South Africans are world leaders in dealing with uncertainty.
As a result, the nation - its people and organisations, tend to expect the unexpected.
South Africans are resilience, resourceful and can make an alternative plan in the time it takes to set parliament alight.
That being said, if you are operating a business in South Africa its vital that you don't take this nationally ordained skill for granted and that you also consistently practice structured strategic foresight exercises and workshops to ensure that cognitively you don't fall into the trap of complacency; and are rather constantly training your organisation to spot impending danger on the horizon to better inform how you manage your business right now - in the present.
One of the best tools to consider alternatives as to how the future might play out is of course, scenario planning. Popularised by its commercial use by companies like Royal Dutch Shell and having played an important part on the peaceful democratic transition in the 1990's, we are not unfamiliar with the benefits of proper scenario planning in this country.
Scenario planning is a widely recognised method of systematically exploring various futures based on how a selection of key forces of change may unfold in time.
Typically during a scenarios exercise, key forces of change that carry higher degrees of uncertainty and impact are selected and carefully explored through a series of descriptive narratives that are based in the future.
The value of scenario planning
The value of scenario planning of this nature is that the stories offers a glimpse of what the future might hold for an organisation.
This future world can then be used to assess how well an entity might navigate its way through that future state and, if needs be, bring about policy or structural change in the present to make it more resilient in the face of that potential future state possibly manifesting.
The value of scenario planning is in its ability to shine a light on the blindspots and weak points in the system that exists in the present, based on the conditions an organisation might need endure in a possible future.
Key forces to consider in South Africa
Here then are the key forces of change that you should seriously consider as relevant in your 2022 workshops.
These factors are significant, because no matter what kind of business you may be operating in South Africa, their impact in combination with other factors interconnecting with each other will have a significant affect on the conditions under which operations will need to be conducted:
- State service collapse: Even after 15 year of loadshedding it still feels like we haven't fully realised the risks associated with collapsing state services. Government debt is at an all time high, a culture of corruption and incompetence and a severe lack of skills to ensure effective delivery almost guarantees that severe disruptions of power, water, public transportation and general municipal service delivery are on the cards for 2022.
- The pandemic: We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the pandemic, but the knock-on effects of two years of lockdowns social isolation and lower economic growth are still playing out. There is still significant uncertainty as to when the pandemic will be officially declared over, if and when everyone will be fully-vaccinated and just how many more 'waves' we will need to navigate still.
- Policy uncertainty: Politics plays an important part in South Africa and the culture of our politics can only be described as chaotic and unpredictable. Policy uncertainty is a reality here and as a result, the conditions under which long-term investment decisions can be made with greater degrees of confidence do not exist.
- Social unrest: We have a long history of societal violence that is largely fuelled by increasing levels of inequality and nihilism. The pandemic has only heightened the intensity of the underlying social decay that will do doubt, yet again, spark rolling unrest and violence.
- Reform: The ruling party has, for as long as we can remember, spoken about the urgent need for reform. As to when and how this reform will happen is anyone's guess. There has however been some positive moves by the presidency of late in the formation of key planning committees and the release of the first part of the State Capture Commission report, but the 'if, when and how' this will result in effective policy and structural reform is hazy.
- Terrorism: There are weak signals everywhere that a larger, more serious terrorist attack on a domestic target is of a significant concern in the near future. This will result in a marked increase in fear throughout the country and a further weakening of already strained political relationships.
- Skills exodus: South Africa faces a unique problem when it comes to the affordable supply of skilled labour. Our skills base is either trying to immigrate, retire, work remotely for companies that pay better or are opting to switch careers and the loss of this scarce resource is not being effectively replaced by youngsters. It's not clear as to whether or not or how the country will be able to attract the right kind of talent to maximise its potential as we move into the future. Good words are being spoken about The Future of Work and the industrialisation of the economy, but without the right skills the prospects of real and sustainable competitive growth are weak.
This list of 7 drivers should whet your appetite in eager anticipation for your own scenario planning workshop. Ideally you would intend to your your own set of scenarios to stress test your organisation to see how well it holds up and performs under each of them.
This kind of proactive futures consciousness development is a vital organisational skill to develop at these times of significant uncertainty and is a useful framework to adopt to better manage the volatile and erratic conditions under which we all operate.