would not like to be more resilient? To have that capacity to bounce back when life appears to have turned its back on you and sent you unexpected curved balls? This is not about being Bear Grills tough, but about being able to handle the interminable and myriad daily stressors that test us and our resolve. I have been thinking about this issue for some time now but was prompted to write about it by a recent article on the subject in Time magazine.

Resilience is probably one of those characteristics that we would all like to have more of. It is a characteristic particularly important for leaders in every sphere of life and especially for parents in these days of uncertainty. We need to inculcate in our children that capacity to deal with whatever comes our way in a positive and determined manner.

This is no easy task. Some people are inherently more resilient than others but all of us can learn the skills and capacity to be more resilient; and recent research supports this.

There are a few key things we need to practice to be more resilient.

Firstly, when we were still roaming the plains we lived, loved and hunted in groups. We are social beings to our core. In those days loners simply did not survive so being social and gregarious is buried very deep in our DNA. Sometimes it seems that individuals have become more important than teams. This is a big mistake. Loners are lonely and often prone to psychological issues. The encouragement of individualism at the expense of the team is the wrong way to go. It puts unnatural pressure and stress on the individual, especially the talented individual, and dangerously makes him or her believe that they are more important than the team of which they are part.

Secondly, strong social connections are a really important part of your resilience armoury. In fact the more I think about it the more convinced I become of the importance of building long-term, enduring relationships for a whole host of reasons but not least of all to be available in times of stress to help us bounce back from the dark places we have landed in.

The way you respond to stress is at the heart of building a strong set of responses that enable you to bounce back and to deal with even the most unexpected and unfair blows life sometimes throws at you. We know that we are equipped to fight, flee or freeze in the face of danger. This is your natural stress response. What we need to do is to learn how to use this energy positively so as to recognise when it kicks in and how to deploy the energy in a healthy future-focussed way.

This may well be one of the reasons for the rising interest in extreme sports and the growing popularity in exercise. Scientists have shown that fit individuals handle stress much better than unfit people.

In the Fortune Top Companies survey CEOs indicated that a conscious culture is top of mind for their organisation’s success. Research has also shown that living consciously is significantly important to deal with and rebound from stressful situations and challenges.

We always urge those that participate in our team and leadership wilderness experiences to stay in the present and to be present. This avoids the necessity for ‘catch-up’ if and when the unexpected occurs as it often does in Big 5 country! The catch-up, even if it is just a few seconds, can be as stressful (or more so) than the event itself.

Another important factor recommended by Dennis Charney and Steve Southwick in their Book: Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges is the development of a strong set of ethical values to guide daily decision-making and behaviour. It is this last point that is apparently most absent in our leaders today; in virtually all levels of society but particularly amongst our political leaders. It is the rare politician who lives by and projects a clear set of values that others find easy to follow. In leadership this is a crucial component of success. The most ethical leaders are seen to stand for something clear, important and worth supporting. Those that tell people what they want to hear and then do the opposite merely confuse those for whom they are supposed to set the standards.

So what is it that we can all do to learn in order to recover quickly and positively from life’s challenges?

Espouse a strong set of clear values; develop a positive outlook; exercise regularly and test the limits of your fitness as part of this process; face your fears head-on; support others and reach out for support from others when you need it – remember you are a social being; develop your talents and strengths to the full because they are what define you. In life self-confidence is inextricably bound up with recognising and building on our strengths. It is really worthwhile to work on developing them to the full.

There is so much that we can do to be the best we can possibly be and it is so much better to do it in the company of others for whom we care and who we know care for us. The best of resilience has much to do with living our gregarious social and inherent collective consciousness to the full!

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The Business of Leadership is Relationships

Leadership is all about getting others to do what you want them to do and love it and preferably to think that it was their idea in the first place.

There have been millions of words written and spoken about leadership; and almost as many about what the business of business really is. Managing and leading organisational behaviour is all about creating collective action. Achieving this cannot happen without positive relationships. These relationships do not simply happen by chance. The best organisations spend great time and effort on creating corporate cultures that nurture positive relationships. Google for example ensure that people stand in a queue for their lunch and only provide long tables in the canteen to make sure that people rub shoulders and share lunch with those that they may never have even seen before. All of this in order to ensure that relationships are being built throughout the business.

Great effort is invested in building relationships to create mergers and acquisitions that work.

It was Winston Churchill, I believe, who said that you should keep friends close but you need to keep your enemies even closer. He also said that war always ends with talk and relationship-building. Why it that we don’t do this before the war is starts to prevent it from happening in the first place? I have paraphrased here, I know. But the lessons are clear.

The average organisation has multiple relationships but, obviously, some are more important to the business than others. These relationships do not depend on the business but rather on the people in it. The propensity to create and engage in building relationships will be nurtured or discouraged by the culture and leadership on the business.

If there is a deep understanding of the importance of relationships and the dependence of these on the culture and leadership then relationships will flourish. This will apply whether the relationships are with critical customers, employees or the trade unions.

The other critical aspect is to make sure that the people are properly equipped to understand the social dynamics and benefits of relationship-building.

These may seem to some to be small unimportant things; or worse that this warm and fuzzy stuff makes no contribution to the bottom line. This at best is confused thinking; and at worst cynicism of the most dangerous kind.

In our own country one need only look at Marikana (and other tragedies) to see the disastrous effects of ignoring, intentionally or unintentionally, the hard work of building positive relationships. And make no mistake, it is hard work. Good relationships do not just magically fall from the sky although we dream or even imagine that this could happen. It takes focussed, conscious and intentional work to make it happen.

All the world’s best organisations (and one would hope that this includes governments) claim loudly that people are their most important asset. It would be great to be able to believe this but unfortunately the reality paints a somewhat different picture. If this were so there would be much greater attention paid to the importance of people in getting things done and objectives achieved, instead of treating the employees as commodities to be bought and sold at will. There would be a much greater focus on treating them like the assets they truly are. Without people the organisation simply fails to exist. Without people the organisation is an organisation in name only. It requires at least one employee to open the door each morning; it requires an employee to switch on the computer; to operate the factory machine; to answer the telephone; to lead and manage the company and so on.

If employees were truly assets they would appear on the other side of the balance sheet and not be treated as costs but rather as investments. The appropriate amount would be spent on maintenance and development of these investments and a great deal of effort would be put into communicating effectively with them to ensure the very best return on investment.

This same attitude and approach should be shown to the other critical group of people – the clients. Without these two on board at the 100% level the business/organisation will always perform at the sub-optimal level.

Relationships are built on a give-and-take from both parties and not as one wag put it when describing his relationship with his erstwhile wife, “I give and she takes!”

The best relationships are about envisaging and building the future together using the skills, wisdom and expertise of both parties to make the picture bigger and brighter for all. This is where the work is. It takes courage and risk-taking. It needs both parties to be prepared to share and expose their vulnerabilities to and to figure out together how they can make the future the very best that it can be for everyone.

This is the true essence of making the future together!


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Wisdom is not for sale!

There is no business school or philosophy programme that offers a course in wisdom. In fact defining wisdom is itself something of a challenge.
Sometimes you will hear adults describing a child as having wisdom beyond his years without really being able to define what it is that makes them say that.
Wisdom is a little like riding a bicycle. You can spend days in lectures about the mechanics of the bicycle, its aerodynamics, the physiology of cycle exercise, the psychology of cycling, the biomechanics of the sport, handling a bicycle, and so on.
The reality though is that none of this will give you the ability to actually ride the bicycle.
In order to be able to ride one has to hoist one’s bottom onto the saddle, put your feet on the pedals, hold the handle grips and launch forth, often to fall off almost immediately. This will continue until one has mastered the art and wisdom of balance. This is something that no-one can teach one. It comes from studying at the University of Falling Off a Bicycle until you learn not to.
If you ask someone to describe balance they find it almost impossible to do so. They find it even more difficult to teach one how to balance.
Wisdom is the same. You cannot categorise, nor codify wisdom. It comes with experience, from exposing oneself to life’s trials, tribulations, challenges, joys, upsets, elations, sadnesses and successes.
What we can do though is to speed up the process of acquiring wisdom. The best way to do this is to provide the young with mentors. One of the biggest, most important, negative consequences of the dissolution of the extended family is the fact that the very young at best only have intermittent access to grandparents, aunts and uncles who, in the past would have given them the mentoring that is so valuable in the maturation process.
Today the young pretty much have to find their own way in life. A life that is hugely complex, is often ugly and one which abounds with many very visible poor role models.
This is where those that have lived life and are in their sunset period can play a massively important role in our society. They can take on the role of mentoring young people. They can provide a safe environment in which young people can explore their ideas and receive guidance on some of the most important and challenging issues they are confronted with every day.
We can bring the sunshine they so need in their lives. We can give them hope. We can build positive attitudes. We can help them acquire the most important skills they need to find their way on their journey through the valley of life. We can show them how the right values are much more important than great wealth, or fancy clothes and cars. We can show them how to really love life.
In short we have it in us to build a nation!
Tony Frost

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People Make Strategy Work!

We are often called in to facilitate strategic planning sessions.

Of course we are happy to do this but this is not our primary interest. We want to see the implementation of the plans not just their development. Too often I have seen brilliant strategic plans end up as nothing more than that – a brilliant, but sterile plan. I have even seen executive teams haul out last year’s plan, put together at great cost because the team spent a few days at a luxury resort producing it, only to find that very little planned had actually seen the light of day! This is a travesty.

The second strategy planning sin, and arguably, even more damaging is that the plan is never shared with all the people in the organisation. This virtually guarantees that nothing will happen.

Plans without people are nothing more than academic exercises.

It is people that turn a sterile plan into energy, excitement and action.

For a plan to reach full fruition part of the planning process, a large part, should be the active planning to engage all the people at all levels of the organisation in its implementation.

This is critical. It is also the most exciting part of the entire process.

When people at every level have bought into the plan and are giving passionate effect to it success is so much more likely. The enthusiasm and keenness to help is palpable.

This is why spreading the message and tactics that comprise the strategy is so important. It creates meaning for people at work. They ‘get’ the reason why it is a great idea to be friendly and helpful; they understand in detail why their personal role is important; they appreciate that the work that they do is valued and valuable; they understand that they do make a difference.

One of my major clients recently discovered the importance of this at first hand, and quite dramatically. We were debating why the executive team should be trusted by the people. We decided to run a very simple test – we asked the Financial Director, there and then, to go and ask the receptionist what the leadership team had to do to earn the trust of the people. He went, rather nervously, and eventually returned. He explained that he had first to ask the lady her name so that he could engage in conversation with her. Her response to his question was that no-one would trust the executive if the only way they communicated with everyone was via e-mail and on PowerPoint presentations! They want personal face-to-face communication. They want to know the executive team.

What a wake-up call! People all over the world want visible personal leadership. They want leadership that shares with them honestly what is occurring in the organisation and what they can do to help to make it the very best that it can possibly be. Most people want to be part of a team and they want to contribute to its success.

They just need to be told how and why! Simple as that.


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