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Interview: Sthembiso Phakathi – Head Organisational Effectiveness, Barclays Africa Group Limited

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As a leading global bank undergoing significant structural change (primarily as a consequence of the withdrawal of a principle shareholder), the bank is seeking to capitalise on the transition to a new operating model to support and sustain its operations and optimise the delivery of its services and products to respond to both the needs of its clients and customers as well as meet the changing business and economic environment conditions in the future.

What critical factors do you believe large organisations need to focus on to enable their businesses to remain stable today while building an operating model that drives business growth of tomorrow? 

Large organisations need to ensure that they sustain service delivery to their clients and customers by learning to adapt to external factors. They need to always seek new ways of becoming and staying relevant while paying attention to economic trends and changing customer demands, expectations and needs. 

So much emphasis is placed on technology as a driving force for business transformation. However often people are considered as a consequence of the change agenda versus the factor to be managed to enable change.

Both people and technology are important factors for any successful change or transformation. Organisations need to continually develop relevant skills and talent to cope with changing business environment. Disruptors such as technology also demand new ways of doing work – which significantly impacts current skills and workforce dynamics.

What dominant factors are driving organisational change at this point, and what risks and opportunities is the change presenting – for people and the business? 

Technology is the biggest driver while workforce mix is also a major factor. Young and new entrants to the business environment have different and innovative ways of working – including flexible work arrangements. This demands leaders to rethink the way organisations need to reshape organisational culture by embracing new ways of working. This brings about opportunities to innovate and adapt (with speed) to the changing business environment. There’s also a risk of ‘taking the eye off the ball’ by ignoring customer demand and needs. Organisational change always need to take into account the changing needs of customers and markets.

What are the core capabilities required to enable a large complex enterprise with many legacy systems to become more adaptable and responsive to harness the benefits of large scale change?

Key capabilities include organisational agility and ability to eliminate beauracratic processes and non-value add policies and procedures. This allows speed and ability to be nimble. Also, in order to effectively manage complex change, organisations need to structure their operating models to ease flow of information and to effect shorter decision cycles. This means they are quick to adapt to change – and they can realize results much faster.

Can you identify that design has come to the fore as a core competence requirement for Human Resources and Capital to build effective, agile and efficient organisations?

Absolutely. Organisational design is increasingly becoming a core competence for HR organisations. Line leaders are often not equipped or trained to organise or structure their businesses for success. Therefore, they often rely upon HR OD practitioners for guidance. However, organising for success may mean different things to different people. To me, it means establishing fit-for-purpose organisational models that evolve as the organisation grows and develops. It’s imperative to always accurately scan the environment before embarking upon any large scale organisational redesign – as this often impacts people and productivity.

To what extent will organisation design play a key role in shaping a new organisational system for the bank and its various businesses across the continent?

In a big way. The financial services sector is a highly regulated and a very complex industry. This presents a very volatile environment in which to operate. Organisational design processes therefore have to take a very holistic approach – underpinned by practical design principles such as speed, adaptability and agility. In order to compete, banks always need to find innovative ways to improve processes, enhance communications and decision cycles. 

What are your views on the importance of innovation in transforming organisational culture? 

Innovation is the cornerstone in embracing organisational culture. Leaders need to always find new ways of engaging stakeholders and the workforce – both of which requires innovation and new way of thinking. Culture transformation does not occur by itself. Leaders provide direction and introduce new ways of engaging and collaboration.

Understanding the high degree of governance and control compliance in the banking industry globally, what are your thoughts on areas that banks could be more innovative while managing risk?

It’s always tricky to maintain balance between innovation and adhering to regulatory compliance and internal controls. However, I believe there’s always opportunities to delight customers while protecting your licence to operate at the same time. Our customers are changing; their needs and demands are changing – which requires us to adapt new and faster ways of interacting with and serving them.

You started your career in engineering and have worked across public enterprises, corporate and management consulting businesses. What motivates you most about the work that you do in enabling large organisational transformation? 

My passion is to see my clients (both organisations and business leaders) succeed – especially during times of uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility. My work involves discussing very difficult topics with senior leaders and helping them challenge themselves through non-traditional ways of doing things. There’s no one definite answer for all problems. However, dealing and working with such leaders keeps my thinking current and continuously challenges me in my profession.

What advice would you give to people considering and/or forging their careers in human resources or Organisation Development and Change to focus on? 

My advice is simple. It must almost be like a calling. If you do it as a career, you will find it limiting at some point. This type of work has very little rules – which makes it both fulfilling and enjoyable! It therefore must be something bigger than just a profession or a career. I find fulfilment in solving client complex problems – and it also helps me grow and develop.

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