Clarkhouse Human Capital's Roy Clark talks diversity and transformation


Roy Clark, MD of Clarkhouse Human Capital, recently moderated a thought leadership session where 20 CFOs were invited to discuss the role of transformation and diversity in the workplace, and what the role of a CFO is in fostering this. In this self-penned piece, Clark delves into why transformation and diversity are such misunderstood notions, and looks at how corporate South Africa can make these ideas work within their organisations.

"I was very anxious to broach this topic, due to its sensitive nature, and so was rather sceptical as to the outcome. My fear was mainly that these leaders would just say what people wanted to hear and not really dig deep into the emotional and psychological diversity issues for consideration. I was wrong, so wrong. Not only did the CFOs show up, they completely blew me away with their passion and dedication to the subject and made me realise what a truly exceptional country we live in, with extraordinary leadership qualities in the CFO environment."

By Roy Clark, MD of Clarkhouse Human Capital

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Transformation, diversity in the workplace, organisational change, empowerment, inclusion - these are all terms that have been bandied about very loosely since South Africa's democratic birth in 1994. Businesses were given mandates, policies were drawn up and haphazardly implemented, and a fervent misconception about the true meaning and purpose of diversity, empowerment and transformation, as well as an absolute apathetic view to its importance, arose. Why?

To understand how the meaning of diversity and transformation has been lost, we need to begin with the purest definition of these concepts. According to Webster's Dictionary, diversity is defined as "Multiplicity of difference; multiformity; variety." Its synonyms include change, variation, and dissimilarity. Transformation is defined as "A change in disposition, heart, character, or the like; conversion. The act of changing in form, appearance, nature, or character." Its synonyms include conversion, revolution, metamorphosis, and shift.

So essentially, given the radical multiplicity of the South African population, this should theoretically be mirrored in the workforce. Shouldn't a workforce be a sample of the population? Or more importantly, shouldn't your workforce represent your client base? And if it isn't, what is the reason?

As uncomfortable as this subject is to talk about, it is also a deeply emotional one. Its roots lie in years of oppression, discrimination, imbalance, prejudice, segregation and an iniquitous South African landscape where, based on race, ethnicity, colour and creed, education, a peaceful upbringing and opportunities were denied. And so it is not an easy discussion to have. But unless we acknowledge the elephant in the room, along with all its dirty baggage, we have no chance of becoming the diverse, powerful nation that undoubtedly almost every South African strives towards. (And tackle the elephant we did)!

Not a Tick-Box Exercise

Usually a business is given a mandate to meet diversity and transformational goals. Many a time this mandate is passed on to HR or other hiring line managers, who then have the responsibility to source and employ resources that match the transformational instruction. Should their innate thinking be that this is merely a tick-box exercise and that their actions have no implications on the business as a whole, then there is absolutely no way that diversity and transformation in its truest form can exist in that business. Given this thinking, they will default to what they know, hire what they know, and the cycle will never change. So how do we change this?

From the Heart

The CFOs present at the aforementioned sessions were all an exceptional example of true transformation and diversity ambassadors. Not only for their businesses but also in the greater sense of the South African landscape. The collective felt that in order for transformation to work, it needs to be implemented from the heart and not from the mind. The leaders went on to share the steps that some of them took in order to make transformation within their businesses a heart-set and not just a mind-set.

Beyond transforming and empowering from the heart, what other steps can assist in tackling this beast? Some suggestions follow.

  • Engage, engage, engage - It is key to engage with all levels of your business - from the CEO right down to the cleaner. If you are wanting to implement change, empowerment and transformation, you have to get an understanding of everyone's thinking to be able to explain how it will affect every single environment and get buy-in from all stakeholders. If this requires travelling to each of your branches/outlets/factories on a monthly basis, then that is what you need to do in order to create that relationship at all levels. Be visible and stakeholders will follow.
  • Design your transformation process to include existing people that are part of existing entities - Transformation strategies are far more successful if the people in the existing entities are part of shaping it. Let them help to design the strategy and work with you to land the vision together.
  • Create buy-in from the top down - As with engagement, you need to create buy-in from the top down. Talk with the various stakeholders about how you will reach your transformation goals and encourage this intent to be clearly communicated to the rest of the business and shareholders.
  • The power of remuneration - A fundamental area where companies fail in their transformation and empowerment strategies is partnering remuneration and reward with transformation and empowerment outcomes. Transformation must be part of set KPIs, governance and financial reporting. This can be reflected in bonus incentives, pay and rewards. If transformation becomes part of the job, and not just a nice to have, it will reach far greater successes. Remuneration in this sense must not just be about rewarding profit from a numbers perspective. Move away from a short-term view.
  • Companies must reflect the demographics of their customers - If a company expects to sell well to a certain demographic, their employee base should reflect this. And not only should their employee base reflect this diversity, it should also be remunerated and rewarded so that they are able to excel in the role.
  • The importance of making a personal connection with individuals - Not only is this a valuable point when it comes to transformation and diversity but it is also a valuable point when managing people. Making a personal connection will help you to get people's buy-in when you need to implement change. Remembering birthdays, having one-on-one conversations, and asking how the employee's wife/husband is doing all go a long way to building a personal connection with staff members.
  • Successful transformation needs an end goal - As with any other business strategy, what are you hoping to achieve, what are the outcomes? Make sure this is measurable and that you have a clear goal that is communicated to those involved.

Don't Get Comfortable

Transformation and diversity marry perfectly with creating an innovative, forward-thinking business. This means hiring people who do not think the same, have diverse backgrounds, different ideas, and varied experiences and knowledge. To quote Andy Stanley: "Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say." Meaning that if you keep defaulting to what you know in your hiring decisions, you will eventually create a stale culture lacking innovation, a voice or ideas, and your staff will always tell you what you want to hear.

Those businesses which have really taken the goal of transformation and diversity to heart, which have stepped out of their comfort zone and endeavoured to become better corporate citizens, who have truly seen the profound effect that transformation can have on a business and our country, who have collectively stood together and visited uncomfortable, hard-to-communicate recesses of this ugly beast of our past and have seen the beautiful fruits that are born out of opportunities given, those are the businesses that will thrive, that will grow and leave a legacy in this magnificent land that is our country.

Let me say one last thing, to the CFOs in that room, your genuine leadership inspires me and you have shown me that we have a bright, diverse and innovative future ahead in South Africa.

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