Overcoming The Challenges Requires Multifaceted Leadership
The term resilience evokes a wide range of reactions from South Africans: outrage at continuously having to navigate adverse conditions compounded by an inadequate government, jaded acceptance of the status quo of “permacrisis”, or heroic embrace of a national characteristic. Wherever you land on the spectrum, resilience is a loaded term, gaining increasing attention in studies of organisations that attempt to unravel its complexity.
As an organisation committed to the development of manufacturing leaders on the African continent, the Toyota Wessels Institute for Manufacturing Studies prepares its learners for the resilient leadership required in a sector with multiple challenges and the unrealised potential to contribute to the economic growth and job creation desperately needed in this country. The decline in the South African manufacturing sector’s contribution to gross domestic product over the past decades, the country’s political volatility and infrastructure demise are all often used to paint a gloomy picture of its prospects.
Yet the manufacturing sector continues to defy the odds, with recent reporting showing high levels of productivity and record-breaking manufacturing sales since the tailing off of COVID-19, along with exceptional performance during 2022, despite the setback from the floods in KwaZulu-Natal. While sceptics may argue this is a flash in the pan and unsustainable over time, manufacturers’ continued survival and thriving should not be dismissed as an anomaly.
Greater investigation is needed into factors that drive this ability to bounce back from seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Drivers of resilience
Drivers of organisational resilience are multifaceted. While it may appear that South African organisations lurch from one crisis to another with a “boer-maak-’n-plan” approach, research into organisational resilience shows that capacity developed when dealing with unexpected events is an excellent predictor of future organisational success. This capacity can only develop through leaders who are acutely conscious of how their response to a crisis affects others. These intentional leadership behaviours include: accepting “not knowing”, but being prepared to improvise and adapt; commitment to moral decisions which serve the greater good; using experiences as learning opportunities to guide future responses; providing frameworks for sense-making in uncertainty; and reaching out for help.
When Andrew Kirby, CEO and president of Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM), and his leadership team recall their response to the devastation of the 2022 floods in KwaZulu-Natal, they recount examples of these conscious behaviours that enabled their five-month recovery from an event that could have led to permanent closure. Among these were two moral decisions: to ensure no jobs were lost and to protect customer safety by destroying all cars exposed to flood damage. Sense-making was focused around their recovery theme of “Rebuilding better together”, and the leadership is quick to acknowledge the significance of the support of its Japanese parent company, Toyota Motor Corporation, as well as the vast dealer and supplier network and other community members that pitched in with practical help to get the operation running.
While conscious leadership galvanises an organisation in its response to extreme upheavals, another driver of an organisation’s resilience is deep understanding of the relationship with its context. Unlike the services sector, manufacturing entities cannot easily pick up and relocate when the going gets tough; deeply invested in the environment they operate in and responsible for the vast number of people they employ, their value chains may be global, but their ecosystem is local.
In it together
Not every organisation has a powerful network to tap into like TSAM, but community-oriented leadership cuts across all kinds of organisations as a driver of resilience. In the industrial area of Hammarsdale, west of Durban, Khanyitex, a flourishing textile factory owned and managed by Steven and Khanyo Mabugana, offers its 300-strong workforce of predominantly young female employees a safe and caring environment for preschool children at their on-site early child development centre, poignantly named New Beginnings. In an area rife with poverty, unemployment and violence against women and children, Khanyitex is actively responding to its local context by focusing on the most vulnerable in the community. When industries in Hammarsdale were hit during the civil unrest of July 2021, Khanyitex was purposefully spared.
Ultimately, resilience is a requirement of our global business environment, with its particular flavour of South African intensity. But far more than just a “bounce-back” phenomenon, it is a conscious response to adverse and unexpected conditions and the recognition of an organisation’s connection to its community as a strategic strength. Manufacturers are compelled to face these issues head-on in their day-to-day lives, and therein lies a critical factor driving the sector’s resilience.