Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Business School Leaders for tomorrow
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Back to Index 23 February 2016

Watch the Road Carefully for the Tough Times Ahead

Prof Steve Burgess

Director and Professor of Marketing, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Business School


The year ahead promises a bumpy ride. Economic growth is a problem globally, including China and most of the African continent. Social and political conflict grabs headlines around the world. South Africa faces daunting challenges and the Rand is at all-time lows. The tough times demand that business and government leaders pay close attention to the road ahead.


We can learn a lot about life by studying roads. Economies don’t function well without good road networks. Just as building effective road networks supports economic growth, building new competencies in human networks helps organizations achieve higher levels of success.


Road and people networks require constant investments. Consequently, successful leaders manage the costs of those investments. Engineers report that it costs 95% less to repair roads at the first sign of damage than it does after potholes form. Maintenance also costs less when scheduled outside peak traffic hours.


The focus and timing of human resource investments also are important. Changing times demand new insights into the road ahead and the opportunities and challenges it will present. Organizational development programmes play an important role in improving organizational capacity to understand and adapt to the environment in rapidly changing times. Convincing results from numerous studies show that education and training set the stage for new insights that help grow markets, capture more market share and improve profit margins—especially in tough times when others are unwisely cutting human resource, research and development, and marketing investments.


Executive education and training is a “recession-proof” industry because it is cheaper to run training programmes in tough times. It’s not rocket science. It costs a lot less to pull someone off the street or production line than it does in good times. Astute leaders know that slowing business traffic in a bumpy economy translates to lower opportunity costs and they put the down-time to good use.


The road ahead requires leaders to ask the tough questions. Are we really transforming our leadership, workforce and business--demographically, technologically, environmentally? Do we challenge ourselves and each other? Are we emotionally intelligent? Do we really understand our customer needs? Are we identifying new opportunities to grow our markets? Are 1 in 6 of our products less than five years old? Do customer acquisition and retention costs reflect marketplace opportunities? Do we benchmark well against the best? Does everyone in the organisation understand how they impact on our financial results? Do we manage projects well throughout the organisation? Are we doing the right things to thrive in the years ahead?


Answers to questions such as these will determine whether organisations transit the bumpy ride ahead or fall by the wayside. Bringing in the professionals to design human development solutions is a good next step.


View article in publication here.