CIO South Africa Summit: IT leaders champion change

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Successful change strategies require partnerships, strategy, transformation – and a ‘smell of the place’.

Change was the hot topic at The Bryanston Country Club on 2 March, where technology leaders gathered to share ideas on how to approach the changing business landscape in the right way.

In true, innovative CIO South Africa community fashion, guests were asked to participate in the Post-it challenge on arrival. They wrote down a current change dilemma, and reasons they believe they are the true change champions.

Joël Roerig, CIO South Africa managing director, kicked off the evening with a quick Q&A on change alongside Alex Fenn, head of innovation at Sibanye Stillwater, who shared some insights on change using examples from the mining company.

“In terms of carbonisation, we see ourselves as a force for change,” Alex explained. “Our revenue has increased at an exponential rate. Our entire model is built on lean structures, but we realised early on that in order to expand our knowledge, we needed to bring in people who possessed those skills,” he said.

Alex added that it was crucial to leverage partnerships in innovation and to invest in projects that make good business sense while also giving back to the community.

“We leverage communities of intelligence to solve the various challenges our business and industry faces. Our ability to create solutions that solve broader problems is something we’re proud of, and we’re ready to partner with other businesses to make the industry better and safer,” he added.

According to Alex, the application of this approach to change, and where the CIO fits in, are all about complexities. “Digital in application at a fundamental level is very similar even in the mining sector: something we recognise and want to collaborate on. You can test and experiment in digital space,” he added.

Think big and stay disciplined

EOH group executive for strategy and change Natasha Andrykowsky’s approach to strategy and change is straightforward: think big while remaining disciplined.

“People try to make strategy very complicated, but it’s about informed choices and timely action. The change process starts when you start planning your new strategy,” she said. “You have to bring the whole business along from the start of this journey, or they won’t buy into the strategy you are selling.”

EOH has been on an interesting transformative journey, and part of what made their change programme successful was factoring in the people and getting their buy-in from the start, according to Natasha.

“You start by sitting down with the business to lay out your strategy: no other repository will give you greater insight into the business than the people," she explained. “Speak with the CEO and understand the milestones and project plans: don’t skip the nuts and bolts, even if you don’t like doing it – delegate this to someone else.”

Culture as part of a belief system

Shabhana Thaver, CIO at Investec Specialist Bank SA, demonstrated how to foster a culture of change.

“Culture is indoctrinated in who we are at Investec. But I just want to demystify the term culture. Simply put, it’s basically a belief system, the behaviours, attitudes, and values that you sit with, and how we see it at Investec,” she explained.

Shabhana said that Investec employs Edgar Schein’s personal and organisational change approach: above and below the surface.

“Above the surface refers to what you see in the organisation, the structures, governance, and processes – and that doesn’t go away, and it’s sometimes difficult to understand that in a very complex environment,” she explained. “Below the surface is how you really get things done, and at Investec we achieve this through the power of social capital: the networks, the relationships that exist below the surface – our own structure is complicated, and I don’t even understand it at times, but it’s a culture we strongly believe in,” she said.

Shabhana highlighted academic and author Sumantra Ghoshal’s concept of the “smell of the place” in relation to culture, and how change should not be an event. “The culture needs to trigger your emotions so that if change occurs, you are triggered as to what to do next,” she said.

Shabhana came to the conclusion that change is ultimately about experimentation and learning from that experience. It’s also about discipline and how you do things, how you approach business, and how you manage trust if you think in a disciplined manner.

Mohammed Gause, CIO at Tiger Brands, noted, “In my industry, I literally go into the factory – to get the smell of the place as Shabhana mentioned earlier. That’s how you establish trust and a rapport. Meet on a regular basis with a purpose, an open dialogue, but using business language: for example, looking at projects that should be happening, what the industry is doing, and where investment should go are some of the topics we discuss.”

Bring the business into the discussion early on, not just when things go wrong, Mohammed emphasised.

Permafrost and case for change

Hot on Mohammed’s heels was Paul Steenkamp, founder and CEO of Jack Frost, who took an even deeper dive into change, deconstructing the character, science, design thinking, and discovery-driven innovation that underpins transformation.

Paul’s permafrost concept in the case for change states that good strategies go to the guy at the top and good ideas go to the guy at the bottom, referring to the line manager who plays an integral role in transformation.

“Don’t mess with these guys,” he warned. “You can have exco discussions around idealism, but these are the individuals who ultimately decide whether it’s going to happen: that’s where change starts.”

However, he cautioned against solely putting “gifted leaders” in charge of change projects, because they are often resistant to change.

The evening concluded with attendees discussing their own change challenges and being encouraged by colleagues and peers from other companies and industries who had faced – or are facing – similar conundrums.

Attendees left the evening not only with rich insights, new connections, and an overall good evening of networking and idea exchange, but also with new strategies and ideas for approaching change in their respective organisations.

The CIO Summit was made possible by principal partners EOH and MakwaIT, executive partners BCX, SAS and Workday, and associate partners Communication Genetics, Nkgwete IT Solutions, and Perpetuuiti.

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