Ockert Berry20 June 2024 | 8:27

OCKERT BERRY: Putting people at the centre of a business works

Leaders can become so task-oriented that they don’t make time to look at priorities which, while longer-term, are no less important than the immediate ones. Among those is development of younger personnel, writes Ockert Berry.

OCKERT BERRY: Putting people at the centre of a business works

Picture: Pexeks

The always-on nature of modern life can lead to a compulsion to seek and tackle some new project as soon as one is crossed off. And of course, momentum is good.

But it can also come at the cost of a little retrospection, of pausing to reflect on what can be learnt and applied to the next undertaking. 

In a piece titled The Power of Pause in the Harvard Business Review, Korn Ferry International VP Ana Dutra mulls the consequence of this approach: “Why do people who have the potential and ability to think strategically, empower others and prioritise issues seemingly choose to micromanage — to act in a way that’s myopically short-termed and dive into every problem thrown their way?”

She draws the analogy of a tennis player practising with a ball machine that’s set to serve balls a little faster than they’re used to: “Only by pausing, adjusting the machine, and deciding which balls to go for, the player will obtain results and become an even better player. Just like our frustrated player, executives need to deliberately pause and reflect instead of continuously trying to tackle each and every ball tossed at them.”

She extends the analogy to the balls being made of rubber or crystal. Naturally, the player must react accordingly, allowing the rubber ones to bounce and catching the crystal ones. 

“The problem is that, the more exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated we are, the harder it is to distinguish the rubber balls from the crystal balls.”

I read this in the context of Ford, my employer of the last three decades, starting as a trainee in the paint shop in 1991. 

To say much has happened since then is somewhat of an understatement: In the last five years alone, we’ve dealt with no fewer than six major events. First, the COVID pandemic, the economic and humanitarian impacts of which anyone reading this will be aware. It remains a source of pride that Ford avoided job losses in those dark months. 

Another notable event was the R600 million expansion of our Struandale engine plant in Gqeberha, enabling our team to boost output to an annual installed capacity for machining 42,000 cylinder heads and assembling 21,000 3.0L V6 diesel engines.

The launch of the Next-Generation Ranger, which is being exported to 100 markets globally, enabling Ford to contribute more than 1% to SA’s GDP is also a proud one to note.

Finally, earlier this month, Ford Motor Company of South Africa built its millionth Ranger: lined bumper-to-bumper, they’d stretch from our Silverton plant to Egypt’s southern border, 5,300km away. The all-new Ranger has already been named 2023 South African Car of the Year, among its other plaudits. 

We have good reason to be proud of all this. But we do so in the understanding that a major part of our legacy is empowering personnel of the future, and seeing their potential emerge is a highlight of my career. 

We do of course have dedicated and well-resourced teams focused on helping younger personnel reach their potential. My colleagues charged with developing talent encapsulated this approach in four steps: cast the net wide; recruit the best talent; appoint with the intent to retain; immerse newcomers in the business; keep communications channels open. 

This entails recruitment campaigns at the country’s top four universities, which yielded 6,000 applicants. Of these, 10 were appointed permanently upon graduation and immediately entered a 24-month leadership development programme.

The graduates also spend time at our manufacturing facilities around the world, preparing them for promotion and accelerating the company’s leadership pipeline to meet evolving business needs. The benchmark is promotion within 24 months. There are also regular teambuilding activities and informal one-to-one chats over coffee.

It's hugely effective, designed to expand their social networking within the company as well as their exposure to company culture while building on the necessary skills to continue to grow within Ford. I for one benefitted enormously from an earlier iteration of the programme when I joined the company.

Empowering younger employees in the workplace involves creating an environment where they feel valued, supported, and capable of contributing meaningfully. Implemented with commitment, these strategies can help create a supportive and empowering environment for younger employees, leading to increased job satisfaction, better retention rates, and a more dynamic and innovative workplace.

But for leaders, it’s important to take time to examine what’s working in the organisation and what isn’t, in terms of human development and other aspects of the operation.

Dutra writes, “At a higher level, as leaders, pausing and reflecting enables us to ask what our role really is, how to more effectively empower others to be the best at the roles they are supposed to play and, therefore, what we should really get involved with. Pause and reflection create space for us and for others — everybody becomes more effective and can grow."

A decision to step back and contemplate can seem like cognitive dissonance when one’s to-do list grows by the minute. 

But two points stand out in my mind in underpinning the wisdom of our approach toward personnel development: the fact that everyone in the company, whether an employee for three weeks or 30-plus years like me, ensured that production continued uninterrupted while we expanded the Silverton plant. 

The second was the moment the Next Generation Ford Ranger was unveiled at Silverton, with the company’s personnel erupting in dance and song, celebrating as only South Africans can.

So yes, the next few years are likely to be at least as busy as the last, and as a colleague recently quipped, business in this country isn’t for sissies.

Such moments can empower us for the road ahead. 

Ockert Berry is Vice President of Operations for Ford South Africa.