Transformation spells growth

2014-04-24 00:00

WHAT does it take to make it in the corporate world when you’re young, ambitious and black? Hard work, intelligence, discipline, good academic qualifications?

The answer is all of the above, but where you are could turn out to be just as important as what you are and what you bring to an organisation.

A job at a transformed South African company will almost certainly be more beneficial to a previously disadvantaged person than a job inside a company that resists change or engages in tokenism.

After a decade of black economic empowerment one would think that a career at a transformed company would be the norm for young black professionals.

Regrettably, this is far from the case.

There is a shortage of skilled professionals in the country, especially black professionals. Yet many still struggle to climb the corporate ladder. Could the issue be the professional’s choice of an organisation or is it something else?

Many black executives in mid-career know what it’s like to make progress little by little without support systems, without structured, hands-on mentorship, with no appreciation of what it took just to get a half-decent education and a foot in the corporate door, with little understanding of the home circumstances and scant assurance that successful delivery would lead to recognition, or even more fulfilling work. Making it on your own without a hands-up has its own satisfaction, of course. But even as you progress, a little voice in your head whispers: “There has to be a better way”. There is.

This better way is the goal of the recent changes to BEE legislation and more intense focus on the personal development of black people with the potential to reach positions of real executive power.

Amended legislation now focuses on middle to senior management to ensure an organisation not only transforms at board level, but nurtures individuals who one day will be able to run the company.

The urgent need to be more systematic about black advancement is the subtext of the new broad-based black economic empowerment codes relating to training and development.

Companies are finding it difficult to attract and retain black talent because the culture of their organisations is not conducive to career growth by black professionals. The presence of a development plan is not sufficient. An embedded support system is needed to motivate previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs) and ensure their hard work and dedication are noticed and rewarded.

Some companies have already made significant strides on the transformation journey and have systems to accelerate the progress of black professionals. These businesses are the place to be for black managers with ambition, a strong work ethic and a sense of mission.

It is hardly news that many successful black professionals have had their business careers boosted by organisations that offered embedded support.

Younger professionals tend to gravitate toward businesses that show tangible interest in their advancement and already have a strong cadre of black executives in place. These companies not only offer career opportunities because their culture supports the PDI, they offer chances to grow because they are commercially successful. They are big and getting bigger. These are the organisations of the future.

The chances are they already out-perform the BEE laggards, and not simply because of empowerment points and the resultant acquisition of new business.

They have an inspiring vision of the future. They invest in their people and empowered people tend to perform better than those who simply go through the motions. These organisations not only attract the best talent, they probably attract new investment, too.

Potential new partners look for businesses with a future, not ones locked in the past as money and talent are attracted by the same thing: growth potential. The fact is that transformation has the best long-term capacity to deliver such growth. Which is why the revised empowerment codes are not simply a compliance issue. Implementation of the codes is tantamount to growth.

PDIs tend to focus on personal growth while investors and directors think in terms of profit growth. Of course, BEE policy makers are more intent on national growth. Growth can only be secured by sincere transformation of our economy. That’s an empowering message and deserves greater prominence than the unhelpful focus on the supposedly punitive aspects of new BEE requirements.

• Mahlatse Kabi is the senior investment manager of the Mineworkers Investment Company.

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