She advises being transparent, communicating and getting into the “nuts and bolts”.
During a roundtable discussion on “strategy and change: under the tree” at the CIO South Africa Summit on 2 March. Natasha Andrykowsky, group executive: strategy and change at EOH, used EOH as a case study to unpack her “tough love” approach and getting into the “nuts and bolts” of a strategy (the masterplan), which involves intense scrutiny, getting buy-in, discipline, listening, and effective communication.
“The masterplan is a spreadsheet, and as boring as it may appear, there’s no getting around it; you have to be clinical and spend time on it, leaving no stone unturned,” she explained. “Let your leadership team run with the plan: it is up to them to drive this plan, [and you] check in on that plan and set big milestones.
When it came to approaching strategy and change in an organisation, Lungile Mqingi, CIO at Sasol, advocated for having only three group priorities. He was eager to learn how to execute this strategy flawlessly. “How did you stick to those three priorities, especially in such a changing organisation?” he asked.
“When I first started at EOH, I spent the first three to four weeks just questioning everything to figure out what everyone wanted,” Natasha explained. “I narrowed it down to three priorities: dealing with corruption, understanding what the blacklist meant for the organisation, and the consistent misinformation in news articles.”
Natasha mentioned three key elements of the EOH strategy: transparency, liquidity, and credibility (TLC). “Transparency was critical in convincing the market that we have a solid business, that this is what we do, and how we make money. You must then persuade the rest of your exco members and find someone with the authority to hold you accountable and reject ideas that don’t work, and our CEO has granted me that authority.”
Lungile was also curious about Natasha’s ‘tough love’ and ‘nuts and bolts’ approach, and how she collaborated with other executives to work on EOH’s masterplan and the resources needed in order to execute this plan. “Tough love is not only about asking the tough questions, but also giving people something to believe in – they can’t find joy in waking up everyday trying to survive – they need to have something to look forward to,” she says.
“When I think about our turnaround strategy, the liquidity issue was a major concern for us: we needed a detailed portfolio of 270 legal entities to determine what each entity's function was, which ones were core and non-core, and which were easier to sell, and to put together a plan to get the banks’ commitment to sell when the time came.”
For Vasco de Sousa, group chief digital and information security officer at Fidelity Services Group, it’s all well and good to have a strategy, but, “How do you plan for if and not when it goes wrong, and how do you adapt and adjust while following your strategy?” he asked.
“You need to look at your north star in your strategy: the things that you don’t want to change,” Natasha said. “I built a spreadsheet to understand the revenue drivers with the help of consultants, and wrote an equity story which we presented to the CEO as to what we planned to take to the market. We then went into the bottom-up strategy build, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and three of our major clients couldn’t pay because they were in business rescue as a result of the pandemic. This meant that we had to be flexible and have those dialogues, so that we could make those adjustments.”
In a crisis situation, some roundtable participants observed that it is important to share the problem with your people and not keep to yourself. Engage with key staff, because those are the people you want to stay. “The ship (business) is merely the vessel, but the people are the ones who operate it – if you lose them you might as well sell the entire company,” they said.
Lungile found EOH’s strategy a very effective one because when he joined Sasol, he admits that the first company he wanted to let go of was EOH as a result of the noise that surrounded the company. “I approached EOH’s account manager and told him that I intended not to renew their contract, but to my surprise, I saw no panic from his side. He was ready to have that conversation,” he notes.
Lungile was most impressed by how well EOH communicated with him: they were open and honest about their plans to turn things around. He received regular updates on the progress of their turnaround strategy, and by the time the contract was coming to an end, Lungile was sold and went so far as to convince the board that EOH should continue to be a client.
Nazeem Aberdeen, group IT manager at Sturrock and Robson, concluded that when putting together a strategy, one needs to consider the fact that change is inevitable and that you have to factor in risk and how to mitigate that risk. “It’s almost part of your job as a CIO to have proper mitigation processes in your strategy.”